Source: A College of Menominee Nation production for NASA's Where Words Touch the Earth
This video segment adapted from the College of Menominee Nation examines observations about water resources on Menominee Indian Tribe land, located in northeast Wisconsin, and considers the impact that climate change is having on water levels, water quality, fish populations, and more. Tribal member Mary Webster explains what watching the water can teach; conservation officer Walter Cox notes that a decline in trout that might be attributable to global warming; and college president Verna Fowler says that collaboration is required to address the issue of climate change.
The more scientists learn about the effects of climate change on water resources, the clearer it becomes that climate change is having a net negative impact on water resources in many regions of the world. Because the water cycle is driven by solar energy, an increase in atmospheric temperature speeds up the primary processes that make up the cycle: evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. While different regions of the world respond differently to a warming climate, with some getting more rainfall and others getting less, in North America the supply of freshwater resources is expected to decline on the whole. Evaporation will increase, and snowpacks, which release water as they melt, will be smaller in volume. Higher air temperatures also increase water temperatures, which can affect water quality.
In the video, Menominee tribal member Mary Webster notes that water levels are getting lower in some of the lakes on the reservation. These observations are supported by climate science. From 1959 to 2006, data show that Wisconsin as a whole became wetter—but not northeastern Wisconsin, where the reservation is located. The historically low lake levels recorded in this region during the first decade of the 2000s correspond with below-average precipitation. In addition, there are decreases in the extent of lake ice in winter. Because ice cover regulates lake temperature, light penetration, and other factors related to the growth and reproduction of aquatic species, the impacts of reduced ice cover are ecologically significant.
As the quantity of water declines, so too does its quality. As ponds and lakes become warmer and shallower, algae populations grow. A rapid accumulation of algae—called a bloom—creates unhealthy conditions for aquatic life. When conditions go beyond a certain range of temperature or chemical content, a species can become stressed. Because the plants and animals are largely confined in isolated habitats and cannot seek out more suitable conditions, they face decline or extinction. For a community that relies on fishing, it’s important that fish populations—like the northern pike, bluegills, and trout mentioned in the video—are healthy.
In response to threats on their way of life from climate change, native populations like the Menominee, who share a strong connection to nature, seek solutions that promote healing of the environment. Their call to action may take different forms. For example, Leon Fowler is educating himself on the need to protect and conserve natural resources like water. He will in turn help teach others about the importance of the issue to his people. Dr. Verna Fowler points out that for the Menominee to rework their ancient relationship with the environment, both native and nonnative parties will need to commit to a collaborative strategy.
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