Nature Canada

Ice Shaking Up the Environment

Last week residents in Ontario and Quebec were waken up at night from loud booming sounds. What was the cause of this? Well, you may not believe it but it was from ice!

Ice or frost quakes, as they are called, are when crashes occur from the breaking up of ice. These quakes are scientifically known as cryoseisms, and they are caused by water in the ground expanding at cold temperatures. Once the water expands, the ice and ground below cracks and crumbles causing loud noises. Not only are there loud noises, but these ice quakes can even shake the ground.

In Ottawa, Nature Canada’s staff member Julia Gamble said “At first it felt like snow or ice was cracking and sliding off my roof.  I worried about my new car on the driveway getting damaged.  It happened again and I sort of felt panicked as though someone was on the roof or meteors or parts of a plane were striking it.”

Another staff member, Ted Cheskey also heard these loud noises from his home. “As I was woken from a sleeping state, I am not sure exactly what I experienced, but my recollections are that there was a loud cracking/rattling noise that sounded like tree branches scraping across the roof” Ted commented. “It was nothing like the popping sounds that the house makes when it adjusts to the colds, but I might even describe it as a sort of “swoosh” sound”.

Similar noises were also reported in Toronto last January where the temperature dropped suddenly to about -23C overnight. At that time, Dave Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, indicated that a wet December month coupled with sudden cold temperatures makes it an ideal time for frost quakes.  It was noted in a previous article that he said, “It’s the perfect storm for these ice quakes or frost quakes. It’s sort of like nature yawning and groaning.” He also pointed out added that people are more likely to hear the noises at night as sound carries further.

As you can see, ice can surprise us with its capabilities and it important that we study ice. Why? Because ice has the ability to provide us with information on the environment around us. Ice is a large indicator of climate change in various regions, and scientists dedicate their time to studying its movements. By studying the movements of ice, it informs scientists with how the Canadian ecosystem is changing.

Would you like to help monitor these changes in our ecosystem? If so, join IceWatch today! This program allows anyone to learn about and record ice in their own neighbourhoods!


For more information on the previous ice quakes, click here.


Want to Help?

Canada’s wilderness is the world’s envy. It’s our duty to keep our true north strong and green.