Tag Archives: ice volcanoes

Bizarre ‘ice volcanoes’ erupt on Lake Michigan beach

A so-called ice volcano erupting on Oval Beach in Michigan

A so-called ice volcano erupting on Oval Beach in Michigan
(Image: © National Weather Service of Grand Rapids)

Ice volcanoes spewed great plumes of water on the shores of Lake Michigan last weekend, and the National Weather Service (NWS) caught the odd phenomenon in action.

During a stroll on Oval Beach on the lake’s eastern shore, located in the state of Michigan, an employee of the NWS Grand Rapids snapped a few photos of water bursting from mounds in the frigid ground. “You never know what you’ll find at the lake until you go out there,” the employee tweeted. “Today it was volcanoes.”

Despite their nickname, ice volcanoes aren’t really volcanoes at all. The cone-like mounds form at the edges of lakes, where thin sheets of ice form, and water shoots through holes in the ice, Tom Niziol, a contributor for Weather Underground’s Category 6 blog, explained in a Facebook post. Water sloshes beneath the ice sheet and builds up enough pressure to force spurts of water to the surface. If the air above is cold enough, the released water freezes over the surrounding ground, forming a mini volcano of sorts.

“[Ice volcanoes] can be very dangerous to climb on however because they are hollow and built over that hole in the ice,” Niziol said. “Don’t ever go venturing out onto them.”

Frozen volcanoes formed along the shores of Lake Erie a few years ago, Niziol added. Although not unheard of, ice volcanoes remain a relatively rare phenomenon.

“It’s almost a ‘Goldilocks’ situation where you need just the right conditions over a period of time to get these [formations] to develop,” Matt Benz, a meteorologist for AccuWeather, said in a news report. Ice volcanoes typically form near large bodies of water where below-freezing temperatures allow an ice shelf to form over the water’s surface along the coastline, he said. Simultaneously, waves beneath the shelf must be powerful enough to crack the ice and push water out. For this reason, ice volcanoes tend to form along shorelines where winds churn up waves consistently, Benz said.

On Feb. 16, when the Oval Beach volcanoes were spotted, the wind was almost due west, which would have been “ideal for pushing waves right into the shoreline at this location,” Benz added. Due to their enormous size, the Great Lakes may be more likely to form ice volcanoes along their shores than smaller lakes whose water completely freezes over in winter, before much ice can build up along their beaches, he said.

So if you want to see an ice volcano in person, the Great Lakes may be your best bet — but be wary where you step!

So-called ice volcanoes erupting on Oval Beach in Michigan

So-called ice volcanoes erupting on Oval Beach in Michigan (Image credit: National Weather Service of Grand Rapids)

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Strange lights on dwarf planet Ceres have scientists perplexed

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Two strange reflective patches spotted on Ceres.
IMAGE: NASA, JPL
A dwarf planet is shining two bright lights at a NASA spacecraft right now, and our smartest scientists are unsure what they are.

As bizarre as that sentence sounds, that’s the situation with Ceres — the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, officially designated as a dwarf planet (the same category as Pluto).

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is approaching Ceres ahead of a March 6 rendezvous. The picture above was taken February 19, from a distance of just under 29,000 miles, and shows two very shiny areas on the same basin on Ceres’ surface.

Previous Dawn images from further away showed a single light on Ceres, which was just as mysterious. Then, to the amazement of every astronomy geek, the one light turned out to be two — reflecting roughly 40% of the light hitting them.

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The lights on Ceres in earlier photos from the Dawn spacecraft.

IMAGE: NASA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“This is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us,” said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, in a NASA statement. “The brightest spot [of the two] continues to be too small to resolve with our camera, but despite its size it is brighter than anything else on Ceres.”

So what could the bright spots be, other than alien castaways signaling at us with flashlights?

The most obvious contender is ice, although ice would reflect more than 40% of all light hitting it. The difference may be accounted for by the resolution limit of Dawn’s camera at this distance. Scientists have previously detected water vapor coming from the surface of the dwarf planet, making ice a more likely option.

Scientists have also suggested the bright areas could be patches of salt. On the other hand, the location of the two bright spots so close together may be an indication that they have a geologic origin, such as some sort of volcanic process, possibly even ice volcanoes.

According to Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, the positioning of the bright spots within the same area may indicate “a volcano-like origin of the spots,” but scientists will have to wait for higher resolution images before making such interpretations. Scientists don’t think the spots comprise lava similar to that seen on Earth, since that would shine more brightly.

We’ll find out more as Dawn approaches Ceres next week and more imagery comes in during the next 16 months, according to NASA. In the meantime, here’s more on Dawn and its eight-year mission:

http://mashable.com/2014/12/30/dawn-ceres/

 

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