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World Warmer winters threaten Canada's seasonal ice roads

05:25  21 february  2021
05:25  21 february  2021 Source:   afp.com

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Above seasonal temperatures will dominate through the first half of December across Western Canada , with record warmth for parts of the Prairies and into the territories. A mild winter is expected across the Maritime provinces, but during December we do expect a couple of weeks of more typical early winter weather, which should allow much of the region to see snow on the ground leading up to Christmas. January and February will bring periods of very mild weather and a rather active pattern with a wide variety of storm tracks and types (but fewer than normal nor’easters).

But warmer winters and earlier springs have shortened the road ’s open season by up to two weeks over the past decade. The loss of the road for even such a short time is very expensive, because the only other way to reach these mines is by air. Ice roads like the Tibbitt to Contwoyto aren’t so much paved as cultivated. Each December, as Canada ’ s many northern lakes develop thick frozen patinas on their surfaces, engineers from Nuna Logistics survey and develop that year’s route. Once the ice is about two feet thick, they’ll take tractors out and clear away any snow—which, because it’s an

Canadian Gilbert Cardin worries about the future of the ice road he maintains every winter on a frozen river west of Montreal.

a man that is standing in the snow: Gilbert Cardin, owner of the ice road connecting the towns of Pointe-Fortune and Saint-Andre-d'Argenteuil, uses his chainsaw to check the depth of the ice in Pointe-Fortune, Quebec on February 17, 2021 © Andrej Ivanov Gilbert Cardin, owner of the ice road connecting the towns of Pointe-Fortune and Saint-Andre-d'Argenteuil, uses his chainsaw to check the depth of the ice in Pointe-Fortune, Quebec on February 17, 2021

"At some point, it is certain that we will no longer be able to open if these mild winters continue," he tells AFP.

Since February 14, the 900-meter-long path, cleared of snow and marked with fir trees, has allowed motorists to travel between two villages on opposite sides of the Ottawa River without having to drive 40 kilometres (25 miles) roundtrip to the nearest bridge.

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Warmer and wetter winters are making it difficult for a Montreal family to operate the Oka-Hundson ice bridge. Louis Léger and his brother Jean-Claude, run the ice bridge in the winter and a ferry service in the summer. Now only 20 days into February, rain and above freezing temperatures have caused the seasonal bridge Trudeau commits 25 per cent protection of Canada ’ s land and oceans by 2025.

Each winter , in the far reaches of Canada ’ s north, a highway of ice built atop frozen lakes and tundra acts as a supply lifeline to remote diamond mines, bustling with traffic for a couple of months before melting away in the spring. This year, the world’s busiest ice road is running late. “It has affected us some, but we’re still within guidelines of previous warmer years,” he said. “It’s just going to take considerably more management this year to have success.“ Ice roads cross eight Arctic countries, and Canada alone has 5,400 km of them, critical to unlocking mineral wealth from remote, harsh regions.

a sign on a pole in the snow: An © Andrej Ivanov An "Open" sign is seen as a car drives onto the ice road connecting the towns of Pointe-Fortune and Saint-Andre-d'Argenteuil, in Pointe-Fortune, Quebec on February 17, 2021

Such ice roads -- or "winter crossings" as they're called by Quebec locals -- were once commonplace in these parts.

In the 1800s one even carried the weight of locomotives on a temporary rail line across the Saint Lawrence River between the island of Montreal and South Shore communities on the mainland -- although one steam engine sank into the river.

In southern parts of Canada, seasonal ice roads are now increasingly scarce due to wide swings in winter temperatures -- from deep freeze to balmy -- that make it harder to maintain them © Andrej Ivanov In southern parts of Canada, seasonal ice roads are now increasingly scarce due to wide swings in winter temperatures -- from deep freeze to balmy -- that make it harder to maintain them

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An ice road ( ice crossing, ice bridge) is a winter road , or part thereof, that runs on a naturally frozen water surface (a river, a lake or an expanse of sea ice ) in cold regions. Ice roads allow temporary transport to isolated areas with no permanent road access.

19—TUPELO — Sunshine and warmer daytime temperatures have started melting the ice , making traveling Northeast Mississippi' s roads a little safer. But officials caution that it could be Sunday or the first of the week before all of the roads are clear, especially those that are less traveled or in rural and shady conditions.

Only a few dozen of these vestiges of winters of yesteryear remain today in all of Canada and just a handful in Quebec.

Cardin's ice road between Pointe-Fortune and Saint Andrew d'Argenteuil is the only one of three in the Montreal area to open this year.

"This winter we opened a month late," he laments, pointing to global warming and a very mild start to winter this year as the cause.

- 14 inches thick -

Under a bright blue sky, the 54-year-old big rig truck driver plunges a chainsaw into the ice in the middle of the frozen river. A stream of ice shavings burst out as he cuts out a block of ice and measures its thickness against markings on the blade: 14 inches (35 cm).

It is thick enough to allow cars to drive across the frozen river, but not trucks. In past winters the ice has usually been as much as one meter (three feet) thick.

"At this time of year, we should be seeing 26 inches (65 cm) of ice," he says.

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But Canada ’ s ice roads — more than 3,300 miles of them — have been freezing later and melting earlier, drastically reducing the precious window of time that isolated residents rely on to restock a year’s worth of vital supplies, or to simply take a road trip. But in recent years, the warmer autumns and deeper snow, which acts as an insulator, have made for much thinner natural lake ice , making road construction a cautious slog and delaying openings to traffic. To ensure that the roads are safe, road crews now use ground-penetrating radar to check the ice ’s exact thickness.

Climate change study in Canada ' s Hudson Bay thwarted by climate change. There are no roads connecting Rigolet to other communities, so people here long ago came to rely on trails over the ice as their lifelines. As the ocean and atmosphere warm , sea ice is shrinking in extent, at about These rapid and unprecedented changes are transforming the Arctic and threatening traditional ways of life

He doesn't expect to make a profit this year, given his late start and forecasts of an early spring, which will likely force him to close the ice road in a few weeks.

In the meantime, he must continually plow it over, as snow cover would keep the ice from thickening (acting as insulation from the cold) at a rate of about an inch per day in cold weather, Cardin explains.

"Having an ice bridge open for two months would be an excellent operating season, one month would be very good," comments Claude Desjardins, owner of another ice road further downstream on the river.

He was unable to open his two-kilometre (1.25-mile) ice road between Hudson and Oka this year, he says, due to "really unsafe" ice conditions. The situation was the same in 2017 and 2018.

- Pandemic restrictions curb travel -

"Each year, it's different and you never know what to expect," comments Cardin. His crossing, which he's been operating for 25 years, also remained closed in 2018.

The last decade has seen more frequent warm spells, reducing the average length his ice road is open to an average of five weeks, down from a record 12 weeks in 1997.

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He hopes a recent Arctic cold snap will stretch into early March so he can stay open a bit longer, but acknowledges it's a long shot with the current ice thickness at the bare minimum.

"If the ice is not thicker than that, as soon as the warm weather comes, it's all over," he said.

Compounding his weather woes, he said there have been fewer drivers on Canadian roads this year due to public health restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

"Customers haven't been there because of Covid-19. There's no one on the highways, everyone who can has been teleworking," he explains.

"Who's using the bridge? Construction workers and housekeepers going from place to place, that's it," he said.

These days, barely 30 motorists per day use it, down from 100 normally.

"When I found out it was open today... I said to myself, this is where I'm going," says regular ice road user Eric Deschamps.

He paid Can$7 (US$5.55) to use Cardin's ice road, avoiding adding 50 kilometres (31 miles) to his trip. "It costs less than gasoline, especially with a pickup," he concludes.

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