Formation of frost flowers from ice coming out from plants is a beautiful and fascinating event taking place in the majority of the areas with frozen climate.
One of the rarest forms of such formation is hair ice. For those who don’t know: under certain climatic conditions, ice grows into long and thin thread like candy floss or hair, which comes out from the rotten branches of some trees.
These types of formation were first talked about almost a century back, in the year 1918. Meteorologist and geophysicist Alfred Wegener, mostly known for creating the theory of continental drift in 1912, was the first one to describe this special formation. Wegner believed that the strange ice formation resulted from fungal growth on the damp, decomposing wood. Now, a study conducted by a team of modern scientists has shown that this assumption was perfect.
A research team consisted of scientists from Germany and Switzerland analyzed the ice and concluded that it has a strange shape due to fungus, particularly a type of fungus known as Exidiopsis effusa.
It was not easy for the scientists to carry out analyses of the ice. Hair ice is found mainly in the broadleaf forests between latitudes 45 degrees north and 55 degrees north. Additionally, it grows mostly during the night time and melts when the sun rises. That’s not all; when in the snow, hair ice is absolutely invisible.
The study was carried out under the leadership of Christian Mätzler of Bern, Switzerland’s Institute of Applies Physics. In 2005, Mätzler worked along with microbiologist Gehhart Wagner of Uppsala University for further exploring Wegener’s fungus theory.
Mätzler said that when he and his colleagues came across hair ice for the first time when strolling down the forest they were left completely astounded by its sparkling beauty. They began investigating this amazing creation of nature just out of curiosity.
Initially, the researchers used simple tests like allowing the ice melt completely in their hands. Then, they treated the branch using fungicide or dipped it into hot water. They found that such treatments inhibited formation of hair ice. This allowed them to confirm that the ice was forming due to fungus. However, at that time, they couldn’t gather any information on the species of fungus responsible for formation of hair ice.
The entire study can be read on the journal Biogeosciences.