Low ice covers effect on erosion

A lack of ice cover this year could lead to increased shoreline erosion, according to experts.

An analysis of Great Lakes ice coverage shows a decline of about 5% since the 1970s.  In the last 20 years, 14 of those years had ice coverage levels below the 53% average.

Door County’s ice coverage

Lake Michigan has ice coverage of around 7 – 12% – a far cry from the 100% coverage we have experienced in our lifetime. These are new records for the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes coverage is currently at a record low for January. Coverage is well below the seasonal average. The situation has prompted concerns about the environmental impact caused by the lack of ice.

What’s causing low ice coverage this year?

The low ice coverage results from local weather patterns. These patterns impact ice formation on the lakes. The warm air temperatures we all enjoyed earlier this winter have had an impact on ice formation. It has made for thin ice and a general lack of ice formation.

How low is the ice coverage?

Long term ice coverage has been around 50-55%, but this year it has hovered about 30 %. Even the Bay of Green Bay, at its narrowest locations, has not frozen entirely over. In the few areas where ice extends across the Bay, its total thickness is lacking. 

Low ice affects the Great Lakes in many ways.

Remember, even when the ice is 100% frozen, it continues to “crack,” as anyone who has ventured out on the ice can tell you. If the ice completely covers the water, the chances of ice movements are minimal. 

But, when the ice breakers open the shipping lanes south of Sturgeon Bay, it allows for ice movement. 

image of 2018 Arrowhead Beach - Crushing a boathouse

             Ice Damage


With strong winds, ice shoves develop and create havoc along the downwind shorelines. Once the ice begins to move, there is nothing that man can do to stop it.



A recent incident in the Sturgeon Bay area demonstrates what happens with strong winds. https://www.wbay.com/2021/02/04/large-crack-in-ice-strands-people-in-door-county/

The dangers of low ice – Shoreline erosion 

Shoreline erosion is a real challenge without the protection of ice coverage. Ice prevents wave action from eroding the shoreline during the winter. 

Winter winds cause wave action. Without the ice cover, wave action continues to wear away the shoreline.

Along the Lake Erie coast, shorelines have caved in due to the lack of ice cover protection. The waves keep slamming the shoreline. Ice calms lake water in the winter. 

Another effect

Prevailing winds pick up more precipitation without ice on the lakes. It is then dumped on communities downwind.

Expect more occurrences of large snowfalls when lakes remain ice-free.

More Contaminates

Without ice cover, more suspension of run-off nutrients occurs. The lack of ice coverage results in the reintroduction of contaminants into the water. The long term effect is more algae blooms.

Low ice cover affects fish too.

Whitefish spawn in the winter months and need still waters, so their eggs are not disturbed.

What are the projections for the Door County Peninsula?

Projections for 2021 are for coverage of around 30 percent, sometime in February or early March. The long-term average is 53 percent.

Who benefits from low ice?

Lake freight is one of the few things that benefit from the low ice. It reduces the need for ice breakers to keep the shipping lanes open.

Good news

It’s not all bad news!  The Great Lakes are resilient waters, and they do recover. Various pressure, including contaminants, invasive species, and algae blooms, assault the Lakes every year.

It may not be the same as it was, but there’s a lot of resiliency in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes continue to bounce back and are still intact. They are an essential ecosystem.

Where is Pier & Waterfront Solutions?

 PWS7325 St. Hwy 57, is 3 miles south of Sturgeon Bay and 1 mile PAST County road MM’s intersection (heading north). Look on the right at the intersection of Idlewild Road and Hwy 57.


Pier & Waterfront Solutions remains “open” year-round.

The virus continues to spread. PWS is conducting as much business as possible by email, text, or phone. 

 Site visits continue as usual. When making in-person contacts, we follow “social distancing” guidelines whenever possible.

 Our display yard is OPEN 24-7

            Red Tag

PWSs display area is always open for you to examine at your leisure. All displays available for sale have a numbered, red tag on them. Want more information on something you saw in our yard? Please reference that number when you inquire.

 PWS provides estimates and quotes by email to make the process faster, safer, and paperless. 


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Let’s all stay safe!