Alien or Ice?

Photo care of

Have you heard about the enormous revolving circle of ice that mysteriously appeared in the Presumpscot River in Westbrook, Maine? Turns out there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for this winter wonder. I found this Jan. 15 article by Karen Zraick in The New York Times informative and oh-so-funny!

A giant ice disk churning in a river that runs through the small city of Westbrook, Me., set off fevered speculation on Tuesday.

Was it an icy landing zone for aliens? A sign of impending doom? A carousel for ducks? (A handful were, in fact, enjoying the ride.)

The Boston Globe wrote that it was “like some type of arctic buzzsaw,” and residents hurried to the edges of the Presumpscot River to catch a glimpse.

Scientists say that ice disks are an unusual — but entirely natural — phenomenon that occurs when a pile of slush freezes in an eddy or a piece of ice breaks off from another and begins to rotate. As it turns, hitting rocks and water, the sides are shaved down.

Steven Daly, an expert in river ice hydraulics at the Army Corps of Engineers’ Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., said his agency generally got just one or two reports of rotating ice disks in the United States each year.

They’re not usually this big, though.

Kenneth G. Libbrecht, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., who has studied ice physics, said that most ice disks he had seen were in the 20- to 30-foot range. Local officials estimated that the Westbrook ice disk was about 300 feet across.

“It might be a world-record size, if anybody were keeping track,” Dr. Libbrecht said.

Tina Radel, the marketing and communications manager for the city, filmed a drone video after Rob Mitchell, a local business owner, alerted her to the remarkable sight on Monday. After posting it, she spent Tuesday fielding calls from reporters around the country.

It’s been an overwhelming reaction,” she said. “People are loving it.”

In fact, The Portland Press Herald noted the ice disk had Westbrook buzzing “almost as much as when city police spotted a giant snake eating a beaver in roughly the same location in June 2016.”

 TIME OUT!!  A what was doing what?! 

You can’t just go on with the article and leave this small detail hanging. I’m so distracted by the image of a giant snake eating a beaver, I’ve momentarily forgotten about the ice disk. I have so many questions: there are giant snakes in Maine? Just how giant is giant? Do snakes usually eat beavers? Were there no mice, chipmunks, take-out? Did the beaver’s family react? Did the beaver’s family continue building their dam or did they evacuate pronto? Has anyone seen the giant snake since? Were people worried for their small children and pets? Did the snake get a Twitter handle like the Short Hills Bear? (a young, male black bear eluded attempts to catch him, making him into a local celeb) Did the snake become a meme? I obviously need to more info!

Ok, I’m taking a breath…back to the ice disk…

Mr. Mitchell, who owns an air-conditioning business and another property on the riverfront, said that he, too, had never seen anything like the ice disk in 25 years in Westbrook.

He added that its size was changing — while it was bigger in the morning, it had shrunk by Tuesday afternoon, when the sun was strong and temperatures hovered in the mid-30s. (The forecast called for lower temperatures and snow later in the week.)

One constant: The ice disk kept moving, counterclockwise, at the pace of a brisk walk.

“It’s perfectly regular and uniform,” Mr. Mitchell said. “I don’t think you could engineer a machine to move it as smoothly.”

Update: Another landing spot for UFO’s/resting spot for ducks is forming. Check it out here: Giant Maine ice disk stops moving as another one forms