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"Ice quake" redirects here. For the Colin Bateman novel, see Ice Quake (novel).

A cryoseism, also known as an ice quake or a frost quake,[1][2] is a seismic event that may be caused by a sudden cracking action in frozen soil or rock saturated with water or ice.[3] As water drains into ground, it may eventually freeze and expand under colder temperatures, putting stress on its surroundings. This stress builds up until relieved explosively in the form of a cryoseism.[4]

Another type of cryoseism is a non-tectonic seismic event caused by sudden glacial movements. This movement has been attributed to a veneer of water which may pool underneath a glacier sourced from surface ice melt. Hydraulic pressure of the liquid can act as a lubricant, allowing the glacier to suddenly shift position.[5][6] This type of cryoseism can be very brief, or may last for several minutes.[7]

The requirements for a cryoseism to occur are numerous; therefore, accurate predictions are not entirely possible and may constitute a factor in structural design and engineering when constructing in an area historically known for such events.[3] Speculation has been made between global warming and the frequency of cryoseisms.[7]


Cryoseisms are often mistaken for minor intraplate earthquakes.[3][8] Initial indications may appear similar to those of an earthquake with tremors, vibrations, ground cracking and related noises,[2] such as thundering or booming sounds.[4] Cryoseisms can however be distinguished from earthquakes through meteorological and geological conditions.[3] Cryoseisms can have an intensity of up to VI on the Modified Mercalli Scale.[3] Furthermore, cryoseisms often exhibit high intensity in a very localized area,[2] in the immediate proximity of the epicenter,[8] as compared to the widespread effects of an earthquake.[3] Due to lower-frequency vibrations of cryoseisms,[5] some seismic monitoring stations may not record their occurrence.[8] Although cryoseisms release less energy than most tectonic events,[9] they can still cause damage or significant changes to an affected area.[2]

Some reports have indicated the presence of "distant flashing lights" before or during a cryoseism, possibly due to electrical changes when rocks are compressed.[4] Cracks and fissures may also appear as surface areas contract and split apart from the cold.[2][8] These sometime superficial to moderate occurrences may range from a few centimetres to several kilometres long, with either singular or multiple linear fracturing and vertical or lateral displacement possible.[3]



US States with reported cryoseisms.

Geocryological processes were identified as a possible cause of tremors as early as 1818.[3] In the United States, such events have been reported throughout the Midwestern, Northern and Northeastern United States.[4]

Cryoseisms also occur in Canada, especially along the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence corridor, where winter temperatures can shift very rapidly.[10][11] They have surfaced in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime Provinces.[10][12] They are also observed in Calgary.[13]

Glacier-related cryoseism phenomena have been reported in Alaska,[14] Greenland,[15] Iceland (Grímsvötn).,[16] Ross Island,[9] and the Antarctic Prince Charles Mountains.[17]


Southern Ontario experienced numerous, albeit unverified, frost quakes on December 24, 2013,[18][19] and more severe, waking a great many from sleep, on December 30, 2013 at 3:00 AM and later at 7:00 AM,[20] as a result of the 2013 Central and Eastern Canada ice storm.[21] However, the loud cracking sounds attributed to frost quakes are better explained as contraction of building structures due to the rapid change in temperature. [22]

The towns of Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, and Weybridge, Vermont experienced the same phenomenon after the same weather conditions with the loudest occurring around 4:50am on December 25. Essex County in New York experienced cryoseisms as late as December 31, 2013. Numerous frost quakes again occurred in the Greater Toronto Area around 2:00 AM January 3, 2014, and January 7, 2014 overnight.[10] Many cryoseisms were also reported near Lac-Mégantic, in the Eastern Townships (Québec, Canada), in the last days of December 2013.[citation needed]

On March 4, 2014 the city of Calgary experienced a loud sound at 5:00 PM and many people are attributing this to cryoseism.[23]

The West Island of Montreal experienced an ice quake at approximately 2:30 AM EST on January 6, 2015.[24]


Cryoseisms typically occur when temperatures rapidly decrease from above freezing to subzero, in the first cold snap of spring,[2][8] usually between midnight and dawn (during the coldest parts of night).[3] However, due to the permanent nature of glacial ice, glacier-related cryoseisms may also occur in the warmer months of summer.[5] In general, cryoseisms occur 3 to 4 hours after significant changes in temperature.[25] Perennial or seasonal frost conditions involved with cryoseisms limit these events to temperate climates that experience seasonal variation with subzero winters. Additionally, the ground must be saturated with water, which can be caused by snowmelt, rain, sleet or flooding.[3] The site of a cryoseism generally has little or no snow cover to insulate the ground.[2][3] Geologically, areas of permeable materials like sand or gravel, which are susceptible to frost action, are likelier candidates for cryoseisms.[3] Following large cryoseisms, little to no seismic activity will be detected for several hours, indicating that accumulated stress has been relieved.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Milwaukee Area Frostquakes". University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. 1994-02-24. Retrieved 2006-10-22. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Cryoseisms in Maine". Maine Geological Survey, the State of Maine. 2005-10-06. Retrieved 2006-10-21. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Andrew V. Lacroix (January 1980). "A Short Note on Cryoseisms". Earthquake Notes. Retrieved 2006-10-21. 
  4. ^ a b c d Dave Thurlow. "Cryoseisms Explained". The Weather Notebook. Mount Washington Observatory. Retrieved 2006-10-21. 
  5. ^ a b c William Orem (2004-09-14). "Ice Quake!". A Moment of Science. Indiana University. Retrieved 2006-11-16. 
  6. ^ Sylvia S. Tognetti (2006-03-27). "Climate and economic models". The Post-Normal Times. Retrieved 2006-11-16. 
  7. ^ a b Tom Irvine (June 2006). "Ice Quakes" (.pdf). Vibrationdata Newsletter. Retrieved 2006-11-16. 
  8. ^ a b c d e John E. Ebel, Richard Bedell & Alfredo Urzua (July 1995). "A Report on the Seismic Vulnerability of the State of Vermont". Geology of Mineral Resources. Vermont Geological Survey. Retrieved 2006-10-22. 
  9. ^ a b "Erebus Icequakes". Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory. Archived from the original on 2006-08-31. Retrieved 2006-11-16. 
  10. ^ a b c "'Frost quakes' wake Toronto residents on cold night". CBC News, January 3, 2014.
  11. ^ Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Page
  12. ^ Burke, Kenneth (2004). "Historical Seismicity in the Central Highlands, Passamaquoddy Bay, and Moncton Regions of New Brunswick, Canada, 1817-1961" 75 (3). Seismological Research Letters. pp. 419–431. 
  13. ^ Lawrence, Erin. "Possible epicenter of frost quake found in northwest schoolyard date=2014-03-10". CTV News. 
  14. ^ "Alaska Glacier Tours – Know What To Look For". Alaska Channel. Retrieved 2006-11-16. 
  15. ^ Гренландские ледники трещат по швам. Bigli Facts (in Russian). Bigli Web. Retrieved 2006-10-22. 
  16. ^ "The Icelandic "Icy Flood"". ThinkQuest Library. October 2003. Retrieved 2006-11-16. 
  17. ^ Nicole Johnston (2002-11-29). "Surveying the Icy Peaks". Antarctic Summer (ABC News). Retrieved 2006-11-16. [dead link]
  18. ^ Mysterious Christmas Eve ‘boom’ heard and felt around GTA |
  19. ^ Christmas Eve ‘boom’ heard due to frost quake | CityNews
  20. ^ More mysterious booms heard around GTA |
  21. ^ Toronto ice storm 2013: Photos show city looking like crime scene with taped-off downed branches | National Post
  22. ^ Why does my house make loud cracking sounds in very cold weather? | Carleton Now
  23. ^ Huge boom shakes northwest neighbourhoods - Calgary |
  24. ^ 'Frost quake' shakes Montreal's West Island - Montreal - CBC News
  25. ^ a b D.E. Willis, R.W. Taylor, M. LeNoble, & S. Yellin (October 1979). "Icequake Precursors". 51st Annual Meeting of the Eastern Section of the Seismological Society of America. Dept of Geological Sciences, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Retrieved 2006-11-16. 

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