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Survey Captures Maritime Industry Thoughts on Climate Change

Photo by Jerry Bielicki.

Climate change models suggest that Great Lakes coastal communities should brace themselves for altered water levels, more intense storms, large-scale coastal erosion, and even more variability in weather patterns. However, the devil is in the details. Will Lake Superior rise by inches or fall by feet? Should communities prepare for more deadly storms like the "Freshwater Fury" of 1913, which hit the Great Lakes Basin with 90 mph (145 km/h) winds and waves of 35 feet (11 m)? Or, should smart planners erect wind turbines and sell off the ski slopes? As the uncertain, variable, potentially volatile future unfolds, industries within coastal communities will need to retool infrastructure and rethink practices in unique and cooperative ways.

The Great Lakes Sea Grant Network is helping with this.

In late 2008, a standardized Great Lakes Sea Grant Network Climate Change Awareness Survey was distributed to the Duluth Superior Harbor Technical Advisory Committee. Minnesota and Wisconsin Sea Grant collected 43 responses to assess general awareness about terms and current knowledge, to introduce more complex consideration of the impacts of multiple integrated environmental factors, and to intimate the relative positive or negative impacts that come with individual perspectives as well as port and harbor, shipping, and storm-water management interests.

"Climate change" and "global warming" have become so vernacularized that 91 percent of survey respondents felt they understood these terms. Almost all indicated that they were aware of “global” climate change issues, but less than half (48 percent) felt they were aware of Great Lakes or local challenges that a changing climate might create. Most (78 percent) indicated they were concerned by potential climate change impacts within the Great Lakes.

Approximately 60 percent of respondents thought changes in global weather patterns and the ramifications of those changes would be ultimately negative. Approximately 20 percent felt there would be both positive and negative impacts, while less than 10 percent felt there would be no impacts. Lower lake levels and extreme drought were viewed as the worst potential effects of climate change currently anticipated in the Great Lakes. Increased wind speed and extreme precipitation were also viewed negatively. Feelings about diminished ice cover were more split; although still about twice as many saw less ice as less desirable. According to the survey results, better news about climate's predicted future in the Great Lakes region was longer summers and warmer winters.

Climate Change Focus of World Maritime Day

This is the U.S.'s year to showcase World Maritime Day in an event paralleling the International Maritime Organization's celebration at its London headquarters. World Maritime Day focuses attention on the importance of shipping safety, maritime security, and the marine environment. The 2009 theme — climate change — is a topic Sea Grant is addressing in the Great Lakes. Since shipping traffic makes the Duluth-Superior Harbor one of the busiest ports in the Great Lakes, it seemed appropriate to add Duluth to the list of ports celebrating World Maritime Day in the U.S. (www.uscg.mil/worldmaritimeday/).

Visit www.seagrant.umn.edu/maritime/ to find out more about our World Maritime Day activities, and climate and the maritime industry.

When evaluating possible local climate change impacts on the economics of the Duluth-Superior port community, the responses were largely negative. If predicted climate changes for the Great Lakes region occur, maritime experts foresee trouble with infrastructure, water levels, storm-water drains, and erosion. Almost uniformly (70-78 percent), those surveyed anticipate climate-induced problems for dredging, inland river water levels (Mississippi River), general maritime infrastructure, breakwater and dock integrity, port operations and equipment, and fisheries. Only tourism was seen as a local industry enjoying a net benefiting from the predicted local climate change scenarios.

Based on the survey and a related focus group meeting*, maritime industry professionals indicate that the Duluth-Superior Harbor isn't yet prepared for increased stormwater capacity and shoreland erosion challenges that a changing climate could create. Because industry leaders are eager to learn more about the certainty of change and the uncertainty of climate, Sea Grant's work continues.

The Great Lakes Sea Grant Network is coordinating regional and local climate research to refine predictions about the impacts of climate change to the Great Lakes, including those most relevant to the maritime industry, stormwater managers, and coastal community planners. Sea Grant extension educators and communicators are also developing effective ways to relay information about climate predictions, scientific uncertainty and variability to decision-makers and managers. The Minnesota and Wisconsin Sea Grant Programs are compiling a master list of port infrastructure for the Duluth-Superior Harbor, and collecting projections on maintenance and replacement values from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Great Lakes Sea Grant Network is conducting these climate-related projects with funding through NOAA’s Climate Program Office Sectoral Applications Research Program.

*The meeting dialog was transcribed and is available for review (participants remain anonymous).

By Dale Bergeron and Sharon Moen
September 2009

Return to September 2009 Seiche

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