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Protecting Port Assets

Sea Grant's Dale Bergeron and Gene Clark present information about port infrastructure to an online audience.

Sea Grant's Dale Bergeron and Gene Clark present information about port infrastructure to an online audience.

From a fish's vantage point, the Duluth-Superior Harbor could seem like a maze of watery hallways, and steel and concrete walls. To some U.S. citizens and industries, the Harbor's floor is a $40-million dredging investment. Its walls look like 300-million bucks. Those are conservative estimates according to University of Minnesota Sea Grant maritime specialist Dale Bergeron and University of Wisconsin Sea Grant coastal engineer Gene Clark.

"The Duluth-Superior Harbor is made up of 12 miles of steel sheet piling and over 84-million square feet of federally maintained channel," said Bergeron. "Gene and I developed a model that helps Great Lakes coastal communities translate such vertical infrastructure and shipping channels into dollars. They can then use these figures to estimate what extra repairs or dredging might mean to their budgets should some ill befall their harbor, like variable water levels and more frequent storms associated with a changing climate."

Bergeron and Clark applied the cost estimation model, referred to as "The Matrix" by insiders, to the Port of Toledo and the Duluth-Superior Harbor. If predicted climate patterns become a new reality, they suggest that Toledo should brace for pricy dredging challenges as sediments accumulate and Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, becomes even shallower. To maintain bulk cargo traffic in Lake Superior’s westernmost harbor, a combination of piling repair and dredging will likely be necessary and expensive.

"A permanently lowered water level would impact Great Lakes water-dependant businesses and industries more than a permanently higher water level," said Bergeron. "Lower water levels would damage old timber structures, which rot upon exposure to air, and would require extra dredging in the slips and shipping lanes. Plus, the ships would need to carry lighter loads so they wouldn’t scrape
bottom."

Bergeron and Clark presented an online seminar concerning their work in March. Economic Implications of Climate Change Impacts to Great Lakes Ports, Harbors, and Marinas was part of a webinar series produced by The Ohio State University Climate Change Outreach Team, which includes Ohio Sea Grant. To view the hour-long presentation, visit the series archives at http://changingclimate.osu.edu/webinars/archives.

The Great Lakes Sea Grant Network, NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, and the Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystem Research developed The Matrix with funding from NOAA Sectoral Applications Research Program. For more information about The Matrix or for inquiries about its application to a specific port, contact Dale Bergeron at dbergero@umn.edu or (218) 726-7672.


By Sharon Moen
June 2011

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