Great Lakes Working Group

The Great Lakes Working Group of the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) includes citizens, private and public decision-makers, and scientists collaborating on climate change’s impacts on the Great Lakes. In line with the WICCI mission, the Great Lakes Working Group will help WICCI:

  • Develop scientific understanding of climate impacts on the Great Lakes
  • Identify the Great Lakes’ vulnerability to climate change and climatic variability
  • Enable better planning, investment and other adaptation activities concerning climate impacts on the Great Lakes

Summary of Issues and Impacts

The Great Lakes are a vital recreational resource that are susceptible to the effects of climate change. Photo credit: Carol Toepke

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world in terms of surface area and one of the deepest at over 1,300 feet, while Lake Michigan is the sixth largest lake in the world and over 900 feet deep. Both lakes are ecologically and culturally important to the people of Wisconsin and are home to over 3,500 different species of fish and wildlife.

With climate change, the lakes are experiencing more extreme water levels, both high and low with less time between extreme conditions. Extreme rain events are washing more nutrients and pollutants into the lake and causing severe water quality problems. Warmer water temperatures are also impacting water quality and the ecology of the lakes. Increased wave action from storm events are eroding coastlines.

The Great Lakes Working Group studied these and other issues and produced a report, Climate Change and Wisconsin’s Great Lakes Ecosystem.

Read the Great Lakes Working Group report (pdf)

Recommended Solutions/Strategies

Addressing ongoing climate change will require management approaches that fall into four categories: resist change, build resilience, facilitate change, and accept change.

Resist Change

Actions include habitat protection and management, increasing invasive species control efforts, and efforts to protect water quality.

Cracks along a sheen of thin ice are accentuated by the vibrant colors of sunset
Photo credit Edward Deiro

Build Resilience

Actions include the resistance actions mentioned above and efforts to reduce existing stressors on natural resources, like reducing pollution, reducing fishing pressures, increasing tree canopy shading to keep water cool, and enhancing the ability of the ecosystem to retain water on the landscape.

Winds whip up waves that crash against the lakeshore as a lighthouse stands against a blue-gray sky
Photo credit Eve Schrank

Facilitate Change

Actions include efforts to facilitate species transitions like conserving and restoring ecological connections to facilitate species migrations.

A great blue heron holds a trout in its beak
Photo credit: Janna Soerens

Accept Change

Actions include maintaining ecosystem services through managed efforts like increased fish stocking and beach grooming to reduce pathogens. Monitoring programs to track the impact of climate change also fit in this category.

Ice shoves take on the shape of an iceberg near a lakeshore against an amber sky
Photo credit: Ryan Pederson

The Great Lakes Working Group explored these solutions further in its report, Climate Change and Wisconsin’s Great Lakes Ecosystem (pdf).

Environmental and Climate Justice Issues

The Great Lakes Working Group has begun to explore the environmental and climate justice concerns surrounding the Great Lakes. The working group has outlined that climate change especially threatens subsistence and cultural fishing rights on the Great Lakes. It calls for decision-makers to consider how the impacts of climate change stress subsistence fishing and important cultural resources, such as tribal fisheries and wild rice beds.

Our Team

Stakeholders and Partners

  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Contact Information