Economy

The Great Lakes have always played a major role in the region's economy -- as the backdrop for shipping, steel-making and other industries. Today, the lakes are crucial to wind energy, tourism and other elements of the new economy.  

Ways to Connect

As February -- and winter -- come to a close, the Great Lakes are virtually ice-free.

Less than 5 percent of the lakes' surface is covered by ice, according to the latest data from the NOAA -- Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. By comparison, 8 percent was covered at this time last year. And in 2015, 87 percent was covered.

Elizabeth Miller/ideastream

On WCPN's public affairs program The Sound of Ideas last week, panelists from the U.S. Coast Guard Great Lakes, the Cleveland Metroparks, and the University of Minnesota Duluth's Large Lakes Observatory discussed this year's low ice cover on the Great Lakes. 

Listen to the segment here.

Zebra Mussels,
US Department of Agriculture

Every year, hundreds of commercial ships make their way through the St. Lawrence seaway, taking on and letting out water to maintain stability as they load and unload cargo. This ballast water is regulated to prevent the spread of invasive species, but there is some disagreement about who should be in charge of those regulations.

Researchers are refining a system to predict the strength and movement of harmful algae blooms that plague Lake Erie during the summer. The blooms can be dangerous -- fouling beaches and threatening drinking water, especially at the western end of the lake. 

Dave Rosenthal

Areas along the Great Lakes are bracing for big lake effect snows this weekend -- and there probably will be more this winter.

The reason: Water temperatures on all five lakes are higher than normal, so little ice has formed.

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