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The case of the disappearing Great Lake

A sandbar rises above water level in a channel between the coal loading dock and grain elevators along St. Louis Bay in Superior, Wis. Lake Superior has 3 quadrillion gallons of water -- enough to submerge North and South America in a foot of water. By Julia Cheng, AP

Skywatch-Media Special Report

Michigan, USA

June 14, 2007

Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater lake, has DROPPED TO ITS LOWEST LEVEL IN 81 YEARS. The water is 20 inches below average and a foot lower than just a year ago. The dropping levels have had serious environmental and economic consequences. Wetlands have dried up. Power plants run at half capacity. Cargo ships carry partial loads. Boaters struggle to find a place to dock. The changes can be seen all along the 2,800-mile shore of Lake Superior, the coldest and deepest of the Great Lakes. The water has receded, sometimes 50 feet or more, from its normal shoreline. Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are at low levels, as well, although not quite as extreme. The average water temperature of Lake Superior has risen 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1979. The Edison Sault Electric power plant in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, will operate at less than 50% capacity this year because its water flows have been slashed as a result of the low lake levels. That pushed the company to buy high-cost power elsewhere and increase rates. Large beds of wild rice that grow in the wetlands have gone dry. Everyone is waiting for the water to rise. "It seemed normal last October. Then it dropped and never came back."

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