Ice Watch ~ Climate Science and The Great Lakes

View of the Great Lakes Region Sunday afternoon when @NOAA_GLERL reported ice cover at 37%. Open waters on Lake Superior produced packed rows of lake effect cloud streets while ice on Lake Erie shut clouds down. Feb.14, 2021 image via NOAA

A little cold weather sure can do a lot for Great Lakes ice cover. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) CoastWatch Great Lakes Surface Environmental Analysis (GLSEA) is reporting 37.7% ice cover over the Great Lakes as of Feb.15, 2021.

Understanding the major effect of ice on the Great Lakes is crucial because it impacts a range of societal benefits provided by the lakes, from hydropower generation to commercial shipping to the fishing industry. The amount of ice cover varies from year to year, as well as how long it remains on the lakes. NOAA – Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) scientists are observing long-term changes in ice cover as a result of global warming. Studying, monitoring, and predicting ice coverage on the Great Lakes plays an important role in determining climate patterns, lake water levels, water movement patterns, water temperature structure, and spring plankton blooms.

NOAA-GLERL has been exploring the relationships between ice cover, lake thermal structure, and regional climate for over 30 years through development, maintenance, and analysis of historical model simulations and observations of ice cover, surface water temperature, and other variables. Weekly ice cover imaging products produced by the Canadian Ice Service started in 1973. Beginning in 1989, the U.S. National Ice Center produced Great Lakes ice cover charts that combined both Canadian and U.S. agency satellite imagery. These products are downloaded at GLERL by our Coastwatch program, a nationwide NOAA program within which the GLERL functions as the Great Lakes regional node. In this capacity, GLERL obtains, produces, and delivers environmental data and products for near real-time observation of the Great Lakes to support environmental science, decision making, and supporting research. This is achieved by providing access to near real-time and retrospective satellite observations and in-situ Great Lakes data.

Innovative research on the dynamic environments and ecosystems of the Great Lakes. image courtesy, NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
@NOAA_GLERL on twitter

Climatologists from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) are currently compiling and reviewing 30 years of weather and climate data from across the U.S. to serve as the nation’s updated climate “normals” for the next 10 years. This new 30-year data-set will span from 1991 to 2020 and is scheduled for release in May 2021.

OAA GLERL and its partners conduct innovative research on the dynamic environments and ecosystems of the Great Lakes and coastal regions to provide information for resource use and management decisions that lead to safe and sustainable ecosystems, ecosystem services, and human communities.


What are climate normals?

Traditionally, scientists define climate normals as three-decade averages of climatological variables. The current batch of 30-year Climate Normals developed and used by NOAA covers the period from 1981 to 2010 and is calculated from observations at approximately 9,800 stations across the U.S. operated by NOAA National Weather Service.

“NOAA’s Climate Normals provide a baseline to compare yesterday’s weather and tomorrow’s forecast to a standard for each location and time of year,” said Mike Palecki, project manager for NOAA’s 1991 to 2020 Climate Normals. “They can be used to understand the impacts of climate on many activities such as agriculture decision support, electricity load planning, building heating requirements calculation, construction scheduling, and many other factors impacting all sectors of the economy.”