Startling Canadian Studies Hint That Lake Michigan-Huron Water Levels Will Plummet Below Record by 2030

A report made yesterday by the Manitoulin Expositor outlined a new water-level analysis that predicts a historic decline in lake Michigan-Huron water levels by 2030, extending roughly 3.5 feet below the record low. Conversely, by 2040, levels might be one foot higher than the 1986 record high. The Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation commissioned the report, which was presented online last week by W.F. Baird & Associates Coastal Engineers Ltd. Amazingly, the findings of the Baird research virtually reflect those of a recently completed five-year study by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Future Great Lake Water Levels – Higher Highs, Lower Lows 

Lake Levels for Michigan-Huron
Caseville Harbor’s Low Lake Level Impact in 2013

According to the Environment and Climate Change Canada analysis, all Great Lakes levels will usually trend upward, increasing unpredictability. Lake Michigan-Huron now has the most significant variation between high and low water levels of any Great Lake, at 6.3 feet. According to the analysis, the variation might reach 13 feet. Water levels in Lake Michigan-Huron are expected to reach 177.8 feet by 2040. This would place the lake level at one foot higher than the 1986 record high. 

A more troubling part of the study’s forecast was that Lake Michigan-Huron is expected to decrease to 174.5 by 2030, only eight years away. This would make it 3.5 feet lower than the lows measured between 2000 and 2014. Such a drop may render some coastal ports and marinas inoperable, and it may be possible to walk to numerous islands on Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay and North Channel.

In the US, NOAA & USGS Are Also Working on Great Lakes Water Level Modeling Forecasts

Great Lakes Water Levels 1918 2022
Great Lakes Water Levels 1918-2022 – US Army Corps of Engineers

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), are now working on a comparative evaluation for all the Great Lakes including Lake Michigan-Huron water levels. Their report is expected to be finished in 2023/2024.

Great Lakes Level Cycles, Climate Change Challenge These Studies

The forecast models of lake levels for Michigan-Huron do not necessarily consider or have not been shown to predict the cyclical nature of the Great Lakes’ water levels. In addition, the current global climate change models were never intended to be scaled down to the size of the Great Lakes. Therefore, the study’s empirical approach is based on observing discernible patterns and linking those patterns to know the cyclic behavior of climate but does not include climate change.

The model was calibrated using monthly average lake level data from 1860 to 2019. It was constructed using harmonic analysis to discover the critical driving cycles for Great Lakes oscillations. As a result, predictions may have a five-year phase inaccuracy.

A 10 Year Period of Low Levels Forecast for Michigan-Huron

The study’s authors noted that they successfully predicted approximately ten years of low lake levels on Lake Erie from 2005 to 2015. They also successfully predicted the rapid decline of Michigan-Huron that is currently underway, just one year late.

Using the same technique, they see that a period of low lake levels on Michigan-Huron is forecast for the next 20 years.

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Those who live near the Great Lakes know what three and a half feet lower water levels mean: dried-up wetlands, municipal infrastructure problems, dredging of harbors and marinas, fishing consequences, and higher water temperatures.

More details of the Canadian Lake Michigan-Huron water levels forecast and how they are dealing with climate change and Great Lakes water level cycles can be found in their story, “New lakes study predicts Lakes Huron/Michigan will fall by 3.5 feet over record by 2030, then rise 1 foot over record by ’40” By Lori Thompson, a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter at the Manitoulin Expositor.

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