'Dramatic changes': Study suggests more lakes fail to freeze over, could harm ice fishing, skating

People ice fishing are seen in this file image. (Pexels)

Research out of Ontario’s York University suggests more and more lakes are not freezing over during the winter months, which can harm the local ecosystem and make it hard for people to enjoy two winter pastimes: ice fishing and skating.

The study, published in Advancing Earth and Space Science back in August, looked at 80 years worth of historical data among 122 lakes across the Northern Hemisphere and found they are becoming increasingly less likely to freeze over during the winter.

“We've noticed that … in the last 40 years, it's been a really large increase in the number of lakes going ice-free,” Alessandro Filazzola, a community ecologist and lead author of the study, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

While just four of the 122 lakes used for the study are located in Canada, Filazzola said Canadians need to pay attention.

“Canada -- or at least southern Ontario -- is kind of smack in that little zone where we're really going to start observing a lot of these changes,” he said.

The researchers found that warm air temperature was the primary indicator for a lake to remain ice-free over the winter and that if humans do not slow down their green house gas emissions, frozen lakes will become increasingly rare.

For example, the researchers estimate that Bayfield Bay in Lake Superior could have 42 ice-free years between now and 2100 after having just four since 1939.

“We're going to see some really dramatic changes in the next coming decades,” Filazzola said.

All of this is bad news for people who enjoy winter activities on the ice, Filazzola added.

"(There are) a lot of implications for us,” he said. “We use (lake ice) for ice fishing, we use it ice activities like hockey, figure skating, we use it for transportation, some people build ice roads.”  

Filazzola also mentioned there are implications for the health of the lake as well, as a lot of nutrients are replenished while a lake is frozen. 

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