IceWatch USA™

IceWatch USA™, a program of Nature Abounds, brings you the opportunity to help scientists study how our climate is changing!

With as little as 10 minutes, you can report information that will help to analyze how our climate will change in different regions of the United States, and how our ecosystems are reacting to the change. IceWatch USA™ is modeled after and a proud partner of IceWatch Canada

Become Involved

IceWatch USA™ needs your help, and becoming an IceWatcher is very easy. All you need to do is:

  • choose a location to observe over the winter, like a nearby lake, bay, or river
  • record your observations and
  • report your observations online.

Your information will be entered into a database, compared to other reports, and shared with interested scientists. IceWatch USA™ is also a proud partner of the National Phenology Network which brings together scientists and others to monitor the effects of climate change on plant and animals in the United States.


Steps to beginning IceWatch USA

  • Step 1 - Sign up to be a Nature Abounds Volunteer

  • Step 2 - Select an observation point that can be used each season and in future years and enter a complete Site Description form.


Why Ice Watch

 Due to the increased emissions of greenhouse gases, among other factors, our climate is changing. Accurately recording and analyzing "ice on" and "ice off" events (also known as ice phenology) as well as other factors like snow depth, air temperature and wildlife observations offers a practical way to learn how climate change affects our environment. Even if you live in a Southern State that doesn't experience ice, your winter observations are still important for the "big" picture, including air temperature, precipitation and wildlife viewing.

Around the globe, scientists have studied the freezing and thawing of ice on freshwater lakes, concluding that the climate is indeed warming. Likewise, scientists around the globe have been studying weather as well as wildlife behavior.

Seasonal differences in the ice cover of lakes and rivers can have a serious impact on our ecosystems. For example, changes in the migration patterns and breeding seasons of birds, food supplies for fish and mammals, water temperature and water chemistry, can occur. Additionally, ice cover affects trade, transportation, outdoor recreation, and tourism. 

Frequently Answered Questions

Q: What happens to my data?

 A. Your observations are entered in to a secure database. While the data is not shared publicly, Nature Abounds may share some or all of your information with reputable scientists, research institutions, and government agencies. If you live in a state that borders Canada, we may share your data with our friends at IceWatch Canada as well. Additionally, Nature Abounds is a partner of the National Phenology Network which brings together scientists and others to monitor the effects of climate change on plant and animals in the United States. 

Q: I live in an area that doesn't get any or very little snow or ice. Can I still participate?

 A: Yes, we're looking for general winter observations from all over the United States. We have several volunteers in areas that do not get ice and snow regularly, and they information they are contributing is just as important to the IceWatch USA program.  

Q: I live downstream from a hydro electric dam. Do you still want my ice observations?

 A: While this could be an interference with the freeze thaw cycle of your ice observations, we would still accept the observations. Please make a note regarding the circumstances of where you are monitoring in your waterbody description.  

Q: Is it necessary to include Latitude & Longitude on the observation form? How do I find them?

  A: Besides the observations, latitude and longitude coordinates, along with the date, are the most important information you can provide, This is the only way to tell exactly where your observations are coming from so we can map and record them in our database. Likewise, this is the only way we can assess what is changing in the world around us is to compare observations from the same locations over time.  

Q: I live where the water is a mixture of salt and fresh. Can I still send in the observations?

A: Salt water and its influences change the freeze thaw conditions of ice. Make a note of the salt water and or mix of salt water/fresh water in the description of the waterbody.  

Q: Can I monitor more than one site?

 A: The more information collected, the more analysis can be done. Please remember that each site has its own unique latitude/longitude coordinate, requiring you to submit a new location for that observation.  

Q: What if the waterbody I am monitoring does not freeze over? Should report my observation?

 A: This observation could be tremendously important. This could be a signal of climate change or how urban or industrial development have affected a body of water.  

Q: How does the difference of when ice freezes and thaws affect me?

A: Seasonal differences in the ice cover of lakes and rivers can have a serious impact on our ecosystems. For example, changes in the migration patterns and breeding seasons of birds, food supplies for fish and mammals, water temperature and water chemistry, can occur. Ice cover also affects trade, transportation, outdoor recreation, and tourism.  

Q: I live in the middle of nowhere. Are you interested to what is happening to the ice on my lake?

A: We are especially interested in the ice information from your lake. The more people reporting from diverse geographical locations the clearer the picture we will have on what is happening in this great big country. Your lake may be isolated from some of the affects of industry and human habitation therefore your ice data is affected by fewer factors and may be able to give a clearer picture of what is happening in our ecosystem. 

Getting Started IceWatching


1. Select a waterbody location

Almost any waterbody is suitable for study. Waterbodies that are not as good for ice observations are: skinny lakes that run parallel to prevailing winds and are heavily influenced by air and wave movement; Lakes and rivers that are heavily controlled by dams - especially dams operated for hydroelectric facilities - or are affected significantly by upstream water control.

2. Select an observation point

Select an observation point that can be used each season and in future years. It should be readily identifiable so you or the next IceWatch USA contributor can easily find it and repeat the observations for many years to come. For small lakes a location with a view of all or most of the lake surface is preferable. For large lakes, or lakes with convoluted shorelines, a location that allows observation of a readily identifiable portion of the lake surface is preferable. This could be an arm of a separate basin of a large lake. For rivers, an observer should simply be able to see a fairly straight stretch of a gently flowing river that is free of restrictions. On both lakes and rivers select a site that is unaffected by local human influences such as dams, sewage or industrial outlets (currents from these outlets can affect ice thickness and therefore ice breakup for some distance downstream), or agricultural influences such as cattle watering areas, or fish farming operations where aerators are used to keep open water available.

3. Select the part of the waterbody you are going to observe
Your observation area could be an entire lake, the middle of a lake, a bay in a lake, or a stretch of river visible from a building, or road location, or any other easily identifiable location. It should be clearly defined so that someone could read your records and continue your observations at exactly the same location. Please remember to accurately describe the location from which you are making the observations. For example, "My observation point is looking south from the upper parking lot at New Providence Beach." Make sure you keep your observation point consistent! If possible, please submit a photo of your waterbody and observation point.

4. Fill out a Site Description form (one per each site you're monitoring)  

Your site description only needs to be submitted once per site. However, if you change your site, or if something changes at your site, you'll need to submit a new one. On the site description you will give a name to your site and that will be the name you need to fill in on your observation forms so that the data gathered is properly recorded into the database.

5. Watch for snow, ice and wildlife, and then collect your observations. IceWatch USA would like to know the following:

  • The date of your observation, 
  • Time of observation,
  • Air temperature on the dates you observe changes,
  • Past 24 hour precipitation amount and type (inches / type),
  • What percentage looking from your site point across the waterbody is covered with ice range from 0 (none) to 100 (completely frozen over),
  • Wildlife seen, heard, tracks, or anything else you feel is worthy of a note,
  • The date the ice completely disappears from the lake, bay or river, often referred to as "Spring Thaw".

These observations are important as they provide researchers with the length of ice duration (if any) or the associated length of the ice-free season of a waterbody. For example, sometimes ice will entirely cover waterbodies but then warm weather will cause the ice to partially or totally melt. Or if you live in South Florida, your waterbody may never ice over. Freezing and thawing of waterbodies may happen once, several times, or not at all. Likewise, sometimes ice will entirely melt in the spring, and then returning cold weather will cause the lake, bay or river to freeze partially or completely again. The combined information give researchers a better understanding of the process of ice formation and breakup, and whether these ice processes themselves are changing. This data will form the core of the IceWatch USA program. 

6. Submit your observations on the IceWatch Observation form.


IceWatching Tips

Remember IceWatch observing should be completed from a distance. Do not walk onto a freezing body of water or to the direct edge of a shoreline. Observations should be done from a spot where your feet are firmly on the ground!  For example:

  • Recording the freeze and thaw dates for an entire body of water. Watch a pond in your local park, the irrigation pond in your field or the lake outside your home or apartment. 
  • Looking at one small section of a larger body of water. Pick one section of a river, or an inlet or small cove that is attached to the larger lake. A small bridge makes an excellent observation place, but also be prepared for snow or ice on the bridge. 
  • Creating an imaginary line that goes across a body of water.


Example of Observation Points (Illustration used with permission from IceWatch Canada)


Ice-on: 100% - Ice completely covers the lake, bay or river.  See left photo below of an ice covered (Ice-on) lake in Washington State.

Ice-off: 0% - Ice completely disappears from the waterbody.

 Ice-off: 0% - Ice goes out or completely disappears from the lake, bay or river.  See right photo below of an "Ice-off" phase on the Clarion River in Pennsylvania. 


Partial Ice Coverage: 1% - 99% - Waterbody has some ice coverage but also open water sections. See photo below of Patuxent River in Maryland.