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Possible effects of climate change on National Lakeshore studied

Spring may be just around corner but abundance shelf ice along shore Lake Michigan drew attentiKimberly Vicars IndianDunes State Park

Spring may be just around the corner, but the abundance of shelf ice along the shore of Lake Michigan, drew the attention of Kimberly Vicars at the Indiana Dunes State Park near Chesterton. Vicars, who lives in Fort Myers, is in Chesterton visiting her aunt. | File Photo~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 30, 2012 3:44PM



GARY — The rising temperatures and precipitation associated with climate change could seriously change the plant and animal composition of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

National Park Service climate change scientist Patrick Gonzalez illustrated the changes that have occurred across the park system and what could be in store if significant action isn’t taken at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Science Conference Wednesday at Indiana University Northwest. Gonzalez was the keynote speaker for a conference that brought together various research about biodiversity at the park and how it can be used to implement best management practices.

Temperatures in the last century have increased six-tenths of a degree Celsius in the past century, which has led to decreasing amounts of ice cover and lake levels along with increases in water temperature. Gonzalez showed maps that project that the temperate mixed forest zone where the park is situated could move 100 kilometers north over this century, forcing out conifer species like the white and jack pines. By extension, animal populations used to cooler temperatures would move north or to higher elevations, which is happening in other parks such as Glacier and Yosemite.

“You can take personal action to reduce climate change,” said Gonzalez, citing his own experience of living a car-free life.

Park Superintendent Costa Dillon said research is an integral part of the dunes. As a result the park issues quite a few permits to researchers.

“The amount of biodiversity in such a small area is what makes the dunes such a place of national significance,” Dillon said. “Our primary job is to protect and preserve the natural and cultural resources.”

Several researchers discussed the various projects they’ve completed regarding the park’s waterways, fish population and invasive species.

Jana Cram, a student at Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso, presented initial findings from an ongoing project about clearing logjams from the Little Calumet River in Porter County. Cram said clearing the river would allow for recreation opportunities, such as paddling, but the effects to animal habitat have not yet been determined.

Kris Rolfus, director of the River Studies Center at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, and a group of researchers examined the presence of methylmercury in fish at the six parks along the Great Lakes. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is the closest park to an urban center, but surprisingly its fish show lower concentrations of mercury. Methylmercury is emitted by coal-fired power plants, and areas away from those sources tend to be more sensitive to the chemical. Rolfus said the parks’ high-pH lakes may also play a role.



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