Scientists take to the ice to study winter climate impact on the Great Lakes

CO2 2022/2021 418.78 ppm / 419.45 ppm

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One more month: Michiganders have one more month to comment on the state’s proposed MI Healthy Climate plan. The plan follows Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 2020 directive to state government to achieve economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2050 and her 2021 executive order creating a Council on Climate Solutions. The document details how Michigan would achieve decarbonization across economic sectors including energy production, transportation, businesses and homes, and energy innovation. The plan also includes equity and environmental justice in its framework. Comments can be sent via email and sign up for public information sessions. (Press release)

On the ice: Teams of scientists are heading out onto the frozen surfaces of the Great Lakes this month to take water samples and measure concentrations of nutrients and bacteria, light levels at various depths, and water movement. Ted Ozersky, a lake biologist at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said ice is “a dramatic physical force” that can protect shorelines from crashing waves and provide shelter for fish eggs. Although the climate crisis is transforming winter on the lakes–causing ice cover to decline steadily since the 1970s–scientists say these impacts have been insufficiently studied. The University of Michigan’s Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research, in partnership with the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, will fund this month’s research, which will see researchers use snowmobiles, icebreaking ships, an airboat, and other cool gear to get a closer look at the frozen (and unfrozen) expanse of the lakes in winter. “As we get this information, we’ll hopefully have a better idea what the loss of winter will mean and how to adjust management practices to mitigate the harmful effects,” Ozersky said. (AP)

The bomb: Climate change is leading to more severe winter storms like the recent “bomb cyclone” on the east coast, according to Jonathon T. Overpeck, a climate scientist and dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan. He says a weakening temperature differential between high and low latitudes allows cold, arctic air to stream down to lower latitudes and create “polar vortex” events. Warmer air and water also add moisture to the atmosphere, supercharging snowfall when the cold air hits. However, as global heating intensifies, many of these storms may shift to producing rain or freezing rain rather than snow, increasing flooding risks in cooler months. (U of M, NY Times)

See @UMSEAS's post on Twitter.

Year in review: How has Biden fared on climate change? Nick Schroeck, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, weighed in on President Biden’s first year in office in an interview, saying that despite efforts to make progress on climate legislation and environmental justice, the White House continues to meet resistance. Most significantly, the president’s Build Back Better plan, which included more than $500 billion for responding to climate change, has been blocked. Schroeck says the Justice 40 initiative to send 40 percent of investments in climate change response and clean energy to the hardest-hit communities could also be undermined if The Supreme Court decides to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. “That legal cloud combined with a Congress unwilling to enact climate change and EJ legislation has a chilling effect on activity aimed at addressing EJ impacts and greenhouse gas emissions,” Schroeck said. (Great Lakes Now, NY Times)

Essential services: Ann Arbor is planning to spend $8.5 million on solar arrays at 20 locations across the city. “The city has a goal of powering all of its facilities with 100% renewable energy and this would take us a really significant step toward that,” said Missy Stults, city sustainability manager. The city is asking residents to weigh in on this project and other proposed uses for $24 million in federal stimulus. City hall, the city airport, and several water treatment facilities are being considered for the solar arrays. The city is also looking into a floating solar array near Wines Elementary School, which would be the first of its kind in Michigan. Stults says the project would save the city at least $500,000 a year on energy and these installations could also be hooked up to battery storage, powering essential city services during outages. (MLive)

Solar farm: The student-run campus farm at the University of Michigan set a goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2026. The Campus Farm Student Management Team will perform an assessment of greenhouse gas emissions, which primarily come from the boiler used in the transplant greenhouse and the electricity needed for a walk-in cooler. “Our immediate strategy is to try to offset our carbon emissions through the use of an agrophotovoltaic (APV) system,” said Jeremy Moghtader, program manager for the Campus Farm. APV is an emerging technology that uses land simultaneously for solar power and food production. (Michigan Daily)

World of methane: Michigan could receive $26.5 million in federal aid to help cap oil and gas wells, part of a national plan to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that can be 80 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, although it drops out of the atmosphere much more quickly. In other methane news, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a group of state attorneys general to support the EPA’s proposal to strengthen rules around methane emissions at oil and “natural gas” facilities. The EPA estimates the new rules would reduce methane emissions by 41 million tons, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by 12 million tons, and other “hazardous air pollutants” by 480,000 million tons between 2023 and 2035. (Michigan Advance, Nature, Grist)

Speaking of ice: Ice goes up, ice goes down on the Great Lakes — but the overall trend is clear: Annual maximum ice coverage, typically reached in mid-February, is down 22% from 50 years ago. And years with extremely low ice coverage are becoming more frequent, and the ice seasons are getting shorter. (Climate Central, EPA)

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