The ice comes in, the ice goes out. But what can happen in between?

How heavy snow pack can reduce ice push on inland lake shorelines.

Lack of snow cover exposes lake ice to solar radiation causing expansion and cracking. Photo credit: Jane Herbert

Lack of snow cover exposes lake ice to solar radiation causing expansion and cracking. Photo credit: Jane Herbert

Heavy snows this winter may serve to reduce the amount of ice push experienced on inland lakes. A previous Michigan State University Extension article explored the role of ice in the annual cycle of temperate inland lakes. There are two ways that ice can damage shorelines.

The most obvious way is at the time of spring break, up when spring winds blow ice chunks in to the shore. Depending on spring air temperatures and the rate of spring break-up, damage can be significant – especially on larger lakes. Readers may remember the national attention focused on Minnesota’s Lake Mille Lacs last spring when waterfront structures underwent significant damage from the mountains of ice piling up on the shore. (Note: When watching this video, it’s important to keep in mind that Lake Mille Lacs is 132,516 acres in size, approximately 20 miles across and is situated in open, flat terrain.)

The other ice phenomenon experienced by temperate inland lakes can happen during clear, cold, low snowfall winters when the frozen lake is without heavy snow pack. On sunny days, lake ice exposed to the sun’s radiant energy can experience expansion, cracking and surface melt. Melt water runs into the cracks and refreezes during the night – causing more expansion of the ice sheet. In extreme cases, the edge of the expanding ice sheet grinds against the shoreline and can cause damage. This winter’s heavy snow cover may reduce the amount of ice push that Michigan lakes experience.

A common response to ice action is shoreline hardening with rock rip rap or a sea wall. However, these solutions can be expensive, and they may still succumb to ice damage and they adversely affect shoreline habitat. In contrast, the presence of trees, shrubs and long-rooted native plants help to stabilize the shoreline against the forces of ice while preserving the integrity of the shoreline ecosystem.

For more information on preserving the integrity of your undeveloped shoreline or planning a natural shoreline restoration, please visit the website of the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership

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