Beautiful and Dangerous: Flammable Ice Bubbles Explained

Ever wonder how the breathtaking white bubbles in some of the world’s most iconic frozen lakes came about? 

These bubbles are extremely flammable bubbles of methane gas that rose to the surface and remain suspended in all their frozen splendor. What does that mean? Why are they dangerous, and where can you see such a phenomenon? 

What is Methane Gas?

methane gasSource: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

Methane gas is a light, hydrocarbon gas that is abundant on our planet and in our atmosphere. It is one of the most potent greenhouse gases and a member of the paraffin family.

How is Methane Gas Produced in Lakes?

Methane in Arctic lakes forms naturally as a byproduct of the bacterial consumption of organic matter that filters down to the lake bottom. Many describe it as bacteria farts. People also call it as Swamp Gas because wetlands and waterways are among Methane’s largest natural sources. 

Lakes can also produce Methane if they are located over a hydrothermal vent.

frozen methane pocketsSource: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

 Alternate Sources of Methane Gas

  • Methane is also a byproduct of termites, hydrothermal vents, permafrost, deposits of Methane hydrates, and under-water volcano’s. 
  • Methane comprises up to 90% of natural gas. Typically, mines use it as an energy source and is often cause of mine explosions. 
  • Other human sources of Methane include livestock farming and waste treatment facilities. 

What Makes the Bubbles Towering in Frozen Lakes Dangerous?

When Methane (which is relatively stable) mixes with air, it becomes highly explosive. The bubbles seen in those iconic lake pictures consist of Methane gas pockets that are frozen and stacked below the surface. 

Lake Abraham frozen bubblesSource: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

The danger lies in the release of those bubbles into the atmosphere as the temperature warms and melts the ice. As a result, the Methane gas mixes with the air. Something as simple as a spark can ignite the gas and cause an explosion. 

Where Can I See This Phenomenon?

Many places across the globe have frozen bubbles. But, Lake Abraham of Alberta, Canada, is famous for its stunning display of frozen methane pockets. 

Lake Abraham, Alberta CanadaSource: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

Any lake can produce Methane gas so long as the required conditions are met (decomposing organic matter in an anaerobic environment). Typically, the best and safest times and places are northern, arctic, and subarctic lakes where there is a deep freeze for an extended period. 

Our natural environment is truly a thing of great beauty. It offers awe-inspiring experiences and views. All it takes is a bit of curiosity to see its hidden beauty. You’ll discover a treasure trove of information on how our planet functions and maintains balance.


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