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Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering; Great Lakes Research Center


Warming trends in the Laurentian Great Lakes and surrounding areas have been observed in recent decades, and concerns continue to rise about the pace and pattern of future climate change over the world's largest freshwater system. To date, most regional climate models used for Great Lakes projections either neglected the lake-atmosphere interactions or are only coupled with a 1-D column lake model to represent the lake hydrodynamics. This study presents a Great Lakes climate change projection that has employed the two-way coupling of a regional climate model with a 3-D lake model (GLARM) to resolve 3-D hydrodynamics essential for large lakes. Using the three carefully selected Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) general circulation models (GCMs), we show that the GLARM ensemble average substantially reduces surface air temperature and precipitation biases of the driving GCM ensemble average in present-day climate simulations. The improvements are not only displayed from an atmospheric perspective but are also evident in the accurate simulations of lake temperature and ice coverage. We further present the GLARM projected climate change for the mid-21st century (2030–2049) and the late 21st century (2080–2099) in the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5 and RCP 8.5 scenarios. Under RCP 8.5, the Great Lakes basin is projected to warm by 1.3–2.1 ∘C by the mid-21st century and 4.1–5.0 ∘C by the end of the century relative to the early century (2000–2019). Moderate mitigation (RCP 4.5) reduces the mid-century warming to 0.8–1.8 ∘C and late-century warming to 1.8–2.7 ∘C. Annual precipitation in GLARM is projected to increase for the entire basin, varying from 0 % to 13 % during the mid-century and from 9 % to 32 % during the late century in different scenarios and simulations. The most significant increases are projected in spring and fall when current precipitation is highest and a minimal increase in winter when it is lowest. Lake surface temperatures (LSTs) are also projected to increase across the five lakes in all of the simulations, but with strong seasonal and spatial variability. The most significant LST increases occur in Lakes Superior and Ontario. The strongest warming is projected in spring that persists into the summer, resulting from earlier and more intense stratification in the future. In addition, diminishing winter stratification in the future suggests the transition from dimictic lakes to monomictic lakes by the end of the century. In contrast, a relatively smaller increase in LSTs during fall and winter is projected with heat transfer to the deep water due to the strong mixing and energy required for ice melting. Correspondingly, the highest monthly mean ice cover is projected to reduce to 3 %–15 % and 10 %–40 % across the lakes by the end of the century in RCP 8.5 and RCP 4.5, respectively. In the coastal regions, ice duration is projected to decrease by up to 60 d.

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© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
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Publication Title

Geoscientific Model Development

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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