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19 August 2016

Brinicles - Mesmerising ‘Icicles of Death’

Descending gracefully below the mass of sea ice around the Arctic and Antarctica, a beautiful menace awaits. Fields of hollow icicles, almost supernatural in appearance, pierce the icy depths, trapping unsuspecting creatures in their icy grip.

Formed in the saline seas, they have been termed brine icicles, or simply brinicles, and also carry a rather more sinister nickname: ‘Icicles of death'.

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Brinicles occur as the ocean’s waters freeze and sea ice forms. As the water freezes, impurities such as salt are forced out. This is why sea ice has a much lower salt content than seawater, and is also the driving force behind the formation of these deadly shards of ice.

As the salt is forcibly removed from the newly formed ice, it increases the salinity of the nearby water, as well as the density. This has a couple of knock-on effects. Firstly, the freezing point of the heavily salinated water is much lower than standard seawater, allowing it to remain in liquid form at a much lower temperature. Secondly, the added density causes the now heavier water to sink. As this super-cooled, over-salinated water drops, it flash-freezes the surrounding water, forming the hollow tubes we now call brinicles.

However, they don’t stop there. This is where brinicles earn their nickname.

When brinicles reach the sea floor, they spread out, quickly freezing anything unfortunate enough to be caught in their destructive path. Sea urchins, crabs and starfish are among the most common casualties, unable to move quickly enough to escape. To witness the progression of a brinicle as it forms is both beautiful and haunting in equal measure.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.