The volume of cargo shipped across the Great Lakes fell by 5 percent in August compared to July. However, the totals are far ahead of the disastrous year of 2009, when shipping fell by over 40 percent. The amount of iron ore shipped, for example, has doubled since last year, and most other commodities have posted sharp increases as well.
While levels are still several percent below average, this is a life-saving recovery for a shipping industry that’s had a rough several years even before the recession. Thanks to higher temperatures and low precipitation, water levels declined by several inches around the middle of the decade; every inch of decline forces cargo ships to reduce their loads by 270 tons or risk running aground. Lake Ontario, for example, declined by seven inches between 2006 and 2007, adding millions in extra shipping costs. Since most of what’s shipped across the lakes is bulk material, the end consumer rarely feels the pinch, but major manufacturing companies may take a significant hit.
Ferries were likewise affected by the declining carrying capacity, increasing costs for Michigan auto transporters. While water levels have recovered, scientists predict severe fluctuations throughout the coming century.