Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024

Ice on the St. Lawrence is still waiting

Ice cover on the St. Lawrence River in downtown Rimouski. Watch the report by Marie-Christine Rioux.

  • Paul Fontaine (View profile)Paul Fontaine

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For a fifth consecutive winter, the ice cover is slow to form on the St. Lawrence River. The trend in recent years, where freeze-up is lower than normal, even defies scientific projections.

The river is very late this year. We have almost no ice, sums up Peter Galbraith unequivocally. The physical oceanography researcher at the Maurice-Lamontagne Institute looks at the St. Lawrence and points out the coast, barely frozen and beyond which the river extends, liquid and blue. As you can see, it's water.

Cause: a hot month of December marked by rain.

Data from the Canadian Ice Service, whose records date back to 1969, show that the ice cover is well below the seasonal average. Daily bulletins, issued since 2009, show that the volume of ice is, on the same date, the third lowest recorded.

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Off the coast of Rimouski, the Saint-Laurent flows without ice.

We should have the entire estuary frozen, specifies Peter Galbraith. If we look at yesterday's ice map, there is practically nothing across the Gulf of St. Lawrence, except a little ice on the banks of Bas-Saint-Laurent and Basse-Côte. North.

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The mild weather and rains of December put a stop to the freezing of the St. Lawrence. Peter Galbraith explains that cold air is essential for freezing the waters of the river, which themselves must be below the freezing point.

But this it's not the case. Measurements taken last week by the researcher indicate that the river temperature is still 1.5 degrees Celsius. The cold air, for its part, is long in coming. Despite a drop in the mercury forecast for the coming days, the mild spell that will follow does not bode well. -4 or -5 degrees in Rimouski will not be enough to form good ice covers, he specifies.

We cannot have a winter filled with wall-to-wall ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence . It's already too late for that.

A quote from Peter Galbraith, oceanographer at the Maurice-Lamontagne Institute

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According to Peter Galbraith, coastal ice should already extend as far as Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, in Gaspésie , and in Sept-Îles, on the North Shore. (File photo)

However, winter could still surprise you. It’s so hard to predict, because it’s linked to the short-term weather, explains Peter Galbraith. Within a few weeks, we could catch up a lot, especially if the water reaches freezing point.

For ice fishermen, this means that the season will most likely be shortened. This has actually been the case for several years, notes Gaston Dionne of the Association of Smelt Fishermen of the Rimouski River (APER).

From the creation of the APER in 2000 until 2015, there were cabins every year on the ice floe and the season started relatively early, at the beginning of January. Then in 2017 and 2021, we could not put a cabin on the ice floe, because the ice bridge had not been built. Last year, we started very late, on February 7, he says.

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Gaston Dionne calls for caution on the ice of the river, which take time to thicken.

Gaston Dionne is hopeful of establishing his cabin by the end of the month, while the ice fishing season normally stretches from mid-January to mid-February.

He crosses his fingers that the thermometer reads -15 degrees Celsius, a cold which, he hopes, will make it possible to obtain a safe ice bridge of around twenty centimeters between the 'mouth of the Rimouski River and Saint-Barnabé Island.

But for the moment, he estimates that the thickness of the ice, which appeared this week, is around 12 centimeters, which is too thin even to fish without a cabin.

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The ice bridge to Saint-Barnabé Island is not yet formed, which makes the Rimouski ice floe vulnerable to large tides.

As to what the current winter and previous ones will augur for those to come, Peter Galbraith has no illusions. This is what is expected with climate change, but in a time frame that is still quite long. We are talking about a hundred years to see average conditions without ice and occasional winters with ice cover.

The researcher is surprised all the same of the speed of change. The statistics are contradicting the forecasts, because during the last five years, we have had very late ice covers. It’s not at all random what we’re experiencing right now.

Not to mention that the retreat of the ice cover further exposes the banks to high tides, making them vulnerable to erosion.

Peter Galbraith moderates the consequences of late glazing of the river. The Gulf is already exposed to episodes of large waves outside the ice period. So we only increase the pressure on the system when there is an absence of ice.

The researcher recalls that 2023 has passed almost to be the sixth without ice and to join the sad list formed by 1958, 1969, 2010, 2011 and 2021. It is quietly becoming a new climatology and a new reality.

With information from Marie-Christine Rioux

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