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Call Mulder - more black holes on Brainerd lakes? Open water lingers on several lakes

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There was a large amount of open water on the northern part of Lower Mission Lake in Merrifield, that just began to freeze up as temperatures began to drop Tuesday overnight. Temperatures are expected to be in the single digits to below zero over the next few days, which will help make ice. Brainerd Dispatch / Jim Stafford Video2 / 3
Lower Mission Lake residents Ron Hedlund (left), Rebecca Timmins, Nick Bernier and Del Woese stand along shore talking about the open water behind them. The residents, all but Woese, are on the lake association board and estimate the open water on the lake is about 40-50 acres in size. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch3 / 3

Could there be another mysterious "black hole" on a lake in the Brainerd area?

Doubtful, but lakeshore residents on Lower Mission Lake in Merrifield pondered a mystery of their own this past week as the lake had a large area of open water on its northern end—an area that normally is frozen over during the winter months.

The entire lake froze over in November, but since then the ice in the northern area began to melt and was open water for days, giving geese and swan a place to gather. The open water began to get a coating of ice early Wednesday morning as frigid temperatures began to hit the lakes area.

A few lakeshore owners—Nick Bernier, Del Woese, Ron Hedlund and Rebecca Timmins—said the situation with the lake freezing, then melting was weird.

"We are seeing a phenomenon that hasn't happened here, for as far as we know for like 60-plus years," Bernier said. "We have a big opening area in the lake even after a cold freeze up. This is highly unusual. We are worried about safety."

Bernier said for three decades, from the '70s-'90s, Lower Mission Lake was a major part of a local snowmobile trail. He feared with the holidays approaching visitors may venture on the lake to either go ice fishing or snowmobiling and he worried for their safety.

Woese said the coming frigid temperatures will help produce ice, but he worried how much ice there would be on the portion of the lake where open water once flowed just a day ago. The residents estimated the hole to be about 40-50 acres.

Bernier said the lake is a "pretty solid ice lake" as 65 percent of lake is 15 feet deep or less and freezes easily. Bernier has lived on the lake for 41 years, Woese for 22 years and Hedlund's family has owned property on the lake since 1949. None recall a winter when the lake was not completely frozen over.

"This is the deepest part of the lake," Hedlund said of the area that was open water for days. "There were white caps on the lake and swan and geese swimming there Tuesday."

Hedlund said Lower Mission usually freezes over early in the winter season and Upper Mission Lake freezes over later in the season.

The open water on Mission Lake had residents thinking back to 2003, when North Long Lake had a mysterious "black hole" appear without an obvious cause on the lake's Highway 371 bay. A year later, A.W. Research Laboratories in Brainerd sent samples of the lake bottom to a laboratory in Seattle. Tests found that the bottom of Highway 371 bay had unusually high concentrations of diatoms, tiny plant-like critters with a skeletal structure. Diatoms live in sediment and when they emerge usually remain near the bottom. The diatoms in North Long, however, secrete an oily substance that floats, bringing them to the surface. In sunlight diatoms undergo the photosynthesis common to all plant life.

The late Al Cibuzar of A.W. Research Laboratories told the Dispatch in 2004: "We found extraordinarily high concentrations of diatoms near the surface. They suppressed the freezing point of the water. On cloudy days they didn't rise to the surface, causing the hole to freeze over. Then on sunny days they would rise and the hole would re-open. That explains how it stayed open in some of coldest weather and froze over on milder days."

It is not known if the open water on Lower Mission Lake could be the same type of "black hole," but most likely it is not. Other Brainerd area lakes also are seeing open water, as temperatures have been above normal 15 out of 19 days in December.

Capt. Scott Goddard with the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office said there are about seven lakes currently with open water. Through the sheriff's Facebook page, people are asked to post any lakes with open water.

Comments included open water on the Highway 371 bay side of North Long lake; Ossawinnamakee in the channel and thin ice in various areas; and open areas on Clear and Bertha lakes in Ideal Township, Gull Lake, Little Rabbit Lake in Riverton and Rabbit Lake in Cuyuna just off the boat landing.

"We would like to again remind the public that a great number of our lakes still have thin ice," Goddard said. "We are hopeful and thankful for this cold winter stretch that is coming. As soon as the snow flies we know that the snowmobiles will be out and we want people to know there are lakes with thin ice and open water. We ask people to stay off lakes, unless they are operating on a lake they know has a significant amount of ice."

Goddard said the sheriff's office talked with the snowmobile associations in the county and they started some grooming of the land trails, but have not groomed anything on the lakes.

This year, there has been one fatality. An Ironton man lost his life Dec. 11 when the snowmobile he was operating went through the ice on Serpent Lake in Crosby. Minnesota is on track to have its deadliest winter on the ice in years after five people died after falling through the ice in the state, the most since five people died over the entire winter of 2014-15, the DNR reported. Since 2007, an average of three people have died on the ice every year, with the most deaths occurring toward winter's end, Forum News Service reported. All of the deaths this year came with use of an all-terrain vehicle or snowmobile.

Temperatures over the next few days will help make ice. According to the National Weather Service in Duluth, the Brainerd area will see lows in the single digits through Friday night, with a low of 3 below zero Saturday night, 11 below zero Sunday night and 14 below zero Christmas Day night. Highs will begin at 17 degrees today, Dec. 21 and drop to 5 degrees Sunday.

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