Anthropogenic Influences On Lake Ice Coverage; Ice Breakers, Waste Heat, Dams, etc.?

Image Credits: NOAA Great Lakes Surface Environment Analysis (GLSEA)

By WUWT Regular “Just The Facts”

Per the images above, on February 13th, 2014, Great Lakes Ice Coverage was 88.4%. On February 14th, Ice Coverage dropped to 80.2 %, and has expanded only slightly to 81.4% in the two days since. The reason for this drop in Ice Coverage does not appear to be related to temperature, as it has remained below freezing over the Great Lakes during the period in question:

Robert Hart, PhD. – – Click the pic to view at source

The most likely cause of the decrease in Great Lakes Ice Coverage is wind, which compacted the Lake Ice, thus decreasing coverage. However, anthropogenic influences may also have played a role. Let us take a look.


“Sections of the lakes, which hold nearly one-fifth of the freshwater on the world’s surface, harden almost every winter. That freezing keeps the Coast Guard’s fleet of nine icebreakers busy clearing paths for vessels hauling essential cargo such as heating oil, salt and coal. But over the past four decades, the average ice cover has receded 70 percent, scientists say, probably in part because of climate change.”

“For Coast Guard icebreaker teams, it’s all business. They’ve logged four times more hours this season than the average for the same period in recent years, said Kyle Niemi, spokesman for the agency’s Cleveland district headquarters.

The 240-foot-long Mackinaw began its duties Dec. 16 – several weeks earlier than usual – and worked nonstop until Feb. 8, when traffic slowed enough to allow a break.”

“A 35-year Coast Guard veteran who has spent 12 years on the lakes, Davanzo said this winter is the toughest he’s experienced because the ice came so soon and is so thick and widespread, and the weather has been constantly bitter.

The Mackinaw, commissioned in 2006 to replace an older vessel with the same name, is designed specifically for duty on the Great Lakes. It’s propelled by two “Azipod” thrusters that can spin 360 degrees and fire jets of water at adjacent ice, weakening it. Sometimes the crew will drive the ship’s bow onto an ice sheet to crack it with sheer weight. Or they’ll go backward, chopping up ice with the propeller blades.

When the going gets tough, there’s the battering-ram option – hurling the reinforced hull directly against walls of ice that can be several feet thick.”

“The workload typically drops sharply after navigational locks on the St. Marys River, the link between Lakes Superior and Huron, close in mid-January and most large cargo haulers dock for winter. But the ice was so thick this year that a number of freighters were still struggling to complete final deliveries days later. Even now, demand for road salt and heating oil in the Midwest is keeping some icebreakers busy.”

“If the weather stays like this,” he said, “we could be breaking ice all the way to the middle of May.” AOL

If you look at the following image from Feb. 6, 2014 of Lake Huron facing towards Port Huron, Michigan on the right, and Sarnia, Ontario on the left, you’ll note the icebreaker/ship trail on the left side of the image:

Carlos Osorio – AP Images – ABC News – Click the pic to view at source

It appears that the icebreaker/ship may have created a weakened portion of the ice, which may be more susceptible to breakage and movement due to winds. Additionally, in the background of the image you can see steam rising from industrial production and you can see that lake ice hasn’t formed in the inlet and areas along the coast. This leads us to our second potential anthropogenic influence, i.e. waste heat.

Waste Heat

“Many large thermoelectric power plants were built on the shores of the Great Lakes because the lakes provide easy access to the large volumes of water require for plant cooling. Thermoelectric power generation is the largest use of water in the Great Lakes basin (72% of all water use in 2005), with the majority used as cooling water.” “Most Great Lakes coastal power plants use once-through cooling technology. Plants withdraw water using large underwater pipes, sometimes located up to 1000 meters offshore, circulate the water through their plants, and then discharge heated water back to the lake.” Great Lakes Mapping

Great Lakes Mapping – Click the pic to view full size image

“Our analysis includes 114 coastal power plants located within 2 km of the Great Lakes shoreline on the assumption that these plants draw water directly from the Lakes or from major tributaries just upstream of their confluence with the Lakes.” “”It is evident that apart from heat discharged with combustion gases from a coal-burning plant and any difference in thermal efficiency which affects the amount of heat to be dumped in the cooling system, there is no real difference in the amount of water used for cooling nuclear power plants, relative to coal-fired plants of the same size.” World

Great Lakes Mapping – Click the pic to view full size image

“Cooling to condense the steam and discharge surplus heat.” “If the power plant is next to the sea, a big river, or large inland water body it may be done simply by running a large amount of water through the condensers in a single pass and discharging it back into the sea, lake or river a few degrees warmer and without much loss from the amount withdrawn. That is the simplest method. The water may be salt or fresh. Some small amount of evaporation will occur off site due to the water being a few degrees warmer.” “The amount of water required will be greater than with the recirculating set-up, but the water is withdrawn and returned, not consumed by evaporation. In the UK the water withdrawal requirement for a 1600 MWe nuclear unit is about 90 cubic metres per second (7.8 GL/d).”

“Any nuclear or coal-fired plant that is normally cooled by drawing water from a river or lake will have limits imposed on the temperature of the returned water (typically 30°C) and/or on the temperature differential between inlet and discharge. In hot summer conditions even the inlet water from a river may approach the limit set for discharge, and this will mean that the plant is unable to run at full power. In mid 2010 TVA had to reduce power at its three Browns Ferry units in Alabama to 50% in order to keep river water temperatures below 32°C, at a cost of some $50 million to customers. This was the same week when Rhine and Neckar River temperatures in Baden-Wuerttemberg approached the critical 28°C, and nuclear and coal-fired plants were threatened with closure. In August 2012 one unit of Millstone power station in Connecticut was closed because the seawater in Long Island Sound exceeded 24°C.”

“In France, all but four of EdF’s nuclear power plants (14 reactors) are inland, and require fresh water for cooling. Eleven of the 15 inland plants (32 reactors) have cooling towers, using evaporative cooling, the other four (12 reactors) use simply river or lake water directly. With regulatory constraints on the temperature increase in receiving waters, this means that in very hot summers generation output may be limited.*

* For instance at Bugey, the maximum increase in water temperature in summer is 7.5ºC normally, and 5.5ºC in summer, with maximum discharge temperature 30ºC (34ºC in summer) and maximum downstream temperature 24ºC (26ºC allowed for up to 35 summer days). For plants using direct cooling from the sea, the allowed temperature increase offshore is 15ºC.”


“Dredging in the St. Clair River has increased the flow capacity out of Michigan and Huron. There are also three man-made diversions that manipulate the amount of water entering and the leaving the Great Lakes, the most notorious of which is the 113-year-old Chicago canal, which carries the city’s wastewater into the Mississippi.” “But the water lost from the Great Lakes at Chicago is more than compensated for by two Canadian diversions that channel water out of the Hudson Bay watershed and into Lake Superior.” Journal Sentinel Online

Journal Sentinel Online – Click the pic to view full size image

In terms of the impact of dams and reservoirs on water temperatures, “the altered chemistry of reservoir water affects the ecology of a diminished river for many kilometers downstream, leading to greater climactic ramifications. When the Krasnoyarskaya Dam (one of the world’s most powerful at 6000 MW) was built on the Yenisei River, its designers predicted that warm water releases from the reservoir would prevent the river from freezing for about 20 kilometers downstream. However, the unfrozen stretch of water extends 200-300 kilometers from the dam, which in the depths of the Siberian winter, causes thick freezing fog to cloud the city of Krasnoyarsk.” Pacific Environment


While there is no definitive evidence, there appears to be circumstantial evidence that there may be anthropogenic influences on Great Lakes Ice Coverage. What do you think, are there anthropogenic influences impacting Lake Ice Coverage? If so, which anthropogenic influences do you think have a significant impact?


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Roy Spencer

Great Lakes ice breakers used to pass within a couple hundred yards of my house…their path is absolutely miniscule. Same with any warm water from generating plants (some of those plants you show are hydro…don’t generate heat). Wind dominates all other effects when the air remains cold enough to freeze the lake surface. Anthropogenic effects can be ignored.


Nice job JTF!
It would be of great interest to see the trend line of ice breaker activity in the Arctic over the last 50 years. Let alone trends in river water temps from upstream manufacturing etc.
One cut makes two when the winds shift.

David L. Hagen
4 eyes

Virtually all energy consumed ends up as waste heat ultimately. That is a mind-boggling amount of waste heat dumped directly in to our environment.

Gary Pearse

During the geophysical year(?) there was a two-year massive study in the arctic with countless research vessels and ice breakers zig zagging all over the place. I asked the obvious question back then and was told it had no effect.

Roy Spencer

4-eyes, not nearly as mind boggling as that available naturally. Been computed many times before…a small fraction of a Watt per sq meter area averaged, versus hundreds of watts per sq. meter for the sun.

Steve from Rockwood

There are no measureable anthropogenic factors keeping Lake Ontario from freezing. The last time it froze over completely was 1934. Go back to the natural drawing board. Ontario is different from the other Great Lakes. It is the last lake in the series, sits at a lower elevation and is fueled by the world’s largest water fall (in terms of water volume).


Its been windy (and cold) the last couple weeks on the west side of Lake Michigan. Just like in the Arctic, the winds really make a big difference with ice coverage … Perhaps the ice volume is increasing at the same time but I don’t think this is measured.
As for anthropogenic influences on Great Lakes ice, all the road salt may have some influence on near shore ice coverage here and there, at least where my wife works they have conductivity sensors in the sewers in case they have some sort of unplanned discharge, and much to her annoyance the road salt sets them off in the spring. Also, there is sometimes a haze over Lake Michigan that seems to come from the coal plants, this is very noticeable in the summer and not so noticeable in winter because of the clouds, perhaps with precipitation that haze settles out on the ice and helps to melt it.

Michael D

When Michigan was 80% iced-over, much of that ice was very thin. Thus as you note when the wind changed direction it was easily crumpled and compacted to make thicker ice over a smaller area. However when the water surface is thus opened up by the wind, the lake cools faster thus creating more ice (though not necessarily more ice coverage).


ice breakers ,road salt, urban heat islands like Toronto must have some effect; how much ….really who knows.

Steve from Rockwood

You could make the case that ice-breaking actually promotes ice growth. If the air mass is much colder than the underlying ice-covered (insulated) water, then exposing the water to the colder air mass would increase heat loss from the water and accelerate ice growth. I recall some Inuit hunters in Labrador complaining about ice breakers. They break the ice, it closes very quickly, but the healed crack can reach several meters higher than normal making snowmobiling dangerous (especially when everything looks white).

Paul Coppin

This time of the year there is sufficient energy in solar insolation to afford a degree of black body heating. The lake temp is at or below freezing only at the surface. Thin ice and light snow cover can melt where there is a darker albedo on the lake. These contractions and expansions will become more active as we move into March and begin typical spring patterns and the gradual thawing of the lake surface. Wind direction and strength will also impact the flow of sun heated warmer water in the euphotic zone.

Paul Coppin

Lake Ontario is pretty deep. Lots of latent heat capacity compared to, say, Lake Erie.

Steve from Rockwood

justthefactswuwt says:
February 17, 2014 at 4:50 pm
I would take that Lake Stressor map with a grain of Windsor Salt. Lake Ontario didn’t freeze in the 1970s when the other lakes did. It hasn’t froze since 1934. Given the stress would be highest most recently (introduction of nuclear power, more intensive farm use, greater urbanization, etc) you would have to eliminate the historical tendency of the lake not to freeze.

Paul Hanlon

@4 eyes
I did a small back of an envelope calculation on the amount of energy created by humans and it amounted to 0.032W/m² or about 32 milliwatts compared to an average of 170W/m² from the sun over the day-night cycle. The energy at the surface of the Earth from its own core is about 48milliwatts. The total amount of energy produced by humans in a year would drive a hurricane for about twenty minutes.


In related news we have this from the LA Times. They use science to debunk the sceptics with great success I see.

LA Times
Ice storm paradox: It’s colder because the Earth is warmer,0,7056061.story

But the LA times forgot to mention THIS [warmer winters predictions] and THIS [IPCC milder winters]. They think they can keep changing their contradictory batshit and we will not notice.
How can this be possible? Fully grown and maybe matured adults come out with such BS is quite astonishing. The key is this: they think people are not paying attention. Will the LA times address the 2 links I have provided? The first link has climate scientists telling us to expect MILDER WINTERS. Now the LA times tells us that in fact they meant colder winters. BS throughout.


When we get milder US winters what will they say then? The climate models predicted it, we said it all along (while forgeting their last position of colder winters caused by man’s greenhouse gases). THIS IS NOT SCIENCE. This is climate voodoo. Even Pachauri must agree.


I will start compiling a list of climate scientists telling us t expect colder winters caused by global warming. I already have a list of them saying the opposite. It should make interesting reading – compare and contrast homework.

When an icebreaker breaks ice and makes it more susceptible to wind..its human caused
When human caused warmer temps in the arctic weaken ice and make it more susceptible to wind…its wind caused.

4 weeks ago, I’m driving to work thinking it’s bone chilling cold for a month and there is open water on the lake, what’s going on; then one good nor’easter and the ice is piled up 6 feet high to the horizon. Wind gets my vote. We’re going to have one seriously sloppy wet spring, better get that flood insurance before then.


What a joke this Is,a magical 8% reduction of Ice In one day with surface temperatures below zero,
where did all the heat come from? was It the sweat from Government ‘Hiding The Decline’ and rapidly making adjustments?
I would like to see real Aerial photographs rather than Government Agency ‘Cartoon Images’.


I was wondering when someone would write about the impact ice breakers have on ice cover. I have seen both U.S. and Canadian ice breakers on the Detroit River keeping the shipping channel open every day for the last few weeks. Their mission is to prevent ice jams, which prevents ice from forming behind the would be jams. No wonder we are not getting to an all-time record.

M. Hastings

Not that it matters, I’m with Dr. Spencer on this one “Anthropogenic effects can be ignored.”


The Great Lakes freezing over is related to their individual watersheds freezing. Our recent Jet-Stream Southern meanderings has brought frightfully cold air to the US mid-section freezing the land surface’s water that feed the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes freeze in the order of when their watersheds freeze. Lake Superior froze first (well really Lake Erie first because of its extreme shallowness compared to the other 4) because the frozen Northern Ontario Province of Canada is its watershed. Then Lake Huron followed by Lake Michigan and now Lake Ontario is still open because it is receiving all the relatively warmer water from the four “up river” Great Lakes. After most of the heat of the other four Great Lakes has passed through to Lake Ontario, then it too will freeze over.
Assessments of the individual Great Lakes’ watersheds will provide a means to predict when the Great Lake will freeze over.


The call from skyrocket and swifty is to hammer us back to a time where there are no more lower cast people left to keep warm and fed. This is a “great” “real” cause and must be battled with the peoples money. Not to worry about the ice on the great lakes as they are in charge.

John F. Hultquist

The deepest part of Lake Ontario is the eastern 1/3 part called the Rochester Basin. It freezes on the eastern end and is open on the shallower west 2/3 part. Last week, I searched for an explanation but did not find one.


The Three Rules of American Climate Change Debate:
1) Record highs will outnumber record lows by a factor of 2:1.
2) There will still be record lows.
3) Wherever there is a record low, someone with a sloping forehead will claim that it disproves climate change.

Rud Istvan

Nice post says this former Chicago boy. We are back to the 80’s, and my snowmobiles parked in the southern Wisonsin farm shed since the late 90’s are rarin to go. Just saying that memories are short, Mother Nature is fickle, and the Lakes do freeze. That is why we have icebreakers, even if they are not needed every year.

Warren in Minnesota

I am not sure, but I think the writer should check out the damn dams or is that dam damns?

R Babcock

Looking at the polar ice cap and the effect wind has on it (last year’s storm), to me it seems pretty obvious it is all about the wind. Even now wind is reducing the total Arctic ice coverage even while it is still winter.
What should be pointed out is after the lake cools to a point where the water is just above freezing and the ambient temps are substantially below freezing, open water will freeze pretty quickly. My guess is due to the insulating properties of the ice itself, more lake heat will be lost to open water than ice covered water. So although we are looking at ice coverage, what is ultimately important is ice volume.


“Lake Ontario is pretty deep. Lots of latent heat capacity compared to, say, Lake Erie.”
Yes indeed, My residence is ~100 feet from the southern shore of Lake Ontario (about 30 miles west of Rochester). We like to call it the “North Coast of the USA”. My “front yard” (the lake side) is consistently 5-10 degrees cooler than the “back yard” (street side, away from the lake) all year round.
We have a nice little micro-climate in our front yard, makes for nice cool basking in the summer and fall, and tough growing conditions. The wife has been searching for several decades for some nice looking plants that can handle being near (100 feet) the shore and “thrive”. No “keepers” yet, but the weeds still seem to love it.
This time of year we don’t go out in the front yard, too darn cold and windy, but we do get some nice views of the Arctic “ducks” going “south for the winter” from our porch (old-squaws, buffleheads, golden-eyes, loons, surf scooters, etc.) . Nothing nicer than seeing their fine crisp plumage on a rare bright sunny morning. Some of the plumage’s appear “black” in normal diffuse sunlight but are actually an iridescent purple/black caused by optical interference within the micro structure of the feathers (like the green color of a male mallard’s head feathers). When the light is “just right” the color is amazing.
Right now at this location we have about 50 yards of ice built out from the shore, some slush ice further out. Nothing unusual for a cold winter. It moves back and forth from the shoreline, a day or so of cold and it moves out 25 yards, a day or so of warmth it retreats by the same amount..
Cheers, Kevin.

Good article, I think the 114 coastal power plants have had some effect. Not sure how much, but if they weren’t there I think the ice would be much different, and a higher % of coverage. I think these power plants were operating at a higher capacity during the “cold snap” and expelling a greater volume of warm water.


It seems logical, and makes me wonder about the coastal and upriver Urban Rainwater Runoff effect on sea levels. The skyrocketing increase in auto-related urban sprawl has magnified rainwater runoff into our streams and rivers leading to the oceans, aggravated by Army Corps of Engineers’ meddling with Everglades and Intracoastal Wayerways (for example).
The recent S. England floods, too result from improper dredging.
But you can’t get “climate change” grants from the gov’t — if your hypothesis indicts that same gov’t.

The most important thing is that no 1979 records be broken, because the computer model forecasting proves that is impossible in 2014. It would show an extended cold streak that might be climate, not just local weather … and money and confidence in the climate modeling will both be lost.
Why doesn’t someone fly over Lake Michigan with video … quickly now … because we are going to FINALLY have 3-4 days where the temps go for a time above freezing and tomorrow morning all the pundits will say winter is over, Lake Michigan is melting, … go back to work now. Then there is MORE cold it appears for an extended period … so maybe the jury is still out.
Data manipulation (an anthropogenic cause of less ice we all must deal with) has been very obvious as the cold streak and lake freezing have been taking place. Considerably different “fractions of ice cover” lowered, 10% ice cover lower one day as ice is accumulating rapidly … sorry I must disagree with Roy Spencer on this and wish he would fly over our beloved Lake Michigan … and compare it to the data/maps being put out.
As I said at the beginning of this post … the most important thing is that it isn’t as bad/cold as 1979 … none of those records are to be broken … period.

The reason for this drop in Ice Coverage does not appear to be related to temperature, as it has remained below freezing over the Great Lakes during the period in question:
Pack ice; the ice does NOT freeze in an even sheet over the lake. I spent the winter from about Sept. 1978 thru May of 1979 renting one of the ‘Chalets’ near the shoreline of the lake, just south of St. Joseph and near Berrien Springs and Stevensville area off I-94. The wind blew like crazy that winter too, assuring the shoreline was well packed with ice (maybe this is where the term ‘pack ice’ originated, one might be inclined to think).
Here is where I stayed: 42.02062, -86.54210 (one may put this coordinate pair directly in Google Earth and see an ‘overhead’ image of the place). I may have pictures of my ordeal there in Michigan stored away yet …

jrlagoni says February 17, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Why doesn’t someone fly over Lake Michigan with video …

Why doesn’t someone just take a look at the visible and IR imagery .. my preferred technique using a Mark I eyeball set … be sure and using an image set that has ‘looping’ selected so as to be able to differentiate clouds from snow (on the ice).
If you’ve never done this before, here’s your chance.


Siberian_Husky says:
February 17, 2014 at 7:22 pm
The Three Rules of American Climate Change Debate:
1) Record highs will outnumber record lows by a factor of 2:1.

Come back in a year and let’s see how that’s worked out for you in 2014.


Is there some mnemonic device for remembering the sequence of the Great lakes, like “Please My Dear Aunt Sally” (for math operations)?

justthefactswuwt says February 17, 2014 at 8:29 pm

“Lake-effect snows commonly occur across the Great Lakes and other relatively large bodies of water …

Simple observation of visible satellite imagery will show cloud material ‘evolving’ off the areas of open water (when temps are in the 20’s and lower on the other side of the lake), and 30 minutes later this low-level cloud deck precipitates out snow flurries over land. Generally one gets ‘waves’ or ‘streaks’ of these flurries, and nowadays one can see these streaks on the GRR (Grand Rapids Michigan) and INW (northern Indiana near Webster) NEXRADs when the wind is from the west or northwest. I remember driving home from school in the winter late on Friday nights north up I-69 from Ft. Wayne IN to the junction of I-94 and meeting a number of little ‘bands’ of snow that originated off Lake Michigan as ‘lake effect’ snow.
One may take a hot cup of coffee outside on a cold morning to witness the effect of ‘water vapor’ evolving off ‘warmer water’ firsthand … placed near a windshield condensation will occur …
Rather broad bands showing on the GRR radar ATTM, probably not lake effect BUT portions of it may be (winds near the surface do not show wind coming off the lake so this below is not a good example):

Any amateur ice-extent-estimator wannbe’s should take a look at website link below. Select the “Infrared (Color)” selection, choose the “Large size” map and next to “Loop duration:” select 4 hours worth of images at the link provided below –
– try this in another 4 hrs (give or take) as the skies are clearing over southern Michigan as I type this … you will be able to see the warmer, open waters of the lake vs that (incl. land) which is colder and/or ice/snow covered …
Go here to perform the above specified activity/experiment:
Wait until tomorrow morning before making any attempts at using the visible selection, and remember to observe for ‘steam’ (clouds/cloud material) evolving off the warmer water too.

John F. Hultquist

rogerknights says:
February 17, 2014 at 8:48 pm
“Is there some mnemonic device . . . ?

Old Elephants Have Many Skins

@Jim … possibly a wannabe scientist …
-Because it is another data set that is controlled by govt. science and output. Flying over is something no one needs anything other than eyes and a video camera to see, and even non-scientists could then compare it to the garbage fractional interpretations we are getting. I am a scientist BTW … skeptical by trade and from experience.
-I also know Lake Michigan extremely well. I grew up in a house right on Lake Michigan a few miles from where you stayed … in Bridgman, Michigan. Many winters seen in 1960s and 1970s.


There are all kinds of studies looking into the effect of waste heat on river and lake temperatures (popular research topic in the 1960s and 1970s …).
For example, a German study from a couple of years ago indicated that the river Rhine had warmed by about 3 degrees over a century due to power plant waste heat (study only in German, press release in English).
Here is another recent study from the University of New Hampshire (peer reviewed).
If you do your best there is much more to find

David Wells

I suggest everyone stops breathing for at least half an hour and the pointless irrevelent nonsensical idiocy just goes away. Its a great shame that all you guys dont have something more postive and constructive to do with your lives.