Anchor Ice in Latrobe
Inside the Outdoors, January 29,
2016

Seldom do I hear about something about nature that I don’t already know a little bit about. After digging around in the dirt, watching animals go about their business or become fixated on the fowl of the airways seek out food in area waters, I recently learned of a new phenomenon.

When a certain Latrobe resident posted a mysterious looking object on my Facebook page, my curiosity got the best of me. I had to further pursue the subject, browsing various websites just to get to the bottom of just what this sighting was and how did it get there. The whole subject matter was completely new to me.

Thanks to my good friend Tim Vechter, fellow Latrobe resident and naturalist, at least I like to call him that because of his many great discoveries he has posted via cyber space and the pictures he has given me before I became glued to the screen of this machine.

His most recent post was that of anchor ice. I can’t help but state that I’m not the only one who was in question when it comes to this formation attached to the flooring of the Loyalhanna Creek, for instance.

According to en.wikipedia.org, “Anchor ice is defined by the World Meteorological Organization as submerged ice attached or anchored to the bottom, irrespective of the nature of its formation. It is most commonly observed in fast-flowing rivers during periods of extreme cold, in the shallow sub or intertidal during or after storms when the air temperature is below the freezing point of the water…”

There are different types and formations of anchor ice. They are in rivers, lakes, formed during storms, and those found in the Antarctic. The latter is “one of the most interesting phenomena of ice formation in the marine environment.” Since I am limited as to space, if one wishes to read more on this ice found in this region, Google ‘Anchor ice in the Antarctic.

Continuing on, the website, www.nature-track.com filled me in with a great deal more knowledge.

“It all starts when air temperatures are at least a little below freezing for several days. If they are significantly colder, then the process can happen literally overnight.”

“Fast moving, shallow waters are the next ingredient.” That pinpoints the Loyalhanna to a tee in many places. When the temperatures go below freezing, then the whole compound, water, ecosystem and rocks and everything on the bottom tend to assume these cold temps, as well.

As the author of article stated, “This sets the stage for the formation of what is referred to as anchor ice. The rolling water prevents surface ice from forming, but eventually, free-floating crystals, called frazil, begin to form the super-cooled water column. Frazil is sticky, and whenever it contacts an object, for instance, another frazil crystal or something on the bottom, it adheres immediately. Once an anchor point is established, the ice grows quickly by free growth or by collecting additional frazil crystals.”

When the River Warriors member sent me the photos to view that he took at the causeway at Sleepy Hollow and in Latrobe proper, the objects were not the normal colored ice formations I was used to viewing. The anchor ice pictured were just as the article detailed, “cloud-like appearance of gray to blue green…” I had neither seen or was taught about such a creation (As a member of this organization, Tim has gone to great lengths to keeping the creek free of discarded metals and tires).

There are some drawbacks to this substance, the author pointed out.

“Since ice is still ice, it wants to float. Once the natural buoyancy of the ice exceeds the adhesion strength, the anchored ice may break free of the bottom and float on the surface. As it floats downstream, it creates ice jams that send floods onto adjacent lands. Anchor ice may reduce flows for hydropower units or plug them altogether.”

An even bigger concern involving anchor ice that may become massive or extensive, “it can wreak havoc on stream and river processes. Macro invertebrates, so essential to the health of the stream, can be frozen, smothered or crushed by the forming ice. Fish eggs can also be caught up in the ice and destroyed. The freezing process dislodges aquatic plants and, as the ice lifts from the bottom, can scour the stream or river bottom, reducing productivity all around.”

It comes down to this. There are many things in life that we have no knowledge about, yet occur. But the exciting thing is that there will always be something I have yet to discover and with that forthcoming information, I will not only broaden my understand, but pass it onto you. Together we will take pleasure in loving these God-given gifts making up the great outdoors.


- Paul J. Volkmann
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