Climate Factors Contributing to Streamflow Inputs and Extreme Water-level Deviations from Long-term Averages for Lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Mark T Anderson, USGS South Dakota Water Science Center, Rapid City, SD, United States and John F Stamm, U.S. Geological Survey, Rapid City, SD, United States
The Great Lakes are a highly valued freshwater resource of the United States and Canada. The Lakes are the focus of a science-based restoration program, known as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). Physical and chemical factors, such as inflows and nutrient loads to the Great Lakes can affect ecosystem function, contribute to the spread of invasive species and increase the occurrence of harmful algal blooms. Since about 1999, water levels in Lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron have been at or below the long-term average (1918 to present). Analyses of streamflow trends for the period 1960 to 2012 in watersheds draining into Lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron showed a long-term decline in average inflows, which helps to explain the persistently below-average lake levels. Recent climatic conditions of October 2013 to August 2014 have contributed to a rapid rise in lake levels, most notably in Lake Superior. Lake Superior recently reached an elevation of 602.56 feet above sea level in August 2014, which is the highest level in 17 years. Coincident with this recovery was the development of a large algal bloom in Lake Erie in August of 2014 that shut down the Toledo, Ohio municipal water supply. These anomalous, extreme deviations from long-term average lake levels will be examined to better understand the forcing factors that contributed to changes in inflow volumes and lake-levels. Particular focus will be given to the climatology of years when changes in lake levels are most pronounced, such as; the measured lake-level declines during 1964-1965 and 1998-2000; and lake-level rises during 1973-1974, 1987-1989, and 2013-2014. The climatology of years with periods of algal blooms will also be examined such as, 2003, 2008, 2011 and 2014.