Outdoors

Here’s the science behind these Instagram-worthy ice bubbles at Alberta’s Abraham Lake

A photo of the Abraham Lake ice bubbles Photo courtesy Explore Nordegg & Abraham Lake

Chances are you’ve seen the incredible pictures and videos of the bubbles in the ice at Alberta’s Abraham Lake; they’ve been making the rounds on social media.

Every winter when the lake freezes over, methane bubbles get caught in the ice, creating a magnificent, must-be-seen-to-be-believed tableau.

The science behind Mother Nature’s magic show is fairly simple.

“These bubbles are actually methane gases that are developed at the bed of the lake,” explains Felix Nwaishi, an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Calgary’s Mount Royal University. “It’s a biogeochemical process, a combination of microbes that live on the lake, that are breaking down plant materials. And because of the cold weather, these gases that are released through the process of diffusion, as they are trying to make their way up to the surface of the lake, are frozen,” he says. “They’re trapped in ice. And that is what forms those bubbles.”

Nwaishi says this phenomenon isn’t exactly unique to our little corner of the world. “I think this is also observed in lakes in other parts of the world, like Russia and Siberia. It’s often an occurrence that we see in lakes [where ice doesn’t] reach to the bottom,” he says, adding that there’s a chance we could see more lakes around the province start to produce these ice bubbles as our climate changes.

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What sets this loch apart from other bubble-producing bodies of water, though, is another force of nature keeping the view unobstructed.

“What makes Abraham Lake so special is the fierce winds that constantly howl through the North Saskatchewan River Valley, usually clearing any snowfall in a matter of days,” says Explore Nordegg & Abraham Lake’s Annabelle Oung. “For other lakes in Alberta, the trick is to get there in the early season when it’s safe enough to be on the ice but no snow has accumulated yet.”

@scottbakken Taking photos of Ice Bubbles. Abraham Lake, Alberta. #canada ♬ Frozen – Madonna & Sickick

Abraham Lake has been producing these frozen bubbles ever since it was created in the 1970s, but Oung jokes that they weren’t a popular attraction until Instagrammers discovered them.

Interested in seeing the bubbles for yourself? Don’t wait any longer! Oung says they’re typically at their best from early January to mid-February. “The bubbles are still visible later in the winter, but the ice starts to get cloudy and is more likely to be snow-covered in sections.”

 

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