Lake Superior isn't as great as it used to be 2007-08-08 19:01:01   Print

    BEIJING, Aug. 8 (Xinhuanet) -- It's named Lake Superior because it is the largest and deepest of the Great Lakes. It's deep enough to hold the water of all the other Great Lakes and its surface area is as large as the state of South Carolina.

    But Lake Superior is getting warmer -- 4.5 average Fahrenheit degrees since 1979 -- and smaller, upsetting those who live near its shores, as well as scientists and companies that rely on the lake for business. The changes to the lake could be signs of climate change, although scientists aren't sure.

    Puffing on a pipe in a Grand Marais pub, retiree Ted Sietsema voiced a suspicion not uncommon in the villages along Superior's southern shoreline: The government is diverting the water to places with more people and political influence along Lakes Huron and Michigan and even the Sun Belt, via the Mississippi River.

    "Don't give me that global warming stuff," Sietsema said. "That water is going west. That big aquifer out there is empty but they can still water the desert. It's got to be coming from somewhere."

    That theory doesn't hold water, said Scott Thieme, hydraulics and hydrology chief with the Corps of Engineers district office in Detroit. Water does exit Lake Superior through locks, power plants and gates on the St. Marys River, but in amounts strictly regulated under a 1909 pact with Canada.

    Superior's level is at its lowest point in eight decades and will set a record this fall if, as expected, it dips three more inches. The average water temperature is significantly above the 2.7-degree rise in the region's air temperature during the same period.

    Water levels also have receded on the other Great Lakes since the late 1990s. But the suddenness and severity of Superior's changes worry many in the region. Shorelines are dozens of yards wider than usual, giving sunbathers wider beaches but also exposing mucky bottomlands and rotting vegetation.

    On a recent day, Dan Arsenault, a 32-year-old lifelong resident of Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, watched his two young daughters play in mud on the southeastern coast where water was waist deep only a few years ago. A floatation rope that previously designated the swimming area now rests on moist ground.

    "This is the lowest I've ever seen it," said Arsenault.


Editor: Gareth Dodd
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