Friday, December 2, 2011

Ice finger of death

I have posted many times about newly identified species (the Colbert beetle and the Yoda bat, for instance), but it's not very often that I get to introduce you to a newly filmed phenomenon. Cameramen Hugh Miller and Doug Anderson observed "brinicles" forming while they were filming at Little Razorback Island in Antarctica for the BBC series "Frozen Planet." They set up time-lapse cameras and battled both the conditions (water temperatures of 28°F/-2°C and cramped conditions) and the native wildlife (large Weddell seals that broke off the brine icicles and tipped over the heavy filming equipment) to capture the "fingers of death," as Miller describes: "When we were exploring around that island we came across an area where there had been 3 or 4 [brinicles] previously and there was one actually happening. It was a bit of a race against time because no-one really knew how fast they formed. The one we'd seen a week before was getting longer in front of our eyes...the whole thing only took 5, 6 hours" (clicking quote or images will bring you to article with video). describes that the ice stalactites - which form in both the North and South Poles and were 1st seen in the 1960s - occur when dense salty seawater sinks in a plume, freezing the relatively fresh seawater it touches. This results in a fragile tube of ice that descends to meet the sea bed and freezes everything it comes into contact with, including sea urchins and starfish. In the words of narrator David Attenborough, "Magic!"

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