The Great Lakes are almost completely covered in ice. According to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 88 percent of the lakes are now covered in a layer of ice.
Although the record was set in February 1979, this winter is far from over. On February 19, 1979, the lakes were 94.7 percent frozen. However, if the brutal weather continues, the record could be broken before the end of the season.
Within the last week, the ice cover has increased more than 10 percent. The trend is a concern, as the lakes are heavily traveled by cargo vessels. The ice has impeded the delivery of rock salt, coal, and oil. As the Coast Guard only has nine icebreakers, the crews have been working nonstop.
As reported by ABC News, the deep freeze may have some benefits. Water levels in the Great Lakes have steadily declined since the 1990s. The ice cover may help replenish the lakes, as it prevents evaporation.
Residents along the snow belts will also notice a difference, as the ice will decrease lake-effect snow. Throughout the winter season, Midwest weather systems often gain moisture as they cross the Great Lakes. However, as a majority of the lakes are covered in ice, the systems may not produce as much snow.
Scientists noted that the ice cover also protects fish and their eggs from predators. This may have a notable effect on the fish population and overall ecosystem.
The Great Lakes ice has also increased tourism. In many areas the thick ice has provided a safe environment for ice fishing and snowmobiling. In Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has become a winter wonderland.
For the first time in five years, the heavy ice cover has allowed nearly 35,000 tourists to cross Lake Superior on foot to access the islands. The park is home to numerous caves, which are encrusted in layers of brilliant ice.
As reported by M Live, each of the lakes has a different degree of ice cover.
Lake Superior is currently 95.3 percent covered with ice. Although it has only experienced 100 percent coverage one time, it may happen again this year.
Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, is 95 percent covered in ice. Historically, Erie has reached 100 percent coverage three times.
Lake Huron has never been completely covered in ice. However, 94 percent of the lake’s surface is now frozen.
Lake Michigan is currently 80 percent covered in ice. Although it has never completely frozen, it reached 93.1 percent in February 1977.
Lake Ontario is only 32 percent covered in ice. As it appears to be the smallest of the Great Lakes, the number may be surprising. According to physical scientist George Leshkevich, the lakes surface area and volume may prevent heavy ice.
The researcher said the smaller surface area prevents significant heat loss. Ontario is also one of the deeper lakes, which helps retain heat.
Although the Great Lakes are almost completely covered in ice, the benefits may outweigh the negative impact.
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