Monday, March 14, 2011

For Ice Junkies Only

What's a nature-lover to do when most of nature is buried under heaps of snow and ice? Why, you just have to get out there and get excited about snow and ice. And who better to feed one's enthusiasm about the stuff than the "Frazil Ice Queen" herself, Evelyn Greene. (Shown standing here in her element.)

Evelyn earned her title over decades of researching the phenomenon of frazil ice, the particular kind of fluid ice that forms in rapidly moving rivers like the northern reaches of the Hudson. This kind of ice is famous for accumulating in such great amounts that it clogs the river and piles up in massive heaps along the shore. Because of our extraordinarily cold and snowy winter this year, the ice has caused record flooding and has reached spectacular heights of build-up along the banks. So when Evelyn called this morning to ask if I wanted to join her on a frazil-ice jaunt along the Hudson from Warrensburg to The Glen, well, how could I resist?

Our first stop was at the Warren County Fish Hatchery in Warrensburg, where ice jams on the Hudson had caused flooding that reached the trout pens and covered the entire low-lying area with acres of frazil ice. We had heard that this flooding could endanger the young fish, allowing them to become entangled in the nets intended to keep predators out of the pens.

Curious to see if the ice jam had reached the bridge between Warrensburg and Thurman, we hurried to the site to discover the river there still covered with a solid ice sheet, except for a channel of open water along the west bank. The masses of jumbled ice chunks that caused the hatchery flooding must have been stalled upstream.

Ah yes, we could see that jumble of frazil ice upstream, when we peered with binoculars and I zoomed my camera lens.

Here's an even closer view of the wall of fluid frazil, stalled against the solid sheet ice but mounting up like a tidal wave that a thaw or pressure build-up could propel forward in a roiling mass.

Continuing upstream along the west bank, we found where the masses of frazil had stalled in their journey at this bend of the river.

Continuing northward, we came to the far end of the jam, where currents of open water were slipping underneath the ice, inexorably lifting it up and nudging it forward. Deposited along the banks here are both kinds of the ice that makes up the jam: chunks of solid blue ice that forms in frozen still water, and the frothy white frazil, resembling snow, that forms when droplets of splashing fast water freeze in the air, forming the nuclei around which masses of ice quickly coagulate.

Continuing on the river road, we arrived at Snake Rock, one of the sites where in summer we gain access to the river banks where rare wildflowers grow. I certainly would not want to try to walk down toward the river today! This stuff could collapse beneath your weight, even though it is several feet thick.

At Snake Rock, the frazil deposits had mounted so high they started across the road, until plows pushed them back.

The jumbles and heaps of frazil were impressive!

The little trees are pushed right over by the force of the frazil ice.

Oh my, but that ice is mountainous!

Here's another stretch of what are called the Ice Meadows, a site protected by the Nature Conservancy because of the abundance of rare plants that grow here. Only the hardiest native plants that have evolved to tolerate these harsh conditions can survive here, where the weight of these ice masses prevents any trees from growing up to shade the area.

One more shot of heaped-up frazil ice.

Well, ALL nature wasn't buried beneath the snow and ice. Thousands and thousands of Winter Stoneflies swarmed the snowbanks along the road. Since this is an insect that can survive only in unpolluted waters, we should always be glad to find them. And I was.


June said...

Like seeing embryonic glaciers, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

...and to think in southern
CT, I rejoiced in my blog, that we were hiking 'snow free' - :-)

Louise said...

I've never seen such a sight! Sheer, stark beauty and power in that ice.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks for your comments, June and Louise and hikeagiant. No doubt about it, that ice was impressive. But I'm hungry now to see the ground, as you in CT are doing. Thanks for the chance to go hiking there with you through your blog.

Ellen Rathbone said...

Wow. On so many! First you got to go frazil hunting with Evelyn - I never got to do that. I had hoped to, but never did. A prime example of not putting off until tomorrow what you can do today! And then WOW - look at the piles of ice! The Hudson is going to be mad come spring and it all melts! If it melts as quickly as it did the last few years, there's gonna be some serious flooding downstream! Can't wait to see what you record these next few weeks!

catharus said...

Very interesting and amazing! Thanks!

Steve Young said...

Wouldn't it be great to get a time-lapse movie of that happening! What a great place.