An automated method to monitor lake ice phenology

D.C. Pierson, G. A. Weyhenmeyer, L. Arvola, B. Benson, T. Blenckner, T. Kratz, D.M. Livingstone, H. Markensten, G. Marzec, K. Pettersson, and K. Weathers

Limnol. Oceanogr. Methods 9:74-83 (2011) | DOI: 10.4319/lom.2010.9.0074

ABSTRACT:A simple method to automatically measure the date of ice-on, the date of ice-off, and the duration of lake ice cover is described. The presence of ice cover is detected by recording water temperature just below the ice/water interface and just above the lake bottom using moored temperature sensors. The occurrence of ice-on rapidly leads to detectible levels of inverse stratification, defined as existing when the upper sensor records a temperature at least 0.1°C below that of the bottom sensor, whereas the occurrence of ice-off leads to the return of isothermal mixing. Based on data from 10 lakes over a total of 43 winter seasons, we found that the timing and duration of inverse stratification monitored by recording temperature sensors compares well with ice cover statistics based on human observation. The root mean square difference between the observer-based and temperature-based estimates was 7.1 d for ice-on, 6.4 d for ice-off, and 10.0 d for the duration of ice cover. The coefficient of determination between the two types of estimates was 0.93, 0.86, and 0.91, respectively. The availability of inexpensive self-contained temperature loggers should allow expanded monitoring of ice cover in a large and diverse array of lakes. Such monitoring is needed to improve our ability to monitor the progression of global climate change, and to improve our understanding of the relationship between climate and ice cover over a wide range of temporal and spatial scales.