Nearly 85 percent of Great Lakes covered by ice

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Nearly 85 percent of the Great Lakes were covered in ice as of Sunday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The figure is not only well above the long term average for ice coverage of the Great Lakes, it's approaching last year's peak of 92.5 percent coverage on March 6, weather experts said.

An image released by NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory on Monday shows Lake Erie is "a vast white plain." Along with Lake Huron and Lake Superior, it is more than 90 percent ice covered with small areas of open water.

Scientists have said that the prolonged deep freeze that has led to the ice coverage could bring cooler temperatures for the region this spring.

"What we see now may have impact down the road," said state climatologist Jeff Andresen, a professor at Michigan State University.

The heavy ice cover may raise water in the Great Lakes and protect shorelines and wetlands from erosion, climate scientists say.

"Predicting ice coverage plays an important role in determining climate patterns, lake water levels, water movement patterns, water temperature structure, and spring plankton blooms," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

The relationship among ice cover, evaporation, and water levels is complex, the website said.

"In a severe ice cover year such as 2014, the thermal structure of the lake could be impacted for the rest of the year, potentially reducing evaporation from the lakes next fall."

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