Climate change in Duluth: a closer look

Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 10.59.41 PMHilarie Sorensen from Minnesota Sea Grant gave a presentation on climate change in the Great Lakes region. The title of the presentation is "The Story After the Storm."

A couple weeks back, I wrote a story on climate change and its potential impacts on the Duluth community. To help me better understand the effects of local climate change, I talked to Hilarie Sorensen at Minnesota Sea Grant. During our talk, Sorensen directed me to a presentation she gave that highlighted the effects of local climate change.

Generally, climate change is discussed on a global scale that highlights trends across a large geographic region. Examining climate change on a local scale is much more practical, in order to help communities adapt to the changes they may be currently experiencing, or will encounter, in the future.

Climate change on a global scale is easier to model because it doesn't have to take into consideration unique topographical features that control a local climate. Researchers are beginning break down climate change and study it in smaller geographical regions, which can be difficult because many more regional details must me taken into consideration.

Duluth would be a part of Great Lakes region, and the presentation aims to help breakdown what is happening to our area.

The presentation is called "Story After the Storm – Planning for the Future: Climate Change and Adaptation in the Great Lakes Region". The presentation was given in April of this year, discussing the flood that occurred last spring.

This past week I got a chance to sit down and listen to the presentation in its entirety, and I feel there is a lot of valuable information to gain from this talk. It gives a lot of insight that is relevant to residents in the Great Lakes region.

This article aims to highlight some key points from the presentation, since it is a half an hour long. I recommend you take the time to view this presentation, to better understand the basics of climate change in our region. Click on the times and they will link you to that point in time of the presentation.

Climate vs. Weather

At about 0:55, Sorensen discusses the difference between climate and weather. It's important to distinguish these two terms when discussing climate change because they have very different implications, but often their definitions get mixed. The presentation has a clever animation of a man walking his dog to help illustrate climate versus weather. Climate trends while weather varies. Sorensen also clarifies the difference between trends versus variation.

Around 3:40, Sorensen discusses how researchers determine trends by observing the environment.


Sorensen begins talking about modeling at 5:20. Modeling is how researchers are looking into climate change to help identify trends and make future predictions. Sorensen discusses the downscaling of modeling and how it is becoming more common. Global models can’t take into consideration the variation in local geographic regions, such as our region having one of the largest lakes in the world.

At 6:45, Sorensen begins to give some local temperature and seasonal models.

Summary of Climate Change in Great Lakes Region

Skip to 10:20 and Sorenson highlights some projections of climate change for our region to the year 2100. She describes how the projections were made and covers temperature, precipitation and extreme (weather) events for our region. She then goes on to discuss how these changes may impact our environment, such as Lake Superior being one of the fastest warming lakes in the world.

Lake Level Variability

Lake Superior is clearly the main feature of Duluth; at 13:00, Sorensen points out that lake levels will continue to drop, then the temperature will continue to increase and winter ice cover will decrease. At 14:35 she shows a graph that visualizes the decrease in ice cover.

Annual Precipitation

Take a look at 15:55. Sorensen begins to point out changes in precipitation around the region. You will see there is an upward trend of precipitation as well as an increase in 24-hour (or 2 inch) rain events that Sorensen discusses at about 16:22.

At 17:21 Sorensen shows a great illustration that contrasts the amount of flooding and droughts that are occurring in neighboring communities. Unfortunately, while one community is suffering drought conditions, its neighbor may be suffering from floods. This is just one example of the variability that climate change will cause. It’s predicted there will be more “extreme precipitation events” (18:50), which will cause more problems for our local and state governments.

 Mitigation and Adaptation

Go to 21:00 to learn more about how we can mitigate and adapt to climate change. Sorensen defines mitigation as “the action taken to reduce global warming at its cause,” and adaptation is “the process of taking steps to become more resilient or less vulnerable to the changes were already seeing.” Sorensen focuses on adaptation involving transportation (22:11), human health (22:43), energy (23:46), infrastructure (24:12), ecosystems (24:28), and education (25:08).

I hope you learned something and have a better understanding of what climate change means to Duluth.

See the full presentation below.

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