The oral history of the changing Lake Superior water temperatures it is striking.

This chart illustrates one of the warmest days ever recorded on lake superior, July 24th, 2012. It is sad, but well documented, that Lake Superior–the sole remaining ecologically sustainable great lake–is being pushed to new extremes by the changing climate. We’ve been noticing things change on the island.

Many of us involved with Rabbit Island are in our twenties and early thirties and grew up with Lake Superior as long as we can remember. For us it has been significant to witness temperatures on the ‘big lake’ warming, even since our childhoods in the early 80’s. Swimming used to be a challenge back then, even on the hottest days of summer. Now it is tolerable from late June through September. The winters have changed too. Not since the 1970’s has ice stretched all the way between Rabbit Bay to Rabbit Island and long gone are the tales of strapping on ice skates after a calm freeze and gliding over three miles of ice to the island, around, and back. Also gone are the stories of packs of coyotes stranded on the island after having crossed ice bridge which blow offshore.

For the generations before us the changes are even more amazing. We can only imagine. What was this like? How have things changed?

If you are of an earlier generation and have a personal account of the changing lake please consider sending it along or posting it on our facebook page. We’ll add each story submitted to the archive below for the sake of posterity.

Decades or centuries from now the island will continue to exist in its natural state, though the nature of the land and surrounding lake may be of very different character. It is possible that the climax forest community may drift. It is possible that balsams will give way to birches or maples. One can only speculate. Regardless, it will continue to be interesting to read the observations of those who witnessed such events unfold over the frame of reference of a lifetime. 

+  NOAA real time graph of Great Lakes surface temperatures 

+  The lake is a brisk 52 degree around the island today, October 24th, 2012.

+  This season we swam to hang the moorings near camp on May 15th and swam again to pull them on October 1st.

+  There are many related articles on this subject. Some of the more interesting first person comments from the one we have linked have been copied here (and edited slightly for clarity) and added to others which have been submitted:

As a life long resident of the North Shore of Lake Superior, I can tell you that the beaches are full of kids and adults taking full advantage of the fine swimming conditions. When I was a kid in the 1960’s, a dip in Lake Superior in July would be life threatening. A game we played in summer was to have 4 or 5 kids stand knee deep in the lake and see who could stand it the longest. The cold gave unbearable pain and few kids lasted more than a minute or two. It has been decades now since we had large ice cover of the lake in Winter. I can not remember the last time open water froze over; the harbor freezes up some years but never the open water. Again, when I was a kid the lake froze up every winter. Large Ice Breakers worked in April and May to open shipping lanes. In the 1970’s we had ice conditions on the 5th of June. Now we no longer have Ice conditions in January! To anyone living decades along the Lake Superior Shoreline, climate change has been undeniable. The warming has been extreme and rapid over the last 20 years. That is why nobody around here goes for the climate change denial story. When you live it, it is hard to deny.

I just went for a swim in Lake Superior in the warmest water I have ever experienced. The North Shore is like bath water. It is not even August yet! If the heat and sun continue as they have, we will break the record warm water temps by a massive amount. I would bet my life we don’t see a piece of ice on the lake this coming winter. In the past, lake superior water would kill you in minutes, even in summer, now we all run down to the beach and jump right in. I saw long distance swimmers training far out in the lake today; this was unheard of at any time around here. 

During the hot summer of 2010 I spent four consecutive hours immersed in Lake Superior (hunting for just the right stones for finishing prizes for the Marquette Marathon). But, like noted above, when I was a boy being in the big lake for more than a few minutes was unthinkable.  Now the beaches are flooded with people, in and out of the water.

I remember the water being really cold in the 1950’s–freezing cold. When you first went in you thought your feet might turn blue. You just had to take the plunge. After being in for a while you would get used to it but pretty soon had to get out and lie on the rocks to warm up. And you could only swim for a few weeks at the end of July and early August. That was the swim season. The water was much clearer back then too.

I was born on the shore of Lake Superior in 1953. During the early 1970s, I paddled a canoe on Lake Superior during early June encountering icebergs. For the past 12 years, my brother and I visit our cabin each March with a goal of skiing on, or on the shores of, Lake Superior. For most of the past 5 years, we’ve kayaked on the Lake as the ice has moved out. One year, my brother swam in Lake Superior as the 60 degree March temperatures were quite warm.

October 24, 2012