NOAA in the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes hold important environmental, cultural, and economic value for both the region and the nation. 

NOAA is committed to providing critical tools and information to research, manage, and protect this vital resource. For more information about NOAA’s work in the Great Lakes region, check out the NOAA in the Great Lakes video.

Challenges and NOAA’s work

The Great Lakes’ beauty and ecological diversity belie their vulnerability to biological, chemical and climate stresses. Years of degradation from toxic contamination, destruction of coastal wetlands, nonpoint source pollution, and invasive species have left the ecosystem at a tipping point.

Water levels

Water levels in the Great Lakes are naturally variable. On Lake Michigan alone, water levels can change on a decadal scale more than five feet from record highs to record lows. Climate change is predicted to create higher highs and lower lows between extreme precipitation and drought. NOAA has many different tools, products and services to keep the region informed about water levels and help them prepare for impacts from these changes and become more resilient.  

Invasive carp

The potential of invasive carp to enter and impact the Great Lakes is a serious issue that has been a long-term, collaborative effort across many different organizations offsite link inside and outside of federal, state and local government. NOAA is using its science and modeling products and services to provide baseline information on what the response of the lakes could look like if an invasion of invasive carp species were to become established in the lakes. 

Climate change 

A changing climate presents challenges and impacts for the Great Lakes ecosystem and residents. Higher global temperatures have changed patterns of seasons and precipitation at regional and local levels. Long-term studies conducted by NOAA show diminishing duration and thickness of ice cover each winter, and a decrease in lake water levels since 1980. 

NOAA serves as the U.S. co-chair of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement Annex 9: Climate Change Impacts. This Annex group has produced information on climate trends and impacts that are used by the basin and across implementation of the Agreement. 

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI)

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) offsite link, started in 2010, has provided a large infusion of funding for sustainable Great Lakes restoration. NOAA is fortunate to be working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and 15 additional federal agencies to fund projects that restore the Great Lakes. 

A promising future through partnerships and collaborative efforts

Fortunately, we know many of the solutions to the threats and challenges facing the Great Lakes ecosystem, and NOAA is working to provide the information, services, and on-the-ground action needed to achieve them.

NOAA maintains a significant presence in the Great Lakes, where we contribute to groundbreaking research, further collaboration among the region’s agencies and organizations, and play a leading role in Great Lakes restoration. NOAA is committed to providing the critical tools and information needed to advance science to stewardship and protect this vital resource. NOAA’s Great Lakes work is made possible by its regional offices, programs, center and partnerships.