Ice towers grow under rare conditions

Orval and Bev Beland brought the News-Optimist some interesting photos and their observations on an unusual phenomenon they witnessed this week. They are calling what they saw ice towers, and they haven’t seen this natural curiousity for decades.

It takes just the right conditions, they explain, to create these ice towers. In addition, they are fleeting. Created overnight during a thaw, they are gone within hours once the sun heats things up.

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Orval told us, “At dawn on March 25 near Ruddell, we observed what at first seemed to be a snowman in the ditch by a drainage culvert.”

On closer inspection, they determined it to be a frozen foam tower almost five feet high.

“Even as we watched,” Orval reports, “the tower was still slowly building ever higher.”

Checking the area, they found others.

“We found three more of these towers self-assembling not far away on the same running drainage stream.”

The Belands explain there seem to be five prerequisites for this phenomenon to occur.

First, there has to be something, some material or substance, in the water that triggers a foaming action.

Then, there has to be a several-hour time period of freezing temperatures.

Third, there has to be a large drainage area that allows continual drainage through these freezing hours.

Fourth, something in the water flow has to cause turbulence to create the foam and pressurize the “geyser,” or culvert.

Finally, there has to be little or no wind, allowing the tower to build from the top.

Describing the towers, the Belands said the exterior walls were about two inches thick. They could be easily ruptured by sticking a finger through the wall, causing the foam to bleed out the side of the towers. But since the temperature was still below freezing, about -7 C, the foam from the “wound” soon froze, essentially “healing” itself.

The interior was then re-pressurized and the foam was again forced all the way to the top to resume building the tower.

The Belands told us the towers would likely be gone by noon that day, and who knows if they would be seen again any time soon.


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