SCRANTON, N.D.—When Annette Krinke and her family were driving by their pasture 15 miles south of Scranton on Tuesday, Dec. 26, something caught her eye. The group turned around and got out of the pickup only to find tall "ice spikes" coming out of a small creek. Now it has grown to over 7 feet.
"This is a fifth-generation farm and my father-in-law is 85 and he's never seen one ever," Krinke said. "I've talked to everyone I can think of, especially older people, and I've only ever been able to find one picture ... of one in Iowa."
Allen Schlag, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, said the ice spikes, which are also referred to as frozen river formations and other names, are formed when air bubbles pop and freeze on top of one another. Schlag said they are typically found around riverbeds and small streams, which are often have a beaver dam in them or where there is a change in geology such as a nice flowing stream that goes an area of rocks causing aeration.
"Those air bubbles in the water eventually have to come out ... so when that air bubble pops it sprays a tiny amount of water up in the air," Schlag said. "If you get a given location where, for whatever reason, the air bubbles are coming out at the same exact location they basically keep building these little river statues one minute water droplet at a time from the popping of an air bubble."
Schlag said if you were to look down the center of formation you would find a tiny hole around the size of an ant hole, or possibly even smaller, which goes through the creekbed to the top of the formation.
"If you stood there long enough and watched you'd see an air bubble come up through, pop and throw just the tiniest amount of water and then freeze," he said.
As of Friday afternoon, Dec. 29, the formation had reached more than 85 inches, or 7 feet 1 inch. Krinke said her family plans on going out to check the height every day until it falls.
"It's just a miracle if you get a picture at the right time, all the right things have to line up for this to happen," Krinke said.
She believes the spike has been forming for at least a week as her daughter-in-law saw them when they were smaller, but she didn't tell anyone right away.
Schlag said the formation will keep growing until it either melts, it is knocked over by an animal or falls over on its own.
"Thank goodness cattle do not like to walk the river, so they're not in the river to drink," Krinke said. "... So, as far as the luck of the draw this is great. If it was deer season I would have so many hunters driving by there I think they would have shot it with their gun."
Theoretically a person could make a structure like this my putting a bubbler of some sort into a creek, Schlag said. But he said the structures are impressive because they are occurring naturally. He added that you generally would not find these structures in a pond or lake because the water needs to be moving.
The formations are not "exceptionally common, but they are not uncommon either." He did not know if records were kept for the height of these types of formations.
"If you know where to look you can find them just about anywhere in North Dakota," Schlag said. "... I've never seen any as large as (the one near Scranton) and even though I have seen them I don't see them every year."
If people do happen to find them in a creek near them, Schlag said to be cautious because the ice around them may not be very thick.