Photos and Video: Lake Superior's annual ice-breaking ritual
Mar 27, 2019 06:39AM
● By Editor
By Dan Kraker and Derek Montgomery of Minnesota Public Radio News - March 27, 2019
Springtime in Duluth isn't signaled by birds or butterflies or flowers.
Duluthians know it's spring when the Coast Guard icebreakers arrive, announcing the start of another Great Lakes shipping season.
Last week, two cutters carved a track from the Soo Locks on the eastern edge of Lake Superior all the way to Duluth. The Mackinaw then cut a path up the North Shore, breaking open paths in the ice and clearing the way for thousand-foot freighters to carry their first cargo of iron ore, coal and grain.
But the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Alder stayed behind to break up the ice in the Duluth-Superior harbor.
The route through the Lake Superior ice left behind by U.S. Coast Guard cutters Alder and Mackinaw are visible Thursday just outside the Duluth Ship Canal. The cutters began ice-breaking operations in the Duluth-Superior harbor the next day.
Despite the balmy spring weather lately, Lake Superior still has a lot of ice. A few weeks ago, the lake was more than 90 percent covered in ice — the most it's had in the past five years.
That ice cover has dwindled now to less than 40 percent, but when the cutters began their work, there was still at least a foot of ice encasing the Duluth harbor. Derek Montgomery for MPR News
There are still more than 15 miles of ice extending offshore from Duluth before ships hit open water on Lake Superior. The Alder and the Mackinaw cut lanes through the ice last week. But if ice breaks off the shore, it can clog up those paths they created.
"And now, the name of the game is don't break the shore ice," Kubasch said, "keep the ice on the shore as long as we can, keep the pass that we're opening — nice blue water — for as long as we can, and hopefully the rest of the ice just melts in place." Derek Montgomery for MPR News
Chunks of ice as thick as a foot or more float by the Alder during ice-breaking operations Friday. The Alder slows when it hits solid ice. The ship's pointed bow rides up on top of the ice. But it's the weight of the ship — more than 2,100 tons — that crushes the ice.
"We're using our weight to ride up on it," Kubasch said, "and then our bow to compress it, and then our speed through the water to push it away."
Fissures and cracks extend from the ship, then the ice breaks apart into enormous plates. Derek Montgomery for MPR News
Boatswain's Mate Casey Perez, left, and Seaman Jillian Carlson are among a 30-member crew onboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Alder as it breaks ice and creates navigation lanes for the opening of the maritime shipping season in the Duluth-Superior harbor. Derek Montgomery for MPR News
After the Alder's successful day of breaking up ice Friday, three ships that left the harbor over the weekend got stuck in the ice outside Knife River. The Alder then made an unexpected trip up the shore Sunday morning to free them.
Two more ships are scheduled to navigate through the ice into the harbor Wednesday, including the 1,013-foot-long Paul R. Tregurtha headed to Duluth to pick up a load of coal. Derek Montgomery for MPR News
To see the original article, hear an audio report and read related reporting follow this link to the MPR website. https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/03/27/photos-lake-superiors-annual-ice-breaking-ritual
Watch the MPR Ice Breaking video here