Elegy for the Ice

Self-taught Leelanau photographer Ken Scott is no stranger to immersing himself in the ever-evolving beauty of this distinctive county’s landscape, to catching unique moments in this abundant natural world as they are revealed. But last winter’s polar vortex spun a new story for him to express. Photography by Ken Scott
203

Cave Formations

Editor’s Note: Excerpts from “Ice Caves of Leelanau: A Visual Exploration by Ken Scott” are printed with permission of Leelanau Press (leelanaupress.com). For an excerpt of this book’s forward, “A Winter of Ice and Cold” by Jerry Dennis, turn to page 30 in this edition of BLUE.

The spring of 2014 continued to be much colder than normal, allowing the great volume of ice built up over the winter on the Great Lakes to set records for coverage through the months of April. Despite the relentless bouts of cold, the ice eventually fell victim to the simple rhythm of Earth’s inclined orbit around the sun. It was a long thaw before the caves — along with the volcanoes, balls and pancakes — rejoined the rolling waves and deep currents of Lake Michigan.

Ice Balls and Anchor Ice
Ice Balls and Anchor Ice | Ice balls are formed by the accretion of small chunks of floating ice tumbled around by wave action. Anchor ice, or shore ice, forms when large chunks of ice become beached on sand near the shore, usually on sandbars. These chunks grow into mounds as water from waves freezes over them. Gaps in the mounds occur where the sandbars are eroded by strong, shore-parallel currents.

Ice, in all its glorious forms seen on and near Lake Michigan, is fleeting, even in the coldest of winter seasons.

Tourists from near and far will visit the lake in the summer and never imagine the frozen vistas that existed only months before. This ephemeral nature adds to the icy mystique. While limestone caves evolve over tens of millions of years, the ice caves of 2014 lasted mere weeks.

Pancake and Pack Ice
Pancake and Pack Ice | Flat chunks of floating ice with rounded edges and slightly raised rims are called pancake ice. They form as ice chunks a few inches to several feet in diameter continuously bump into each other. The pack ice is often fractured and moved around by currents generated by strong winds.
Pancake and Pack Ice
Pancake and Pack Ice | Flat chunks of floating ice with rounded edges and slightly raised rims are called pancake ice. They form as ice chunks a few inches to several feet in diameter continuously bump into each other. The pack ice is often fractured and moved around by currents generated by strong winds.

The photos in “Ice Caves of Leelanau: A Visual Exploration by Ken Scott” (2014, Leelanau Press) serve to preserve what was there and tell the story of how it formed, evolved and then disappeared.

It also calls us out of our hibernating comfort zones and into the bitter winds and stinging snowflakes to experience them in all their glory when the sun sinks low, mighty Orion and the constellations of winter rise high, and the ice forms again.

Winter Thaw
Winter Thaw | The anchor ice begins the slow melt in late winter and spring, forming melt pools that thaw and refreeze many times before finally becoming open water.
Ice cave
Cave Formations | Ice caves are larger versions of ice volcanoes and they form in generally the same way.
Northern Lights
Cave Formations | Within some ice caves the volcanic holes can still be seen. Time-lapse photography captures a hint of Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis).
Icicle Formations
Icicle Formations | Icicles hanging from the roof of the ice caves look like stalactites seen in regular caves. They grow downward the same way stalactites do as water drips from their ends. However, because the sediment that forms the stalactites’ hard structure is missing, they do not grow upward from this cave’s floor, where the dripping water freezes into a flat layer of ice.
Blue Ice, Pressure Ridges and Ice Push
Blue Ice, Pressure Ridges and Ice Push | Ice weakly filters light. It removes red light while transmitting the shorter blue wavelengths so thick chunks of pure ice will appear blue. If there are some air bubbles suspended in the ice, more light is scattered and the ice appears greenish. If there are a lot of air bubbles, the ice appears white. Pressure ridges form where winds generate currents that break up the floating ice into sections that are then pushed together until the ice at the edge of the two sheets crumples and piles up, similar to how plate tectonics form mountain ranges. An ice push occurs when floating ice is pushed against a barrier such as a shoreline, and piles up there.
Volcano Formations
Volcano Formations | Gaps in anchor ice gradually fill in as waves spray water on all sides, eventually forming a hollow volcano. During prolonged periods of extremely cold and windy weather, the mounds and hollow areas can grow into ice caves.

Cave formationCave formation

Fissures in the Ice
Fissures in the Ice | As water levels change during the season, sometimes a sheet of ice is left resting on a large rock, breaking into a perfect star pattern.

Explore more of Ken Scott’s frosty imagery at kenscottphotography.com.


Author Ernest Ostuno is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Facebook Comments