Lake Michigan Coastal Dunes
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Environment - Surface ice


Surface ice forms when temperatures go below 0°C (32°F) and excess water on the ground surface freezes.

Freezing temperatures may occur any time between September and May, but they are most common from mid-December through mid-March (see Temperature).

The water that freezes comes from:

  • waves splashing onto a frozen beach
  • winter rain events
  • freezing rain and sleet
  • meltwater from snow and ice.

In the winter, unlike other seasons, water may not be able to drain quickly into the sand because frozen ground causes the water to remain at the surface. The water often collects in low areas on the beach and depressions on/between dunes.

Surface ice coats part of Hoffmaster beach.
Above and below: A layer of ice coats the ground where waves splashed onto the beach before the coastal ice built up along the shoreline. At the time of the photos, coastal ice prevents more waves from reaching the subaerial beach. (Hoffmaster State Park in January 2005.)
Close view of surface ice coating Hoffmaster beach.


Surface ice protects beach and dune surfaces from wind erosion. The protection remains until the ice is removed by melting or evaporation.


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Last updated 03/23/10.