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Frozen Wonderland: Lake Superior's Ice Cover Nears Record 95 percent

<p>Lake Superior's ice cover is on track to surpass a record dating back more than 30 year.</p>
Image: Sightseers look at icicles in sea caves of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore of Lake Superior
Sightseers look at icicles at the mouth of a sea cave of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore of Lake Superior near Cornucopia, Wisconsin on Feb. 14. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, about 94% of Lake Superior is covered with ice, enabling thousands of people to visit the islands on foot for the first time since 2009. The Great Lakes, which contain one fifth of the world's surface fresh water, are 88% covered with ice.ERIC MILLER / Reuters file

Lake Superior is now 91 percent covered by ice — the most since 1994 — and the great lake may even surpass a record dating back more than 30 years in coming days, experts say.

And that massive chunk of ice, it turns out, has not only become a maze-line jungle gym of ice structures for visitors to marvel at, it's helping the environment.

The ice cover may even eclipse the 1979 record of 95 percent with temperatures expected to dip in the coming days after “one polar vortex after another,” Jia Wang, a research ice climatologist for the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, told NBC News.

“In the next week or two, the forecast is that the temperatures will be under freezing.The lake still has about 10 days to grow in ice cover — 5 percent is no problem,” he said.

Indeed the long duration of lower temperatures this winter has allowed a lot more ice to form.

The frigid stretch has even allowed visitors to Lake Superior to hike to fairy-tale like ice caves that have formed around the great lake in Michigan — a phenomenon that hasn’t occurred in 20 years.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also cites the increased ice cover as having environmental benefits. Ice cover with little snow cover lets light shine through — stimulating the growth of algae that feeds other living organisms, NOAA said. And in the shallow waters where whitefish spawn, ice cover shields eggs from harsh winds.

Maybe the cold isn’t so bad after all.

Sightseers look at a frozen rock face along the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore of Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater lake, near Cornucopia, Wis. on Feb. 14.ERIC MILLER / Reuters file