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No more shinny? Thousands of lakes are losing their winter ice, study says

Canadian-led research found ice loss is becoming more common due to climate change

Researchers had access to historical data, ranging from 40 to 600 years, to determine lake-ice loss across the Northern Hemisphere. Some lakes could suffer permanent ice loss due to climate change. (Shutterstock/JCholod)

To draw their conclusions, researchers from Canada, the U.S. Germany, Sweden and the U.K. examined 50 years worth of lake-ice records from around the world.

The study was published last month in the journal Nature Climate Change, assessing 514 lakes for ice loss during winters. Twenty eight of these freshwater lakes, including Lake Superior, stood out to researchers, as their historical data points to a growing number of winters without the presence of ice since the 1970s.

John Magnuson, one of the study’s researchers, shot this photo of Lake Mendota in Wisconsin in January 2007. Reduced lake-ice could economically damage rural communities who depend on winter ice roads to transport supplies. (John Magnuson/University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Lake Superior’s vulnerability to ice-free winters is due to a combination of its depth and warmer air temperatures, prolonging or preventing the lake’s cooling process, researchers said.

“We discovered that Lake Superior is the second fastest warming lake in the world of all the lakes that we studied. We were able to link its high summer temperatures to its reduced ice coverage in the winter,” Sharma said.

A previous study done by Sharma’s team in 2015, notes that over a 25 year span, Superior’s summer water surface temperatures rose by more than twice the rate of oceans, averaging about 0.34 C per decade.

“What worries me is the rapidity at which we may experience the dramatic change,” Sharma said. “I’m not sure if we are prepared for a near future without lake ice: culturally, socio-economically but also ecologically.”

Andi is a jack of all trades and a master of none. Her interests range from ecology to life’s oddities. You can find her behind a good book, watching nature documentaries or actively exploring the outdoors. Kay is completing her Journalism diploma at Seneca College.

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