Marquette girds for climate change in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula


Marquette County is drawing national attention for its efforts to become more resilient to the impact of climate change. (Bridge photo by Jim Malewitz)

​This story is part of a multi-newsroom collaborative project called Unfamiliar Ground: Bracing for Climate Impacts in the Midwest. The effort, led by the nonprofit news organization InsideClimate News, aims to give readers local and regional perspectives on climate change.

MARQUETTE—This Upper Peninsula city might seem like a prime destination for those looking to escape the high heat, drought and other worrying impacts of earth’s warming. The mild summers. The lack of hurricanes. The shoreline along Lake Superior, one of the world’s largest bodies of freshwater.

Marquette, a city of 21,000 that’s home to Northern Michigan University and a highly ranked hospital system, frequently shows up on national lists of the best places to retire.

But that doesn’t make this a climate change utopia.

Experts expect Marquette and its neighbors to face a storm of challenges as its climate changes — from intensifying rains that could increase risks of floods and bacteria-laden runoff, to an influx of disease-carrying pests and more dramatic shifts in Lake Superior’s water levels.

Leaders in Marquette County say they are preparing for these challenges while also embracing their advantages over places even more vulnerable to climate change.

Their efforts are drawing national attention. The American Association for the Advancement of Science last month spotlighted Marquette as part of a broader report on how U.S. communities are responding to climate change in the absence of strong federal action. 

“Communities of all sizes are taking action, and we really wanted to highlight that,” said Emily Cloyd, director of the association’s Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology. “Marquette is a really great example.”

The western Upper Peninsula has warmed about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1951, according to the federally-funded Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments. Marquette leaders are particularly concerned about what that bodes for life along the shores of Lake Superior. Like other Great Lakes communities, Marquette is watching water levels surge to some of their highest levels recorded, shrinking beaches and increasing flood risks, bolstering concerns about lake shore erosion.

Waters are continually flooding stretches of Lakeshore Boulevard, a popular drive that hugs the shoreline. That’s prompted the city to team up with the nonprofit Superior Watershed Partnership — a major player in Marquette’s climate planning — on a $5 million project to move part of the road 100 yards inland and restore the coastline.

Lake Superior is continually flooding stretches of Lakeshore Boulevard, a popular drive that hugs the shoreline. The City of Marquette is teaming up with the nonprofit Superior Watershed Partnership on a $5 million project to move part of the road 100 yards inland and restore the coastline. (Bridge photo by Jim Malewitz)

The high waters come just six years after the lake levels hit record lows, bedevilling beachgoers and boaters in a different way. Experts suspect climate change may be driving such extreme, disorienting shifts.

“Lake Superior water levels are causing detrimental impacts to local infrastructure on an already strapped economy,” said Emily Leach, a senior planner for Marquette County and chairwoman of its Climate Adaptation Task Force, which advises public officials and the public on climate issues. “It is vital to prepare for these infrastructure costs and try to mitigate where possible.”

Warming temperatures may also allow disease-carrying ticks and other bugs to thrive in more northern communities places across the United States — including Marquette. The same is true for other potentially infected bugs, such as mosquitoes that spread West Nile virus. So local leaders are trying to communicate those risks to the public.

Members of the Marquette Climate Adaptation Task Force at a meeting on the campus of Northern Michigan University in October. With representation from government, universities, nonprofits and businesses, the group discusses how the county can confront climate challenges. It has little trouble selling solutions to the public, members say. (Bridge photo by Jim Malewitz) 

This year, a Michigan State University team worked with the task force to produce a guidebook with recommendations for addressing health risks, including special  landscaping that can reduce the habitat for ticks.  

Marquette leaders have spent years trying to prepare for these and other climate changes.

Last year, Marquette began requiring property owners to maintain “riparian buffers” — undisturbed native plants — along certain waterways, wetlands or steep slopes. The extra vegetation can help prevent erosion, while catching and filtering rain before its runoffs into Lake Superior. Bacteria-laden stormwater runoff is a key driver of beach closures that discourage tourism. 

Another high-profile effort to thwart such pollution in Marquette: a collaboration between the city and the nonprofit Superior Watershed Partnership to move a stormwater drain that flows into Lake Superior and re-route runoff into newly restored wetlands. The $450,000 project is largely federally funded.

Lake Superior’s high levels left little beach at Little Presque Isle Recreation Area north of Marquette. Experts say climate change may be driving more rapid shifts in Great Lakes water levels, posing challenges along the shoreline. (Bridge photo by Jim Malewitz)

Meanwhile, the 14-member Climate Adaptation Task Force meets regularly on the Northern Michigan University campus. When interacting with the public, it sees little need to focus on the politically fraught discussion of what’s driving climate change (heat-trapping gases our systems of energy, transportation and agriculture spew into the atmosphere). 

The messaging focuses largely on changes occuring in front of everyone’s eyes, said task force member Robert Kulisheck, an emeritus professor of political science at NMU and former Marquette mayor.

“Our point isn’t to direct attention to ourselves,” Kulisheck said. 

Brad Neumann, a Michigan State University planning and development expert  who sits on the task force, said it’s not hard to get community buy-in for Marquette’s adaptation actions. 

“With the lake being right here, people are just tuned into the water systems,” he said.

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Mon, 11/11/2019 - 7:52am

It's surprising that the U. P., including relatively progressive Marquette, even acknowledges the possibility of climate change. The U. P. is Trumpland: it overwhelmingly voted for Trump in 2016; it's congressman, Jack Bergman, has proclaimed himself 100% devoted to Trump. Most people in the U. P. can be expected to buy Trump's contention that climate change is just a Chinese hoax, which Trump can negotiate away during the trade talks.

John Chastain
Mon, 11/11/2019 - 10:50am

Among the most effective ways to address the effects of climate change is to decouple it from the overall politicized argument. People can understand and grasp what is "now & near" far better than what is "future & far away". This isn't a political thing or even a Trump thing. It's a very human response to an overwhelming & somewhat distant crisis competing with ones everyday reality. So yes a demagogue like Trump can take advantage of often vulnerable people but that's not an excuse for disdain and dismissal. My mothers people came from the U. P. and I have been there many times in my over 60 years of life. Its people can be all the negative things that humans can be and yet be gracious and friendly and all the positive things humans can be. The majority may be in denial and support disingenuous politicians but that isn't everyone. This reminds me of the many comments I read in the New York Times from fellow liberals (yes I'm a working class liberal) that dismiss the entire center of the country as Trumpville. Its shortsighted and in my opinion just as ignorant as anything some conservative lobs at the coasts or anywhere else remotely liberal. I like many wish that humanity could recognize a train wreck before it happens but that is wishful thinking and will not mitigate the results. Everyone has their blind spots and they aren't dependent on political leanings. The people of Michigan's U.P. deserve better than contempt and I for one applaud their efforts to understand and adapt. Bad politicians come and go but humanity remains.

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 8:30am

A reasonable position. Many non-"Progressives" may agree may buy the idea of changing climate with mankind being responsible to some non-insignificant way and other environmental issues but believe the harms and risks are too often being overstated in order raise fears in order to push for solutions that are extremely political, ultimately ineffective and in fact destructive. For example the Green New Deal and killing Line 5!

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 2:26pm

Uses the word 'reasonable' then launches into the usual climate denial lies.
Hint: 'If you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem'.
Climate change is coming faster and faster and just wanting to ignore it is not 'reasonable'.
It's just denial and stupid. Change or watch change destroy all of us.

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 8:06pm

And Rick is exhibit A, as stated, spouting meaningless useless slogans and fear mongering.

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 10:45am

Yeah gods, but I hope you and yours suffer in the coming years from the reality you so fervently deny

Jim Kat
Mon, 11/11/2019 - 12:00pm

Climate change is real. Unfortunately too many people choose candidates that are either dishonest, stupid and only care for big money / GOP . Hopefully this corruption elected will change soon. Marquette will survive because they have not been fooled by the con man.

Mon, 11/11/2019 - 12:33pm

Gosh Harvey, I get the feeling you might be an "orange man bad" sort of person. Climate change is real. It's called the "weather". Some years it's warmer. Some it's colder. Over the course of history of our planet sometimes it's been completely frozen over. Many times it's been completely ice free. All before mankind existed to have an effect. Our planet is cyclical in nature. I don't believe "climate experts, with their limited, suspect data can accurately map out the cause of or which way the climate is headed. I vividly remember in grade school the dire predictions of the coming ice age and mass starvations caused by overpopulation. Then it switched suddenly to global warming and no snow anywhere and no ice in the arctic by 2000. Coastal cities and islands would all be under water! None of it happened. Obama just bought a mansion on the Atlantic coast. He doesn't seem worried. But the media, scientists and certain industries can make a fortune by spreading fear and doomsday scenarios. Just last week I saw on many msm networks "experts" claiming that the record early snowfalls and abnormally cold temps were proof that climate change and global warming is real! WTF? Maybe you can buy into and swallow that but me? I'll pass on that. Earths climate is far to intricate and complex to even have a chance of understanding it. They struggle to even accurately predict weather even a few days let alone claiming to know what 20 to 100 years might bring. As for Yoopers being 100% behind Trump? Well God Bless them! What a relief from the loony lefties of Ann Arbor. And Trumps contention that climate change is just a Chinese hoax? I believe the Chinese either ignore or downplay the issue. China far exceeds our output of CO2 and other gases. Have a good one Harvey!

Ted Johnson
Mon, 11/11/2019 - 4:22pm

Anthropomorphic global warming is a process confirmed by scientific research. There's no question that it could be a natural process not impacted by man. It's a thermodynamic process; energy pumped into the system has to be redistributed in a manner that minimizes differences.

Good article, but weak on explaining just what the impacts are predicted or observed to be. For instance, are the rising lake levels a result of global warming? If so, what is the mechanism that's causing the rise? Is it connected to sea level rise via the St Lawrence or some other process? Or, is the impact a wider range of levels; record highs and lows? Are there a greater number of storms of higher intensity on the lake? Are weather patterns becoming more erratic? Why has the roadway that is being relocated suddenly threatened by the lake? Could it be that the road was misaligned too close to the lake in the first place? I applaud the storm water wetland treatment system but it begs the question as to why there are more algal blooms in the first place and what their true cause is. Is the lake warming up? Is it due to urbanization and agricultural practices that dump more nutrients into the lake? Or, a combination of both and perhaps a few other triggers?

Put more meat into your reporting. We're not all dummies out here (maybe if the Republicans have their way and continue to defund public school systems, we will be). Enquiring minds want to know.

Mon, 02/10/2020 - 6:09pm

you linked to article without any scientific references and written by a fictional character from the movie Fight Club. I sincerely hope you aren't letting information from such sources inform your opinion about climate change.

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 8:18am

Right on Terry. Earth has a documented geological history of cyclic events that effect the surface and atmosphere. It is one thing to do the simple things to help keep the planet clean; recycling, keeping high industrial standards regarding water quality and air quality. It is an entirely different, extreme and radical approach to ban all fossil fuels. Wind and solar electrical generation is inefficient and will not meet even 20% of the planets electrical needs. Nuclear powered generation plants are now so sophisticated and can be built to perform very safely; those plants could meet the electrical needs of the future with a much less encroaching footprint than either solar or wind plants. Today, we have natural gas generation plants that are very clean and very efficient, providing reasonably low cost electricity for everyone.

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 10:46am

Everything you said in this comment was wrong. Simply stunning.

Robyn A Tonkin
Tue, 12/24/2019 - 12:10pm

I can see how you might think this would be the case. I live here though, and it is interesting. I talk with everybody about climate change--guys who work on the car, guys who work for the utility companies, women who are in the medical field and in retail, everybody I can, as I get around in my limited retiree fashion. I have never talked one on one with somebody who denies climate change. Most everybody who has found a way to stay here and support themselves and their family, is an outdoors person. The changes in climate over the last thirty years are undeniable, and people readily acknowledge these changes have happened and are permanent, and they worry about them and feel frustrated. I had one guy say to me in the most frustrated way last spring "here it is May, and it seems like April, April was winter. How do you have a garden?" I am a forester, so I look at the woods a certain way, and I have been tracking the changes for 35 years. But to say that ordinary people are going to put their head in the sand and follow Donald Trump is assuming ordinary people are non-complex and incapable of seeing their immediate self interest. Donald Trump, after all, probably believes in climate change himself, when he is not having to behave in a politically expedient way, in order to please the smash and grab capitalists who give him campaign funds. People have familial and occupational reasons for not being vocal about a lot of opinions, and people up here are naturally reticent. Also you have to understand why people voted for Donald Trump--pure, unadulterated being fed up with all the problems they have that Washington has refused to help with , decade after decade. They should have voted for Hillary Clinton, because of her coat tails, and they just didn't see it that way. They were voting in what they thought was their best interest.

Mon, 11/11/2019 - 9:38am

Well!! We can run, but we can't hide.

Gerry Niedermaier
Mon, 11/11/2019 - 10:23am

I totally agree with Harvey. I feel very few Yoopers care about the environment or those who appreciate it. And their voting behavior supports it They grouse about how small the deer are these days, but favor as many hunting options as possible and support baiting rather than actually walking around which is called hunting. When I was a kid 60 years ago it was not uncommon for guys to bag deer over 200 lbs, with most around 180 lbs. And I must point out a big error. The UP Health System as a for profit organization is highly questionable amongst we previous patients. As it's the only game in town, most folks up here don't have options like some others do in choosing to go to Green Bay or as far away as the Mayo Clinic which I just returned from.

Mon, 11/11/2019 - 12:04pm

Sure it's Trump land but everyone should be able to agree on things that have a visible impact on the area. Stopping beach closures should be easy for most to buy into by reducing runoff and erosion.

Mon, 11/11/2019 - 12:17pm

One rainy season does not mean a change in climate. We have had high water levels before. But I can understand the desire to discourage people from migrating to their little haven in the north.

Tim Hares
Mon, 11/11/2019 - 2:18pm

It is common we almost always have lots of rain in November.I still catch big brooktrout and shoot big deer.Having lived here my entire life.I have seen up and down patterns, my whole life.Do we need to control pollution absolutely,but all you nut cases making a mountain out of a mole hill.Get a life.Thank you!

Mon, 11/11/2019 - 5:05pm

These alarmist opinion pieces in Bridge have become predictable.

Watch for weasel words like "Experts say", "....may", "could", without any scientific backup whatsoever.

Mon, 11/11/2019 - 6:36pm

I doesn't matter if it's trump or anyone else....what really is happening is....GEOMAGNETIC POLE has absolutely nothing to do with global warming....north becomes south and south becomes north....where it was once cold it will be warm and vice versa....none can stop it and noone can alter matter who you vote for....happens every 750,000 years like clock work....and we are at 749,000 give or take a 1000....before you all spew hot air go look it up at wikipedia or somewhere else and actually learn something.....lmao

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 10:07am

Many are looking at climate change as if it were a 100 year thing, when in reality it is a 500,000 or 1 million year thing. Sure the oceans will rise and fall over really long cycles, and the continents will shift, and the temperatures will change, and the rainfall/snowfall amounts will vary. No, the earth will not implode in the next 12 years as some suggest.

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 5:03pm

Woah, this article sure triggered some. Poor liberals... all things point to Trump for them. When in reality, Climate Change is just that: change when you live on a planet billions of years old. Also, typical triggered liberals to insult the people who live in the U.P.

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 10:49pm

Sorry but your so called news sounds like a liberal Trump bashing site.

Wed, 11/13/2019 - 2:50pm

Dennis, exactly. I've read 4 bashing articles by the Left. And yet the editor or director of this publication emails me twice a month asking for a donation.

middle of the mit
Wed, 11/13/2019 - 3:05am

Bridge, If you would allow me for this post to just go Biblical. I would very much appreciate it! I don't know if you or anyone else, especially the conservatives are ready for it. But here it comes!

Because even if climate change isn't real, something is happening. And the reason that "polar vortex "isn't used anymore? It is no longer polar, that is why we are getting these extremes. And I am about to TRIGGER SOME SERIOUS COGNITIVE DISSONANCE!


2 Timothy 3:1-5,7 "But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of god; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."

Consider the moral decline of society, the social exceptance of what is braodcast in magazines, radio, televsion, internet, movies, etc., it is obvious that Bible prophecy is been fulfilled in our generation. Our cities are filled with crime and brutality, and the proclamation of sinful and godless living considered as normal living and is being pushed on us to be the excepted norm. We have some of the most educated and influential people in our county and yet the most lacking in real Biblical truth.]]

I could say the same thing about the hinterlands that this person is saying about the cities. And yet most people reading this, even if they are conservative, are living in the city trying to tell me that where I live is better, yet they won't come and live full time. Why? Mammon! What is it you are lovers of again?

[[1 Timothy 4:1-3 "But the spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. By means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth."

It is even coming into our "Churches" and embracing and teaching of the denying of Christ as the only way to salvation, and a falling away from the teaching of Biblical truth. Society is embracing sinful lifestyles as an acceptable alternate; this is even embrased in the church and the preaching of tolerance and compromise is even taking place into God's house.]]

Where does your tithe go? Your preacher? Your building fund? What did Jesus tell you to do? Sell all that you posses, give the proceeds to the poor and follow him. That has been turned into preachers telling their congregates to donate so they can have private mansions and private jets.

What happened to the poor?

[[Matthew 24:5 "For many will come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and will mislead many."
Matthew 24:11 "And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many."]]

Oh that's what happened!

Then we get to the point of this article.

[[Matthew 24:7 "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes."
Matthew 24:6 "And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end."]]

You see, it seems that even if you don't believe in climate change, and DO believe in God, Man is STILL RESPONSIBLE for the stewardship they have over the planet.

Deny it all you want, at your peril.

So much for caring about future generations, huh?

King James Bible
Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.

Don't have what Abraham did?

What you believe Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed over, was attempted rape. And that was the LAST STRAW. It was going to be destroyed BEFORE Abraham made his plea. At least he made a plea.

Somehow, you think you are all above that, because of your COGNITIVE DISSONANCE.

"Perception of belief" does not equal Perception of reality!

Dodge those drunks, texters and just plain 'ole dillhole drivers! You still aren't going to be dodging "stoners"!

Read the court section of your local newspaper! And read your Bible if you are so inclined.

At some point in time, Reality will hit you. But it is going to be a texter, drunk or just a plain 'ole offensive driver.

Or it might come in the form of you not believing what the Bible says to be true. It is all in how you "interpret" it! PERCEPTION RULES! And reality drools!

Hire the cashier at your local supermarket to wire your new house for electricity. They could use the ability to be a "Jack of all trades", master of none. Who better than to learn that lesson under than Duane?

I hear he is starting a new unfunded collage to do such things.

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 10:52am

Nothing like an article about climate change to summon the Trumpian hordes, all eagerly posturing to prove their proud scientific illiteracy. A shiny nickel to any of you who can demonstrate even a familiarity with how GHGs cause warming

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 7:40pm

Well Bones. I know that fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, fuel oil etc. are used to combust in furnaces and boilers to provide heat when it's cold. Is that scientific enough for you? What method do YOU use to heat your house, school or workplace? And speaking of scientific illiteracy, how about the lefts view that there are dozens or more genders? Or that men and women can magically at will change into the oppposite sex. Or that babies in the womb aren't valuable living individuals but merely a collection of cells that can be cut up, vacuumed out, flushed and destroyed? Keep your nickel. It's badly tarnished

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 12:25pm

Wow! So many people making comments who seem to have devoted their entire lives to studying climate change, pollution and conservation. I'm impressed. All the more reason to allow the experts to help inform the public. Thanks to everyone on this thread who are willing to share wikipedia expertise and a few choice insults. You're amazing and I feel confident placing my children's future in your hands. LOLOL Seriously, folks, if people can't talk about climate change, then how about we shift our attention to clean water, air and soil. Could we agree that a water shortage is imminent or that toxic runoffs into our water sources are BAD for us or that clean air will reduce cases of asthma in our grandchildren? To find no common ground about the stewardship of this planet in terms of how we leave it for our children and grandchildren is the selfish gene on full display. It never ceases to amaze me that so few people give a rat's ass. Will that be our legacy?

Tue, 12/24/2019 - 11:17am

Climate change is a big waste of tax payers dollars

Leslie Watson
Sat, 02/08/2020 - 8:49am

There is a great effort to prepare for climate change that is affecting the shoreline of Marquette. There are many activities to enjoy for outdoor enthusiasts. I have enjoyed living there for the past 10 years.