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Written By Karl VonBerg.

Posted on January 31st, 2020.

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Have you ever been on a winter walk and seen this?

image1It looks like some magical fairy kingdom got mixed up with the everyday dirt on a trail. What is it called?

image2It is known as needle ice, frost pillars, or frost columns.



How are these crazy, amazing shapes formed?


These slim frozen columns happen when soil temperatures are above freezing and surface air temperatures are below freezing. There must also be a source of water. Capillary action (like in the case of carnations getting colored) brings water to the surface, where it freezes. As capillary action continues, it pushes the frozen needle or column up. 

I see these pretty regularly when walking in wetter areas on a below-20-degree morning where the trail is not heavily compacted and water is under the surface. So, get out and explore on a cold morning and you may come upon these fairytale-like ice columns. Take some pics and share what you see. 

There are more rare occurrences of this type of freezing associated with wood and plants. Check out hair ice and frost flowers.

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