What Is An Ice Volcano, And How Is It Formed?


In February of 2021, Kazakhstan witnessed a rare, unearthly sight. A 45 feet tall ‘ice volcano’ stood in a frozen area, squirting water as a rock volcano would lava. The spring of water kept freezing as would magma. Locals and visitors stood surrounding the monument alike, even when the temperature dipped far below freezing point, staring in shock and awe. 

What is an ice volcano?
via Wikipedia

Even though this wasn’t the first time the nation had seen an ice volcano, because they aren’t quite as rare, the towering size was a singular sight. 

Which brings us to our first question..

Are ice volcanoes real? If yes, what are they?

The term ‘ice volcano’ isn’t particularly liked by scientists, because the occurance isn’t a literal volcano. The phenomenon isn’t hydrothermal. However, for laymen like us, the mound looks pretty much like a frozen volcano spouting water, hence it is what the world calls it. 

The event happens when water and slush erupt through an ice shelf, or a sheet of ice, most commonly by the shore. The erupted water and slush rise high, freeze and fall back, ending up in a conical shape. Because of the pressure of water rising up, the ‘volcano’ remains open at the hole or the mouth, from where water and slush spring now and then. 

As the phenomenon progresses, the cone keeps getting larger and larger. 

Nature’s trick: possible when three conditions meet 

Why ice volcanoes are not something everyone witnesses is apparent. The formation is only possible when three conditions meet: 

  1. The surroundings must be covered in ice
  2. The temperature should be at or below the freezing point of water, cold enough to form a sheet of ice along along the edge of the water body
  3. Winds out on the water should be powerful enough to cause it to break through the bottom of ice sheet 

Ice volcanoes are also most commonly formed when the surf is at least three feet high. 

Where can I see an ice volcano?

Anywhere the three conditions meet is a great place to start. They have been spotted frequently along Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan and Lake Erie, i e., the Great Lakes of North America.

They have also been spotted in Kazakhstan and Sweden. The best time to look for ice volcanoes in the north hemisphere is late January to February.  

Is it safe to go see an ice volcano?

From a distance, sure. 

It is, however, recommended to be utterly careful, because climbing on ice volcanoes will most probably lead to a fall, seeing as its hollow. The fall might be fatal. 

Liked knowing about ice volcanoes? You’ll like learning about the destructively beautiful Yosemite firefalls.


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