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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • lake-ice cover;
  • lake-ice model;
  • climate model;
  • lake-ice phenology

Abstract

Freshwater ice plays an important role in physical, biological, and chemical processes affecting cold-region lakes. To examine the potential magnitude of climate-change-related impacts in ice-cover characteristics, particularly its formation, duration, breakup, thickness, and structural composition over North America, this study employs a one-dimensional, process-based, lake simulation model, ‘MyLake’ (Multi-year simulation model for Lake thermo- and phytoplankton dynamics). The model is first calibrated and validated for Baker Lake, Nunavut, Canada, and then used to simulate patterns of ice conditions using a set of hypothetical lakes of varying depth (5, 20, and 40 m) located at a 2° latitude/longitude grid pattern for the major cold-region portion of North America between 40 and 75° latitude. The model is driven by gridded atmospheric forcing data from the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) and the Canadian Regional Climate Model (CRCM) with projections of future climate corresponding to the SRES A2 emissions scenario. The NARR-based simulation results for the period 1979–2006 are consistent with observations of lake-ice thickness and phenology obtained from the Canadian Ice Database. The CRCM-based lake-ice simulation results for the baseline (1961–1990) and future (2041–2070) time periods indicate that projected air-temperature warming will advance break-up by 10–20 days and delay freeze-up by 5–15 days, thereby reducing lake-ice duration by about 15–35 days. Lake depth is also found to have significant influence on lake-ice freeze-up dates and maximum thicknesses but not on the break-up dates. Such changes are accompanied by a reduction in ice thickness of 10–30 cm. Cover composition is also altered as a result of changes in ice thickness and snow loading resulting in somewhat greater thicknesses of white-ice (1–5 cm) over most areas except towards the east and west coasts, as well as more southerly latitudes where it slightly decreased. Implications of such cover changes are also discussed. Copyright © 2011 Royal Meteorological Society and Crown in the right of Canada.