Climate Change:
Working and Learning to Mend Together

Abigail Derby Lewis, Ph.D.
Senior Conservation Ecologist, The Field Museum

There are also new climate-related challenges, such as the likely decline in winter ice cover projected to lead to lower lake levels over the long-term. In the short-term, a changing climate could increase the variability we see in lake levels (higher highs and lower lows). We can mitigate these impacts, and help create a resilient system for our grandchildren to inherit, if we work to reduce current threats and develop forward-thinking watershed plans, policies and practices that take into consideration long-term impacts of development in and around the Great Lakes.

The stakes are high and nothing lasts forever under constant stress. Our way of life has had a profoundly negative impact on this unique ecosystem. Luckily, we also have the potential to create positive transformation through collective action. Each one of us holds the key to keeping the Great Lakes healthy through our actions. If we work together and inspire each other to learn and to act on that knowledge, we will ensure this treasure remains viable for many future generations.

A relic of our planet’s glacial past, the Great Lakes ecosystem is immensely important for people and nature, and needed to sustain life. This system has experienced many changes over millennia. What is happening now, however, differs fundamentally in the both amount and the type of change, and in the very compressed timescale.

The health of the Great Lakes faces multiple stressors from invasive species, nonpoint source pollution, toxic chemical contamination, and others. Climate change is compounding these stressors as water and air temperatures continue to rise, and as more frequent extreme storm events increase storm water runoff. The results can negatively impact critical societal needs such as clean drinking water and a healthy aquatic food web needed to support a fishing industry.