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Indiana Dunes vulnerable to climate change, report says

Temperature increases

Lower emission levels:

3.4 degrees by 2070

4.7 degrees by 2100

Current emission levels:

4.6 degrees by 2070

8 degrees by 2100

Source: Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resouces Defense Council

Maps

Updated: October 31, 2011 2:13PM



Beach erosion, sweltering summer temperatures and fierce storms are well-known occurrences at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. But according to a new report on Great Lakes national parks climate change, these events will intensify over the next 100 years, along with loss of plant species and economic activity at the park.

According to the report, “Great Lakes National Parks in Peril: The Threats of Climate Disruption,” released Wednesday by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council, temperatures at the national lakeshore are projected to rise 5 degrees by 2070, the equivalent of moving the climate of Raleigh, N.C., to Northwest Indiana. By 2100, average temperatures may rise an additional 3 degrees, bringing the climate of Gainesville, Fla., to the region.

While 5 or 8 degrees may not seem significant, report author and Rocky Mountain Climate Organization president Stephen Saunders said a climate shift of a few degrees on average means higher highs, lower lows and more extreme weather.

“We are already seeing changes occur in these national parks with 11/2 to 21/2 degree changes over the past centuries,” Saunders said. “The U.N. framework on climate change has said we need to avoid an increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit compared to preindustrial levels to avoid unacceptable climate impact. The changes that have already occurred are 40 to 50 percent of the way to that threshold.”

The report analyzed 100 years of weather data from the national lakeshore, and used 16 global climate models to predict future temperature increases and climate changes.

Climate change can also have economic effects on the park. In 2009, visitors spent almost $58 million at the park, helping pay for the parks’ 542 employees. Hotter temperatures could mean fewer visitors willing to travel to a national park to spend time outdoors, without air conditioning, doing physical activities.

Lower lake levels, which could drop between 10 and 16 inches depending on future emissions levels, would affect marinas and shipping.

“The marinas really create problems when the lake levels are low because they need to do excess dredging [for channels to be deep enough for boats], which is very costly,” former lakeshore superintendent and Chicago Wilderness Trust president Dale Engquist said.

Engquist said the park’s disconnected property makes it a relatable model for climate change on the area.

“Indiana Dunes is a very small park,” Engquist said. “A lot of natural areas throughout the Chicagoland metropolitan area are the same way — fragmented.”

This park fragmentation also leaves the park vulnerable to non-native species invasion, long a problem at the lakeshore, which would increase with increasing temperatures.

Winter shelf ice on the lake protects shoreline from harsh winter storms and severe beach erosion. But from the 1970s through 2002, ice on the lake shrunk by 30 percent and shrunk another 15 percent between 2002 and 2009, leaving more shoreline exposed.

Thom Cmarr, attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council’s Chicago office, said public and government support for regulating carbon emissions is a key component to helping the park.

“The Supreme Court mandated the EPA to treat carbon emissions as a dangerous pollutant,” Cmarr said. “We need to tell our lawmakers that efforts to interfere with the Clean Air and Water acts are absolutely the wrong direction. Economic and environmental protections in the Great Lakes are one and the same.”



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