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3 Ways Record-Breaking Warm Weather Is Impacting Lake Superior

And how NPLSF is working to address it


Lake Superior is one of the fastest warming lakes on the planet, a long-term trend made all-the-more real by 2024’s unprecedented warm winter. NPLSF partners with the National Park Service to ensure the long-term health of the lake and the five national parks that surround it. 


Here are three impacts from warming weather, and what NPLSF is doing to stem the tide.


Scientific research canceled

For sixty-five years, researchers have traveled to Isle Royale to track the island’s wolf and moose populations. In 2024, this research—the longest running predator-prey study in the country—was canceled due to warm weather. The study is conducted by air and warm temperatures melted parts of the ice pack needed by Michigan Technological University researchers for survey plane take offs and landings.


The isolation of Isle Royale has made it a unique area for studying interactions between moose and wolves (take a look at NPLSF’s 2019 video on the reintroduction of wolves to Isle Royale). Researchers count on winter conditions not just for taking off and landing airplanes, but for the backdrop of white snow that makes it easier to see the animals from above.


The Lake Superior Podcast recently caught up with researcher Sarah Hoy who explained what the cancellation of this year’s research means to the body of data on the island, and the challenges of studying wildlife in such a remote setting.




Recreation activities canceled or changed

Winter activities from ice fishing and dog sledding to cross-country skiing and ice climbing are beloved, time-honored traditions around Lake Superior. In 2024, many of these activities—and large events—didn’t happen.


Among the year’s cancellations were the John Beargrease Dog Sled marathon, which usually brings thousands of worldwide spectators and hundreds of mushers from across the nation to Cook County, Minnesota.


For the second year in a row the UP200, running from Marquette, Michigan to Grand Marais Minnesota, couldn’t run due to unsafe trail conditions. The event adapted into a Festival of the Sled Dog, powered by Northern Michigan University. Organizers of the Michigan Ice Fest, which traditionally features ice climbing at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, also pivoted when warm weather made ice climbing unsafe, and provided classes instead of outdoor events.


“Park superintendents each have a laundry list of ways this year’s warm weather impacted park operations and activities,” said NPLSF Executive Director Tom Irvine. “It has really taken a toll.”

 

Fire danger is a major concern

The warm winter of 2024, with drastically reduced snow and lower precipitation overall, will continue to leave its mark as we move into the summer months.


“We are gearing up earlier on fire prevention messaging, wildland fire fighter crew preparedness, and focused on working with our communities to reduce vegetation across more fire prone landscapes,” Superior National Forest Fire Management Officer Nick Petrack. 

Once any remaining snow melts, dead grass and leaves quickly dried by the sun and wind, make it easier for fires to start and spread quickly. Visitors around the region are encouraged to take extra care and stay vigilant in obeying all fire safety regulations.


NPLSF is implementing climate solutions and promoting education

NPLSF is working hard to reduce carbon emissions that are driving global warming here and around the world. Through our Decarbonize the Parks initiative we are helping each park transition from fossil fuel to clean electricity. 


Irvine stated that diesel generators, propane heating, and other fossil fuels are not only significant carbon emitters but also pose environmental risks in our parks.


“Solar power, batteries, air source heat pumps, and electric equipment are tested, readily-available solutions,” he said, “and we are committed to helping our parks fully decarbonize operations as swiftly as possible.” 

Visitors to parks this year will see new educational materials on how they can take steps to decarbonize their homes and lawn care. NPLSF was also proud to co-host the premier of a recent documentary,  A Sea Change for Lake Superior, created by Hamline University and now airing on PBS. 


For more information on NPLSF’s Decarbonize the Parks work, email info@nplsf.org or visit Decarbonize the Parks.


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About The NPLSF


The National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation (NPLSF) exists to provide financial support for projects and programs that preserve the natural resources and cultural heritage of the five Lake Superior national parks: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Grand Portage National Monument, Isle Royale National Park, Keweenaw National Historical Park, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.


Funded through grants and private donations, NPLSF projects and programs ensure that these great parks and historic sites are maintained for the enjoyment of all current and future visitors.




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