, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 213-230

Changes in climate and levels of lake Michigan: shoreline impacts at Chicago

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Abstract

This study concerns effects along the Illinois shoreline resulting from the record-low levels of Lake Michigan during 1964–65, and the potential impacts of future low water levels at Chicago resulting from potential climate changes. The low lake levels of the 1960s did not cause major impacts at Chicago when they occurred. The two major impacts discerned (damage to shoreline protection structures and the encroachment of structures onto areas too close to the lake) resulted from a sequence of low-water levels followed by high-water levels a few years later. Climate scenarios, derived from general circulation models (GCMs) and extreme historical precipitation values, were used in a basin hydrologic model to determine potential future lake levels. Possible impacts were then estimated by 29 lakeshore experts. If the average lake level were reduced ⩽ 1.0 m during the next 50 yr, shoreline impacts would not be severe and cost about $ 100 million. Many of the adjustment costs could be offset by normal maintenance and replacement costs. If the average lake level was reduced more than 1.5 m during the next 50 yr, very sizable economic impacts would occur, costing between $3 and $35 billion (1988 dollars). Some of the adjustment cost could be offset by normal replacement costs, particularly if a master plan for changing affected facilities were implemented in advance. The type of climate change and degree of lakelevel change will greatly affect the severity of the effects at Chicago.