From time to time, nature will present to us the most brilliant sight to take our breath away. It could be a beautiful place, or a surreal phenomenon, but whatever it is, one thing is certain…it will be something out of this world!

ARAM BOGHOSIAN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Nature has proven itself to be absolutely bewitching, making us wonder, how many surprises does this planet has in store for us? Well, just a couple of weeks ago, yet another such rare and enchanting sight has graced us with its presence; this time on the Presumpscot River in the town of Westbrook in Maine. All of a sudden, as if from one day to the next, this thing had formed in the river – an unrealistically perfect spinning circle around 91m (298ft) wide, slowly and steadily twisting in an anti-clockwise direction.

It resembles a frozen carousel, or the moon. Some say it is an alien spacecraft landing pad. Is it a sign? Doug Bertlesman, a web-developer, whose company overlooks the ice-circle on the river said:

“It kind of looks like a crop circle. It’s pretty wild to look at. It’s certainly not every day that you can watch a spinning circle of ice in the river.”

While this phenomenon might look absolutely otherworldly, it can be explained by science. A spinning ice disk forms due to temperature changes in the water which has given rise to a vortex underneath the surface of the river. According to the scientists, the motion of the ice disk is chipping away its edges and making it circular. Even when the river water is still the disk spins because as water melts off the disk, it flows down to under the center of the disk, creating a little vortex that makes the solid ice rotate.

 

Joe Desloges, river specialist, explained:

“The rapid shifts in temperature can cause this to happen. These frozen circles form towards the center of water bodies. As the water gets colder, it releases temperature that turns into frazil ice – which is a collection of loose, needle-shaped ice particles that can cluster together in an ice pan.”

drone photo by Radel

Humans aren’t the only ones fascinated by this thing. The local ducks are getting their fair share of fun on this spinning disk as well. Rob Mitchell, who owns the building on Ash Street that’s overlooking this ice-disk, said:

“There were ducks sitting on it. The ducks were rotating on this big Lazy Susan. It was a big duck-go-round.”

Mr. Mitchell also said that he’d never seen anything like the ice disk in his 25 years in Westbrook. “It’s perfectly regular and uniform,” Mr. Mitchell said. “I don’t think you could engineer a machine to move it as smoothly.”

ARAM BOGHOSIAN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

This phenomenon has happened before in different parts of the world. One of the first instances of an ice disc was on the Mianus River, New York, recorded way back in 1895, when a reader wrote into Scientific American about having spotted a “revolving ice cake.” Since then, ice disks have been noticed in America and Scandinavia. Although, this new one in Maine is now one of the largest natural instances to ever be recorded.

Press Harold Staff photo by Ben McCanna

 

Kenneth G. Libbrecht, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., who has studied ice physics, said that most ice disks he had seen were in the 20- to 30-foot range. That’s small compared to the Westbrook ice disk which local officials estimated was about 300 feet across. “It might be a world-record size, if anybody were keeping track,” Dr. Libbrecht said.

Steven Daly, an expert in river ice hydraulics at the Army Corps of Engineers’ Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., said his agency generally got just one or two reports of rotating ice disks in the United States each year but they’re never this large.

Tina Radel, licensed drone operator, went to the Westbrook River Walk, a walking path along the river, to capture the shots she shared on social media, and one of the aerial photos shown above, as well as that vimeo video footage.  Radel is also the director of communications at the mayor’s office. She said:

“You know, if it gets people into the downtown area and using our businesses, that’s kind of what my mission is as a marketer…We work to produce all this content, but Wessie (the giant snake strangely found in the exact same spot of the river a few years ago) and ice circles are what the people really want. I think there’s a lesson there somewhere.”

That’s an interesting thought. What do you think that lesson could be?

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