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Climate change touching Indiana Dunes, researchers say

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For more on programs at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, go to www.nps.gov/indu/planyourvisit.

Updated: December 19, 2012 1:22PM



GARY — The warming planet is affecting Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

From lower water levels in Lake Michigan to declining food sources for the endangered Karner Blue butterfly, climate change is having an impact on the national park.

That was the message Saturday during a program at the Douglas Center in Gary’s Miller neighborhood presented by Joy Marburger, a research coordinator with the Great Lakes Research and Education Center based at the lakeshore. It’s one of 19 research centers located in national parks across the country.

About 20 people attended the program, including a group of high school students from Walter Payton College Prep in Chicago.

Marburger began her presentation by noting what causes changes in the climate. In the distant geological past, that’s included volcanoes, asteroids hitting Earth, and solar flares.

In the past 200 years, that list has come to include industry, farming, vehicle emissions and the world’s growing population, which stands now at 7 billion people.

The increase of carbon dioxide and particularly methane are warming the planet, Marburger said. Over time, that will continue to impact the world’s weather patterns, causing hotter, drier summers, as well as droughts and flooding.

The Karner Blue butterfly relies on the leaves and flowers of the blue lupine plant. Earlier springs cause the plant to bloom sooner, Marburger said, causing a disconnect between when Karner Blue caterpillars need sustenance and when the plant blooms.

The water levels of all of the Great Lakes also will drop because of a lack of rainfall.

“Lake Michigan is the lowest on record ever since they started keeping record,” added local environmental advocate Lee Botts, who said the Army Corps of Engineers began recording lake levels in 1964.

While the oceans will rise because of melting polar caps, that won’t impact the lakes because they are inland, Marburger said.

A drier climate means drought-tolerant plants will move into the dunes, creating a conundrum for the national park.

“This is a question for the park service. Do you allow drought-tolerant plants to move in when they’re considered invasive species?” Marburger said.



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