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The climate it is a-changin’

How early can the gales of November arrive, and does it make a difference?

Split Rock Lighthouse
Photo by John Harrington

Have you heard Gordon Lightfoot’s Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald with its reference to “the gales of November came early? I was thinking of that today when we visited the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. They have an exhibit on the construction of the Split Rock Lighthouse. “Shipwrecks from a mighty 1905 November gale prompted this rugged landmark’s construction.” That storm came on November 28, definitely not early.

I’ve been (belatedly) reading Bill McKibbon’s “eaarth” the past few days. One of his major points is that the old earth we knew, which offered a sense of stability and, in general, predictability, is gone, even if we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions starting now. A topic I haven’t seen written about (but neither have I looked hard for it) is the effect of increased volatility of weather and water levels on Great Lakes shipping. The Edmund Fitzgerald sank in 1975, which wasn’t all that long ago. Thewater levels in the Great Lakes are being affected by global warming. 

“There has been a significant decrease in ice cover in the Great Lakes. The loss of Great Lakes ice has allowed more water to evaporate in winter, resulting in heavier lake effect snow near the shore, and lower lake levels. Overall, the Great Lakes have lost 71% of their ice cover since 1973, according to a study by the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL). Lake Ontario saw an 88% decline in ice cover, Superior lost 79% of its ice, Michigan lost 77%, Huron lost 62%, and Erie lost 50%. The loss of ice is due to increasing air and water temperatures.”

How early can the gales of November arrive, and does it make a difference? Since the Iron Range has historically shipped its ore over (through?) the lakes (another exhibit at the History Center), I wonder if global warming is going to affect the viability of taconite mining. There also could be a question about whether the volatility of storm’s frequency and intensity will affect the cost and availability of insurance for the ships used to transport the ore. This is just one set of questions that comes to mind regarding how Minnesota will need to look at options and issues as we begin to adapt to global warming. Most of the emphasis I’ve seen so far has been on the impact to farming and forestry. Those are the obvious considerations, but the more we look at the systems we’ve come to depend on, the more we need to look at alternatives, robustness, resilience and replacement.

This post was written by John Harrington and originally published on My Minnesota. Follow John on Twitter: @JohnHthePoet.

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