Ice Coverage Greater on Great Lakes

During the past several years, ice coverage on the Lakes has been below normal. Now, for the second year in a row…ice coverage is up:

Transcript

During the past several years, there’s not been as much ice on the Great Lakes. For the second
year in a row, there’s a lot more. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


With a colder winter this year, the Great Lakes are seeing more ice coverage. Ray Assel is a
physical scientist with the Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab. He outlines what he sees on
ice charts from the National Ice Center.


“Ice cover extent similar to the 30-year median ice cover. So, it’s really not that unusual.”


Last year also saw closer to average ice on the Great Lakes. But it seemed extraordinary because
of several mild winters before.


“I think what makes people think it may be unusual is because of the five winters previous to this
last winter, we’ve had below normal ice cover.”


Assel says for those who are looking for clues to global warming, year-to-year changes can vary
widely. Global warming has to be measured in decades.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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Fall Foliage Could Be Brilliant

Across the region, the leaves are beginning to change color. One forestry expert says it’s a slow start, but the autumn foliage could become brilliant before the leaves fall this year. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Across the region, the leaves are beginning to change color. One forestry expert says it’s a slow
start, but the autumn foliage could become brilliant before the leaves fall this year. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


This fall, most of the region has seen a lot of cooler, overcast days. Burt Barnes is a forestry
professor with the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. He
says if we’re to see great fall color, we need some more sunshine.


“Well, so far we haven’t had the crisp, sunny, warm days and cold nights that are sometimes
characteristic of fall, which give us the best coloration.”


Barnes says the temperature differential between day and night affects the fall color. With
brighter, warmer days and cool nights, the colors become spectacular. He adds if there’s a sharp
frost, that will cut short the display, but if we get a long frost free period, the colors will continue
to intensify.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Lake Levels Low Despite Rain

Even though it’s been a rainy summer, the shipping industry, boaters and beachgoers are still dealing with low water levels on the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams reports:

Transcript

Even though it’s been a rainy summer, the shipping industry, boaters and beachgoers
are still
dealing with low water levels on the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Rebecca
Williams reports:


All the rain this season has raised hope for an end to low water levels. But Lakes
Michigan,
Huron and Superior continue to be much lower than average for the fourth year in a row.


Frank Quinn is a hydrologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration. He
says rain is not the only factor affecting lake levels. Temperatures and
evaporation also affect
them. Quinn says the recent rain has helped, but more rain is needed.


“We’ve averaged for the last year about 90% of our normal precipitation…we still
haven’t had
enough continuing rainfall to bring the levels back up to what their long-term
averages would
be.”


Rain has helped raise the lower lakes, Ontario and Erie, but NOAA’s 6-month outlook
shows low
levels continuing on the upper lakes through early spring.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Researchers Forecast Region’s Warmer Future

  • The Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin - Researchers say global warming may mean earlier ice breakup and spring runoff, more intense flooding, and lower summer water levels. They say this could spell trouble for wetlands and the species that depend on them. (Photo by Ryan Hagerty, USFWS)

Warmer weather might sound like a welcome reprieve to a lot of people spending early spring in the Midwest. But a team of researchers is warning that in years to come, warming trends in the Great Lakes region could be bad news for business, and for people’s health. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports:

Transcript

Warmer weather might sound like a welcome reprieve to a lot of people spending early spring in the
Midwest. But a team of researchers is warning that in years to come, warming trends in the Great
Lakes region could be bad news for business, and for people’s health. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports:


Climate change is not a phenomenon that’s unique to the Great Lakes
region. But University of Michigan biologist George Kling says there’s
good reason to look to the Midwestern U.S. for early clues about global warming
elsewhere.


“The middle part of North America, including the Great Lakes region, warms, or has warmed in the
past, at a slightly higher rate than the globe overall. Because we’re right in the center of a continent,
and there’s less buffering impact from the oceans. So coastal areas tend to warm a little bit less, at
a slower rate, continental areas warm at a little bit faster rate.”


Kling and other researchers from the Union of Concerned Scientists, and
the Ecological Society of America, spent the last two years looking at
some of the changes that can already be seen in the region: shorter winters,
higher temperatures, and less ice on the Great Lakes during the winter
months. And Kling warns that extrapolating these trends out over the coming
decades paints an ugly picture:


“These climate changes that we project in our new report will magnify
existing health and environmental problems, and may stress our economy.”


Asthma that’s aggravated every time a heat wave hits, increased competition
for groundwater as dry weather saps wells, and financial losses in communities that once relied on
winter tourism are all distinct possibilities. And the report warns that more visible changes to the
landscape might also
be on the way.


Donald Zak teaches ecology at the University of Michigan. He says during
past periods of warming, trees actually moved north to survive. But Zak
says that kind of tree migration may no longer be possible.


“Ten thousand years ago, when species migrated across the region, there
were very few barriers to migration that we have now placed in the landscape –
like large areas of agriculture, large areas of urban development. Those
will become barriers to migration that didn’t exist following the close of the
last ice age.”


Theories about causes of the warmer weather are well known: heat-trapping
gasses – mostly carbon monoxide – are spewed from coal-fired power plants
and gasoline engines. And continued deforestation and urban sprawl help
ensure mother nature never catches up with processing it all. But the researchers who worked on
the project say solutions are available to slow the effects of global warming. The report makes the
case for raising fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. David Friedman with
the Union of Concerned Scientists says right now, there are more than 30 models of cars on the
market that get more than 30 miles per gallon. The problem, Friedman says, is that those are
mostly compact cars that don’t meet the needs of people who are shopping for pickups, minivans,
and SUVs. Friedman says for those customers, there’s no way for them to use their
wallets to show their desire for more fuel-efficient vehicles.


“When your choice is between 17 and 18 miles per gallon, that’s not a
choice. You’re probably going to choose the vehicle based on the color
and the cup holders, not the fuel economy, when the difference is only one
mile per gallon.”


Some critics say the incremental changes that would result from raising
fuel economy standards would have almost no impact on global warming.
But researchers on the Great Lakes study say resistance from policy makers
and corporate leaders doesn’t have to hamper efforts to slow the effects
of climate change. They say even choices at the household level – like
carpooling and conserving energy can help lessen the damage.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sarah Hulett.

RESEARCHERS FORECAST REGION’S WARMER FUTURE (Short Version)

Within three decades, summers in the Great Lakes states might feel more like summers in Kentucky and Oklahoma. That’s according to results of a two-year study conducted by a team of Midwest and Canadian scientists. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports:

Transcript

Within three decades, summers in the Great Lakes states might feel more
like summers in Kentucky and Oklahoma. That’s according to results of a
two-year study conducted by a team of Midwest and Canadian scientists.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports:


The study was conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the
Ecological Society of America. Researchers looked into trends that have
already shown up in the region – including shorter winters, higher
annual average temperatures, and declines in winter ice on the Great
Lakes. The study projects potential problems for the region. Anglers
might find certain fish no longer thrive in warmer waters, and
communities that rely on winter tourism might find themselves hard hit.


University of Michigan biologist George Kling is the lead author of the
report. He says the findings point to a warming trend unlike anything
the planet’s seen.


“In the next 100 years, we will have the same amount of warming that has
occurred since the last Ice Age – 10-thousand years ago.”


The report outlines approaches for slowing the effects of global
warming. They include reducing greenhouse emissions and investing in
renewable energy.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sarah Hulett.

Activist Family Sets Stage for Global Warming

Scientists predict global warming could have a devastating impact on the earth and its inhabitants. But a traveling theater troupe has managed to find something funny about climate change. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports, the group “Human Nature” hopes to spread a message as well:

Transcript

Scientists predict global warming could have a devastating
impact on the earth and its inhabitants. But a traveling theater
troupe has managed to find something funny about climate
change. As The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman
reports, the group “Human Nature” hopes to spread a message as
well:


Joyful Simpson’s middle name is Raven. So perhaps it’s only
fitting that she plays a raven in the play, “What’s Funny About
Climate Change?”


“I suppose the raven in mythology is known as a trickster or a
shape shifter. So she’s come in human form to both tease and
cajole and plead with the audience for their understanding and
their awareness.”


(sound of play: “You came, you actually came! I said that if we made a show about global warming sound like
it actually might be funny, that the humans would come. And
here you are…suckers!!”) (laughs)


(fade under)


“What’s Funny About Climate Change” is a three-person
comedy review. The three members are the Simpson family.
They call their theater group “Human Nature”. Their goal is to
raise awareness about the problems caused by global warming.


Jane Lapiner is Joyful’s mother. She says their group uses
theater as a political tool.


“With comedy and theater in general, people can be more
receptive to important ideas, as opposed to a meeting or a
conference.”


That’s why the Simpsons founded the Human Nature theater
group more than 20 years ago. Global warming’s not the only
thing they’ve written about. They’ve performed plays about the
timber industry, wolves, and Pacific salmon.


David Simpson writes most of the material. He says he tries to
inform people and make them laugh.


“I have to say this is an intelligent show…It’s a sophisticated
show, the humor is sophisticated. People are going to learn
something about climate change, they’re gonna laugh, and
they’re gonna think.”


(sound of play, actors singing)


Joyful Simpson says she was fairly involved with her parents’
theater group growing up. But when she left for college, she
started to pursue other ways to communicate her concerns about
the environment. Her journey eventually led her back to her
parents’ theater group.


The current tour is the first time she’s worked with her parents in
about seven years. She says her years away from her family
might have prepared her for her role in “What’s Funny About
Climate Change.”


“I’m not educated about it from a scientific perspective and
actually I think that I embody some of the societal doubt of
whether or not it is a real thing and I’m trying to break out of
that because I think that’s deeply ingrained.”


Joyful is young. She’s in her mid-20’s. And she says it’s crucial
that young people understand environmental issues.


“I have a lot of people in the older generation that I look up to
who are very active in the environmental and the political world
and I see some of that energy in my generation but we are
lacking in that field. And so I’m pushing myself to feel inspired
to take the torch and also trying to push others to understand our
responsibility.”


(more sound of play: Joyful Simpson: “Did you actually think
there was something funny about climate change? It’s the
biggest disaster in the history of the entire civilization and it
really is happening…”)


(fade under)


The Simpson family will be performing on college campuses
across the nation this spring.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.

Faster Test for Beach Closings

An Indiana University scientist has developed a computer model that can predict E. coli levels near public beaches. The system could help public health officials who’ve been relying on test results that come too late to be of much help. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:

Transcript

An Indiana University scientist has developed a computer model that can predict E. coli levels near public beaches. The system could help public health officials who’ve been relying on test results that come too late to be of much help. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:


E. coli is a bacteria that can reach dangerous levels in the water, usually when big rainstorms flush untreated water into nearby lakes and streams. But traditional tests for E. coli take 24 to 48 hours. Indiana University hydrologist Greg Oliphant says the delay is a serious problem for keeping people safe when they go to the beach.


“Regulators were saying go ahead and go in the water, and E. coli was above safe level, and stay out when water turned out to be perfectly safe for full body contact.”


Olyphant has developed a computer model that uses wind, rain, and temperature readings to predict when E. coli levels will be high. The system has been tested in Chicago and Milwaukee and they found it to be about 80% effective. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tracy Samilton.

Cooling the City With Green Rooftops

  • The City Hall in Chicago is topped with plants and trees to try to cool things down. The city is working to reduce the heat island effect caused by so many blacktop roofs and parking lots. Photo by Lester Graham

On the nightly TV news in large cities, the meteorologist sometimes talks about the heat island effect. That’s where all the blacktop roofs and asphalt parking lots soak up the heat and increase the temperature on a hot summer day. One major U.S. city is trying to do something to reduce that effect. To set an example, the mayor decided to start with City Hall. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

On the nightly TV news in large cities, the meteorologist sometimes
talks about the heat island effect. That’s where all the blacktop roofs
and asphalt parking lots soak up the heat and increase the temperature
on a hot summer day. One major U.S. city is trying to do something to
reduce that effect. To set an example, the mayor decided to start with
City Hall. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Standing on the roof, eleven stories up, isn’t really far enough to escape
the noise of the city below. But this rooftop is an escape. It’s a garden, a
big one. There are even trees. Not in pots, but actually planted on… or…
in the roof.


Marcia Jiminez is the Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Environment. She says Chicago wants building owners to
do what they can to cool the city down… and planting gardens on the
roof is one way to do it. So that’s what the city did on top of City Hall.


“Well, the garden on the rooftop is addressing what we call an urban heat
island problem. By putting the garden with light colored pavers and the
green plants on top of the roof, we’re actually helping to use less energy
inside the building and it actually helps to keep the building cooler.”


Cooling down the building is just the beginning of this garden. Despite
being eleven stories up in the middle of downtown, the roof is alive with
bugs and butterflies.


“Actually birds and all of the insects, many of them, have found their
way up here. We’ve actually put up birdhouses to study what kind of
birds are coming to the rooftop garden. This is a place of
respite as well as a place to feed.”


The whole rooftop has become something of a lab. Scientists research
what animals have made a home here… and they’re monitoring how the
plants are spreading.


Kimberly Worthington worked on the City Hall project to see it go from
the drawing board to rooftop. She says they chose plants for color, form
and for survivability.


“The design that we went with was low maintenance, was what we were
looking for in our plant selection. And the landscape architects that were part of the design team focused on plants that would require less water. And they also wanted to keep as many native plants as possible. So, there are a lot of prairie plants up here.”


The Chicago City Hall rooftop project also reduces rain water runoff. 75-percent of a one-inch rain will be soaked up right here in the garden. That’s good because too much rain overflows sewers into Lake Michigan. If enough buildings in the city had rooftop gardens, stormwater runoff problems would be curtailed a bit.


While the city is touting the environmental benefits of its rooftop garden, in another part of the city a planned rooftop garden is all about people.


Brenda Koverman is with the Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital in Chicago. We’re up on the roof where she’s showing me landscape renderings of how the surrounding area will look once the planting begins. Stone paths, fountains, flower gardens and shrubs.
It’ll look beautiful. And it’ll probably cool things down up here. But Koverman
says this is for the patients who are learning to be mobile after disabling injuries. The hospital hopes that patients in rehabilitation will find the rooftop garden more pleasant and helpful than institutional tile floors and plastic obstacles as they learn to
manuever…


“You know, so, are patients more able to maneuver their wheelchairs in the community? Are patients able to use their hands better so they can cook better at home? Are patients able to stay out of the nursing home and go to their home? So, if we can get any kind of
those outcomes, then it’s a huge success.”


It might be more interested in the patients, but the hospital will still be helping Chicago reduce its heat island effect.


There aren’t very many of these projects in the city, so it’s hard to say whether the rooftop gardens could cool things down all that much. But Environment Commissioner Marcia Jiminez says all you have to do is go up on the roof on a hot day. City Hall sits right next to the County Building. In fact they look like the same building. But not from the roof. Only one side is garden.


“In last summer in 2001 on the hottest day, while it was about a hundred degrees on the city hall side, it was 165 on the opposite end of the building where’s there’s a blacktop roof.”


Even if you’re not interested in planting a garden on your roof, the city still requires some effort to cool things down. City ordinance calls for light colored material when a roof is replaced. And parking lots have to plant some trees before they can get a permit to resurface. Rooftop gardens aren’t mandated… but city officials say they’re learning first
hand that it’s a much better use of space in the city.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.