Persistent clouds over the US Great Lakes region could harm residents’ mental health

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For the 34 million people living in the Great Lakes region of the United States, last winter was winter Particularly bleak One is due to the scarcity of sunlight – a reality that could affect the mental health of residents in the coming years.

grand rapids, Michigansaw only five minutes of sun during the first eight days of January 2023. It was the same month Chicago’s cloudiest January in 129 years. At one point, 6.3 million people lived in the Greater Toronto Area Didn’t see the sun For more than three weeks.

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These observations are not just anecdotes. research The European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecast found that January 2023 was one of the cloudiest days for a number of Great Lakes cities since 1950.

While experts say it’s difficult to make a direct link between climate change and winter cloud cover, unfrozen lakes allow moisture to be absorbed from the water into the atmosphere, which can feed lake-effect clouds and snow.

“[Last winter] “The clouds were heavy over most of the Great Lakes states, and they coincided with very low ice cover over the Great Lakes,” says Steve Vavrus, a state climatologist for Wisconsin and director of the state’s office of climatology.

“We know that open lakes favor more snowfall because more evaporation occurs over ice-free water.”

It has seen the five great lakes Less ice formation For decades. While the average ice cover at the turn of the year was 9%, only 0.4% was observed on January 1 of this year. The lowest level since records began in 1973.

This has serious implications for the mental health of millions of people who live in or near the Great Lakes region. Experts say that lack of sunlight can lead to negative consequences for people’s mental health.

“Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is associated with changes in light, so cloud cover can have a significant impact on a person’s mood,” said Dr. Kia Rae Prewitt, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

“People may notice that they feel more depressed, have less energy, sleep more, overeat, crave carbohydrates, and interact less with others, especially during the winter and fall months.”

About 5% of American adults suffer from seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression associated with reduced access to sunlight in winter. According to the American Psychiatric Association.

While the exact cause of sadness unknownLack of access to sunlight is believed to play an important role.

“Grief is more common among people who live in parts of the country with shorter daylight hours,” Prewitt said, adding that her city of Cleveland “is definitely one of those areas of the country.”

One Stady Based on Google search results and other information, I found that three of the top five US states where residents searched for terms like “seasonal depression” and “seasonal affective disorder” are in the Great Lakes region. Ohio, which borders Lake Erie for 262 miles (421.7 kilometers) along its southern coast, ranked second after Alaska. Minnesota and Michigan are two other Great Lakes states in the top five.

Research covering the period from 1998 to 2016 The National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows that the Great Lakes states and Ontario see very low levels of radiant energy from the sun compared to the rest of North America.

While Cleveland and Chicago may be known for their winter cloud cover, their relatively low latitude means they see more daylight during the depths of winter than many other regional urban centers.

Duluth, Minnesota, and Thunder Bay, Ontario — cities on the shore of Lake Superior, the northernmost body of water in the Great Lakes — get only about 9 hours and 15 minutes of daylight this time of year. Even other dreary northern cities like New York City – by comparison – receive an additional 30 minutes of daylight per day.

Although scientists say the difficulty of simulating clouds in research modeling makes it difficult to say definitively that cloudier days are a certainty in the coming years, it is likely to be the case.

People may notice that they feel more depressed, have less energy, sleep more, overeat, crave carbohydrates, and interact less with others.

Dr. Kia Rae Prewitt

“It is difficult to determine the likely direction of causality (linking climate change to increased cloud cover) because while open lakes may have contributed to cloudiness at the regional level, winter clouds also help keep the lakes warmer than usual,” said Vavrus, the Wisconsin governor. State climatologist.

“However, reduced ice in the Great Lakes would lead to increased cloudiness, both locally and at the mouth of the lakes.”

The ice cover has already decreased by 71%. The situation between 1973 and 2010 is likely to continue in the coming decades. Experts add that ice is likely to form only in shallow parts of the Great Lakes, such as the western basin of Lake Erie — where water depths range from 25 to 30 feet — or along the lakes’ shores. Despite the recent Arctic blast that has dropped temperatures below zero across much of North America, the ice sheet on Lake Erie is still intact. Well below the historical average. The ice on is much larger and deeper Lake Superior lagging further behind.

“The seasonality, thickness and duration of the ice will change,” said Richard Rudd, professor emeritus of climate and space science and engineering at the University of Michigan, who suggests global warming from carbon dioxide and methane emissions is to blame.

“We are likely to see ice formation, primarily, with short-term weather events, and outbreaks of cold air, in mid-winter. This ice will be very different in nature from the persistent seasonal ice that was common before 2000.”

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