University of Minnesota-Duluth researchers are studying how shorter winters may increase the presence of harmful algae blooms and impact fishing.
The researchers worked with the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Maryland to gather data from six lakes across Minnesota, Minnesota Public Radio reported .
"With climate change, our winters are getting shorter and shorter and we're losing winter and we really don't know what the impact of that is," said Andy Bramburger, a research associate from the Duluth campus. "We don't know how important that might be."
Researchers found that shorter, warmer winters mean more sunlight reaches the water, which jumpstarts algae production. That could mean more nutrients in the food chain but could also mean more toxic blue-green algae.
The harmful blooms can make humans sick and kill animals that drink the contaminated water.
"If you have a cottage and you like to swim or waterski, or further north where people actually take a lot of drinking water for their cottages right out of the lakes, having toxic algae blooms is potentially a big concern," Bramburger said.
Researchers are also examining how accurate satellite data is in determining the thickness of ice and snow cover. If the team determines that satellites can accurately measure ice and snow on lakes, they may be able to find a connection to algae and observe climate change's effects on lakes.
"If we can tell something useful, then we can use sat data to survey thousands of lakes rather than visiting each one, and then extrapolate some of our findings," said Ted Ozersky, a Duluth researcher studying lake biology.
Researching the unknowns of what occurs underneath lake ice is important, Bramburger said.
"We need to kind of race against time a little bit to find out how important winter is and how active things are down there before we've really lost winter," he said.