Great Lakes icebreakers on standby with record low ice coverage

CCGS Samuel Risley performs icebreaking duties on the St. Marys River. March 2021. (Photo by the Canadian Coast Guard).

The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) has responded to just 20 requests for icebreaking on the Great Lakes this winter.

It comes as ice coverage for the lakes is at a record low for this time of year, according to the U.S. based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Earlier this month, ice covered only seven percent of the five freshwater lakes, well below the 35 to 40 per cent figure that’s expected at this time of year. Lake Huron had the most ice coverage at around 10.5 percent.

In an email to Sarnia News Today, CCG Communications Advisor Jeremy Hennessy said above-average temperatures this winter have led to lower ice coverage on Lake Huron, compared to previous years.

“Despite low ice coverage, CCG vessels remain on standby for any icebreaking requests, and to keep waterways clear and open to prevent any potential flooding caused by ice jams,” wrote Hennessy. “CCG vessels are also on standby to respond to search and rescue and/or marine pollution incidents.”

During the 2020-2021 winter season, the coast guard responded to 195 requests for icebreaking in the central region, an area that includes the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. During that time, the coast guard directly assisted 156 ship transits on the Great Lakes.

Hennessy said over the past five winters, between 135 and 144 ships have travelled through Lake Huron.