How to participate in IceWatch

snow covered river bank

Getting Started

  1. Select a waterbody
  2. Select an observation point
  3. Select the part of the waterbody you are going to observe
  4. Watch for fall freeze or spring thaw and collect your observations
  5. Submit your observations

Step by Step Instructions

1. Select a water body
Almost any lake or river is suitable for study. Choose one that is easy for you to access on a regular basis, even in winter. It’s also important to choose a water body that freezes solidly across most winters. Not all are easy to monitor. For example, long, skinny lakes that run parallel to the prevailing winds may not freeze across, or the ice may get regularly blown about. Lakes, rivers and reservoirs that are actively controlled by dams – especially hydroelectric dams operated for hydroelectric facilities – may also be tricky to monitor.

2. Select an observation point

Observers should select an observation point that can be regularly accessed each season and in future years. The observation point should be readily identifiable so you or the next volunteer can easily find it and repeat the observations in the future. For small lakes, a location with a view of all or most of the lake surface is best. For large lakes, or lakes with convoluted shorelines, a location that allows clear observations of a readily identifiable portion of the lake surface is preferable. For example, this could be an arm or bay of a large lake. For rivers, an observer should simply be able to see straight across a fairly straight stretch of a gently flowing river that is free of restrictions. Try to select a site that is far from local human influences such as dams, sewage or industrial outlets, fish farms, or agricultural influences such as places where cattle go to drink.

3. Select the part of the water body you are going to observe

The observed area could be an entire lake, the middle portion of a lake, a particular bay, or a stretch of river visible from a building, or road location, or any other easily identifiable location. The area you are observing must be clearly defined and easily described, so that someone could read your records and continue your observations at exactly the same location.For example, at Lac Croche, Quebec, ice observers monitor the east basin of the lake. At Lake Mendota, Wisconsin, observers use an imaginary line between the tips of two peninsulas to record their observations.

4. Watch for fall freeze or spring thaw and collect your observations

There are two key events that IceWatchers are looking for:

  • The date the ice completely covers the lake, bay or river and stays intact for the winter,
  • The date the ice goes out or completely disappears from the lake, bay or river.

To do this, daily observations need to be made during the freeze-up and break-up periods so that you can pinpoint the specific date. Sometimes the lake or river will briefly freeze across and then melt again. What you are watching for is that longest period when the water is continuously frozen. The two dates you submit will provide researchers with a measure of the length of ice duration and the associated length of the ice-free season of the water body you are observing.

If possible, please try to provide information on two other events:

  • The first date the ice completely covers the lake, bay or river, even if it subsequently melts shortly thereafter. Sometimes the water body will stay frozen for the whole winter once it freezes across, but other times warm weather will cause the ice to partially or totally melt.
  • The first day of ice disappearance from the lake. Sometimes ice will entirely melt in the spring and not return, but in other years cold weather will cause the lake, bay or river to freeze partially or completely again.

The combined information from these 4 dates – some of which may be the same day – give researchers a better understanding of the process of ice formation and breakup, and whether these ice processes themselves are changing. This basic ice watching data forms the core of the Icewatch program.

5. Submit your observations