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Climate change could dry Great Lakes

By MARCELLA S. KREITER, UPI Chicago Bureau

CHICAGO, April 8 (UPI) -- The Great Lakes states will look more like parts of the South and Southwest by the end of the century as a result of global warming, a report released Tuesday concludes.

The changes will lead to hot, dry summers and severe flooding in the winter and spring, the report, by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Ecological Society of America, predicts.

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"This is the most comprehensive assessment on global warming and the impact on the Great Lakes ever done," said Dr. Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The report forecasts within three decades summer in Illinois could feel more like Oklahoma and, by the end of the century, like eastern Texas. Toronto's climate will first begin to resemble New York and then warm until it is more akin to northern Virginia's.

Regionally, temperatures could increase as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit in summer and 13 in winter. The result will be a longer growing season for farmers but 20 percent less soil moisture with attendant erosion, reduced yields and other problems.

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"We may think we'll be able to take advantage of the warmer temperatures by going to the beach but the lake levels will be lower and there will be more beach closures," said Michelle Wander, a soil scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Donald Wuebbles, head of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at U. of I., discounted a recent Smithsonian Institution study that found temperatures were warmer during the Middle Ages in Europe than they are now, saying the scientists involved had not fully analyzed the data.

Wuebbles said looking at core ice and soil samples going back 1,000 years, there's no question the climate globally is warmer now than in any previous era.

"We are conducting the largest experiment in human history ... (by) increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide and other (greenhouse) gases," Wuebbles said. The action, he said, will not only have an impact on the climate but on human health as well.

The scientists are calling for a reduction in emissions of heat-trapping gases, minimization of pressures on ecosystems and planning for the impact of climatological changes. They also are pushing increased use of renewable energy sources including wind power and biomass to help reverse the increases.

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Thirteen states -- Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Texas, Nevada, California, New Mexico and Arizona -- already have adopted measures specifying goals for renewable energy production. Four others -- Illinois, Vermont, Maryland and New York -- are considering similar legislation.

"Waiting 10 or more years to reduce emissions will increase the eventual severity, expense and likelihood of irreversible losses -- a terrible legacy to leave our children and grandchildren," Frumhoff, director of the Global Environment Program. "By acting now, leaders and citizens can protect the rich natural heritage, vibrant economy and well-being of people and communities throughout the Great Lakes region."

The two-year study, "Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region: Impacts on our Communities and Ecosystems," was conducted by 13 scientists from universities in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Toronto, using advanced models of the Earth's climate system. The study was presented at news conferences in Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Toronto and Madison, Wis.

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