In light of the recent stretch of below average temperatures, I thought it might be of interest to share some facts about ice on the Great Lakes. The NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, or GLERL, has been studying ice coverage on the Great Lakes for over 30 years. Their data help us to understand ice’s role in water level changes, water temperature, and even plankton blooms in Lake Erie. Why should we care so much about ice? Read on to find out more about ice and its impacts.
|During winter months, lakes lose energy to the atmosphere as the water near the surface cools. The cold, dense water sinks to the bottom of the lake while warmer water rises, and this cycle continues until the surface water reaches 32 degrees. Freezing begins and then extends down into the lake as the ice thickens. On average, it takes until early February for Lake Erie to achieve over 60% ice coverage. The recent stretch of cold temperatures across the Great Lakes has made for some record-breaking ice generation - Lake Erie went from 1.5% coverage on December 24 to over 85% coverage on January 8. For comparison, last year in early January, Lake Erie had only 7.6% ice coverage.|
Ice and Lake Effect Snow
More ice on Lake Erie generally means less lake effect snow. When Lake Erie freezes over, less water is readily available to be drawn up from the lake to the air above. The ice acts like a cap, preventing moisture from evaporating and/or condensing and therefore creating lake effect snow. While those in the "snow belt" may appreciate the decrease in snowfall once Lake Erie starts freezing over, this usually comes at a price - colder weather!
To read more about ice and lake levels, as well as ice and harmful algal blooms, read the full blog article here.