Monday, June 1, 2009

Strange Ice Circles in Lake Baikal Seen from Space

Strange things can be seen on the surface of the Earth from space. Here is a photo taken by astronauts onboard the International Space Station in April 2009. It is a circular formation made by thin ice in Lake Baikal in Siberia (map, left). The lake is the deepest known in the whole world and the formation pictured measures 4.4 km in diameter. It is listed as endangered due to proposed mining efforts.

The question that came up when people saw this picture is how the ice circle was formed. Images of alien spacecraft landing on ice come to mind, but no, scientists actually have an explanation for this. They say methane gas regularly wells up from beneath the lake, forming warm-water eddies in ring formation created by the Coriolis effect. Methane is a greenhouse gas and is toxic in large volumes.

Of course, we all know the Coriolis effect is produced by the Earth's rotation from West to East and it's the same force that makes our drain water turn either clockwise or counter clockwise depending on where it's draining above or below the equator. It's the same force that creates the Earth's hurricanes and typhoons.

Interestingly, a similar ring structure was observed and photographed in the Martian south pole environment (left). The picture of the Martian polar ice ring was first taken by the Mariner and Viking orbiting probes. High resolution images were taken later by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The ring is 4 kilometers across and has a hill-like feature in the middle similar to a pingo here one Earth. A pingo is caused by water upwelling from the bottom of a landscape with a underground permafrost environment. The high-resolution image of the Mars polar ice ring follows.

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