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Stephanie Garlock's Posts

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Why it’s a big deal that half of the Great Lakes are still covered in ice

largest
NASA

Over the winter, as polar vortices plunged the U.S. Midwest into weeks of unceasing cold, the icy covers of the Great Lakes started to make headlines. With almost 96 percent of Lake Superior's 32,000 miles encased in ice at the season's peak, tens of thousands of tourists flocked to the ice caves along the Wisconsin shoreline, suddenly accessible after four years of relatively warmer wintery conditions.

The thing is, all of that ice takes a long time to melt. As of April 10, 48 percent of the five lakes' 90,000-plus square miles were still covered in ice, down from a high of 92.2 percent on March 6 (note that constituted the highest levels recorded since 1979, when ice covered 94.7 percent of the lakes). Last year, only 38.4 percent of the lakes froze over, while in 2012 just 12.9 percent did -- part of a four-year stint of below-average iciness.

And as the Great Lakes slowly lose their historically large ice covers over the next few months, the domino effects could include lingering cold water, delayed seasonal shifts, and huge jumps in water levels.

Already, the impact of this icy blockade can be felt. On March 25, five days after the official beginning of spring, the Soo Locks separating Lake Superior from the lower Great Lakes opened for the season. But after a long and harsh winter, Lake Superior's nearly 32,000 square miles were still nearly entirely covered in ice. It would be another 11 days before the first commercial vessel fought its way across Lake Superior -- with the aid of several dedicated ice breakers -- and down through the locks.

The trip across Lake Superior to the Soo Locks, which usually takes 28 hours, took these first ships of the season nine days. A third ship had to return to Duluth after being damaged by the ice.
Detroit District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Facebook
The trip across Lake Superior to the Soo Locks, which usually takes 28 hours, took these first ships of the season nine days. A third ship had to return to Duluth after being damaged by the ice.
Read more: Climate & Energy

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Louisiana’s coastline is disappearing too quickly for mappers to keep up

Twenty-five years ago, miles of marshy land and grasses separated the small fishing outpost of Buras, La., from the Gulf of Mexico. But years of erosion -- along with the one-two punch of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita -- have washed away much of that barrier. Today, the islands, inlets, and bays that once defined the coastline of Plaquemines Parish have begun to melt together. Like all coasts, the land around the Mississippi River is constantly evolving. In past centuries, that process was slowed by the annual flooding of the river's vast delta, which brought new sediment to replace what was …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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In Stockholm, a proposal to make snow plowing priorities better for women

stockholm winter snowplow
Ulf Bodin

In Stockholm, the depths of winter can stretch out over nearly half the calendar year. Last winter, the first reported snowfall came on Oct. 25, and the last sighting wasn't until April 20.

With six months of potential snow, the task of keeping the city's commuters moving and working can be a real challenge for local government. At the moment, Stockholm uses a relatively standard snow-clearing strategy that differs little from what other harsh-winter cities have chosen to do. They focus their plows first on major thoroughfares, then on downtown areas close to major workplaces and construction sites, and finally move on to smaller roads, neighborhoods, and schools.

But some in Stockholm's city government have begun to suspect that these longstanding strategies may not best serve all of the city's residents. By focusing on city-center workplaces and construction sites, the Green Party's Daniel Helldén suggests, the city is implicitly ignoring the places that "vulnerable groups," including women and families, frequent most often. His solution? Something he's calling "gender-equal plowing."

Read more: Cities, Living

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Climate-related power outages aren’t just a coastal problem

Eerie images of flooded, pitch-black lower Manhattan following Superstorm Sandy made it clear just how stark an effect climate change and extreme weather can have on our everyday access to electricity.

A report from the U.S. Department of Energy released last week shows that New York City and other coastal regions aren't the only ones at risk. And it's not just a question of the future. No American region, it turns out, has been exempt from the possibility of mass power outages. The report focuses on three major causes: rising temperatures; wider-spread, more severe droughts; and more devastating flooding, storms, and sea-level rises.

DOE also created a map of energy and power-related disruptions over the past decade that experts have attributed to large-scale, long-term disruptions in climate and weather patterns (for the full, interactive map, click here).

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy