Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

The lowest coverage of ice in 50 years on the Great Lakes

Open in full screen mode

Satellite view of the Great Lakes. (Archives)

  • Théodore Doucet (View profile)Théodore Doucet

The Great Lakes begin 2024 with the lowest ice cover since measurements began in 1973. The magnitude of the phenomenon is such that specialists say they are caught off guard and are sounding the alarm about its potential environmental consequences.

Only 1.17% of the surface of all five lakes is covered according to the January 9 survey of the United States National Oceanic Observation Agency and atmospheric (NOAA), compared to about 15% on average at this time of year.

The heat stored last summer and the current mild weather influenced by the El Niño phenomenon are preventing water from freezing, according to David Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada.

We experienced the hottest May to September on record, with lots of residual heat in lakes, rivers and land, he said. The water temperature is between 4 and 6°C, when it should be around 0°C [in a normal start of winter]. You have to get rid of all that heat before ice can form.

Open in full screen mode

A thin layer of ice on Lake Superior. (File photo)

In addition to the risks posed by ice not strong enough for some winter recreation on smaller bodies of water, the anomaly on the Great Lakes may have environmental consequences.

Ice is part of life in the Great Lakes. We need ice periods for many functions, notes Jérôme Marty, director general of the International Association for Research on the Great Lakes (AIRGL).

Among the roles attributed to ice is the fight against erosion. Without a frozen layer on the banks, certain coastal areas are exposed to waves brought in in particular by the nordet, this powerful winter wind which blows from the northeast.

Climate: the banks of Lake Erie risk erosion. BROADCAST HERE FIRST. Mornings without borders.

Climate: Lake Erie shores at risk of erosion

BROADCAST HERE FIRST Mornings Without Borders

Listen to the audio (Climate: Lake Erie shores at risk of erosion. 9 minutes 27 seconds )

The western part of Lake Erie is one of the vulnerable areas, says the administrative director of the Essex Region Conservation Authority , Tim Byrde. The ice acts as a barrier and significantly shelters our coasts from winter winds, which can be among the most devastating.

LoadingDeadly Crossings

ELSE ON INFO: Deadly Crossings

However, many escarpments exist in the region, in the town of Kingsville and Essex, and significant portions of exposed – and inhabited – cliffs regularly collapse into Lake Erie during storms, he explains.< /p>

Mr. Byrde adds that the current lack of ice portends difficulties to come.

We have over 140km of shoreline in the Essex region. Each of these kilometers is potentially threatened. This will be a challenge that we will have to face, with a changing climate pattern over time. Many of these areas may soon be unsuitable for human occupation.

A quote from Tim Byrne, Executive Director of the Essex Region Conservation Authority

Open in full screen mode

During the winter of 2022, photographer David Piano witnessed a advance of erosion of “6 to 10 meters” over 3 months on the north shore of Lake Erie, putting several properties at risk. (Archives)

The balance of the local ecosystem is also at stake, because the ice and cold water serve as sanctuaries for the spawning of certain species of fish, continues Jérôme Marty.

Conversely, biological activity is higher if the waters are warmer. We have algae problems in several Great Lakes and without the overwintering period, in the spring, we will probably have even more algae and even more associated problems.

The scientist is particularly monitoring blue-green algae, capable of proliferating very quickly and which becomes toxic under certain conditions. It can produce extreme cases, while the water of the Great Lakes serves as drinking water for millions of people, he continues.

In the summer of 2014, residents of Pelee Island in southwestern Ontario and those in the city of Toledo, Ohio, were without drinking water for several days due to algae concentrations. blue-green in Lake Erie.

Open in full screen mode

This Lake Erie water sample collected in 2017 had a significant amount of blue-green algae. (Archive photo)

Subscribe to the ICI Ontario newsletter.

Form to subscribe to the Ontario newsletter.M' subscribe

For now, the extent of the absence of ice has taken scientists by surprise.

We are the snowiest country in the world, the second coldest, and winter is challenging us this year, underlines David Phillips. What we're seeing could very well be a glimpse of what normal will be like in 2050.

Take the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, which did not open to skaters last winter and whose season is in danger of being compromised this year as well. This was something that was planned for 2050, not 2023 or 2022.

A quote from David Phillips, Senior Climatologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada

Ice loss on the Great Lakes is a new stress that was not considered, perhaps even 10 or 20 years ago in the way science was developing to be done, continues Mr. Marty. It's something that's really emerging.

  • Théodore Doucet (View profile)Théodore DoucetFollow

By admin

Related Post