Scientists say human activity is changing the planet's climate faster than at any point in modern civilization, heralding costly and, in some cases, life-threatening consequences in every region of the country.

From a sinking city to a more prolonged polar vortex to wilting crops in extreme heat, here's a roundup of what experts are saying about the impact of climate change on the Chicago area and the Midwest.

Climate change has already started disrupting life in the Great Lakes region -- and it's only going to get worse

A new report by a team of Midwestern researchers suggests extreme bouts of precipitation and flooding could be the new normal in the Great Lakes region due to climate change.

Three of the top five wettest years on record in Chicago have occurred in the last decade, including 2018, which ranked fourth with 49.23 inches of precipitation, according to the National Weather Service.

While the United States has seen annual precipitation climb 4 percent between 1901 and 2015, Great Lakes states have experienced a 10 percent rise over this same period, with much of the additional precipitation coming in the form of heavy rainfall.

The boosted precipitation is expected to exacerbate urban flooding and challenge aging infrastructure. Water quality will be diminished as stormwater and sewer systems are overpowered, and as fertilizer from farms is swept into waterways, possibly triggering algae blooms and bacteria. Wetter winters and springs are forecast, but summer precipitation is anticipated to fall by 5 to 15 percent for most of the Great Lakes states by 2100. Corn and soybean production are likely to decline 10 to 30 percent as saturated farm fields delay planting and crops withstand hotter, drier summers, the report says.

Chicago is sinking. Here's what that means for Lake Michigan and the Midwest.

In the northern United States and Canada, areas that once were depressed under the tremendous weight of a massive ice sheet are springing back up while others are sinking. The Chicago area and parts of southern Lake Michigan, where glaciers disappeared 10,000 years ago, are sinking about 4 to 8 inches each century.

While Chicago's dipping is gradual, this dynamic could eventually redefine flood plains and work against household sewer pipes that slope downward to the sewer main.

The greatest impact of this imperceptible phenomenon likely won't be inland, however. Over time, this tilting effect has generally translated into higher lake levels for the southern end of the lakes and lower watermarks for the northern shorelines.

The massive glacier that formed the Great Lakes is disappearing -- and greenhouse gases are to blame for its untimely demise

All that's left of the colossal ice sheet that sprawled over much of North America and formed the Great Lakes is a kernel of ice in the Canadian Arctic -- and it's dwindling fast.

Today, the Barnes Ice Cap, a glacier about the size of Delaware on Baffin Island in Canada, is the last remnant of the mighty Laurentide Ice Sheet. But after 2,000 years of stability, the ice cap is expected to vanish in the next 300 years as an unparalleled rise in heat-trapping greenhouse gases has brought on an alarming rate of melting since the 1960s.

Scientists say the warmth of the past century exceeds any in the last 115,000 years, and perhaps even longer, according to a study published last month.

Here's why the polar vortex gripped Chicago this winter and why you may see more of it

For Chicagoans wondering why the polar vortex migrated into Great Lakes states this winter, some scientists say the atypical cold -- which may become more frequent and prolonged -- could be linked to warming in the Arctic.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the past five years, temperatures have been warmer than all previous records dating to 1900, a recent NOAA report said.

This warming is believed to be weakening and fragmenting the polar vortex, and distorting the polar jet stream, the ring of westerly winds that typically keeps the ultra-cold air mass contained to the Arctic Circle.

As a result, it's becoming easier for warm air from the south to punch into the Arctic, which, in turn, it allows bitter cold to ooze south into the Midwest and Northeast.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has committed Illinois to fighting climate change, as a study shows extreme weather is convincing more people

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order early this year to join the United States Climate Alliance, aligning himself with 17 other governors who have committed their states to reduce carbon emissions consistent with the Paris Agreement after President Donald Trump vowed to withdraw the United States from the pact.

By joining the coalition, Pritzker has pledged Illinois will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 levels. Pritzker said Illinois is on track to get 25 percent of its power from renewable sources, referring to a requirement by the Future Energy Jobs Act, the bill that resulted in a boom in solar energy across the state.

Fish eggs are suffocating in Lake Michigan reefs. What will it take to save these nurseries?

Many Great Lakes reefs, both man-made and natural, have been smothered by invasive zebra and quagga mussels that have colonized the lake bottom, leaving eggs exposed and more vulnerable to predators. In other areas near the mouths of rivers and tributaries, scientists say these reefs are being buried by sand and silt, the result of increased precipitation, soil erosion and runoff from climate change.

Man-made reefs have proven capable of beckoning large numbers of fish, but it is unclear how much these structures are helping the overall wild fish population.

Native fish in the Great Lakes have already faced a gantlet of obstacles to survive: overfishing, pollution, less food availability, competition with invasive species. Researchers are now wondering how lake trout and other species -- including walleye, lake whitefish, smallmouth bass -- will respond to this bout of habitat degradation.

2018 was a year of unpredictable weather in Illinois, from record rain to December tornadoes

Illinois residents are accustomed to hunkering down and expecting the worst from the weather in all four seasons, but 2018 delivered some brutal punches.

From the first day of the year, the state saw record-setting cold. That was followed by debilitating heat, flooding and a cluster of year-end tornadoes.

A sweeping federal climate change report painted a grim picture for the Midwest

Rising temperatures in the Midwest are projected to be the largest contributing factor to declines in U.S. agricultural productivity, with extreme heat wilting crops and posing a threat to livestock, according to a sweeping federal report on climate change released Friday.

Midwest farmers will be increasingly challenged by warmer, wetter and more humid conditions from climate change, which also will lead to greater incidence of crop disease and more pests and will diminish the quality of stored grain. During the growing season, temperatures are projected to climb more in the Midwest than in any other region of the U.S., the report says.

Without technological advances in agriculture, the onslaught of high-rainfall events and higher temperatures could reduce the Midwest agricultural economy to levels last seen during the economic downturn for farmers in the 1980s.

Lake Michigan is warming. A recent report says that could mean trouble for game fish.

A warmer and wetter climate in the Midwest could lead to the displacement of some cold water fish species in southern Lake Michigan and trigger mass die-offs in smaller inland lakes, according to a report published last year by Purdue University.

As the atmosphere warms due to the proliferation of greenhouse gases, so, too, are the Great Lakes, warns a Purdue University-led report on the impacts of climate change in Indiana. Summer surface water temperature in Lake Michigan has risen about 3 degrees since 1980, and is projected to accelerate, rising at least 1 degree a decade, experts say. A hotter climate could become a problem for some game fish, like trout and salmon, that depend on cold, oxygen-rich waters.

What happens when Lake Superior has too much water? It dumps it into an already overflowing Lake Michigan.

For nearly a century, a dam at the head of the St. Marys River near Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., has been used like a faucet, controlling the amount of water flowing from Lake Superior into lakes Michigan and Huron.

In the past five years, following a swift rise in lake levels, the relatively obscure Lake Superior board that regulates the amount of water released has stepped up these discharges, raising an outcry from a group representing property owners along the shoreline of Lake Michigan and potentially harming seasonal tourism.

John Ehret, an Olympia Fields resident and a director of the Great Lakes Coalition for Shoreline Preservation, occasionally shows people photos of the broad sandy beaches that once existed outside his cabin in western Michigan. Now, Ehert said, many of his neighbors have fortified their home with boulders, and his property is "damn near in the water."

Several factors have contributed to rising water levels and shoreline erosion, including increased precipitation and runoff, but Lake Superior outflow is exacerbating the problem, data from the National Ocean Atmospheric Administration and the International Lake Superior Board of Control show. Last year, the amount of water released from Lake Superior into lakes Michigan and Huron was the highest in 32 years.

Researchers have discovered 2 new non-native species in the Great Lakes

Cornell University researchers have confirmed two new exotic species, both about the size of a flea, have established themselves in the Great Lakes, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The arrival and staying power of both species in western Lake Erie remains a mystery to scientists who say it is the farthest north either has been tracked in the Western Hemisphere. Though neither is considered an invasive species because they have been found in low abundance compared with native zooplankton, they now join the more than 180 foreign species that have crept into the Great Lakes, which has one of the highest numbers of non-indigenous species in the world.

From boats to barns, the Midwest salt bed could shift the seafood market inland

The Midwest has long been considered America's breadbasket, a bountiful agricultural hub cultivating corn, soybeans, wheat and oats. Rearing cows and hogs has been a family tradition for some farmers who support a market of fresh meat and dairy.

Great Lakes states like Illinois support a moderate market for freshwater fish despite decades of overfishing and competition with invasive species. But be it shrimp or sea bass, the coasts have been the envy of the nation's heartland when it comes to locally sourced seafood.

That could be coming to an end.

Scientists have been exploring the viability of raising saltwater species in landlocked states, an approach that might help the United States -- a country that imports more than 80 percent of its seafood (fresh and saltwater) -- scale back a $15.6 billion trade deficit for seafood, by far the largest deficit in the food sector and second only to crude oil among natural resources. Experts say it would also alleviate the pressures of overfishing at a time when species are being harvested at unsustainable rates and some habitats are increasingly being threatened by climate change.

About 540 million years ago, much of modern-day United States was the site of an ancient sea. Illinois, then located near the equator, was brimming with marine species.

While much of the seawater evaporated, researchers say considerable amounts of brine from that period remain trapped underneath Illinois. If drawn to the surface, this saltwater may be able to once again sustain saltwater species, establishing a locally sourced market in the Midwest and helping would-be farmers to drastically reduce the upfront costs, according to a study published by Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.


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