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The State of Climate Change Adaptation in the Great Lakes Region

This report gives an overview of key climate change impacts and a review of the prevalent work occurring on climate change adaptation in the Great Lakes region.
Willy Limiady

Figure 1. Map of the Great Lakes basin, depicting lakes, rivers, and streams in the region (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Detroit District; retrieved from

Executive summary

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. It is a global problem that threatens the success and longevity of conservation and management actions. Strategies undertaken to address the causes and effect of global climate change are classified as either mitigation or adaptation. Mitigation strategies help reduce the rate and extent of change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions or enhancing carbon uptake and sequestration. Adaptation strategies help people prepare for the unavoidable effects of climate change, either by minimizing negative impacts or exploiting potential opportunities. Adaptation, along with mitigation, is a critical component of any climate change response strategy.

The field of climate change adaptation is in a period of critical transition. The general concepts of adaptation have been well developed over the past decade. Now, practitioners must move from generalities to concrete actions, including implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. EcoAdapt strives to facilitate this transition by providing relevant adaptation examples and a forum for knowledge sharing. The purpose of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program is to promote adaptation action by (1) providing real-life, practical adaptation case studies to catalyze creative thinking, and (2) synthesizing information collected through interviews and surveys to further develop the field of study and action. We use the information collected to create synthesis reports, such as this one, and share the case studies and other resources through the Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE;, a website that supports open access information exchange between practitioners. CAKE includes case studies, a library, a community forum, a directory of individuals and organizations interested and/or engaged in adaptation, and a tools section of resources for adaptation action.

The intent of this report is to provide a brief overview of key climate change impacts and a review of the prevalent work occurring on climate change adaptation in the Great Lakes region, especially focusing on activities in the natural and built environments as they relate to freshwater resources (and in some cases, at the freshwater/terrestrial interface). This report presents the results of EcoAdapt’s efforts to survey, inventory, and, where possible, assess adaptation activities in the Great Lakes region.

First, we provide a summary of climate change impacts and secondary effects on freshwater environments and resources in the Great Lakes region, specifically focusing on changes in air and water temperatures, precipitation patterns, lake levels, and water chemistry. We then provide summaries of and trends in commonly used adaptation approaches and examples from our survey and other resources. We separate these examples into four broad categories – Capacity Building, Policy, Natural Resource Management and Conservation, and Infrastructure, Planning, and Development: 1. Capacity Building: Strategies include creating or reforming institutions, collecting additional information, conducting training and planning exercises, improving public awareness and education, developing tools and resources, and monitoring impacts and efficacy of adaptation action.

2. Policy: Strategies include developing adaptation plans, creating new or enhancing existing policies, and developing adaptive management strategies.

3. Natural Resource Management and Conservation Strategies include incorporating climate change into restoration efforts, enhancing connectivity, reducing local change, and reducing non-climate stressors.

4. Infrastructure, Planning, and Development Strategies include improving existing or designing new infrastructure to withstand the effects of climate change, incorporating climate change into community and land use planning, creating or modifying shoreline management measures, and preparing for disasters.

The report concludes with a discussion of the challenges to and opportunities for climate change adaptation in the Great Lakes region. The majority of adaptation efforts in the Great Lakes region thus far has been focused on capacity building, including improving understanding and awareness, acquiring or developing resources, and developing collaborative partnerships. Important next steps for advancing climate change adaptation in the Great Lakes region are to increase knowledge sharing between practitioners, to encourage more planning and integration across political and sectoral boundaries, to implement actions, and to monitor and evaluate the efficacy of these activities.


Gregg, R. M., K. M. Feifel, J. M. Kershner, and J. L. Hitt. 2012. The State of Climate Change Adaptation in the Great Lakes Region. EcoAdapt, Bainbridge Island, WA.

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