Down the Drain: The Incredible Shrinking Great Lakes
by John G. Mitchell for National Geographic magazine
Synopsis and resource annotations by Max Grinnell
The Great Lakes continue to face a number of severe challenges, including the
invasion of zebra mussels, global warming, and the increased demand for water
from places like Chicago. In this engaging article from National Geographic
magazine, John G. Mitchell takes a look at some of these challenges through
interviews with hydrology experts, local residents, and others.
The piece begins with a conversation with Ted Cline, who lives on Lake
Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay. Cline talks about the ways in which he has seen
the lake change over the past fifty years. Despite recent droughts and higher
temperatures creating the lowest lake levels in 40 years, Cline still believes,
"Oh, the lake will come back up someday." Mitchell goes on to talk about the
basic facts surrounding the Great Lakes system in detail, examining the complex
hydrologic cycle and the recent evaporation trends that have affected the water
levels and the lives of those who live on and around the Great Lakes.
Mitchell continues the article with a discussion of several organizations that
have experienced some positive news in the Great Lakes area. According to
Scientist Will Cwikiel of the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, "Periodic low
water levels are important. Wetlands and exposed bottomlands are among the most
biologically productive ecosystems in the Great Lakes." The piece concludes with
an overview of some of the plans that have been floated over the past fifty
years to transform the Great Lakes, including an idea that would have seen the
Great Lakes tapped to reinvigorate the water levels in the Ogallala aquifer
under the Great Plains.
Found below is a list of useful resources that will illuminate and
enhance understanding of the topics found within this article.
The first link
take visitors to the TEACH Great Lakes website. Here visitors will want to use
the online lessons which talk about relevant issues, such as hydrology,
pollution, and environmental change.
The second link
users to a website provided by the University of Minnesota which covers the
basics of the physical, chemical, and biological properties of lakes.
Moving on, the third
leads to an excellent website of the film Waterlife, created by the
National Film Board of Canada. Visitors can watch the film here, and also learn
about the most pressing issues facing the Great Lakes.
The fourth link
to a research paper from the Brookings Institution that takes a critical look at
the benefits of restoring the Great Lakes ecosystem.
Visitors will also find the fifth website
most helpful, as it includes
information about the International Association for Great Lakes Research and
their scholarly investigations.
The final link
to the homepage of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System, which has an
interactive "Gateway to North America" tour and a helpful "Facts and Figures"
A beautiful and dramatic website, Waterlife, addresses the dire
state of the Great Lakes. Created by the National Film Board of
Canada the site has high quality images, a rousing soundtrack, and
different narrators. Visitors can choose to discover what part of
life water affects from a menu on the left hand side of the page,
and in this case, there are many. "Water is..." sits at the top of
the left hand side menu, and below it are the almost two dozen
topics related to water which can be selected. Rolling the cursor
over the slightly transparent list of topics increases their
visibility. Some of the topics include "evaporating", "waste",
"chemicals", "shipping", "invasive species" and "political". Choose
any of the topics, and eerie music accompanies the educational and
sobering text that floats and moves about the chosen topic. In some
cases, a narrator explains a bit more about the topic and the
visitor can still click through the other text presented on the