Ice Ribbons on a Metal Fence

By Dr. James R. Carter with Images from Sheryl Terris


As shown on my master page of Ice Flowers and Ice Ribbons I look at many examples that have formed on the stalks of selected species of plants.  The assumption has always been that these types of ice formations are related to plants.  It is well known that needle ice that emerges from soils under certain conditions.

And, I have photos of ice formations that grow on decaying wood.  The nature of the ice in these flowers seems to be coarse hair-like, somewhere between needle ice and the ice ribbons that form on plant stems. 

Then I received an email from The Weather Doctor pointing me to his web page showing two photos of ice ribbons emerging from a metal fence in British Columbia. I got in contact with Sheryl Terris who had taken the photos and received more examples of her photography. The images below are based on her photos.  In early 2007 I was able to replicate ice formations similar to these.  In early 2008 I was able to extrude more such ice.  I feel I have demonstrated how the ice formed on the fence.  But, I was not able to reproduce some of the more intricate displays of ice shown here.

The two ribbons of ice below extend well over 6 inches (15 cm) in uniform thickness, with striations that appear to reflect the thickness of the slit from which they were extruded.  

The ribbons above are relatively thicker than the ribbon below.  This ribbon is quite fine as is evident by the tight loops that fold back on themselves.  But, in both of these formations there are those parallel striations that must have been imposed by the nature of the slit through which these ice ribbons emerged.

The pair of ribbons below are much thicker and more massive than are the ribbons above, but still they are ribbons of ice and have those characteristic striations.  And, this photo gives a good view of welded junction from which the ice emerges.  Obviously, the welder did not seal all of the cracks, thankfully.

But not all of the ice on this fence formed as flat ribbons with nice, parallel striations.  There is only one photo of this ice formation.  What is it?  It appears there are three different pieces of ice shown in this photo.  On the base of the fence is a block of ice that has dirt on the surface.  There are two long rods of clear ice.  The rod on the right extends up, then becomes more horizontal and the continues up and then down.  Along its length it becomes ever thinner.  By contrast, the rod that emerges on the left seems to be uniform in thickness throughout its length as it extends up, flattens out, turns in a counter-clockwise loop to wrap around itself and extend towards us and form into another complete loop before extending up to its terminus. On top of these two rods are frozen pieces of snow or hoar frost, which give a fuzzy texture to portions of the rods.  

What process forms a rod of ice to emerge in this form?  How can a thin rod of ice maintain its strength and not break as it loops around itself?  How long did it take for these rods of ice to form, or those ribbons of ice to form into what looks like holiday candy? 

Below are two ice formations that are more believable, in that I can imagine how these formed.  Obviously, the vertical pipes have gotten filled with rainwater, and there are gaps where the pipes are attached to the railing above.  So, as the water in the vertical pipes froze, it expanded, rose and was extruded out of the gaps. As in the photos of ribbons above, these more massive ice formations show striations.

Thanks to the sharp eye of Sheryl we have a photographic record of some very exotic ice formations.  I have never seen anything like these ice formations and have never read about anything like this.  Ice is considered to be rigid and is not known to have a plastic form that can be extruded like toothpaste.

Based on the two examples above, I decided to try to grow my own ice formations.  With a few cold days and many cold nights, I tried to gain some insights into the way water freezes in containers of different configurations.  I have broken some plastic pipes and ruptured a metal pipe, but I have grown some ice.  To see what I have done, check out my failures and successes.


One of a number of pages on Ice Flowers and Ice Ribbons by Jim Carter. 

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