Why recent record set on the Great Lakes is not good

Ice coverage fell to historic lows on Sunday. Here’s why that is concerning

File photo. (AP Photo/John L. Russell) (JOHN L. RUSSELL, AP2004)

For those who love warmer winters, this has in general been a good one for those in states around the Great Lakes.

But on Sunday, three days before Valentine’s Day, a record was set on the Great Lakes that won’t get any love at all from environmentalists.

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According to Great Lakes Ice Tracker, ice cover on the Great Lakes overall was at a record low of 3.1%, eclipsing the previous Feb. 11 record of 6.5% set in 2012.

Ice coverage was 1.9% on Lake Superior and Lake Ontario, 2.8% on Lake Michigan, 7.0% on Lake Huron, and .1% on Lake Erie.

The lack of ice coverage is far worse when considering the historical average is 40%.

So, why is this such a big deal to not only the region, but the entire country?

Isn’t a great thing that the winter has been warmer and people around the Great Lakes are having more time to view them in all their splendor in liquid form?

Not at all.

According to Sensorex, here are some reasons why the Great Lakes actually needs a healthy amount of ice coverage during the winter.

  • Drinking water. The Great Lakes provide drinking water to around 27 million people. With high ice coverage, less evaporation occurs, which means water levels are maintained at a healthy level and more drinking water can be provided. Not only that, but warmer waters mean algae could grow more, thus contaminating the water.
  • Shipping. The Great Lakes are vital to the nation’s shipping industry. Goods can’t get to states throughout the country without passing through the Great Lakes. If water levels are lower, freighters can’t go at maximum capacity and will have to reduce their loads. Granted, on the other hand, having too much ice cover in spring months is also harmful for ships that can’t move or get stuck in ice jams. But there needs to be a balance, and lower water levels caused by no ice coverage can harm loads also.
  • Environmental issues. Ice can actually be beneficial to the ecosystem of the Great Lakes. It helps protect fish eggs from destruction caused by high winds and waves, and also helps aid oxygen levels at the bottom of lakes. More sunlight coming through a lake can drastically alter animal and plant cycles.
  • Recreation. Having lower water levels might not be ideal for boaters and swimmers that flock to the Great Lakes during the summer.

Officially, there’s still more than a month left of winter, so there could be some more freezing weather ahead to help with ice coverage.

But given what’s happened so far, when spring and summer arrive, those who enjoy the Great Lakes during those peak months might realize the impact that a low amount of ice coverage during a winter can have.

About the Author

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.

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