Natural Resources, School of


Document Type


Date of this Version



2013 American Meteorological Society


OCTOBER 2013 SPENCE ET AL. 1647-1658

DOI: 10.1175/JHM-D-12-0170.1


Feedbacks between ice extent and evaporation have long been suspected to be important for Lake Superior evaporation because it is during autumn and winter when latent heat fluxes are highest. Recent direct measurements of evaporation made at the Stannard Rock Lighthouse have provided new information on the physical controls on Lake Superior evaporation, in particular that evaporation can react within hours to days to a change in synoptic conditions. However, the large heat capacity of the lake creates a strong seasonal cycle of energy storage and release. There is a complex interaction among heat storage, evaporation, and ice cover that is highly dependent on atmospheric conditions in the spring and autumn ‘‘shoulder seasons.’’ Small changes in conditions in November and March caused by synoptic-scale events can have profound impacts on annual evaporation, the extent of ice cover, and the length of the ice-covered period. Early winter air temperatures in November and December dictate the nature of ice formation and much of the winter evaporative flux. Decreased ice cover, by itself, does not necessarily lead to enhanced annual evaporation losses. Rather, a combination of low ice cover and warm spring air temperatures, leading to an early breakup, can significantly lengthen the next evaporation season and cause greater cumulative water loss the subsequent year. The influence of individual synoptic events on annual evaporation is notable enough that the research community should ensure that their role is properly captured in numerical models to provide sound predictions of future Laurentian Great Lakes evaporation regimes.