Spooky Stuff

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 10:23:40 11/22/16

In Reply to: Frank, what's this? posted by Granite Head

Granite Head,

I remember seeing icicle formations like these in the past, but it was usually under more wintry conditions.

There are a number of questions this phenomenon raises, like where did the liquid come from, what is its chemical/mineral composition, and why was it so apparently frozen with a temp well above freezing.

I can only speculate, and even then, it would be pure conjecture. What complicates the matter is Soda Butte's relative dormancy. We see evidence that there is still some heat associated with the feature, but I am not sure of how much, and how transient it is. While we tend to believe it is "dry", it is a travertine feature, just like those in Mammoth, which means it is likely subject to the same array of dynamics that creates the change we see in Mammoth. Subsurface erosion of travertine via carbonic acid in hydrothermal fluids can open new conduits and vents. That same fluid can transport new calcium carbonate in solution that gets deposited here and there, constricting, and eventually sealing off conduits and vents. Then there are other geologic processes, like that which creates new fissures via the pressures created and released through the drying out of new travertine. (The profusion of travertine chips around the base of Soda Butte Cone is mute testimony to the process of exfoliation, which is likely a product of both dehumidification cracking, but also the classic water freeze/expansion/cracking that creates potholes in our roads.) A more exotic force, but occasionally exerted in Yellowstone is seismic activity. After the 1959 earthquake, we saw massive change in hydrothermal features throughout Yellowstone. Of course, the simplest explanation would be that the water arrived via the gradual melting of snow that had fallen on the feature, and that falling temperatures associated with either nightfall or a significant weather system change produced the icicles.

If you keep an eye out as you drive through Icebox Canyon, you will see similar icicle formation, and that is not likely a product of hydrothermal activity.

I would be real interested in what a chemical compound analysis of one of those icicles would reveal.

One other thing: If you look at the "upper shelf" of icicles on the right side of the image, you will see ice accumulation at the base of the icicle, similar to what you see in caves where stalagmites are forming. This could be evidence of slow melting of the icicles during periods of daytime warming, which then refreezes late in the day or evening.


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