Wednesday, 25 January 2017
Over the past several decades, dramatic changes in the spatial extent of seasonal and long-term ice cover have been documented for both marine and continential (inland) water bodies. Successfully projecting (and planning for) future changes in global ice cover requires an understanding of the drivers behing these historical changes. Here, we explore relationships between continental climate patterns and regional ice cover across the vast surface waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes. The Great Lakes constitute the largest collective surface of freshwater on Earth, and seasonal variability in ice cover is closely linked with lake heat content, energy fluxes, and water levels (all of which have strong linkages with ecological and socioeconomic stability in the region). Our findings indicate that abrupt historical changes in Great Lakes seasonal ice cover are coincident with historical changes in teleconnections, including both the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). We find, in particular, that these teleconnections explain much of the ice cover decline in the late 1990s (coincident with the strong 1997-1998 winter El Nino) and the following persistent period of below-average period of ice that followed. We encode these relationships in a probabilistic model that provides seasonal projections of ice cover areal extent across the Great Lakes, as well as specific spatiotemporal patterns in ice cover at resolutions that align with critical regional human health and safety-related management decisions.
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