Wild phenomena: Great Lakes "ice volcanoes"

Wild phenomena: Great Lakes “ice volcanoes“

Ice volcano along Lake Michigan Todd Maertz Photography
The Great Lakes are known to be involved with some interesting and flat-out wild phenomena. From summertime meteotsunamis to 20-foot waves during the winter, the Great Lakes are notorious for must-see creations and meteorological events. That includes, of course, Lake Michigan, where just this winter we've observed ice pancakes, ice orbs, an extensive ice shelf, and incredible ice formations along the piers in Michigan City, St. Joseph and South Haven. 

Well-developed ice volcano. Todd Maertz Photography
One thing you may or may not have seen is what's called a cryovolcano. Or, more formally, ice volcanoes. These interesting phenomena can develop along the Great Lakes if conditions are just right. What exactly are those conditions? Well, it starts with the formation of an ice shelf over the course of the cold winter months. As strong winds and large waves crash into the ice shelf, pieces break and cracks form within and beneath the ice itself.

Once cracks develop within the ice shelf, waves that come roaring toward the shore are forced under the ice and up through the cracks. Sometimes, those cracks can become larger and even open up to the surface as water continues rushing through on windy days. The result can be a volcano-like structure as viewed from shore. If large enough waves hit the ice shelf, water can shoot through the top of these ice volcanoes, making it look like an actual volcanic eruption of water, ice and snow!

The dangerous of ice shelves on the Great Lakes. Tom Gill
While these structures are eye-popping and interesting, they can be quite dangerous. That's because people get the urge to climb ice shelves. Once you climb onto the ice, you become susceptible to falling through a hole (ice volcano) into the freezing water beneath, resulting in injuries or even death. Oftentimes, an ice shelf may appear safe and adequately thick, thus intriguing people to climb it. All it takes, though, is one area of weakened ice to turn a fun day at the beach into a disaster. For that reason, officials are urging you to stay off all ice along the shore of Lake Michigan.

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