Mysterious “ice quakes” crack the ground open in Alberta

Published: January 15, 2018

crack in snowy ground Photo courtesy of Sharon Smith

Canada’s cold-weather streak is becoming positively apocalyptic. Aside from “bomb cyclones” and record-breaking freezing temperatures, the cold snap has now literally caused a couple of seismic events that scientists are referring to as “ice quakes.”

The quakes occurred last week in the small town of Alberta Beach. They were estimated to be 2.0 magnitude, which is usually categorized as a “microearthquake.”

The events took place around 11:45 p.m. last Monday. The Alberta Energy Regulator has been investigating the two incidents and told CBC that “both events are consistent with reports of an earthquake.”

The ice quakes didn’t just crack open the earth but also caused damage to some nearby structures. Sharon Smith, who owns a home in Alberta Beach, was woken up by a “hellacious crashing, cracking sound” in the night, and in the morning found a crack running through the wall and ceiling of her home. The posts supporting the home’s deck had also buckled, leaving it at an unusual angle.

crack in home wall
An ice quake left a crack in the wall of Sharon Smith’s home. Photo courtesy of Sharon Smith.

Smith also reported that there were large cracks in the ground at the waterfront near Lac Ste. Anne. “I’ve never heard of an earthquake out here,” she told the CBC.

Apparently, these particular quakes are being regarded as a bit of a mystery by local scientists. While ice quakes usually occur when temperatures are dropping and groundwater freezes (leading the earth to rapidly expand and crack), these particular quakes happened when the temperature was increasing.

“The twist to this story was this was a warming [period], not a cooling period,” said Jeff Kavanaugh, an earth and atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Alberta.

Kavanaugh hypothesized that heavy wind, lake ice buildup, and the sudden meeting of warmer and colder temperatures may have led to the quakes, though the exact mechanism of the even remains unknown.

“My guess is that it was kind of a perfect storm of three things.”

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