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Sastrugi at the South Pole.

Sastrugi, or zastrugi, are sharp irregular grooves or ridges formed on a snow surface by wind erosion, saltation of snow particles, and deposition, and found in polar and temperate snow regions. The ridges are markedly perpendicular to the prevailing winds; they are steep on the windward side, and sloping to the leeward side.[1] Smaller irregularities of this type are known as ripples (small, ~10 mm high), or wind ridges.

Larger features are especially troublesome to skiers and snowboarders. Traveling on the irregular surface of sastrugi can be very tiring, and can risk breaking equipment—ripples and waves are often undercut, the surface is hard and unforgiving with constant minor topographic changes between ridge and trough.


The words sastrugi/zastrugi are Russian-language plurals; the singular is sastruga or zastruga. The form sastruga is the German-language transliteration of the Russian word заструга (plural: заструги).[1]

A Latin-type analogical singular sastrugus is used in various writings including Robert Falcon Scott's expedition's diaries, and Ernest Shackleton's The Heart of the Antarctic.

Formation mechanism[edit]

Large sastrugi seen in radar image around the south edge (left side) of Lake Vostok in Antarctica (RADARSAT, NASA). White and black colors on sastrugi are not lights and shadows, they demonstrate difference in radioreflectivity of snow deposits on the windward and leeward sides of a sastrugus

Under the wind, free snow particles accumulate and drift similarly to barchan dunes of sand, and the resulting drifting snow shapes are also popularly referred to as barchans. Inuit of Canada call them kalutoqaniq. When winds slacken, barchans/kalutoqaniq consolidate via sublimation and recrystallization. Subsequent winds erode kalutoqaniq into sculptured forms of zastrugi. Inuit call large sculpturings kaioqlaq and the small ripples tumarinyiq. Further erosion may turn kaioqlaq back into a drifting kalutoqaniq. An intermediate stage of erosion is mapsuk, an overhanging shape. At the windward end of a ridge, the base erodes faster than above, producing a recognizable shape of anvil tip pointing upwind.[2]

Zastrugi on sea ice[edit]

Zastrugi are more likely to form on first-year sea ice as opposed to multiyear ice. First-year ice is smoother than multiyear ice that allows the wind to pass uniformly over the surface without topographic obstructions. Except for the melt season, snow is dry and light allowing it to be easily blown and create zastrugi parallel to the wind direction. It has been shown that the location of zastrugi are fixed by March and may be linked to the formation of melt ponds. Melt ponds are more likely to form in the depressions between zastrugi on first year ice.[3]

In popular culture[edit]

Chapter 2 of James Rollins' novel Ice Hunt likens the sastrugi surrounding the terrain above the underwater ice station to lemon meringue; in contrast, on the trail connecting the underwater base and the aboveground Omega Drift station, traffic has worn the ice smooth.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b C. Fitzhugh Talman: The singular of “sastrugi”, Monthly Weather Review 43, February 1915, p. 85–86
  2. ^ Wonders, William C., Canada's changing North, Mcgill Queens Univ Press, 2003 ISBN 978-0773526402 p. 40
  3. ^ Petrich, C., H. Eicken, C. M. Polashenski, M. Sturm, J. P. Harbeck, D. K. Perovich, and D. C. Finnegan (2012), Snow dunes: A controlling factor of melt pond distribution on Arctic sea ice, J. Geophys. Res., 117, C09029, doi:10.1029/2012JC008192.
  • Grey, D. M. & Male, D. H. (editors). (2004). Handbook of Snow: Principles, Processes, Management and Use. ISBN 1-932846-06-9
  • Shackleton, Sir Ernest Henry. (1909) The Heart of the Antarctic: Being the Story of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909 ISBN 978-0-7867-0684-6