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'Challenging' conditions for icebreakers on Lake Superior

Mar 22, 2019 06:50AM ● By Editor
The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Samuel Risley is expected to start breaking ice in the Port of Thunder Bay, Ont., as early as March 24. Photo:  Canadian Coast Guard

By Cathy Alex from CBC News - Thunder Bay - March 22, 2019

The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) ship, the Samuel Risley, has left Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and is enroute to Thunder Bay to begin icebreaking operations in the northwestern Ontario city's port as early as March 24. 

The ice covering the bay this year is about 70 centimetres thick (27 inches), said Mike Brown, an icebreaking operations officer at the CCG Icebreaking Centre in Montreal.

"It's fast ice, meaning that it's not mobile. It's completely covered the water and all of Lake Superior we are looking at above 90 per cent total coverage on the lake," he said.

'Heavy ice, slightly above average'

"The last three years have been quite a bit below average, so this year it seems like it's a lot more heavy ice than there has been, but it's really just slightly above average."

Brown said the Canadian and United States Coast Guards work together to deliver icebreaking services on the Great Lakes and connecting waterways.

For instance, American ships, the Mackinaw and the Alder, have been dispatched to Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis., respectively, but could be called into action in Canadian waters if required.

Mike Brown, an icebreaking operations officer with the Canadian Coast Guard, says ice on the Thunder Bay harbour is at least 70 cm., thick this year. Photo: Canadian Coast Guard

Breaking ice in Thunder Bay may require extra ship

Icebreaking crews have reported "challenging" conditions on Lake Superior, said Brown, and that means it could take at least a day, or more, to carve a path through the ice in the Thunder Bay harbour.

"If conditions are significant, we can also bring in additional assets to assist the Samuel Risleyand that could be, for example, the Mackinaw is a suitable icebreaker that we have had discussions about sending her up to assist as well, so it could be a number of days of operation."

The coast guard is recommending all recreational users of the ice – pedestrians, fishers, snowmobilers, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) operators – leave the ice during icebreaking operations, because they can create unstable conditions.

"Icebreaker tracks can refreeze over and can easily be hidden by fresh snow and so it certainly can be dangerous."

To read the original story and read related reporting, follow this link to the CBC News website.

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