01/23/2014 07:36 EST | Updated 03/25/2014 05:59 EDT

Ice in Great Lakes a danger to ships, coast guard says

The unusual deep freeze gripping southwestern Ontario concerns the Canadian Coast Guard, which is warning that it could pose dangers to shipping operations.

Andre Maillet, a supervisor of operations for the Canadian Coast Guard, said all the ice on the lakes and the wind coming from the north are bad news for navigation.

"The current winds ... and with the cold, compresses the ice, it solidifies the ice and makes it very very difficult to escort anybody through that," Maillet said.

The Canadian and U.S. coast guards begin ice-breaking operations on Lake Michigan on Saturday and will make their way into Lake Huron, including Georgian Bay.

"All ice near the planned shipping routes should be considered unsafe during and after ice-breaking and shipping operations," The Canadian Coast Guard said in a news release. "The Canadian Coast Guard, the United States Coast Guard and the Ontario Provincial Police are advising everyone to stay clear of these areas."

Approximately 60 per cent of the Great Lakes is covered with ice, according to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

Despite being led by an icebreaker, ice jams stranded three ships on the Detroit River on Jan. 6. If the cold continues, it could lead to more ice jams filling up the Great Lakes and more ships could get stuck.

"There's some serious ice out there, especially if you compare with last year and especially the 2011-2012 season, in which there was very little ice on the Great Lakes," said George Leshkevich, a scientist at the research laboratory. "Because of the cold weather we had in the late fall and early winter, the ice appears to have started building as early as the later part of November."

Ice covered approximately 30 per cent of the lakes last year.

The polar vortex that has twice engulfed the lakes has helped the amount of ice to grow quickly.

There's an upside to the ice.

Scientists say the ice cover can provide protection to some species and prevent evaporation that leads to low water levels.