Not a Starry Night, Not a Crop Circle, and Not Exactly an Ice Circle

February 09, 2018

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February 2018 Viewer's ChoicePhotographer: John Stetson 
Summary Author: John Stetson 

The photo above, taken with a kite about 60 ft (18 m) in the air, shows both hoarfrost and some odd patterns in the ice covering Sebago Lake, Maine. I can be seen at bottom right (in red jacket) holding the kite string. The temperatures were bitterly cold the morning I launched my kite, dropping to -11 F (-24 C) in the early morning hours of December 31, 2017. This was just day 2 of the lake being completely frozen. The ice didn't freeze evenly -- it usually doesn't. So it'll likely be expanding and contracting throughout the winter, making moaning and cracking sounds as it does.

These sorts of ice patterns have no simple explanations. But they're not true ice circles. Some water flow and open water are needed to form the large spinning disks observed on occasion in streams and rivers. However, the rate of cooling is thought to play a role. Additionally, the patterns here may be related to upflow holes sometimes seen on ponds and rivers. Water coming from a spring below the ice may penetrate through a fracture in the ice and spread into these engorged stems with circular flowers. More questions arise than are answered it seems.