NASA has released several stunning photos of the frozen Great Lakes as seen from space. The space agency’s Earth Observatory reports that ice cover on the Great Lakes reached 88 percent in mid-February 2014. For comparison, the average maximum ice extent since 1973 is just over 50 percent and it has eclipsed 80 percent just five times in 40 years.
The photos below were taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite on February 19, 2014. The first photo reveals the Great Lakes in natural color in the early afternoon, when ice blanketed 80.3 percent of the lakes, NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory notes.
The second photo shows the Great Lakes in false color, utilizing a mix of shortwave infrared, near infrared and red that helps differentiate ice from snow, water and clouds. Ice is pale blue, open water is navy, snow is blue-green and clouds are white or blue-green.
“Persistently low temperatures across the Great Lakes region are responsible for the increased areal coverage of the ice,” noted Nathan Kurtz, cryospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Low temperatures are the dominant mechanism for thickening the ice, but secondary factors like clouds, snow, and wind also play a role.”
“We had an early ice season this year, owing to cold temperatures in the fall and early winter,” added George Leshkevich of NOAA’s Great Lakes lab. “Ice was reported on bays and harbors of the Great Lakes as early as the end of November, as opposed to the normal timing of mid-December.”
The third photo below reveals the thick ice cover in western Lake Erie in natural color. The photo also reveals the shipping lanes carved by ice breakers.
The considerable ice cover on the Great Lakes can alter the patterns and quantities of the famous “lake effect” snowfall in the region, posited Walt Meier, a cryospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. When the lakes freeze, the “lake effect” snow typically stops. Unless the region is under the spell of different weather patterns, like it is this winter.