(WPRI) — It became an internet sensation, and now it could help researchers better understand the Arctic climate.
The whirling wheel of ice in the Presumscot River in Westbrook, Maine is somewhat rare.
“I don’t know if ice discs are rare, but being this big is not common,” said Chris Norvat, a Brown University Researcher. “An ice disc that is a hundred yards across is not that typical. This might be the largest disc we’ve observed or talked about on a national level.”
He’s not entirely sure of how the ice disc formed, but he took an educated guess.
“What likely happened is a bunch of pieces came together, and as they got stuck in the back eddy part of the river, they started to accumulate along the side which formed the disc,” Norvat said. “As the disc spun more and more, it got to be more circular because it was grinding against the sides of the river.”
Norvat studies Arctic sea ice and when the government shutdown, so was his research. While he had some extra time on his hands, his friend said he had two choices: paint his apartment or check out the ice disc.
He chose the latter.
He had a webcam set up on a building next to the river. It’s been recording images of the disc since Jan. 19. The disc wobbled around for a couple of days in the river through snow storms and extreme cold before it stopped spinning Jan. 21 around 10:30 p.m.
“Here was a piece of ice that was in a place that we can access. We can put a camera on a building, look at and process the imagery afterward,” said Norvat.
Norvat has been studying the impacts of climate change on the Arctic sea ice. Studying the disc can help researchers understand what happens in the Arctic.
“What we learned in the past few decades is that a new Arctic climate system has emerged as a result of changing climate,” said Norvat. “By understanding how the individual pieces of ice change and how they affect the heat going into the ocean and warming of the planet, we can get a good picture of how the Arctic climate system will continue to change.”
During a day when the temperatures were in the single digits, the ice disk grew in size as did the ice in the river. Eventually the spinning stopped, but Norvat is excited to see what comes next.
“I think we’re really excited to see what happens with this ice, not only from the Arctic perspective, but also it’s a cool thing,” he said.
In the spring, after several months of records of the ice and it’s behavior in the river, Norvat said he’ll “have a better picture of what exactly drives this big disc, why it’s spinning the way it’s spinning, why it’s growing the way it’s growing, how the snow effects it and how heavy it is.”