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Interesting Events

Here we describe recent, rapid changes in the cryosphere that are newsworthy. They may or may not be significant in a climate context.

Waves of Snowballs/Iceballs in Siberia and USA

[J. Key, 14 November 2016]

In late October, the BBC reported that "snowballs" began washing up on the shore in the Gulf of Ob in Western Siberia. The Siberian Times had a picture of a woman sitting on top of the giant balls, and another showing a dog running nearby (see below). The balls occurred along 11 miles of beach. They ranged in size from a less than 10 cm to more than 80 cm in diameter.

Fig. 1. A YouTube video by Valery Togo, from the town of Nyda.

While this phenomenon is not common, it does occasionally occur in large water bodies of the midlatitudes and high latitudes. Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes in North America, had an event with large snow/ice balls in December 2015 (Figure 2).

Fig. 2. A YouTube video of 'ice balls' along Lake Michigan shoreline near Traverse City, Michigan, USA. Video by KenScottPhotography.

What causes these balls to form? If the water temperature is just below freezing, small pieces of ice or icy slush grows as waves move back and forth adding additional water that freezes in layers. The snow/ice chunks rub together and are sculpted into a round shape. The BBC reported that:

"Russian TV quoted an explanation from Sergei Lisenkov, press secretary of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute: 'As a rule, first there is a primary natural phenomenon — sludge ice, slob ice. Then comes a combination of the effects of the wind, the lay of the coastline, and the temperature and wind conditions. It can be such an original combination that it results in the formation of balls like these.'"

More information is available on several media outlets, including National Public Radio (USA), RT News, and the University Space Research Association (USRA).