NASA satellite sees great freeze over Great Lakes

Feb 28, 2014
NASA satellite sees great freeze over Great Lakes
This image, acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA's Aqua satellite, shows the Great Lakes on Feb. 19, 2014, when ice covered 80.3 percent of the lakes. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA

At night, as cold settles in, lake ice creaks and groans. It's been excessively cold, and I camped exposed on the snow-swept surface. Other than the lack of vegetation and the sounds at night, you'd never know you were on a lake. It feels like an empty plain. In some places, you see pressure ridges where ice has pushed into itself, sticking up like clear blue stegosaurus plates.—Craig Childs

Author Craig Childs is not describing an Arctic lake. He's describing the bitterly cold and frozen scene on Lake Superior, during his February 2014 trek on the ice near the coast of Ashland, Wisconsin.

Zoom out to view the scene from a satellite perspective and it's apparent that Lake Superior is not the only lake to feel the freeze. The true-color image above, from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite, shows the mostly frozen state of the Great Lakes on Feb. 19. On that date, ice spanned 80.3 percent of the lakes, according to NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The ice reached an even greater extent on Feb. 13, when it covered about 88 percent of the Great Lakes – coverage not achieved since 1994, when ice spanned over 90 percent. In addition to this year, ice has covered more than 80 percent of the lakes in only five other years since 1973. The average annual maximum ice extent in that time period is just over 50 percent. The smallest maximum ice cover occurred in 2002, when only 9.5 percent of the lakes froze over.

Scientists say it's understandable that the Great Lakes have had so much ice this year considering the cold temperatures in the region that persisted through the winter. Cold air temperatures remove heat from the water until it reaches the freezing point, at which point ice begins to form on the surface, explained Nathan Kurtz, cryospheric scientist NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

"Persistently low temperatures across the Great Lakes region are responsible for the increased areal coverage of the ice," Kurtz said. "Low temperatures are also the dominant mechanism for thickening the ice, while secondary factors like clouds, snow, and wind also play a role."

The freeze this year has local implications, including possible changes to snowfall amounts in the Great Lakes area, explained Walt Meier, also a cryospheric scientist at NASA Goddard. When the lakes are primarily open water, cold air picks up moisture from the relatively warm and moist lake water, often resulting in lake effect snow on the lee side of the lakes, on the eastern and southern shores. When the lakes freeze, the lake effect generally shuts down. "Although this year, they're still picking up a fair amount of snow," Meier said.

Lake levels could also see an impact by summer, as winter ice cover generally reduces the amount of water available to evaporate during winter months. If that turns out to be the case, it would be "good news for local water supplies, as well as for shipping and recreational use," Meier said.

It remains to be seen when the Great Lakes will once again freeze to the extent reached in 2014, or at least enough to allow adventurers to reach the ice caves at Lake Superior's Apostle Islands National Lakeshore by foot.

A 2012 study in the Journal of Climate by scientists at NOAA's Great Lakes lab, which included data from MODIS, found that winter season ice cover on Lake Superior has decreased 79 percent from 1973 to 2010. The study also showed that on the lakes is highly variable and difficult to predict.

The harsh season this year "is a reminder that winters are variable and that weather can always throw an outlier our way," said Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist and climate modeler at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

Explore further: Great Lakes have most ice in decades thanks to bitter winter

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User comments : 15

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verkle
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 28, 2014
Best not to look at a geographic locality like the great lakes and then try to make an assessment on global climate becuase of it. Too dangerous and not scientific.
TegiriNenashi
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 28, 2014
Middle of a continent is indeed a wrong place to look. One week it is blowing from south and the temp is balmy +15C, while the next week it is chilly -15C north wind. How can they notice any climate signal with that kind of noise? That notwithstanding, there are all kind of silly papers proclaiming cold season getting shorter...

The best way to seek independent confirmation of temp anomalies is dig up some ocean buoy NOAA data. There temperature doesn't fluctuate between day and night like crazy, barely changing few degrees during the whole season. Essentially ocean is doing averaging for free. Plus "denialists" can't claim UHI effect skewing the record, or the nature plays malicious "adjustment" game. Got ocean's data to confirm AGW?
alfie_null
1 / 5 (2) Mar 01, 2014
deleted
Maggnus
3.9 / 5 (7) Mar 01, 2014
Osiris1
not rated yet Mar 02, 2014
Wonder how many polar bears are relocating to the great lakes. Maybe they will fish for big head carp and snakeheads that the chinese barge owners want to smuggle with the connivance of the federal government into the Great Lakes from the muddy Mississippi thru that barge canal that the government is purposely letting open.
ubavontuba
2 / 5 (4) Mar 02, 2014
Maggnus
3 / 5 (4) Mar 02, 2014
No, he asked for DATA, not model fantasies.

Here's some data:

http://www.woodfo...14/trend
I wonder what has been cherry-picked for display this time? Ah, global SURFACE sea temperatures. Another misunderstanding by Uba! Ok, I'll type slowly for you again Uba; the person before you was asking about ocean data, not ocean surface temperatures. And he was asking for real data, the kind used to make models like those used in the first two cites you skimmed in the group of cites I made above.

Just more of the same, trolling only to seek arguments.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (6) Mar 02, 2014
Poor Magnus still doesn't understand what his buzz phrase means.

"Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position."

-If he did he would understand that that's exactly what he does when he posts links to outdated and biased and tainted info which only supports his position, and he would stop using it in polite company.

'But buzz phrases are fun to use and facilitate posturing!' -says Magnus. Yes but they're not very good substitutes for actual debating skills now are they?
Maggnus
3 / 5 (4) Mar 02, 2014
Poor Ghost, still pouting because his attempts to obfuscate the discussions were so thoroughly dispatched elsewhere, he feels the need to intrude his fallasic rationalizations here. It's ok Ghost, it's understood what a poor loser you are.

Really should stop pouting now, you'll have other opportunities to display your biased stupidity.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (6) Mar 02, 2014
Poor Ghost, still pouting because his attempts to obfuscate the discussions were so thoroughly dispatched elsewhere, he feels the need to intrude his fallasic rationalizations here. It's ok Ghost, it's understood what a poor loser you are.

Really should stop pouting now, you'll have other opportunities to display your biased stupidity.
And after your arguments are defeated, and your fat buzzwords and phrases are all used up, and your lies have all been exposed, name-calling is all you got left. That and the tears boo hoo.
ubavontuba
2 / 5 (4) Mar 02, 2014
No, he asked for DATA, not model fantasies.

Here's some data:

http://www.woodfo...14/trend
the person before you was asking about ocean data, not ocean surface temperatures. And he was asking for real data, the kind used to make models
LOL. Idiot, models (whether you believe it or not) are not empirical data!

Maybe you think food can't grow in a desert too ...oh, that's right, you do think food can't grow in a desert!

Maggnus = Mad/nuts

Maggnus
3 / 5 (4) Mar 02, 2014
Really should stop pouting now, you'll have other opportunities to display your biased stupidity.
And after your arguments are defeated, and your fat buzzwords and phrases are all used up, and your lies have all been exposed, name-calling is all you got left. That and the tears boo hoo.
That didn't take long!
Maggnus
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 02, 2014
LOL. Idiot, models (whether you believe it or not) are not empirical data!
LOL denialist tripe! Models are BASED on empirical evidence!

Maybe you think food can't grow in a desert too ...oh, that's right, you do think food can't grow in a desert!

Maggnus = Mad/nuts

Yep lots of wheat coming out of the Sahara! LOL What a denialist fool!! LOL!!
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2014
LOL. Idiot, models (whether you believe it or not) are not empirical data!
LOL denialist tripe! Models are BASED on empirical evidence!
Only as a starting database. And a lot of the starting database is also conjecture. The data they develop is not empirical, at all.

Maybe you think food can't grow in a desert too ...oh, that's right, you do think food can't grow in a desert!

Maggnus = Mad/nuts
Yep lots of wheat coming out of the Sahara! LOL What a denialist fool!! LOL!!
LOL. Still smarting from my handing this one back to you on a platter ...again, and again?

Eddy Courant
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2014
"Once again we see the surprising stability of the system. Some areas of the ocean have warmed at 2° per decade, some have cooled at -1.5° per decade. But overall? The warming is trivially small, 0.03°C per decade." ARGO Data http://wattsupwit...e-104125