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Understanding the Winter Conditions Required to Avoid the Formation of Sea-Ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and its Shallow Bays


Waves propagating through early stages of ice growth. Photo: Peter S. Galbraith, DFO

In the winters of 2010 and 2011, the Gulf of St. Lawrence experienced a near-absence of sea ice. This project will compare data collected during those winters—i.e. information about the thickness, temperature and heat content of the fall and winter mixed layer (winter season surface mixed layer) and surface heat fluxes—to ice cover data from the Canadian Ice Service to determine what atmospheric and oceanic conditions led to the lack of winter ice in the Gulf.

The research will also determine how shallow bays along the coast of the Gulf will be impacted differently than off-shore regions. Due to the inflow of near-freezing waters and sea-ice through the Strait of Belle Isle, it is anticipated that the lower north shore—where ships transport goods during the ice-free season due to the lack of roads—will likely still be ice infested after the rest of the Gulf is ice-free. Measuring this geographical variability and understanding the conditions associated with ice-free winters will improve predictions about how much and how quickly climate change will reduce sea-ice cover and help the Canadian Coast Guard plan for the future.

Program Name

Aquatic Climate Change Adaptation Services Program (ACCASP)


Atlantic: Gulf of St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence Estuary

Principal Investigator(s)

Peter Galbraith
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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