Lake and river ice cover

Indicator Specification
Indicator codes: CLIM 020
Created 11 Jul 2008 Published 08 Sep 2008 Last modified 28 Jun 2016, 05:51 PM
Note: new version is available!
Ice break-up dates from selected European lakes and rivers (1835-2006) and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index for winter 1864-2006

Update planned for November 2012

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)


Justification for indicator selection

The appearance of ice on lakes and rivers requires prolonged periods with air temperatures below 0 oC. The deeper the lake, the more cold is needed to cool down the lake so that ice forms. Higher temperatures will affect the duration of ice cover, the freezing and thawing dates and the thickness of the ice cover.
Changes in ice cover are of critical ecological importance for lakes because of their effect on the underwater light levels (Lepparanta et al., 2003), nutrient recycling (Jarvinen et al., 2002) and oxygen conditions (Stewart, 1976; Livingstone, 1993), which influence the production and biodiversity of phytoplankton (Rodhe, 1955; Phillips and Fawley, 2002; Weyhenmeyer et al., 1999), and the occurrence of winter fish kills (Greenbank, 1945; Barica and Mathias, 1979). Less ice may in some cases result in reduced fish kills.
Changes in lake and river ice may affect winter transportation, bridge and pipeline crossings, and winter sports but no quantitative evidence for such effects yet exists (IPCC, 2007). In Europe there is some evidence of a reduction in ice-jam floods due to reduced freshwater freezing during the last century (Svensson et al., 2006).

Scientific references

  • References Barica, J. and Mathias, J. A., 1979. Oxygen depletion and winterkill risk in small prairie lakes under  extended ice cover. Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada 36: 980-986. Benson, B. and Magnuson, J., 2000 (updated 2006). Global lake and river ice phenology database. In: Boulder, C.O., National Snow and Ice Data Center/World Data Center for Glaciology. Franssen H. J. Hendricks and Scherrer S. C., 2008. Freezing of lakes on the Swiss plateau in the period 1901-2006. International Journal of Climatology 28 (4): 421-433. Greenbank, J., 1945. Limnological conditions in ice-covered lakes, especially related to winterkill of fish. Ecological Monographs 15: 343-392. IPCC, 2007: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. Järvinen, M.; Rask, M.; Ruuhijärvi, J. and Arvola, L., 2002. Temporal coherence in water temperature and chemistry under the ice of boreal lakes (Finland). Water Research 36: 3949-3956. Kerr, R. A., 1999. The Little Ice Age -- only the latest big chill. Science 248: 2069. DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5423.2069. Korhonen J., 2006. Long-term changes in lake ice cover in Finland. Nordic Hydrology 37: 347-363. Leppäranta, M.; Reinart, A.; Erm, A.; Arst, H.; Hussainov, M. and Sipelgas, L., 2003. Investigation of ice and water properties and under-ice light fields in fresh and brackish water bodies, Nordic Hydrology 34: 245-266. Livingstone, D. M., 1993. Lake oxygenation: Application of a one-box model with ice cover. Internationale Revue der Gesamten Hydrobiologie 78: 465-480. Livingstone, D. M., 1997. Break-up dates of Alpine lakes as proxy data for local and regional mean surface air temperatures. Climatic Change 37: 407-439. Livingstone, D. M. and Adrian, R., 2007. Modeling the duration of intermittent ice cover on a lake for climate-change studies. Limnology and Oceanography (submitted). Magnuson, J. J.; Robertson, D. M.; Benson, B. J.; Wynne, R. H.; Livingstone, D. M.; Arai, T.; Assel, R. A.; Barry, R. G.; Card, V.; Kuusisto, E.; Granin, N. G.; Prowse, T. D.; Stewart K. M. and Vuglinski, V. S., 2000a. Historical trends in lake and river ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere. Science 289: 1743-1746. Palecki, M. A. and Barry, R. G., 1986. Freeze-up and break-up of lakes as an index of temperature changes during the transition seasons: a case study for Finland. Journal of Climate and Applied Meteorology 25: 893-902. Phillips, K. A. and Fawley, M. W., 2002. Winter phytoplankton blooms under ice associated with elevated oxygen levels. Journal of Phycology 38: 1068-1073. Rodhe, W., 1955. Can phytoplankton production proceed during winter darkness in subarctic lakes? Verhandlungen Internationale Vereinigung für theoretische und angewandte Limnologie 12: 117-122. Stewart, K. M., 1976. Oxygen deficits, clarity and eutrophication in some Madison lakes. Internationale Revue der Gesamten Hydrobiologie 61: 563-579. Svensson C.; Hannaford J.; Kundzewicz, Z. W. and Marsh, T., 2006: Trends in river floods: why is there no clear signal in observations? Frontiers in Flood Research -- IAHS Proceedings & Reports. Weyhenmeyer, G. A.; Blenckner, T. and Pettersson, K., 1999. Changes of the plankton spring outburst related to the North Atlantic Oscillation. Limnology and Oceanography 44: 1788-1792. Weyhenmeyer, G. A.; Meili, M. and Livingstone, D. M., 2004. Nonlinear temperature response of lake ice breakup. Geophysical Research Letters 31 (7): L07203, DOI:10.1029/2004GL019530. Weyhenmeyer, G. A., 2007. Water chemical changes along a latitudinal gradient in relation to climate and atmospheric deposition. Climate change 88 (2): 199-208.

Indicator definition

  • Ice break-up dates from selected European lakes and rivers (1835-2006) and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index for winter 1864-2006


Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The aim is to increase the resilience to climate change of health, property and the productive functions of land, inter alia by improving the management of water resources and ecosystems. More knowledge is needed on climate impact and vulnerability but a considerable amount of information and research already exists which can be shared better through a proposed Clearing House Mechanism. The White Paper stresses the need to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. A number of Member States have already taken action and several have prepared national adaptation plans. The EU is also developing actions to enhance and finance adaptation in developing countries as part of a new post-2012 global climate agreement expected in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009). For more information see:


No targets have been specified

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified

Key policy question


Methodology for indicator calculation

Methodology for gap filling

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty

Data sets uncertainty

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

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General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Peter Kristensen


Joint Research Centre (JRC)
European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
CLIM 020
Version id: 1


DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100