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 open sites such as frozen lakes in cold temperate regions. The ridges are perpendicular to the prevailing winds; they are steep on the windward side and sloping to the leeward side. 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 and 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).
Under the action of steady wind, free snow particles accumulate and drift like the sand grains in barchan dunes, and the resulting drifting snow shapes are also popularly referred to as barchans. Inuit of Canada call them kalutoqaniq. When winds slacken, the drifted formations consolidate via sublimation and recrystallization. Subsequent winds erode kalutoqaniq into the sculptured forms of sastrugi. Inuit call large sculpturings kaioqlaq and small ripples tumarinyiq. Further erosion may turn kaioqlaq back into drifting kalutoqaniq. An intermediate stage of erosion is mapsuk, an overhanging shape. On the windward side of a ridge, the base erodes faster than the top, producing a shape like an anvil tip pointing upwind.
Sastrugi on sea ice
Sastrugi are more likely to form on first-year sea ice than on multiyear ice. First-year ice is smoother than multiyear ice, which allows the wind to pass uniformly over the surface without topographic obstructions. Except during the melt season, snow is dry and light in climates cold enough for sea ice, allowing the snow to be easily blown and create sastrugi parallel to the wind direction. The locations of sastrugi are fixed by March in the northern hemisphere 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.
In popular culture
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.
- C. Fitzhugh Talman: The singular of “sastrugi”, Monthly Weather Review 43, February 1915, p. 85–86
- Wonders, William C., Canada's changing North, Mcgill Queens Univ Press, 2003 ISBN 978-0773526402 p. 40
- 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.