Satellites reveal scant Great Lakes ice cover

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Great Lakes Ice coverA composite map of the Great Lakes produced by NOAA’s CoastWatch organization shows near-historic low ice coverage across the region.

The map, known as the Great Lakes Surface Environmental Analysis, is a composite of data taken from NOAA satellites orbiting the earth’s poles and radar scans of the lakes by the National Ice Center. The resulting image shows surface water temperature and ice coverage, important data for region scientists, fishermen and boaters. The map’s data is updated daily.

“Previously, the lowest ice coverage year was 2002,” CoastWatch manager George Leshkevich said. “2012 came very close to 2002, and this year is looking very similar to last year.”

Lack of ice cover leads to increased water evaporation, a serious concern in light of already-low lake levels.

The map is used by people in many different fields, Leshkevich said. It began as a tool to help hydrodynamic modelers who needed daily temperature readings across the entire Great Lakes region. It has since been used by fishermen and charter boat captains in order to find warmer areas of the lakes where fish gather, as well as by ecologists studying temperature-sensitive species like the zebra mussel.satellite_icon

“It’s a fairly accurate product,” Leshkevich said. “We’ve validated it against data buoys in the lakes and against visual data we’ve been able to get on clear days, and it’s always been very close.”

According to Leshkevich, inaccuracies can result from cloud cover and solar warming of the lakes during the day. Many of these issues have been reduced by the introduction of more satellites into NOAA’s system. Originally only two satellites were positioned to retrieve data. Now there are four, with a fifth expected to begin transmitting data within the next week.

5 thoughts on “Satellites reveal scant Great Lakes ice cover

  1. We cannot control evaporation or warmer temps. We can control the US Army Corp of Engineers insults to nature which are causing a far greater effect on lake levels. The worst of these is the Chicago Diversion, which reversed the flow of water out-of rather than into Lk MI to provide a more scenic downtown Chicago – and coincidentally connected the Lk MI watershed to the Mississippi so that we are now vulnerable to the Asian Carp and other invasives. The second is the dredging in the St. Clair River to permit freighters to pass when water levels are low. Ask any schoolchild who has dug a moat around a sand castle at the beach what happens when you did the moat deeper – more water runs out. Duh… Keep the Army Corp of Engineer out of the Great Lakes.

  2. If this is related to global warming it is already costing a lot of boaters big bucks. Our small Marina just off of Lake Michigan just passed an assessment of $625.00 to dredge parts of our Marina. Some Marina’s will have a hard time covering the dredging cost especially condo type Marina’s.
    Shipping cost will continue to go up as the big boats will be unable to take on full loads. With rainfall down and sunshine up and no ice the sun makes for a lot of evaporation.

  3. I’ve spent summers here since 1954. The last low period close to this was 1963 and 64… It is a good 6 inches to a foot lower than that now.

    This is a record and now sign of it getting anything but worse given the amount of snowfall we have not gotten this winter.

  4. Pingback: Not much ice on Lake Michigan this year | Peace & Bread

  5. This could also cause a repeat in drowning numbers this summer, especially if we get water temps in the 80’s in early July vs. August. Warmer waters could increase the amount of dangerous summer surf conditions.

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