Ice circle

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Ice circles on the Doncaster River, Quebec
A long exposure image showing the rotation of the large ice circle on the Esopus Creek in New York

An ice disc, ice circle, ice pan, or ice crepe is a natural phenomenon that occurs in slow moving water in cold climates.

Ice circles are thin and circular slabs of ice that rotate slowly in the water. It is believed[1] that they form in eddy currents. It has been shown that existing ice discs can maintain their rotation due to melting.[2]

An unusual natural phenomenon, ice disks occur in slow moving water in cold climates and can vary in size, with circles more than 15 metres (49 ft) in diameter observed.[3][4][5][6]

Ice discs[edit]

Ice discs form on the outer bends in a river where the accelerating water creates a force called 'rotational shear', which breaks off a chunk of ice and twists it around.[7] As the disc rotates, it grinds against surrounding ice — smoothing into a circle.[8] A relatively uncommon phenomenon, one of the earliest recordings is of a slowly revolving disc spotted on the Mianus River and reported in an 1895 edition of Scientific American.[9][10]

A collection of small ice pans (the largest about 30 cm [12 in] in diameter) was observed on the River Llugwy at Betws-y-coed, North Wales in December 2008. A fortnight of no rain had resulted in low water levels, and there had been sub-zero temperatures for a week.

Ice pans[edit]

River specialist and geography professor Joe Desloges states that ice pans are "surface slabs of ice that form in the center of a lake or creek, instead of along the water’s edge. As water cools, it releases heat that turns into 'frazil ice' that can cluster together into a pan-shaped formation.[11] If an ice pan accumulates enough frazil ice and the current remains slow, the pan may transform into a 'hanging dam', a heavy block of ice with high ridges and a low centre.[12]


Ice discs have most frequently been observed in Scandinavia and North America, but they are occasionally recorded as far south as England and Wales. An ice disc was observed in Wales in December 2008 and another was reported in England in January 2009.[13][8][14] An ice disc was observed on the Sheyenne River in North Dakota in December 2013. An ice circle of approximately 15 m (50 ft) in diameter was observed and photographed in Lake Katrine, New York on the Esopus Creek around January 23, 2014. In Idaho, extreme weather led to a rare sighting of an Ice disk on the Snake River on January 22, 2014.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Dorbolo, S,; Adami, N.; Dubois, C.; Caps, H.; Vandewalle, N.; Barbois-Texier, B. "Rotation of melting ice disks due to melt fluid flow". Phys. Rev. E. 93: 1–5. doi:10.1103/PhysRevE.93.03311. Retrieved 20 January 2017. 
  3. ^ Daniel Ostler. "Rare Sighting of an Ice Disk in Idaho". Archived from the original on 2 February 2014. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Blake Nicholson, Unusual ice circle forms in North Dakota river, November 26, 2013, Associated Press
  6. ^ Pete Thomas, Giant spinning ice circle discovered in North Dakota’s Sheyenne River, November 26, 2013, GrindTV
  7. ^ Patrick Garrity (February 7, 2010). "VIDEO: Moscow Ice Disk a rarity of nature". Burlington Archived from the original on July 30, 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2010. 
  8. ^ a b David Derbyshire (13 January 2009). "Ice one! Walker discovers 10ft-wide, spinning frozen circle in British waters for the first time". Mail Online. Daily Mail. Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  9. ^ Bates, J. M. (9 February 1895). "A revolving ice cake". Scientific American. 72 (6): 86. Retrieved 30 November 2013. 
  10. ^ Rickard, B et al: Unexplained Phenomena, page 190. Rough Guides, 2000.
  11. ^ Joe Desloges. "Perfect "Ice Circle" Forms near Toronto, Canada". Retrieved 14 January 2009.  cited in: Scroggins, Kate; Roberts, Rob (18 December 2008). "Man stumbles on round, spinning 'creek circle'". Posted Toronto. National Post. 
  12. ^ Joe Desloges. "Perfect "Ice Circle" Forms near Toronto, Canada". Retrieved 14 January 2009. 
  13. ^ "Ice disc brings touch of Scandinavia to Devon river". Times Online. The Times. 14 January 2009. Retrieved 22 April 2010. 
  14. ^ "Spinning ice disc phenomenon seen in British river for first time". Telegraph Media Group Limited. 13 January 2009. Retrieved 22 April 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

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