March 2, 2011


Storms Change Character of Circulation in Lake St. Clair

Ann Arbor, MI — During significant storm events, such as winds over 20 m/s (45 mph), the inflow to Lake St. Clair via the St. Clair River Delta can take on a completely new character, where channel flows can come to a standstill, redistribute flow, and may even reverse. This change in flow can have a dramatic impact on the circulation in the lake and even cause a switch in the high- and low-speed current zones.

Because of the unique arrangement of the St. Clair River and the Detroit River with respect to the lake, Lake St. Clair has distinct circulation zones. In the western portion of the lake, the river flow dominates the water movement and results in faster currents and short flushing times. In the eastern portion, the lack of river influence typically leaves the lake vulnerable to wind conditions instead, and therefore the currents are slower and the water in the eastern zone tends to stay in the lake much longer (up to 30 days) before being flushed out the Detroit River.

Using a 3D computer model of the lake and rivers, the influence of storm events on lake circulation was tested. It is found that strong southwest winds can drastically alter the flow in the St. Clair River channels and disrupt these common “current zones”. In order to capture these switches in circulation and flow, computer models must be designed to include both the river and lake topography as a connected system

Original Publication Information

Results of this study, "Relationships between wind-driven and hydraulic flow in Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River Delta," are reported by Eric J. Anderson and David J. Schwab in the latest issue (Volume 37, No. 1, pp. 147-158) of the Journal of Great Lakes Research, published by Elsevier, 2011.


For more information about the study, contact Eric Anderson, Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48108;; (734) 741-2293.

For information about the Journal of Great Lakes Research, contact Stephanie Guildford, Scientific Co-Editor, Large Lakes Observatory, University Minnesota Duluth, 2205 East Fifth Street, Duluth, Minnesota, 55812-2401;; (218) 726-8064.

Since 1967, IAGLR has served as the focal point for compiling and disseminating multidisciplinary knowledge on North America's Laurentian Great Lakes and other large lakes of the world and their watersheds. In part, IAGLR communicates this knowledge through publication of the Journal of Great Lakes Research, available to members in print and electronic form. A searchable archive of the journal is available online and includes the abstracts of articles from the journal's inception in 1975 through the most recent issue. In addition, complete articles are available to members who have signed up for an electronic subscription.