Antarctic Wave

Do photographs show ice formations in Lake Huron created by waves of water freezing in midair?

  • Published 16 January 2008

Claim

Photographs show ice formations in Lake Huron created by waves of water freezing in midair.

Rating

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Origin

Starkly beautiful wave-like ice formations like the ones captured below can indeed be found in parts of Antarctica:

Examples:

[Collected via e-mail, January 2008]

The water froze the instant the wave broke through the ice.

That’s what it is like in Antarctica. Water freezes the instant it comes in contact with the air. The temperature of the water is already some degrees below freezing.

Just look at how the wave froze in midair?


[Collected via e-mail, March 2008]

An Ice Wave from the floor of Lake Huron near Mackinaw Island

Michigan has had the coldest winter in decades. Water expands to freeze, and at Macinaw City the water in Lake Huron below the surface ice was supercooled. It expanded to break through the surface ice and froze into this incredible wave.

I’ve seen pictures of this wave phenomena in Antarctica, but in Michigan? Yes, it’s been quite a winter!

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However, such formations are not created (as claimed in the text accompanying these images) by waves of water hitting frigid air and instantly freezing in place; they’re typically formed over time from ice that has been compacted and uplifted by glaciation, then shaped through exposure to the elements:

Most of these images in fact result from melting, not from freezing.

Melting has produced the downward pointing spikes that look like a breaking wave — they are simply icicles. Furthermore, the beautiful smoothly polished surfaces are again the result of melting; freshly frozen ice, especially ice that has frozen rapidly, is cloudy and opaque. The transparent ice in the photographs has been created in a glacier or ice cap by the slow annealing of ice as it is buried under each year’s successive accumulation of snow.

These particular photographs were taken at the Antarctic base of Dumont D’Urville by Tony Travouillon in 2002.

Beginning in March 2008, newer versions of these pictures described the ice formations as a phenomenon occurring in Lake Huron near Michigan, thereby erroneously placing them thousands of miles away (and in the wrong hemisphere) from their true source.

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