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19th December 2015
Climate change warming lakes in Canada, affecting water levels

December 18, 2015 - 11:35am

A new study by researchers at Toronto's York University on the impact of climate change on water finds that lakes in Canada are among the fastest-warming lakes in the world.

CBC reports, "The study looked at 235 lakes on six continents representing half the world's freshwater supply. ...[It] found that on average, lakes were warming at a rate of 0.34 C per decade — faster than either the ocean (increasing 0.12 C per decade) or the air (warming by 0.25 C per decade)... The warming waters can lead to problems like toxic algae blooms that make water undrinkable, declines in fish populations that people rely on for food and other serious problems, warns the international team of researchers that released the study this week. ...Increased evaporation will [also] cause a drop in lake water levels."

One of the lead researchers in the study highlights, "Canadian lakes and ice-covered lakes were warming twice as fast as air temperatures and most of the other lakes in the study." The Toronto Star adds, "Lake Superior is the second-fastest warming lake studied, behind Sweden’s Lake Fracksjon. The rest of the Great Lakes are also faring dismally, the study says..."

That article also notes, "Another impact of warming could be on the water supply, said Jordan Read of the U.S. Geological Survey and an author of the study. ...Climate and social scientists have long warned that global warming will lead to conflicts, especially over water supplies, a potential future avenue for more research, Read said."

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has stated that falling water levels are among the acknowledged threats to water as a human right.

We have blogged on numerous reports that highlight the climate impacts on lakes:

Climate change impacts on water levels (December 2009): An International Upper Great Lakes Study Board report found that climate change has caused a discernible dip in the water levels of the Great Lakes.

Climate change warms Lake Superior (July 2010):
University of Minnesota Duluth's Large Lakes
Observatory researchers said Lake Superior had warmed up faster than usual due to climate change.

Climate change warming the world's lakes (November 2010): A NASA study found that in certain regions, such as the Great Lakes and northern Europe, water bodies appear to be warming more quickly than surrounding air temperature.

US Geographical Survey report on the Great Lakes (February 2011): A US Geographical Survey report found that the Great Lakes region could experience water shortages in some locations because of climate shifts or surging demand.

Lake Huron, Lake Michigan at lowest water levels ever recorded (February 2013): An International Joint Commission report in 2012 found that the largest part of the drop in the Great Lakes water levels could be attributed to climate change.

Climate change linked to $19.3 billion in potential harm to Great Lakes economy (June 2014): A report by the Mowat Centre found that low water levels in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River could result in severe economic fallout.

The Paris Agreement recently negotiated at the COP21 climate summit agreed to limit global warming to "well below 2 degrees Celsius" and to "pursue efforts" to keep it below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The agreement will rely on the "honour system" for countries to meet their non-legally-binding Nationally Determined Targets, which cumulatively would result in a 2.7 to 3.7 degree Celsius increase by 2100. The Council of Canadians is arguing that the Trudeau government must reject the Energy East and Trans Mountain pipelines to meet its obligations to the climate - and to lakes.

This past election, the federal Liberals promised to renew their commitment to protect the Great Lakes. Given the findings of many reports on the impacts of climate change on lakes, that commitment must include taking decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by rejecting a further expansion of the tar sands and export pipelines.

Brent Patterson's blog