Still-Icy Great Lakes Take a Big Toll

Shipping, wildlife held back by late melting

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 20, 2014 5:50 AM CDT

(Newser) – This winter saw the second-largest recorded ice cover on the Great Lakes, and the five lakes still haven't fully melted. As of April 10, the Atlantic Cities notes, they remained nearly half frozen over; typically, it's about 3% at this time of year, an expert tells Accuweather. All this poses a range of problems for both humans and wildlife. Coal shipping on the lakes, for instance, was down 69% this March compared to a year before. This month, an Indiana US Steel plant had to reduce production because of a lack of iron ore. Meanwhile, ducks starved because they couldn't reach fish—and fish themselves may be "younger and far weaker" next year thanks to migration delays, Stephanie Garlock writes.

Some of the weather-related changes, however, could be more welcome. The Great Lakes have suffered several years of unusually low levels, but the melting ice is expected to help restore their depth. That could ultimately help increase shipping later in the year, without the need to spend on pricey dredging projects. Shallower water can favor non-native species, so the melt could help boost wildlife diversity. Of course, these benefits could fade if the summer is particularly hot, Garlock notes. "We don’t know, as this winter really exemplified, what’s going to happen," says a scientist. (Climate change is also wreaking havoc on these seven world wonders you should see before they vanish.)

In this Feb. 12, 2014 file photo the Coast Guard Cutter Biscayne Bay, a 140-foot ice-breaking tug, sails through ice covered waters toward the shores off Indiana.
In this Feb. 12, 2014 file photo the Coast Guard Cutter Biscayne Bay, a 140-foot ice-breaking tug, sails through ice covered waters toward the shores off Indiana.   (Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Alan Haraf, File)
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