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Record amount of ice on Great Lakes cause major problems

The bitter cold winter that plagued the Northwest is finally over, but the Great Lakes region is just starting to show.

According to recent data from the Environment Canada, a government agency, record amounts of ice still remain on the Great Lakes. The normal amount of ice coverage at this time of year is about two percent.

As of Wednesday, ice still covered almost 34 percent of the lake -- a measurement that has never been seen since satellites started being used to keep accurate measurements in the late 1970s. In the heart of the winter, 93 percent was ice-covered.

The effects of the ice are being felt all over the region, on both humans and animals alike.

As reported by CBS Chicago, the U.S. Coast Guard released a video on April 16 showing an ice cutter carving up ice in the harbor in Marquette, Mich., which is located along the shores of Lake Superior. The ice -- which was reported to have been as high as 24 inches -- had been preventing delivery of coal to the area, which was needed to power local mining operations.

Canada's Wawa News also reported that freighters, which normally travel the Great Lakes, were having problems delivering materials to steel mills in northwest Indiana.

"This is the worst winter since 1993 or 1994," Glen Nekvasil, vice president for the Lake Carriers' Association, told Wawa News. "The last time ice breakers were out this late in the season convoying vessels was 1996. It's been a very brutal winter."

That year, about 17 percent of the Great Lakes were covered, according to Environment Canada. That's about half of the amount of ice currently on the lakes.

In addition to the financial impacts, the Associated Press reported that biologists near the Niagara River corridor in upstate New York saw countless deaths of birds. They later confirmed that the birds all died due to starvation, as the ice blocked their access to food.

"All have empty stomachs. They're half the weight they should be," Connie Adams, a biologist in the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Buffalo office, told the AP.

"This is unprecedented. Biologists who've worked here for 35 years have never seen anything like this," she said. "We've seen a decline in tens of thousands in our weekly waterfowl counts."

George Leshkevich, a scientist with the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told USA Today that fish spawning will be delayed as it will take longer for the water temperatures to rise.

However, he noted that this could benefit certain species of fish such as whitefish, due to the ice cover's added protection from winter storms.
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