18 April 2014

Great Lakes Ice Unprecedented? Hardly.

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 8.18.47 PM The headline above is on the Huffington Posts front page this evening, and it’s rather misleading.

Yes, it’s been a rather cold winter around the Great Lakes and a cold spring has slowed the ice melt as well. It’s really not that big of a deal however, and the claim that this will affect the environment for years is more than dubious. The ice was worse in the cold winters of the 1970’s, and it’s actually melting rapidly now. The frigid image of the Great Lakes in the Huffington Post piece was taken in the middle of the freeze, and it looks MUCH different this week:

From NASA Aqua Satellite this week.

From NASA Aqua Satellite this week. (That is cloud and not ice over the northern half of Lake Michigan by the way.) You can see some ice remaining in Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

Here is Lake Superior about 9 days ago when there was still a LOT of ice around:

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 8.17.11 PMBelow is today…

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 8.16.54 PM

Notice that in just a bit more than a week, all of Isle Royale National Park is clear of ice.

Lake Superior by the way has a great deal of ice cover in most winters as the graphic below illustrates:


While the winter ice cover on Lake Superior has a major effect on the Wolf and Moose population of Isle Royale NP (and some other species and ecosystems), this is a normal part of the climate there. You might wonder what the delayed melt of all that ice will do to the spring and summer temperatures, and the answer is almost nothing. The National Weather Service in Chicago did some research into just this question. Check out the video below:


I think most folks can easily understand how silly the claim is (by some commenters to the article) that this falsifies climate change, but below is the winter 2014 temperature anomaly over the planet. Yes, it was indeed a rather cold winter in the Great Lakes (and eastern U.S.), but it was unusually warm almost everywhere else.

marchNOAA (1)

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 9.15.36 PM Lastly, some new research that indicates the high pressure ridge producing the drought over California (which really is unprecedented in the last 150 years at least), and the downstream cold trough over the Great Lakes, may be a result of rising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The research was based on studies using the NCAR CESM climate model. (Update- Andy Freedman the science writer at Mashable has an excellent summary of this paper with comments from other top scientists in the field here: http://mashable.com/2014/04/18/global-warming-drought-cold/ )