Strange underwater icicles form in the Earth's coldest regions and freeze living organisms in place.
- Spectacular brinicles form under the ice of our planet's coldest regions.
- Their formation resembles that of hydrothermal vents.
- The structures have been called "icy fingers of death" because of their ability to freeze living organisms.
Nature's grace and fury find equal measure in unique formations called brinicles or more evocatively "icy fingers of death." The strange phenomenon that forms these underwater icicles can be found in the oceans of the planet's polar regions. It's been rarely captured on camera as it occurs under floating sea ice. Brinicles are structures that resemble fingers of ice that can reach all the way down to the ocean floor, freezing everything in their paths, including creatures like starfish or sea urchins.
In an interview with Wired, professor Andrew Thurber of Oregon State University, who has seen brinicles first-hand, described them as "upside-down cacti that are blown from glass, like something from Dr. Seuss's imagination." He also said they are "incredibly delicate and can break with only the slightest touch."
The video below shows stunning footage of brinicles from BBC's Frozen Planet series:
'Brinicle' ice finger of death
How brinicles form
A study found that when sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic regions freezes, salt and other ions normally found in seawater get left out. Brine, which is concentrated salt water, gathers in various fractures and channels in the sea ice. Brine requires much lower temperatures to freeze and stays liquid until the ice cracks and the brine leaks into the ocean below. Being heavier than water, the ultra-cold brine sinks down to the ocean floor, freezing seawater it touches on its way down. This is responsible for the finger-like shape of the brinicles.
Notably, the downward-facing brinicle ice tubes, first discovered in the 1960s, form in a way similar to hydrothermal vents, which have been theorized as cradles of life on Earth. Hydrothermal vents form when ion-rich hot water gets ejected from the seafloor, creating a porous metal tower that extends upward. Water rushes through the tower, rupturing it, and causing more metal-rich water to expand the tower.
Thousands of brinicles can be found under the ice off Little Razorback Island, Antarctica.Credit: Andrew Thurber / Oregon State University.
Could brinicles be cradles of life?
Study author Bruno Escribano of the Basque Center for Applied Mathematics in Spain explained that, like hydrothermal vents, brinicles also could have played a role in the origin of life. "Inside these compartments inside the ice, you have a high concentration of chemical compounds, and you also have lipids, fats, that coat the inside of the compartment," he shared. "These can act as a primitive membrane — one of the conditions necessary for life."
He elaborated that inside the brinicles is a mixture of acidic and basic components that may be able to supply the requisite energy for the formation of more complex molecules, potentially even DNA.
Russian researchers unearth over 500 artifacts from a secret Nazi base in the Arctic.
A Russian expedition into the Arctic circle has unearthed a treasure-trove of artifacts from a secret Nazi weather station. It was set up on the island of Alexandra Land (in Franz Josef Land) during World War 2.
As reported by RT News, the station was dubbed Schatzgraber (“Treasure Hunter”), and the artifacts found by the expedition reveal much about its inhabitants. The historical artifacts, dating as far back as 1942, include military ammunition and uniforms, meteorological instruments, and personal items. Their value for the researchers lies in confirming the purpose and fate of the station.
“Before it was only known from written sources, but now we also have real proof,” said Evgeny Ermolov, a senior researcher at the National Park. “Leather, wood, natural fabrics and plastic are well preserved in the climate of Franz Josef Land. Metals, by contrast, under the influence of the cold humid environment, don’t last. They quickly rust and eventually fall apart,” he explained to TASS.
“Relying on authentic historical sources, including the memoirs of one of the members of the German meteorologists group, we have conducted a study of the station. Now we can reconstruct events and dispel false myths.”
What they could now confirm is that the role played by the station was in gathering weather data to aid Nazi cruisers and submarines making raids along the Northern Sea Route. The station was built in 1943 as part of operation “Wonderland” and transmitted over 700 weather reports in less than a year.
Curiously, the station met its demise due to a case of roundworm infection when the hungry crew ate polar bear meat. The meteorologists were so ill they had to be evacuated by U-boat. Their camp was destroyed.
According to the Daily Mail, Russia is aiming to use the site for a permanent military base.
See eerie footage from Alexandra Land, released by the Russian Arctic National Park here: