• Outdoors Outdoors

Scientists record 'substantial decrease' in Great Lakes ice cover, devastating local businesses: 'We haven't had a season'

There are seasonal businesses that count on the ice.

There are seasonal businesses that count on the ice.

Photo Credit: iStock

The Great Lakes are experiencing a winter with one of the lowest levels of ice cover ever recorded. If the trend continues, that could be very bad news for humans and wildlife alike.

What's happening?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration per the Guardian, the average ice cover on the Great Lakes this winter was only 6%.

Ice cover on the lakes has been steadily decreasing for decades. The average ice cover over the last 50 years has been 18%, but nine of the 10 years with the least average ice cover have come since 2002.

Only twice in that time period, 2009 and 2014, has the ice cover exceeded the average.

James Kessler, a scientist at NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab, said, "There is a trend: a 5% decline in average ice cover per decade, which may not sound huge but it is a substantial decrease."

Why is the ice disappearing from the Great Lakes concerning?

The lack of ice on the Great Lakes during the winter negatively affects both the local economy and the environment.

There are seasonal businesses that count on the ice. 

Diana Woodward, co-owner of Woodward's Ice Fishing in Long Point Bay on Lake Erie's north shore, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, "We haven't had a season." She added, "We knew going in that it's a chance you take, that's just the way a seasonal business works. But even if you don't get ice, those bills don't stop whether you're busy or not."

Woodward, among others, has had to find a different way to bring in money this winter.

The ice also plays a vital role in the local ecosystem. With warmer water and less ice, the water tends to evaporate more, causing lower water levels and the slow disappearance of wetlands. It also affects the cleanliness of the water.

"With less ice cover, our lakes warm faster and water temperatures are great conditions for algae to grow and proliferate," Sapna Sharma, a professor at York University in Toronto, told the CBC. "Warmer temperatures, rainier summers can relate to degraded water quality."

What's being done about the decreasing ice in the Great Lakes?

According to Sharma, the warming of the planet is directly responsible for the loss of ice in the Great Lakes.

Legislation has been passed in countries across the globe with the purpose of fighting this growing issue.

On a personal level, people can do their part by investing in clean energy, like installing solar panels on their homes, buying electric vehicles, or doing something as simple as walking, riding a bike, or taking public transit instead of driving when you only need to go a short distance.

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