Hair Ice … a Remarkable Find
What a beautiful brisk British Columbia morning full of sunshine! Another fine January day hiking Port Hardy’s Quatse River water shed. The day is full of fresh air, and the seasonal changes of a forest preparing for spring. Eagles are pairing up, Salmon Berry buds are appearing, and camping season is rapidly approaching.
Have a look at today’s spectacular “Hair Ice” find! These ghostly apparitions are actually ice crystals that form on rotting discidious wood. It is our lucky day… Hair Ice is rare and easily passed by. But here on the North Vancouver Island these remarkable ice marvels are somewhat common…. if one looks carefully for these winter treasures, treasures that form at this time of year.
The crystal hair like structures start their formation during the nighttime when the humidity is high and temperatures are near the freezing point ….
Optimal conditions are when temperatures are slightly under 0 °C (32 °F) and the air is humid such as you’d find in low riverside or lakeside settings. The hairs are very very brittle and take the shape of fine human hair sized curls and waves.
The hair formations can maintain their shape for hours and sometimes days. The hairs appear to root at the mouth of wood rays (never on the bark), and their thickness is similar to the diameter of the minuscule wood ray channels. A piece of wood that produces hair ice once may continue to produce it over several years. Isn’t that amazing!
German and Swiss scientists have identified the fungus Exidiopsis effusa as key to the formation of hair ice. The fungus was found on every hair ice sample examined by the researchers, and disabling the fungus with fungicide or hot water prevented hair ice formation. The fungus shapes the ice into fine hairs through an uncertain mechanism and likely stabilizes it by providing a recrystallization inhibitor similar to antifreeze proteins.
© Gord Patterson