Saturday, January 23, 2010

Speeding up Ice Melt - Reducing Ice Damage?

Looking at the last post I think most would agree that the photos of the blanket of snow throughout the course are very attractive and quite serene. I remember taking them and enjoying the picturesque beauty of the moment. At this point however, it's now been over 50 days of continuous snow coverage, and much of it has turned to ice. Snow cover is fine and even provides beneficial protection. Ice, in contrast, is infinitely more concerning and has now been in place perhaps a bit too long! Shortly after taking the winter wonderland photos,  we had a slight warm-up and then some rainfall. It was actually right at Christmas and was one of only a few days where the maximum temperature exceeded 32 degrees. The warm-up (41 degrees that day) was not enough to melt all the snow but it did reduce the depth. The melting snow of course changed to liquid and added a layer of water beneath the remaining snow and directly on the ground/turf surface. The rain, over 1.5 inches falling the same day, contributed to this layer.  Cold temperatures that then followed changed this water to ice, and with temperatures remaining near or below freezing for the past 30 plus days, it has remained as ice. So at this time a layer of ice has been present for over 30 and approaching 40 days.

Snow cover over 50 days now.
Winter Injury & Our Turf
 There are several forms of what is generally called Winter Injury and includes: Winter Desiccation, Direct Low Temperature Kill; Crown Hydration Injury, and Ice Encasement / Suffocation. At this time I'm mainly concerned about the potential for the latter. The covers that we always use help guard against Winter Desiccation but have little effect on these other listed injury forms.
Our turf species components on our greens, tees, and fairways is primarily poa annua (perennial biotypes) and creeping bentgrass. Of the two species the poa annua is by far the more sensitive to ice encasement.  University research generally shows that ice encasement injury to poa annua will occur at continuous coverage lengths of 45 days and bentgrass at 90 or more. With ice cover on the course (the greens being our primary concern) approaching this 45 day mark, the anxiety (for me) about suffocation injury of our poa annua,  increases with each passing day.

Test hole reveals 2" ice layer on No. 11 Green
Time to Act:
With the temperatures expected to rise into the 40's for this weekend I felt it was a good opportunity to try to have Mother Nature help us reduce some of the ice accumulation we're experiencing.  So over the last couple days we've used snow blowers and shovels to remove the snow off all greens so that the surfaces will hopefully absorb some heat, (snow insulates and reflects) by exposing the darker ice and the darker greencovers, and also reduce the added moisture that would result when it melts this weekend. As we removed the snow we noted that the thickness of ice is minimal on many greens, a 1/2" or so on a few greens, and quite thick (2") on only one green, the same one we had winter injury on last year, No. 11 green.
Our snow removal will certainly help the warmer expected temperatures to begin to melt some of the ice and perhaps most of it on the greens with minimal thicknesses.  I'm expecting that Monday we may have to physically crack and remove remaining ice on No. 11 as I think it's unlikely that 2 inches will melt in just a couple days. We'll see what next week brings.
Snow blowing approx. 6" of snow off No. 11 Green 
                                 Hand shoveling to assist removal process 
Will This Remove the Threat of Injury?
We wont really know for another couple months as ice damage injury is so variable and depends on many factors.  It varies from year to year in places of the country that deal with it annually, where various efforts are employed which work well some years and may not work at all the next. Managing Winter Injury is certainly an inexact science! I do know that our efforts now, trying to reduce the length of ice encasement, can't hurt, and if anything may help reduce some anxiety (and allow me to sleep a little better at night!) for the next couple months!

Ice depth of approx. 1/2" exposed on No.10 Green. 
A Final Comment & Request:
As we removed snow from the greens we did note that in areas where cross country skiers and snowshoe walkers had crossed greens, the areas beneath the surface had definitely changed to solid ice and was much thicker than adjacent areas. You'll see the snowshoe prints in the photos below.  Given this, and our concern about ice damage, I would ask that skier and snowshoe activities be restricted from the greens and tees. There are many mounds and bunker shoulders throughout the course, in rough areas, where if you're one who enjoys these activities, can travel, to get the rolling elevation changes you may desire.
Snowshoe tracks showing heavy ice accumulation on No. 17 Green
Close up of Snowshoe track and ice accumulation

Enjoy your skiing and snowshoeing but please refrain from traveling on the greens and tees. Thank You!
Let's hope Mother Nature "Holds the Ice" from here until spring.  I'll keep you posted.

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