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TERRA MODIS Image of Lake Superior Ice

Ice cover on L. Superior, photo NASA

This image of the southeastern part of Lake Superior shows near total ice-cover. It is difficult though to see the difference between the white clouds and the snow in this satellite image. Roll your mouse over the image to see a multi-spectral view that uses color to enhance the difference between the clouds and the snow and ice. In the second image the snow and ice are pink and red while the clouds are blue and white.


According to the National Ice Center, Lake Superior was 90-95% iced over at the beginning of this week. In some areas, the ice is only a few centimeters (1 inch) thick, but large areas of the lake have 30-70 cm (12-28 inches) of ice, according to the National Ice Center. The last time the lake has been this ice covered (96%) was in 1994. The lake froze to almost 100% was in 1996, but the last time it was completely ice-covered was in 1979. According to the Climatology Working Group at the University of Minnesota, Lake Superior freezes completely about every 20 years. The last recorded ice-over was in 1962. The cause is the month long record cold temperatures over the area. This was the coldest March in over 100 years in Canada.

Two other lakes, Huron and Erie are also frozen, but these lakes are more shallow and the ice was as deep as 60 cm (24 inches) over most of Lake Erie by last week, as can be seen on this CIMSS Map animation of the Great Lakes. This contrasts with the mild winter of 1999 when all of Lake Erie and most of most of Lake Superior was open water by the same week of March. The thick ice is expected to delay the beginning of the shipping in the Great Lakes until late April because tugs have to wait until the ice is thin enough for them to break through.

These satellite images were taken using Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). MODIS is an instrument that measures biological and physical processes in the satellite images it photographs. MODIS was launched on the EOS PM and TERRA satellites in 1999. Some other data MODIS can provide scientists with includes chlorophyll concentrations, vegetation and land cover types, cloud and snow, and fire cover.

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Last updated on May 9, 2014