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Quebec Bulletin
August - September 2014/Volume 17/Number 4

A harsh winter keeps icebreakers on the alert

Gulf of St. Lawrence
Environment Canada D. Lambert
Last winter, some 98% of the Gulf of St. Lawrence's surface was frozen, with ice 2 to 4 metres thick in many places.

We all experienced it: winter 2013–2014 was one of the coldest, with some of the worst ice conditions in the last 20 years. Needless to say, the Canadian Coast Guard's (CCG) icebreaking services were severely tested in ensuring that commercial shipping kept moving efficiently and safely through the St. Lawrence–Great Lakes waterway.

On the St. Lawrence

The season arrived early and forcefully! The icebreaking team had to face challenging ice conditions in various sectors of the St. Lawrence River, Estuary and Gulf. There were three situations worthy of note.

First, starting in mid-December, several snowstorms combined with a mix of frigid temperatures and easterly winds created a significant ice jam from Sorel all the way to Lanoraie. Shipping to Montréal was interrupted for six days in early January. The CCGS Amundsen, CCGS Des Groseilliers, CCGS Pierre Radisson and CCGS Martha L. Black icebreakers operated continuously, day and night, to clear the ice, under often adverse weather conditions. The loosened ice moved towards Québec and the St. Lawrence Estuary, where the icebreakers continued their work.

CCG icebreaker on the Lower North Shore
Environment Canada D. Lambert
On the Lower North Shore, ice from the Strait of Belle Isle and from the Labrador coast made access to the ports impossible for several days.

The second challenging situation this season was clearly the ice cover on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Some 98% of the Gulf's surface was frozen, with ice 2 to 4 metres thick in many places. The Coast Guard had to suggest 22 different ice routes so that commercial shipping could move safely. These routes through the ice were developed by the CCG with the help of Environment Canada's ice service specialist. They were based on the study of ice conditions and took into account a broad range of data, including currents, winds and weather forecasts.

Finally, the Lower North Shore had its share of unanticipated situations this spring. Ice from the Strait of Belle Isle and the Labrador coast, combined with strong winds and currents, made access to the ports impossible for several days. The ice that was pressed up against the coast and stacked was such that even the icebreakers were unable to operate. The supply vessel had to turn back and wait for several days until more favourable conditions allowed it to reach the communities.

On the Great Lakes

The winter was especially harsh on the Great Lakes, and the ice cover to be broken through was the largest and thickest seen in this area in the last 35 years. In some areas, such as those more to the north on Lake Superior, the water froze down to the lake bottom in several places. The icebreakers worked late into the spring to loosen the ice and facilitate the return of commercial shipping, particularly through the Welland Canal and St. Mary’s River.

Pascale Fortin

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