Climatic Change

, Volume 120, Issue 4, pp 697-711

First online:

Coasts, water levels, and climate change: A Great Lakes perspective

  • Andrew D. GronewoldAffiliated withNOAA, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory Email author 
  • , Vincent FortinAffiliated withEnvironmental Numerical Weather Prediction Research Section, Meteorological Research Division, Environment Canada
  • , Brent LofgrenAffiliated withNOAA, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
  • , Anne ClitesAffiliated withNOAA, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
  • , Craig A. StowAffiliated withNOAA, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
  • , Frank QuinnAffiliated withNOAA, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

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The North American Laurentian Great Lakes hold nearly 20 % of the earth’s unfrozen fresh surface water and have a length of coastline, and a coastal population, comparable to frequently-studied marine coasts. The surface water elevations of the Great Lakes, in particular, are an ideal metric for understanding impacts of climate change on large hydrologic systems, and for assessing adaption measures for absorbing those impacts. In light of the importance of the Great Lakes to the North American and global economies, the Great Lakes and the surrounding region also serve as an important benchmark for hydroclimate research, and offer an example of successful adaptive management under changing climate conditions. Here, we communicate some of the important lessons to be learned from the Great Lakes by examining how the coastline, water level, and water budget dynamics of the Great Lakes relate to other large coastal systems, along with implications for water resource management strategies and climate scenario-derived projections of future conditions. This improved understanding fills a critical gap in freshwater and marine global coastal research.