The wind was howling as I drove down into the Chatanika valley yesterday morning. It was just after sunrise, the temperature was hovering at 5 F according to my truck, but the wind blowing hard dropped the temperature to well below zero with the wind chill.
I had not expected these conditions. It had been calm when I left home 15 miles south, but that unpredictability is part of what I find fascinating about this valley. In the valley bottom driving across the flats towards the river, the wind had stripped all the snow off the road and the embankments on either side as well as the surfaces of all the small ponds I passed.
The wind forced me to reassess my plans. I had wanted to head out to a large lake a mile from the road but that would not have been a safe trip. Although I had plenty of warm clothing for a normal day, I had nothing to protect my face and without some form of protection, the wind would quickly freeze any exposed skin.
I was disappointed, but felt I could still salvage the trip. The wind while halting my longer excursion, had also as noted earlier blown the snow off the ponds and the gravel pit lakes.
This exposure brought to light some of the bubble formations that I’d been hoping to find earlier in the winter but that were too far out on thin ice to examine. The ice is now plenty thick to walk on and without the covering layer of snow the bubble formations were on full display.
I found that as long as I was not facing directly into the wind, my body sheltered my face enough that I could still spend some time out on the ice. Rather than one long walk, I took several smaller walks out to various bodies of water and warmed up in the shelter of my truck cab between. It was not the trip I’d planned, but it was still exciting to see what the wind exposed.
One of the most interesting finds today were very tiny flat crystals growing in the cracks in the ice. In one area the ice was crazed with tiny cracks going all directions. Within these tiny cracks, even tinier individual ice crystals were growing. Being flat, they caught the light and shone bright even in the depths of the ice.
These tiny crystals were not all pointed int he same direction, but were oriented according to the crack they formed in. As a result, as I shifted across the surface of the ice, different crystals caught the light and the glow shifted appearing as a cloud of glitter suspended in the ice. Even on this cloudy day these crystals were visible. I can only imagine how they would shine on a sunny day.
I also found some very clear ice that allowed me to take pictures of the dimensional nature of many of the bubble formations. The formations grow over time and as the ice thickens more bubbles are captured below the initial bubbles.
The source for the larger formations seems somewhat stable and can form a train of bubbles leading from the surface ice down into the depths, creating a record of ice growth.
Most of the time these formations are difficult to capture due to reflection, refraction and the lack of clarity in much of the ice. On this cloudy day when reflection and refraction were minimal, I found some clear ice that allowed me to peer into the depths and capture some of the stacked formations.