Interactions Of Wind And Ice Can Form Giant Natural Snowballs

Interactions Of Wind And Ice Can Form Giant Natural Snowballs

In November 2016, something funny began to happen on the beaches of northwest Siberia. Over a span of two weeks, thousands upon thousands of giant snowballs washed up on 11 miles (18 kilometers) of the Gulf of Ob's shoreline. Some were as small as tennis balls, others were nearly 3 feet (1 meter) across, and most appeared to be surprisingly exact spheres. Strange as this phenomenon was, it wasn't the first time it happened: online videos show it happening in the U.S.'s Lake Michigan in 2010 and 2015, and another 2015 video captured footage of the ice balls floating in a lake in Maine.

Although the orbs might seem otherworldly, there's a natural explanation for their existence. It starts with small chunks of floating ice known as "sludge ice" or "slob ice." The wind picks up and starts rolling these shards of ice into tiny balls, which accumulate into larger and larger spheres. Though this sounds simple, Sergei Lisenkov, press secretary of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, explained on Russian TV that many elements have to be just right for the balls to form, including "the effects of the wind, the lay of the coastline, and the temperature and wind conditions." Learn more about strange winter phenomena in the videos below.

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