Great Lakes Pennsylvania Recreation

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Climate Change in Pennsylvania
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Climate Change Impacts:
Recreation and Tourism

Pennsylvania boasts more than 100 state parks, woodlands, and numerous rivers and streams, which offer a wide range of recreational facilities and tourist attractions to boaters, anglers, campers, hikers, and wildlife watchers. It is the beautiful Lake Erie shoreline, and especially Presque Isle, however, that draw most visitors. Climate change will affect each of these areas, and therefore the type of recreational experiences available in Pennsylvania.

The most certain impacts of climate change will be on winter sport activities. Communities and businesses dependent on revenues from winter sports could be hard hit. Some of these communities and businesses, however, may make up the loss by expanding warm weather tourism and recreation. Among the potential impacts with implications for recreation and tourism in Pennsylvania are:

  • A Change in the Distribution of Fish Species
    As waters warm, the types of fish species that inhabit them will likely change. Increases or declines of preferred catch will affect anglers on the Great Lakes and inland lakes. The range of warm-water fish is likely to expand northward, while cold-water species, including brook trout—the state fish—and even some cool-water fish, may decline dramatically, potentially to the point where they disappear from the southern parts of the region.

  • An Increase in Summer Stratification
    Stratification of lakes occurs when a warm surface layer of water develops over cooler, deeper water. A warming climate increases the duration of summer stratification in the deep lakes. This, in turn, makes frequent and larger "dead zones"—areas of water depleted of oxygen and unable to support life—more likely. This is especially the case for Lake Erie—the shallowest of the Great Lakes. Persistent dead zones can result in toxic algal blooms, foul-smelling, musty-tasting drinking water, damage to fisheries, and massive fish kills—known as "summerkill".

  • Loss of Winter Ice
    Declines in the duration of winter ice on lakes are expected to continue. The loss of winter ice may be a mixed blessing for fish, reducing winterkill from oxygen deficits in shallow lakes but also jeopardizing reproduction of whitefish in the Great Lakes bays, where ice cover protects the eggs from winter storm disturbance.

  • An Expanded Summer Recreation Season, with Risks
    Summer BoatingAs temperatures warm further, extreme heat, extreme storms, elevated ozone levels, and possible increases in risk from insect-and waterborne diseases will affect beachgoers and boaters and may involve some restrictions and require behavioral adjustments by tourists and local outdoor enthusiasts.

  • An Increase in the Accumulation of Contaminants in Fish
    Lower oxygen and warmer temperatures promote greater microbial decomposition and subsequent release of contaminants from bottom sediments. Thus, the accumulation of mercury and other contaminants in the aquatic food chain may accelerate.

  • A Loss of Bird Diversity
    A warming climate will drive complex changes in habitat, food resources, and other factors that will likely diminish bird diversity. Specifically, earlier spring runoff, more intense flooding, and lower summer water levels generally spell growing challenges for Pennsylvania's wetlands and the species that depend on them. Already, development and agriculture have significantly reduced wetland habitat. An additional loss of habitat or food resources for migratory birds, shorebirds, and waterfowl will affect Pennsylvania's bird watching and hunting industries.

Photo Credits:
Canvasback -- National Park Service, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Summer Boating -- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
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