This week’s issue of Science has an interesting article by Craig E. Williamson, Jasmine E. Saros, and David W. Schindler titled “Sentinels of Change.” The authors suggest that freshwater lakes, notably the Great Lakes, are uniquely vulnerable to climate change and are useful indicators of the changes that are occurring:
“Given the vast and complex landscape of Earth’s surface, where do we look for signals of how climate change influences ecosystems? Lakes and reservoirs are an important part of the answer. Although they make up a small percentage of Earth’s surface, lakes and reservoirs act as sentinels by providing signals that reflect the influence of climate change in their much broader catchments.”
The article further describes the fragility of the Great Lakes, noting that the Great Lakes have water renewal rates of less than 1% per year and are in the process of an “invasional meltdown” due largely to species imported in the ballast water of Eurasian ships. The authors conclude that while the “Great Lakes are often viewed as vast reservoirs for solving future water shortages in other parts of North America,” the Great Lakes’ current and historic vulnerability to climate change means that they won’t look the same in coming decades. This is important information for policymakers and attorneys to consider. As I detailed in a recent article on climate change and the Great Lakes, the Great Lakes compact is a good step forward for the region. But more reform is required at all levels of government, especially federal, to fundamentally change how we value and protect freshwater in the era of climate change.