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Surely you haven’t experience this winter without seeing a headline about ice on the Great Lakes. They keeping vying for my attention. After all, how can you resist the beckoning of icey satellite images of some of the largest freshwater lakes in the world? It’s been a long, cold winter for the northeast and many parts of the midwest and even the south. And with extended cold weather comes the ice. Today’s Geography Quest focuses on how much of the Great Lakes (and other other nearby waterways) are frozen.
Do The Great Lakes Really Freeze Over?
As I was doing the research for this Quest, I found some really stunning video and satellite photography. This first one shows time lapse footage of the Great Lakes (especially Lake Superior) freezing this season.
- Find out if the Great Lakes have frozen over and if so, how often does it happen?
- When is the last time the lakes froze to the extent they are frozen right now?
- Which ones freeze the most often and/or the fastest?
- Are there any that don’t freeze?
- What factors account for the differences in how the lakes freeze?
Does Niagara Falls Freeze Solid?
Just last week there was a news segment on folks making the trip to the falls to see them frozen solid. What do you think?
- Do your research.
- Is Niagara Falls frozen?
- A fun look at Snopes.com and their take on whether or not the falls ever freeze.
I’ve been to Niagara Falls in late April when the sun is bright and warm and watched ice the size of cars flow over the falls. With all the ice on the Great Lakes this year, I’m sure the falls will remain icy for longer than usual.
What are Ice Jams?
I didn’t learn about ice jams until I moved to NY. It stands to reason that all this ice has to go somewhere. Already this winter we’ve seen flooding in our community caused by ice jams. More awaits since many of the creeks and their tributaries are still frozen and it looks like we’re due for a frost.
The first video shows a Coast Guard boat tasked with breaking up the ice on Lake Michigan to get the shipping industry moving again after winter.
The next video explains what ice jams are and it shows the ice built up on the Illinois River. Ice jams cause flooding when the water cannot pass around them.
Make Your Own Ice Maps
Chart your own ice maps by doing these few things:
- Grab a map of the Great Lakes Region. I like to enlarge maps using the poster feature in the Adobe printing for pdf documents.
- Estimate the amount of ice cover for each lake and color in the amount cover. Make a key for your map.
Long Term Effects of Great Lake Ice Cover
What can you find out about the long lasting effects of so much ice cover?
- How long will it take the ice to melt?
- With so much ice to melt, how will that affect the summer swimming season? Water has a high thermal mass and take a while to warm up even without lots of ice!
- How will the shipping industry deal with the ice? Will ships be able to navigate through to the St. Lawrence Seaway?
This has been an extraordinary year for cold weather in the northeastern and midwestern United States. Enjoy a look at ice formation on the Great Lakes.