Images highlight just how drastic change in Great Lakes ice coverage has been in recent years

Lack of ice coverage will likely have ramifications for the spring and summer

(AP Photo/Erin Hooley) (Erin Hooley, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The official start of spring on Tuesday highlighted an issue over the winter that will likely have environmental ramifications throughout the spring, summer and fall.

Ice coverage for all the Great Lakes was at historical lows, with the coldest of the lakes — Lake Superior — having just 1% ice coverage as of Tuesday. The historical average is 40%.

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As we wrote about in February, this actually is not a good thing for several reasons, most notably for drinking water, the shipping industry and recreation.

So, just how drastic has the change in ice coverage been in the past 10 years? The images below show that.

First, here’s an image of ice coverage back in March 2014, courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Back then, ice coverage was at about 92%.

Map of ice coverage over the Great Lakes in 2014. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Now, contrast that to a satellite image taken by the NOAA last month, nearly 10 years later. On Valentine’s Day, overall ice coverage was 3.1%. It was 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 historical average is 40%.

Image of Great Lakes ice coverage in February 2024. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Finally, check out this animation from the NOAA of historical ice coverage on the Great Lakes since 1973, with it being noticeable how much it has decreased since 2019.

The year with the most overall ice coverage was in 1979 when it was at 94.7%, according to NOAA data. The year with the least amount of coverage before this year was in 2002, when coverage was at 11.8%.

It puts into perspective just how warm this winter was, and as the tourist season starts picking up in the Great Lakes region later this spring and into summer, we’ll see just how bad the effects will be.

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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