Hike to Dome Island

A view of Lake George Saturday morning from Bolton. The lake officially froze over this year, something it has not done in four of the last 10 years.

RAY BROOK — The Adirondack Park Agency hosted three area experts to discuss how climate change is affecting local people and the environment at its monthly meeting on Feb. 14.

The experts were all researchers at Paul Smith’s College.

Between long-term monitoring projects, examination of temperature data collected at local weather stations, studies of tick migrations and other research, the scientists said climate change is already having a significant impact on the Adirondacks.

Celia Evans, who works in the department of natural science, provided agency members with a broad picture of why climate change has already had a more noticeable impact on the Adirondacks than perhaps other areas of the globe.

Evans showed meeting attendees a map of biomes, which are naturally occurring habitats for certain plants and animals. There are several biomes on the planet, including tundra, boreal forest, desert, grassland and tropical rain forest, to name a few.

The Adirondacks, Evans showed, is in the temperate deciduous forest biome, but is also on the edge of the boreal forest and grassland, woodland and shrubland biomes.

It’s this teetering on the edge of things that makes the Adirondacks more “likely to be the ones that will see the changes in temperature and moisture sooner,” Evans said.

Curt Stager, a professor of natural sciences, said a look at temperature data from weather stations across the Adirondack Park has shown a warming trend that especially picked up around 1970.

“Winters are shrinking,” Stager said. “They’re basically eroding away on both ends of the season.”

The evidence of this is particularly compelling in the changes of ice-in and ice-out dates on Adirondack-area lakes.

On Lake Champlain, for example, there were only three times in the 1800s that the middle of the lake did not freeze over. From the late 1900s to the present day, Stager said, it has become unusual for the lake’s middle to completely freeze.

Lake George has seen a similar trend. The lake did not freeze completely only one time between 1908 and 1990. Between 1990 and 2018, that increased to 11 times, according to data provided by the Lake George Association.

Schroon Lake has also started to keep track of ice-out dates, which are tending to get earlier. In 2016, ice-out was 26 days earlier than the 27-year average.

A warming climate also means more intense storms, and Stager said the area is getting about 6 to 8 inches more rain per year than it did before 1970. The ferry service on Lake Champlain has been documenting the high water lines from floods, and in a photo Stager shared, the lines are getting higher and higher.

“It’s kind of like our own local version of sea level rise,” he said.

Lee Ann Sporn, also in the natural science department at the college, studies ticks. Her research shows ticks are not only migrating north as the Adirondacks warm, they’re also migrating to higher elevations.

She is seeing established populations of ticks, which are known for carrying Lyme and other diseases, at 1,800 feet.

“We are on the edge of many things, of biomes, (but) we’re also on the edge of suitable habitat for ticks,” Sporn said. “Here, on the edge in the emergent area, climate change does appear to be driving it, and we are definitely in the path of this spread.”

Adirondack Park Agency officials asked whether some of global warming can be attributed to natural causes. They also asked how to convince naysayers that climate change is caused by humans.

Stager said when he first started studying the issue, he was a skeptic, too.

“I’ve changed my mind in light of the information now,” he said.

While there are natural cycles of warming, they are nowhere near the scale of what is happening today, he said. The warming trend particularly picked up in the 1970s, correlating with a greater emission of greenhouse gases by human activities.

The only other things that could cause this amount of global warming would be the sun or volcanic activity, he said. Monitoring of the sun shows it is not doing anything unusual.

Volcanoes do produce carbon dioxide, but humans are releasing more carbon dioxide than 100 times all of the world’s volcanoes combined.

“We’re a force of nature,” Stager said.

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Reporter Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (518) 742-3238 or gcraig@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.


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