January Thaw January 27, 2010 By Jim Skorulski

Only a thin layer of ice remains at a western Massachusetts golf course following this week’s rain and warmer temperatures. A few additional days of above freezing temperatures should help melt the remaining ice and allow the water to move off the surfaces before the next wave of cold temperatures reach the area.

The recent 50° temperatures and heavy rains that occurred recently marked the official January thaw for New England. This has been a relatively good thaw, if there are such things in the middle of winter. Winter thaws and rain events are always a concern to northern turf managers, who hate the sight of standing water on putting and fairway surfaces. The standing water can hydrate the plants, which then are more susceptible to the colder temperatures that often follow. Fortunately, for the near term, the forecast for relatively mild temperatures, following the recent heavy rains, should provide time for the water to recede or flow off playing surfaces before the next round of cold temperatures reach the area.
Ice sheets may form at some northern locations as a result of the thaw or rain events. Prolonged ice cover brings fears of suffocation or anoxia. This phenomenon is thought to occur when dense ice sheets or impermeable covers prevent gas exchange from the soil. Oxygen levels drop while carbon dioxide increases, leading to anaerobic respiration. Anoxia is most likely to occur when the ice sheet forms over heavy soils that are not deeply frozen. Microbial respiration continues to occur during those conditions, utilizing oxygen that cannot be replaced under the ice sheet. Annual bluegrass exposed to anaerobic conditions for two to three weeks have been shown to lose cold temperature hardiness and become even more vulnerable to injury. The higher levels of carbon dioxide and other gases produced during anaerobic respiration may in themselves become toxic to the grass.   
Anoxia is less likely to occur in sandy soils or in soils where a deep frost layer is in place.  The condition requires some time to form, but it is a good idea to keep an eye on greens encased in ice, especially once the ice is in place for three to four weeks. Check below the ice for the sweet, sickly smell. If present, there is a good chance that the plant’s hardiness is being affected,  and some action to remove the ice may be required. This is not an easy task, and should be  considered only if an anaerobic condition has developed and the weather remains favorable.
The good news is, the longest days of winter are behind us and the sun’s strength improves with each day. We believe most golf courses in the region have survived December and January thaws with the grass still intact. A few days of moderately cold and dry weather followed by a blanket of new snow would be a welcomed sight and a good way to enter the month of February.
To those of you going to San Diego, have a safe trip and make sure to stop by the USGA booth while walking the floor. We hope to see the rest of you at the New England Regional Turfgrass Conference and Show in early March.  A USGA session is scheduled for Tuesday, March 2nd , covering many diverse topics ranging from winter injury and annual bluegrass control to the impact of local rules of course rating and speed of play. Learn the real story behind the 2009 US Open from Craig Currier and Dave Oatis. Gain valuable financial survival skills to lead your golf course through the economic challenges that lie ahead. This is an exceptional educational opportunity for turf mangers and green chairpersons, and a great way to start the 2010 golf season.  The educational session will be followed by Keynote Speaker Steve Palermo, followed by the trade show’s Grand Opening and Reception.
Northeast Region Green Section- Dave Oatis, Director; Adam Moeller, Agronomist; Jim Skorulski, Senior Agronomist