US Long-Term Ecological Research Network
Changes in winter air temperature near Lake Michigan during 1851-1993, as determined from regional lake-ice records
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Records of freezeup and breakup dates for Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan, and Lake Mendota, Wisconsin, are among the longest ice records available near the Great Lakes, beginning in 185 1 and 1855, respectively. The timing of freezeup and breakup results from an integration of meteorological conditions (primarily air temperature) that occur before these events. Changes in the average timing of these ice-events are translated into changes in air temperature by the use of empirical and process-driven models. The timing of freezeup and breakup at the two locations represents an integration of air temperatures over slightly different seasons (months). Records from both locations indicate that the early winter period before about 1890 was - 15°C cooler than the early winter period after that time; the mean temperature has, however, remained relatively constant since about 1890. Changes in breakup dates demonstrate a similar 1.0-l .5C increase in late winter and early spring air temperatures about 1890. More recent average breakup dates at both locations have been earlier than during 1890-l 940, indicating an additional warming of 1.2C in March since about 1940 and a warming of 1.1°C in January-March since about 1980. Ice records at these sites will continue to provide an early indication of the anticipated climatic warming, not only because of the large response of ice cover to small changes in air temperature but also because these records integrate climatic conditions during the seasons (winter-spring) when most warming is forecast to occur. Future reductions in ice cover may strongly affect the winter ecology of the Great Lakes by reducing the stable environment required by various levels of the food chain.