There is a place deep below the surface of Antarctica, here the only sound can be the cracking and creaking of ice, chorus to the distant versed song of the whale. Beneath the blue shades and white hues of frozen formations, the underside of the icecap is carved into surreal shapes by the wave and tidal action of the frigid ocean. Here in the darkened shadowed gloom a strange and wonderful creation materializes if circumstances meet exactly the right criteria.
Brinicle's or ice stalactites occur naturally in polar winters, when the air temperature falls to below zero degrees Fahrenheit and the ocean water is a cooler twenty eight degrees. Then these frozen twisters or motionless whirlwinds will form.
When these specific conditions are right, the warmer seawater flows up to the iced surface. Where there are networks of tiny channels and fractures within the ice. As the risen water enters these areas, it cools. The dense brine, which is too saline to freeze and attach to the ice above. Slowly sinks back down again into the ocean depths.
As it descends, it freezes the water surrounding it, causing a twisting plume. Similar to a water spout in reverse but moving in slow motion. The thick opaque spine showing a deeper richness of blue ice. As it coils downwards the outer edges where the ice plume is thinner almost wispy it can be translucent white. As this glaciated helter skelter forms it can grow up to a foot an hour. If conditions continue these brinicles can reach the sea floor, where it can form a freezing pool or puddle reaching out across the seabed.
Unlike the cave stone stalactites or stalagmites, these ice formations are fragile, easily broken by currents or sea life like seals. These brinicle are to slow moving to freeze anything other than a few bottom dwellers like sea stars. If the ice formation does get broken or temperature conditions change, the brinicle stops forming. This dead or broken icy formation is often inhabited becoming a new home for Antarctic fish. The fishes comings and goings through their icy abode and the swirling sea, carves intricate tunnels and groves throughout the now deceased hanging structure. Moulding them into intricate shapes that resemble chandeliers suspended from an icy ceiling. What little light is captured and reflected off the facets of this underwater glassy sculpture.
Ice stalactites were first seen by American oceanographers Dayton and Martin in 1971 when they managed to duplicate these intriguing formations in their lab-oratory. More recently British cameramen Anderson and Miller, using time lapsed cameras captured a brinicle being created beneath Antarctica's McMurdoe Sound.
By Tracey Owen
This interesting story I read in the National Geographic Magazine and the FrozenPlanet.BBC/Discovery....
If you would like to hear Tracey reading a few poems and writes on video then the link for this is
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4G1nr4KWEY … there are several more videos on my you tube site if you would like to view them as well :)