Ice pancakes appeared on a Scottish river due to an unusual cold snap

"I've seen ice pancakes occasionally before. But these were particularly interesting."
Nergis Firtina
Ice pancakes on the River Bladnoch
Ice pancakes on the River Bladnoch

Callum Sinclair/Scottish Invasive Species Initiative 

A couple of days ago, slushy ice circles, also known as ice pancakes, were seen on the River Bladnoch’s surface due to a cold snap in the United Kingdom. Callum Sinclair, the project manager for the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI), discovered spectacular circular sheets of ice.

The ice pancakes were mostly found in Canada, the US, Antarctica, and the Baltic sea, according to a statement by SISI on Twitter. However, it's unusual for this rare phenomenon to show up in Scotland.

"I've seen ice pancakes occasionally before. But these were particularly interesting" because of their perfect shape," Callum Sinclair told LiveScience.

What are ice pancakes?

As explained by Ocean Expeditions, the phrase "pancake ice" is used to describe usually circular ice formations that are up to 10 cm (4 inches) thick and 30 cm (12 inches) broad. The rimmed edges of pancake ice pieces are frequently raised due to repeated impact with other ice, which is how pancake ice is typically organized. The buildup of slush and frazil ice, a collection of ice crystals that form on moving water, also helps explain why pancake ice has elevated edges.

More turbulent seas can convert pancake ice into more significant volumes of ice through a process known as "rafting," in which ice fragments are pushed on top of each other and eventually freeze into solid sheets. These sheets solidify into ice floes, which can combine to form even larger ice covers.

Ice pancakes and global warming

"Because of climate change, and as larger areas of ice become loose, waves can penetrate deeper into the ice cover. With wave action, this loose floating ice can turn into pancake ice," says the University of Melbourne. Additionally, in light of a study led in 2009, it's mentioned that Arctic waters have been dominated by thick slabs of sea ice that last from one year to the next. However, the sea-ice cover is diminishing, and thick ice that lasts for several years is disappearing fast, with researchers seeing a greater proportion of thin, newly formed ice pancakes.

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In 2017, University of Cape Town researchers observed pancake ice floating in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, in a region between the Atlantic and the Indian oceans, that hasn't been explored before during winter.

"The formation of Antarctic sea ice is largely regulated by the heat coming from the ocean. The warming of the upper part of the ocean in the last century has been affecting the sea ice," said Marcello Vichi, head of the Marine Research Institute at the University of Cape Town.