Brinicle

28.04.2015 |

Episode #5 of the course “Rare and Unusual Weather Phenomena”

On the underside of salty sea ice in frozen parts of the oceans, patterns of motion in the slow-moving water causes it to freeze to the underside of the ice, creating stalactites that hang from the top of the ocean. If the conditions are right, when sinking brine is so cold that it makes the water around it freeze, it creates these stalactites, which can stretch all the way to the sea floor. These are known as brine icicles, or “brinicles.”

As the water freezes, the salt concentrates in the water, supporting a fragile column of ice that thickens and becomes more stable as it grows. As the ice stalactite pushes itself deeper into the water, it acts like a sponge, absorbing water more than in warmer conditions. A brinicle can capture slow-moving sea creatures within it, freezing them into the brinicle and the sea bed. Once it hits the ocean floor, the brinicle spreads into an icy web, leaving a trail-like bed of ice across the sand.

The phenomenon was only first discovered in the 1960s, with an explanation proposed in 1971. Scientists have recently set up time-lapse cameras and were able to capture images of brinicles; there is ongoing research to learn more about these natural wonders. Some researchers are beginning to speculate that brinicles may be the source of primordial life on earth, as opposed to the warm-water origins that have often been accepted.


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