Water/Wastewater

Where Are Russia’s Giant Snowballs Coming From?

Nov 20 2016 Comments 0

An uncanny phenomenon has occurred in northern Russia – thousands of giant snowballs have appeared on the shores of the Gulf of Ob. The projectiles span a distance of 18km along Russia’s coastline and are a completely natural occurrence.

Locals in neighbouring towns claim they have never seen anything like these mammoth snowballs before, though they have appeared on the shores of Lake Michigan in the USA in the past.

A natural phenomenon

Scientists believe that the snowballs were formed by chunks of ice breaking away from the Arctic Sea Ice, which were then rolled around on the seafloor by the currents of the water. In a similar method to how we craft our own snowballs, these chunks were gradually rounded into a spherical shape and picked up more ice and snow as they were formed.

They were then washed onto the shore, where they froze in the extreme temperatures and collected further ice and snow, growing in size. Last week, thousands of them were spotted by an Italian engineer and shared on social media.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en-gb"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Quite unbelievable, but these giant snowballs are entirely natural <a href="https://t.co/x8YUSGyZ6u">https://t.co/x8YUSGyZ6u</a>  <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Siberia?src=hash">#Siberia</a> cc <a href="https://twitter.com/StormHour">@StormHour</a> <a href="https://t.co/kqJbBW8a38">pic.twitter.com/kqJbBW8a38</a></p>&mdash; Massimo (@Rainmaker1973) <a href="https://twitter.com/Rainmaker1973/status/795529792170983424">7 November 2016</a></blockquote>

<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

 The orbs range in size from a tennis ball to a beach ball. Once smashed, the balls reveal themselves to consist of nothing more than sand and slush.

An American in Russia

Though the sighting is extremely rare, it’s not the first time that such naturally occurring snowballs have appeared. Two years ago, global monitoring of weather environments revealed a similar phenomenon in Lake Michigan in the northern United States.

However, rather than washing ashore, these balls were discovered floating close to the coastline. Because they were submerged in calm waters, their form resembled more a flattened disc than a round sphere, but the same process went into their creation, according to experts.

“It’s possible that the ice is accreting like a snowball or like a hailstone, and that they keep growing,” explained Jim Andrews, meteorologist at AccuWeather.com.

Indicative of climate change?

Though the snowballs might make a pretty picture, they unfortunately do not presage good news for the future of the planet. With chunks of Arctic Sea Ice crumbling away from the central body, the total amount of ice is shrinking every year.

In fact, a recent report published in the journal Science found that if we continue to emit carbon dioxide at the same rate as we are currently, all of the Arctic Sea Ice will be gone by 2045. This would spell dire news for the planet, since less ice would mean greater water surface area; and since water absorbs far more heat than ice, global warming would be accelerated.

What’s more, the melting of the ice would lead to lower-lying towns and cities becoming flooded with the excess water, while entire island nations could be submerged in worst-case scenarios. Therefore, though the snowballs are an aesthetically pleasing natural phenomenon, the root cause of their appearance could be a rather unpleasant manmade one.

 

 

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