The famous Rideau Canal in Ottawa open for skating in winter 2014-15, In recent years, the number of days of good conditions for allowable skating has been declining (Barbara Havrot via CBC)

Global warming and economic effects of dwindling lake freezing

In 2015 a study of over 200 lakes around the world (containing a total of half the world’s freshwater supply) showed a clear warming trend. At the time, it was suggested that this is affecting drinking water quality, fish habitat, and has an effect on other animals.

A new study looks at how declining ice cover has an detrimental economic affect on people.

Sapna Sharma (PhD) is a professor in the Department of Biology at York University in Toronto.


The study showed that about 15,000 lakes around the world that in the past would regularly freeze in winter, are no longer regularly freezing as they did. The study estimates up that as global warming continues, up to 200,000 lakes around the world would no longer freeze every winter.

York University professor Sapna Sharma (PhD) in Brantford Ontario Dec. 24.,2019

The study was published earlier this year in the journal for the Association Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography under the title Consequences of lake and river ice loss on cultural ecosystem services. (open access here)

Professor Sharma says that warming isn’t linear, meaning a given lake will freeze less and less each year, but that as a trend over many years, there will be less occurrence of freezing, which will become more frequent as decades pass.

Supplies brought in over winter ice roads are critical for remote northern communities, but the seasons are getting shorter. Here a fuel truck has gone through while crossing the lake toward Deline N.W.T on Mar, 5, 2019.

The study notes that here in N. America major ice fishing competitions which can bring in up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to a community have also had to be cancelled.

The ice road between Detah and Yellowknife had one of its latest openings ever starting only on Jan 11, 2019. It has has opened later than usual for several years in a row now (Steve Silva- CBC)

Communities that depend on scheduled winter activities to boost local economies have seen those hopes dashed as unexpected spells of warm weather spoil or force cancellation of the event.

She points out that a skating race which began in the Netherlands in 1797, has had a sketchy history of late as cold periods long enough to freeze the canals had become rarer with the last event held in 1997 . A similar long distance race is now held on Lake Malaren in Sweden called the Viking Run where even there it was cancelled in 2000, 2002 due to poor ice, and in 2008 when there was practically no ice at all throughout the winter.

Ice fishing huts on a Saskatchewan lake. Competitions can attract hundreds of fisherfolk and contribute vast sums to a local economy, but the number of cancellations due to unsafe ice has been slowly increasing over time, hurting communities that depend on the income. (Radio-Canada)

Remote northern communities in Canada which depend on winter ice roads for supplies are also seeing their supply season shortened. In the study, a warmer winter could mean a delay in supplies reaching them by up to three weeks.

Ski resorts in many cases must now rely on expensive snow making equipment to continue functioning.

She notes that her Ontario community is where hockey legend Wayne Gretzky grew up practicing on a frozen winter backyard rink, something that she says is not really possible anymore, adding there’s almost no snow at all on the ground this Christmas.

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