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Ice Pancakes

3-24-16       ice pancakes by Jim Moul

I was amazed at the familiarity many Naturally Curious readers have with “ice pancakes!”  For those of you who, like myself, may not be familiar with these creations, these formations are essentially frozen foam.

Ice pancakes usually form on ocean water or lakes around the Arctic Circle where the movement of water keeps the ice from forming a flat sheet.  Small needle-like crystals called frazil crystals rise to the surface of very cold water and accumulate together.  In calm water these typically form a greasy film that freezes into a flat surface ice.  However, in rough or choppy water, these crystals congeal together into slushy circular disks.  As these disks bump into each other and are buffed by the water, they develop ridges and raised edges, giving them a distinctive dinner plate appearance.  In the polar seas these can sometime have a thickness of close to 4 inches and diameter of between 12 inches and 9 feet. Eventually the plates fuse together to form consolidated sea ice that can have ridges that are up to 60 feet thick.  In northern freshwater rivers, pancakes can accumulate downstream of faster water that is thought to have created foam, that then froze. (Thanks to Jim Moul for the use of his photograph of New Hampshire ice pancakes.)

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5 responses

  1. Robert Spencer

    We had one form last winter just below the dam on City Brook. It was carved into a 24″ diameter circle by the rocks of the dam as it spun in the turbulent water. Wish I could send you a picture.

    March 24, 2016 at 8:45 am

  2. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature

    I have never seen that. Really interesting! Thanks!
    I just started following your site. Looks great! I saw you on Hazel’s site. Glad to know you are here.


    March 24, 2016 at 9:07 am

  3. Elaine Schmottlach

    I believe I saw these in another nature blog, which might explain why you had so many replies from people who knew about ice pancakes.

    March 24, 2016 at 9:27 am

    • Yes, the person who initially contacted me about them also sent her photo to all kinds of media places!

      March 24, 2016 at 9:32 am

  4. Chris Schadler

    I live on the Blackwater where ice “pancakes” or disks are common. Here they are not associated with foam but rather are the product of eddies.
    An ice disc about 50′ across recently formed in the Sheyanne River in the Dakotas. It is well worth anyone’s time to view this giant. It slowly circles as though on a pivot with river water rotating it in its eddy. Beautiful.

    March 24, 2016 at 9:49 am

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