How Ice Balls Form

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When conditions are just right, a strange phenomenon called ice balls or ice eggs can form along beaches during cold conditions.  Ice balls can form when the temperatures are slightly below freezing along shallow and slightly sloping sandy beaches.  A slight swell in the water creates a gentle back and forth rocking motion that results in ice slush collecting into smooth and round shapes.

Ice balls form along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Photo: Rachel Cramer
Ice balls form along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Photo: Rachel Cramer

Ice balls, while not a common phenomenon, have been observed in different norther hemisphere locations such  RussiaMichigan in the United States, Northern Germany, and, most recently, Finland.  These ice balls can range in size from baseballs to giant boulders up to a meter across.


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Formation of ice balls (diameter 5–10 cm) in Stroomi Beach, Tallinn, Estonia. Image: Aleksandr Abrosimov, Wikimedia
Formation of ice balls (diameter 5–10 cm) in Stroomi Beach, Tallinn, Estonia. Image: Aleksandr Abrosimov, Wikimedia.

For a close up of ice balls forming under the ideal watch this video of ice balls along Lake Michigan near Glen Arbor:

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