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Scientists solve mystery surrounding hair ice phenomenon

A team of researchers from Germany and Switzerland has finally solved the 100-year old mystery of the hair ice phenomenon. Strands of shining ice known as “hair ice” are known to burst through rotting tree branches, creating a mystery over its formation.hair-ice-retry

These strands known as “hair ice” are formed in rotting conditions, only when environmental conditions — a humid winter temperature below freezing (32 degrees F). Researchers can now understand the role of the fungi in it formation, and it occurs only to certain tree branches.

Christian Matzler, a physicist at the University of Bern in Switzerland said that the same amount of ice is produced on wood with or without fungal activity, but without this activity the ice forms a crust-like structure.

“The action of the fungus is to enable the ice to form thin hairs — with a diameter of about 0.1mm,” said Matzler.

He further adds that the hairs are stabilized by a reecrystalization inhibitor that is provided by the fungus. The hair ice phenomenon is rare, and is found only in latitudes between  45 and 55 degrees north in certain parts of India, Europe and North America. In 1918, Alfred Wegener, known for his continental drift theory believed that the ice formation was linked to a fungus mycelium that lives on rotting wood. This absorbs nutrients from the wood, and forms a pale, white, cobweb-like coating, and its formation is based on the structure of the wood.

After 90 years, scientists have discovered that the fungal roots, indeed played a role in the formation of ice. Researchers also found that hair-ice didn’t grow when the mycelium-covered wood wad dipped in fungicide or scalding water.

The team is set to study the relation between the fungus and the hair ice in the future. The study has been published in the scientific journal Biogeosciences on Wednesday.

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