Rapid disappearance of perennial ice cover on Canada’s northernmost lake


  • Paquette, M.
  • Fortier, D.
  • Mueller, D.R.
  • Sarrazin, D.
  • Vincent, W.F.




Field records, aerial photographs, and satellite imagery show that the perennial ice cover on Ward Hunt Lake at Canada's northern coast experienced rapid contraction and thinning after at least 50 years of relative stability. On all dates of sampling from 1953 to 2007, 3.5 to 4.3 m of perennial ice covered 65–85% of the lake surface in summer. The ice cover thinned from 2008 onward, and the lake became ice free in 2011, an event followed by 26 days of open water conditions in 2012. This rapid ice loss corresponded to a significant increase in melting degree days (MDD), from a mean (±SD) of 80.4 (±36.5) MDD (1996–2007) to 136.2 (±16.4) MDD (2008–2012). The shallow bathymetry combined with heat advection by warm inflows caused feedback effects that accelerated the ice decay. These observations show how changes across a critical threshold can result in the rapid disappearance of thick perennial ice.



Peer Review: 

Published in Peer Reviewed Journal

Faculty Name: 

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Department Name: 

Department of Geography and Environmental Studies

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