- The Cedar Rapids office of the National Weather Service tweeted a picture of ice volcanoes that had formed along Lake Michigan.
- The volcanoes aren't governed by the same forces as their lava-spewing cousins, but instead by chilly temperatures, high waves, and strong winds.
- Some previously observed ice volcanoes have stretched as tall as 25 feet.
Locals along Lake Michigan are buzzing with excitement after the National Weather Service's Cedar Rapids hub tweeted a photo of cones of ice along Oval Beach that were spewing chunks of ice and water into the air.
It was a great day to visit the beach and watch the waves interact with the ice. Here's a couple "ice volcanoes" erupting at Oval Beach on Sunday, February 16, 2020. #miwx #wmiwx pic.twitter.com/B0Vkl18RrN— NWS Grand Rapids (@NWSGrandRapids) February 16, 2020
These aren’t like the ice volcanoes found elsewhere in the solar system on say, Triton or Enceladus, which are driven by a completely different tectonic system. Lake Michigan’s ice volcanoes have a much simpler explanation.
During frigid winters, Lake Michigan is covered in giant sheets of ice. Sometimes, small holes form in the ice, allowing water to seep through to the surface. Waves that lap beneath these perforated ice floes push water and ice out through the holes. If it’s cold enough, that ice freezes in mid-air and then drops to the ground around the hole. Slowly, the surrounding ice forms a cone around the hole, resembling a volcanic peak.
But conditions have to be just right in order for the volcanoes to form. First, air temperatures have to be absolutely frigid—"several degrees below freezing," according to researchers at Michigan Tech University, who have studied the phenomenon. Second, since the intensity and frequency of these ice eruptions are dictated by wave action, the surf has to be high. Really high. And third—there has to be a serious amount of ice on the lake in the first place.
The geology of the lake's bed shapes how these volcanoes form, too. As wind pushes waves toward the leading edge of the ice floe, what's happening underneath the water's surface makes a big difference. Ice sheets that lie along the shoreline or atop sand bars or rock reefs create conditions ripe for this pseudo-cryovolcanic activity.
Ice volcanoes have been observed along the northern shores of Lake Superior and Lake Erie, too. Some can grown to over 25 feet, with the tallest occurring in regions where high wave activity has been observed. Sometimes, if conditions are just right, an arc of volcanoes can form.
If you happen to see an ice volcano erupting along the chilly shores of the Great Lakes, don't climb on it. After all, they do form above giant holes in the ice sheet. Ice or not, volcanoes are best admired from afar.
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