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Observations of the Winter Thermal Structure of Lake Superior

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Monday, September 23, 2013

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Daniel Titze
University of Minnesota, Duluth

Moored thermistor strings that span the water column have been deployed at up to seven locations throughout Lake Superior from 2005 through present, producing a unique year-round record of the thermal structure of a large lake. This extensive temperature record reveals significant interannual and spatial variability in Lake Superior's winter heat content, thermocline depth, and phenology. Of particular mention is a stark contrast in thermal structure between the cold, icy winter of 2009 and the much warmer winter of 2012, during which especially strong and weak negative stratification was observed, respectively. Significant interannual and spatial variability was also observed in Lake Superior ice cover, as shown through data extracted from Ice Mapping System satellite imagery (NOAA/NESDIS 2004). When water column heat content was estimated from temperature data and analyzed in concert with lake ice-cover data, it was found that ice cover can inhibit heat flux between the lake and the atmosphere, and that spatial variability in ice cover can translate into spatial variability in end-of-winter heat content. Such variability in end-of-winter heat content is found to be preserved through the spring warming season, and is strongly correlated with variability in the timing of the onset of summer stratification, with regions that have warmer end-of-winter water columns stratifying earlier than regions with colder end-of-winter water-columns.

Host: Guy Meadows

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