How Long Would it Take to Resurface a Frozen Lake Superior Using a Single Zamboni Machine?

We know this is the sort of thing that has kept you up at night. But first, let’s talk about the current and historical context of a frozen Lake Superior.

Lake Superior is currently 76.8% frozen with a few days remaining in February. The average Lake Superior ice cover for the last week of February is 44%. “So you’re saying there’s a chance?” Yes, there’s a chance we could inch towards the magical number of 100% ice cover.

Historically, the average high of Lake Superior ice cover happens on March 3. That gives us a slim margin to freeze another 23%. However, during the historic freezing of 1996, Lake Superior froze an additional 34% in just four days. Which goes to show just how drastically she can change in a short period of time.

According to NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, which has collected data since 1973, 100% ice cover on Lake Superior has happened exactly once, occurring on March 8, 1996. During that winter, Lake Superior was just 68.8% frozen over on February 25, which means we are currently 8% ahead of schedule compared to the iciest winter Lake Superior has had.

Average Lake Superior Ice Cover

2019 Lake Superior ice cover compared to the historical average dating back to 1973. Source

Lake Superior Ice Cover History

Year by year maximum ice cover of Lake Superior since 1973. Source

All of this left us wondering…

How long would it take to resurface a frozen Lake Superior using a single Zamboni machine?

For context, let us begin by stating a few facts.

  • Lake Superior is 31,700 square miles
  • The standard North American ice rink is 17,000 square feet (200 X 85 feet)
  • There are 640 acres in 1 square mile
  • There are 43,560 square feet in 1 acre
  • A single Zamboni machine takes approximately 7 minutes to resurface a standard ice rink
  • During a single resurfacing a Zamboni machine travels approximately 3/4 of a mile

Now for some math.

We’ll start by converting Superior and an ice rink into acres.

Lake Superior: 31,700 * 640 = 20,288,000 acres
Ice rink: 17,000 / 43,560 = 0.39 acres

1 frozen Lake Superior = 52,020,513 ice rinks.

At about 7 minutes per rink it would take 364,143,591 minutes to resurface all of Lake Superior. That is 252,877 days.

In all, that means it would take approximate 693 years to resurface Lake Superior in its entirety. The ice resurfacer will have driven approximately 39,015,384 miles.

However, these calculations do not take other factors into account. For example, you’re going to have to add in shift changes, coffee breaks, maintenance, and of course, some pick up hockey games.

Want to resurface Mother Superior over the course of a 20-minute intermission so everyone else can get another beer and stadium nachos? Not a problem, you’ll only need about 18,207,179 Zamboni machines and drivers operating at once.

So if you start today, well, you might be able to make it to April before she breaks through the ice.

As for the entire Great Lakes? Well, that’s the equivalent of 154,666,667 ice rinks.

There is one more important calculation. It would require 149,668,553 live performances of “(I Wanna Drive a) Zamboni” by Gear Daddies.

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The MODIS satellite image from NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory was taken in 2005 when ice cover reached 96%.