WINGHAM, ONT. -- Despite a recent surge, Great Lakes ice coverage is well below average this winter. Ice coverage is currently at almost 38 per cent, below the average of 53 per cent.

“We’ve been seeing ice cover surging wildly from a lot of ice to very little ice. Since the late 1990s, though, we’ve seen more years with less ice,” says Daniela Klicper, coastal stewardship c-ordinator with the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation.

In fact, Klicper says, recent research shows that Great Lakes ice coverage is 22 per cent lower than it was 50 years ago.

“Which basically means more years with less ice. On Lake Huron, the highest ever was 22 years ago, in 1994. We hit almost 98 per cent ice coverage. The lowest was in 2012, where we reached 24 per cent coverage,” she says.

The long-term forecast suggests we’re at or near our peak ice coverage for this winter, which means more open water to potentially feed off-lake snow squalls, and less ice to protect the shoreline from high water levels.

“There’s impacts in the water, as well. Whitefish rely on ice cover to protect their eggs. Ice-free winters have also been linked to warmer summer water temperatures, and that can impact water quality in the future,” says Klicper.

More open winter water may also accelerate evaporation and help lower record-setting lake levels.

“We’re going to see fairly high levels around the Great Lakes, but not to the extent that we’ve seen in 2019 and 2020,” she says.

Winters like this may become become more the rule, than the exception, predicts a federal environment and climate change study.

“The study suggests by mid-century, we’re going to see ice cover periods reduced by between 25 to 50 days, around the Great Lakes. That will mostly be due to later freezes, and earlier melts,” says Klicper.