According to data from NOAA and the North American Ice Service, the world’s ice is in serious trouble not only in the polar regions but also in the Great Lakes, partly due to climate change. Lake Ice in the Great Lakes has declined over the past fifty years, and this year will be no exception, warned researchers.
“It’s an extreme number, that said, it is early in the season, and there is year-to-year variability. But on average, we are seeing less ice cover and shorter seasons.” ” James Kessler, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL).
From The Washington Post’s (not behind a paywall) Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff writes:
On the first of the year, only 0.35 percent of the Great Lakes was under ice, below the roughly 9 percent that on average at this point in the winter, according to data from GLERL. On New Year’s Day 2023, more than 4 percent of the Great Lakes was covered in ice, while 2.35 percent was covered in ice on Jan. 1, 2022.
Kessler cautioned that while Monday’s low is remarkable, one-day lows are not as statistically significant as month-long lows. He added that maximum ice cover, or the point in the winter with the highest percentage of the Great Lakes with ice coverage, usually occurs in February and March, and that January is early in the season. (In 2023, the Great Lakes’ ice cover hit a record mid-February low.)
Still, the drops are expected to continue as the earth keeps warming, with implications across industries and environments.
Robust ice cover protects lake shorelines from high waves that can bring severe flooding and damage the coastline, according to Kessler. Some microorganisms use the ice as a safe haven to spawn and lay eggs. A lack of ice coverage can lead to more severe snow storms because an unfrozen lake is a prerequisite for “lake effect” snow.
Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff notes that according to the North American Ice Service, the five Great Lakes, Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie lake ice cover will be below normal this winter as the region had warmer than usual temperatures in December and that January will be similarly warm.
He also noted that the average annual maximum is approximately 53 percent. That number also has declined by five percent per decade since the 1970s.
The Great Lakes region depends on strong, thick, and widespread lake ice for tourism in towns with ice fishing and ice hockey contests.
Yale 360 on the lack of snow cover in North America and the northern hemisphere.
Wolverines are just one of the species facing the impacts of reduced snow cover in many parts of the globe. The cryosphere — those places where water on the planet is in solid form — is rapidly shrinking and otherwise changing. Many plants, animals and other species have adapted to living in, under, or on top of a white blanket of snow and ice. They have also adjusted to the rhythm of snow, ice, and thaw, and as snow cover diminishes and changes because of warming, these organisms are having to adapt to a new, very different reality.
The impacts of diminishing snow cover on ecosystems, animals, and plants can be highly disruptive. Root systems lose the insulation of snow that protects trees from extreme cold. Animals, such as the lynx, that are adapted to snowy regions have a harder time pursuing prey. Creatures whose coats or coloration turn white in winter are more exposed to predators. Fires become more common in higher or more northerly regions, and diminished snowmelt reduces flow into streams and rivers, harming aquatic life.
“Snow is the king when it comes to effects on ecosystems,” said Daniel Fagre, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Glacier National Park. “The effects of disappearing glaciers are pretty tiny. But snow is so dominant because it holds a huge amount of moisture for a large part of the year as a natural reservoir system. And it releases all that collected moisture slowly as it warms, so plants — and irrigators — can use it. If we lose that, it will cause fundamental changes not only to ecosystems, but to how people use water in the West.”
Climate change is just one aspect of the looming collapse. Earth systems are shutting down, including soils, atmosphere, biodiversity loss, oceans, and cryosphere (deglaciation).
The ecosystem changes from reduced snow cover are legion. One of the most important stems from the fact that snow cover plays an essential role in regulating the earth’s climate. White snow reflects as much as 90 percent of solar radiation back into space, while darker-colored plants and soil reflect just 10 percent to 30 percent of the sunlight, and so the ground absorbs much more of the sun’s energy. That causes a positive feedback — the warmer earth melts more snow, which exposes more ground, which absorbs more warmth. This feedback contributes to the rise in global temperatures.
For those in the United States Northeast.
New research indicates that snow cover across the U.S. Northeast is declining as a result of climate change, and that by 2100 as much as 59 percent of the region will not accumulate any snow. The study also found that the transition period from winter to spring — known as the vernal window, or more commonly, mud season — is likely to occur earlier and last longer, with major impacts on rivers and forested ecosystems.
In Minnesota, fifty people had to be rescued from an ice floe on a lake due to warming temperatures. Some people do not heed warnings from officials.
Pressure ridges are cracks in the ice that "form due to contracting and expanding ice due to air-temperature fluctuations," according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
When the temperature drops, the ice contracts, causing cracks. Water then fills and freezes into the gap. When the air warms, there is no more room for the ice to expand, causing "one sheet of ice to slide on top of the other." When one layer begins to go under, the ice becomes too thin and open water appears.
According to reports, one man on his ATV broke through the ice but got himself out of trouble.
Emergency agencies and DNR officials have been warning Minnesotans of unsafe ice conditions statewide. Rainstorms and one of the warmest Decembers on record kept many lakes from building up ice that’s thick enough to bring vehicles or structures onto.
Just last week, a man drowned after falling through the ice on Lake of the Woods. And on Upper Red Lake, 122 anglers became stranded on an ice floe that had broken away. That incident — at least the fifth such rescue in a matter of two weeks — led officials to limit access to the lake.