Fuzzy green “glacier mice” puzzle scientists

Glacier mice
Glacier mice are colonies of mosses found on some glaciers which appear to move non-randomly across the ice.

“What the heck is this!” was the reaction of one glaciologist when he first encountered glacier mice.1  Long known to researchers but still not fully understood, glacier mice might best be thought of as bundles of moss that form pearl-like around pebbles or other impurities on glacial surfaces.

Found as far afield as Alaska, Chile, and Norway, glacier mice were first described in 1951 by Icelandic meteorologist Jón Eyþórsson, who referred to them as jökla-mýs (Icelandic for “glacier mice”).2

What’s particularly curious about these “critters,” however, is that they seem to move around much more than any ordinary moss might.

From NPR:

The movement of the moss balls was peculiar. The researchers had expected that the balls would travel around randomly by rolling off their ice pedestals. The reality was different. The balls moved about an average of an inch a day in a kind of choreographed formation — like a flock of birds or a herd of wildebeests.

 

The researchers considered several possible explanations. The first, and most obvious one, is that they just rolled downhill. But measurements showed that the moss balls weren’t going down a slope.

 

“We next thought maybe the wind is sort of blowing them in consistent directions,” says Bartholomaus, “and so we measured the dominant direction of the wind.”

 

That didn’t explain it either, nor did the pattern of the sunlight.

 

“We still don’t know,” he says. “I’m still kind of baffled.”

You can listen to an 11-minute NPR story about glacier mice here:

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The magic water pump in Chicago’s Schiller Woods

There are more than 500 hand-operated water pumps throughout the 68,000 acres of the Cook County Forest Preserves encircling Chicago. Most are utterly ordinary. But there’s one pump in Schiller Woods — a forest preserve in suburban Schiller Park, just to the northwest of Chicago — that some consider very special indeed.

The Schiller Park pump, in fact, regularly attracts crowds of people filling gallon jugs and other odd containers on any given day. What draws them to this pump in particular? The water, they say, has special properties: it energizes you; it makes you younger; it clears up chronic illnesses. Some describe the water as holy; others say they just like the taste.

Forest Preserve officials, for their part, claim there’s nothing particularly special about the well. To be sure, the water comes straight from the ground, meaning it contains none of the chemical additives — fluoride, etc. — that are found in city water. Because the pump is so popular, it is tested more regularly than others in the Forest Preserve system. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, its water is “a little low in iron and somewhat low in other trace minerals” but otherwise not distinctive. Still, the Schiller pilgrims cannot be dissuaded from faithfully toting their bottles and buckets to and from the well to refill week after week.

Check out a short video about the pump put together by WBEZ’s Curious City, below:

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Alligator spotted in Chicago lagoon

Spotted in a pond in Chicago’s Humboldt Park: a four-to-five foot long crocodilian. The latest Chicago-area gator-sighting since a four-footer was found swimming in Lake Michigan last October, residents observed the reptile earlier this afternoon and Chicago Police and Animal Care and Control — though skeptical at first — later confirmed the report.

Humboldt Park alligator
An alligator was spotted in Chicago’s Humboldt Park, July 2019. (Photo credit Block Club Chicago.)

From the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago officials confirmed an alligator was living in Humboldt Park Lagoon after several people reported seeing the animal there Tuesday morning and others shared possible photos of it.

Chicago police were called to the 1400 block of North Humboldt Drive about 12:15 p.m. after someone called 911 “saying they saw a Facebook post saying there is an alligator in the lagoon area,” said Chicago police spokeswoman Karie James.

Police had “independently confirmed the alligator is in the lagoon and state reptile specialists” said it was 4 to 5 feet long, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a tweet. The animal was expected to be trapped Tuesday night “and relocated to a zoo for veterinary evaluation.”

Sounds like the makings of a summertime blockbuster! Hopefully the alligator will be captured and relocated without too much fuss.

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Freak summer hailstorm buries Mexican city under feet of ice

Hail is not unheard of in severe summertime thunderstorms. And yet you definitely don’t expect a city in southwestern Mexico to be completely buried under multiple feet of ice in late June. “Incongruous” is a word that readily comes to mind!

Ice-covered streets in Guadalajara, Mexico, June 30 2019. (Ulises Ruiz/AFP/Getty Images)

From CNN:

Guadalajara had been enjoying a sweaty summer for the past few weeks until the weekend brought a shocking surprise.

The Mexican city woke up Sunday morning to more than 3 feet of ice in some areas after a heavy hailstorm swept through the region.

Now, that sounds like a lot. But the visuals are even more striking. Check out video footage of the ice below:

Climate change, anyone?

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Antarctica’s unsettling blood waterfall

Blood Falls, Antarctica.
Iron oxides cause the blood-like coloring of this waterfall in Antarctica.

Nature’s marvels are boundless, and one of its most visually disturbing is a certain blood-red cascade found in Victoria Land, East Antarctica (aptly named “Blood Falls“). Fortunately for the squeamish, it’s not actually blood:

Blood Falls is an outflow of an iron oxide-tainted plume of saltwater, flowing from the tongue of Taylor Glacier onto the ice-covered surface of West Lake Bonney in the Taylor Valley of the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Victoria Land, East Antarctica.

Iron-rich hypersaline water sporadically emerges from small fissures in the ice cascades. The saltwater source is a subglacial pool of unknown size overlain by about 400 metres (1,300 ft) of ice several kilometers from its tiny outlet at Blood Falls.

The reddish deposit was found in 1911 by the Australian geologist Griffith Taylor, who first explored the valley that bears his name. The Antarctica pioneers first attributed the red color to red algae, but later it was proven to be due to iron oxides.

Surely a sight to see! Given the remote location of Blood Falls, though, it’s unlikely to appeal as a tourist destination to any but the hardiest and most well-heeled of travelers.

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