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Needle Ice Mania: Nature Is Art (Even When Attempting to Freeze You to Death)

Ah, winter. Ah, week-of-sub-zero-temperatures. You know, we’re used to chill in Seattle, but we’re not used to day after day after day after etc. of freezing cold. The moderating influence of the nearby ocean generally keeps us from being uber-icy. But then comes a cold snap, and it seems like the whole place freezes solid.

But the neat thing is, in places, our wet ground stays sorta warm, while the air is sub-freezing. And magic happens. Needle ice!

Needle ice at me apartment complex.

Needle ice at me apartment complex.

There it was, rearing out of the ground, tall and bold after having grown for several days. This is up against one of the buildings, at the edge of the lawn, under the rhodies, where the ground has a chance to stay warm and this stuff’s reasonably protected.

Needle ice, showing the tiers marked off by the grains of soil it incorporates as it grows.

Needle ice, showing the tiers marked off by the grains of soil it incorporates as it grows.

I’ve put these on Flickr, so you can click through for the maclargehuge images. It’s worth it. This stuff’s pretty amazing.

Needle ice that's formed little spikes, with another tier growing on the spike. Wowsa.

Needle ice that’s formed little spikes, with another tier growing on the spike. Wowsa.

Moar spikes n' tiers.

Moar spikes n’ tiers.

Here ’tis with my lip balm for scale.

Needle ice with lip balm tube for scale. This stuff's at least four inches tall.

Needle ice with lip balm tube for scale. This stuff’s at least four inches tall.

This year, I knew to keep an eye out for it. I found a tiny bit up near work, when I was taking a walk with B, and he was delighted by the stuff. It’s easy to miss unless it’s done what this stuff’s done and emerges completely. It starts out sorta underground, and you have to look for the odd patterns the soil makes when needle ice is pushing it up. You look for it where the ground has a chance to stay warmer than the air, and in shaded places where the sun hasn’t mucked up the ice-creation process. The strip of lawn right behind our Staples is a great place to look. You can see it pushing the moss up. And if you’ve gone shopping, you might even have something for scale.

Needle ice under moss. Cake notepad for scale.

Needle ice under moss. Cake notes for scale.

There, and you’ve got a look at Starspider’s Christmas gift, too – a notepad made to look like a wedge o’ cake, complete with pen-candle. Cute, eh? It’s sitting in a little depression made by my foot. Needle ice isn’t exactly strong.

I got some good shots looking down into the ice.

Looking down into needle ice.

Looking down into needle ice.

Kinda wild, eh? But not as fantastic as this one.

Needle ice, shot with the camera stuffed in to the crevice. Look at that hoarfrost on it!

Needle ice, shot with the camera stuffed in to the crevice. Look at that hoarfrost on it!

It’s so cold the ice is growing ice – some of it has hoarfrost growing on its needles. And if we look closely at that image, we can see the super-sharp crystal perched like a pointed tower there.

Cropped portion of image showing detail of hoarfrost.

Cropped portion of image showing detail of hoarfrost.

Love this stuff.

This is another neat one: a sort of crevasse that wound and twisted and looked like a black river in the ice, flowing between ice-column cliffs topped with moss. Sorta geologic, that.

Crevasse.

Crevasse.

One could easily make fantasy worlds outta this stuff. It’s amazing.

Needle ice from above, with red berry trapped upon it.

Needle ice from above, with red berry trapped upon it.

You can see how it basically grabs and pushes up anything above it – here, the brown stuff is soil and sand. When it melts, it’ll leave that soil weirdly-patterned. See how strong it is – in this image, it’s lifted up pebbles that aren’t all that small.

 

Large pebbles embedded atop needle ice.

Large pebbles embedded atop needle ice.

It got positively artistic in places. Here’s a pebble enthroned by itself, surrounded by taller columns of needle ice that for some reason flopped as they grew, creating icefalls. Lovely!

Pebble surrounded by needle icefalls.

Pebble surrounded by needle icefalls.

Here’s another of the same, shot from pebble-level, with that big icefall beside it.

Icefalls and pebble closeup.

Icefalls and pebble closeup.

I took B to show him the needle ice by the house the next day, but alas, the kids had discovered it and stomped it flat. Sigh. Still, I got to photograph it when it was whole, and they left this chunk to show you. Look at the tiers! Look at the size of the thing!

 

Moi gloved hand holding a chunk o' needle ice. I count at least four tiers - and it's nearly as long as my fingers. Huge!

Moi gloved hand holding a chunk o’ needle ice. I count at least four tiers – and it’s nearly as long as my fingers. Huge!

Alas, the ice is short-lived. But while it’s here, it’s gorgeous, and I feel lucky to live on a world where such things happen, in a universe where nature grows wonders on a regular basis. And I’m really bloody lucky I had a warm bath to come back to when the jaunt was over!

 

Comments

  1. Trebuchet says

    Winter wonderland! It almost makes me wish I’d gone out and walked around the back yard. Almost.

  2. Lithified Detritus says

    Very cool. I’ve seen this in swampy areas around here.

    Six inches of snow here since midnight, and still coming down. Talk about your winter wonderland!