New numbers on the state of the Great Lakes shows a rise in water temperatures for winter 2021, including for Lake Huron.
Environmental experts in the Georgian Bay area say the warming of Lake Huron can have significant effects on the weather, environment and wildlife.
The latest data from the Great Lakes Environment Research Laboratory (GLERL) shows Lake Huron's water volume temperature sitting at 4.3 C for Feb. 5. That's compared to this time last year, when the water temperature was at 3.9 C, and the year before, at 3.2 C.
David Bywater, a conservation program manager with Georgian Bay Biosphere Mnidoo Gamii, said GLERL's latest data is consistent with the pattern of ice loss coverage they've seen in data dating back to the 1970s.
A report the Biosphere published in 2018 details a steady decline in ice coverage for Lake Huron from 1973 to 2016, using data from the Canadian Ice Service. It adds the average water temperature is increasing at a rate of 0.9 C every decade. It links both these phenomena to climate change.
"It can affect weather: if you have open water instead of ice, that's going to affect the amount of precipitation that you're going to be seeing, both rain and snow," he said. This is because ice coverage prevents further evaporation.
Rupert Kindersley, the Georgian Bay Association's executive director, said the warming waters are a concern for that reason: he noted the damage done to structures, docks and businesses near the Georgian Bay shoreline over the years as a result of flooding.
"It's one of the features of climate change that we're getting these warmer winters and less ice cover," he said.
There are also ecological impacts: according to Samantha Noganosh, a councillor with Magnetawan First Nation and lands manager, many community members have seen a decrease in the number of fish coming through Magnetawan River — which is connected to Lake Huron — over the years, meaning less yield during fishing season. Community members also use the river as a water source for recreational activities and ceremonies.
"(Magnetawan River) is the lifeblood of the First Nation," said Alanna Smolarz, a species-at-risk biologist working for the First Nation. "It's an incredible resource."
According to Noganosh, the First Nation is closely monitoring the situation with Lake Huron's warming waters. Bywater said the community partners with the Georgian Bay Biosphere to collect data and exchange information to aid in raising awareness.
"That's part of the climate change challenge: making it local and making it meaningful when it's such a big issue," he said.
Kindersley said the Georgian Bay Association is also working to inform members of the water level concerns, but added what they can do to tackle this problem is minimal.
"There's not a lot we can do about climate change and global warming other than persuade people to adopt individual behaviour that will help to reduce CO2 emissions and other things," he said.
- Zahraa Hmood is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering the municipalities of Muskoka Lakes, Lake of Bays and Georgian Bay. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.