Amongst the Canadian Rocky Mountains, in Clearwater County on the western edge of province of Alberta, sits Abraham Lake. Canada is no stranger to natural lakes – in fact, the country holds more than 50% of the world’s lakes! However, on the North Saskatchewan River, there is a natural phenomenon that lays hidden in the depths, a secret wonder that has remained unknown to many.
Abraham Lake was created as part of the Bighorn Dam, a hydroelectric plant made by TransAlta Corporation in 1972, with the ability to generate 120 megawatts of energy. The lake was made at a length of 20 miles, and covers an area of 20.7 square miles. Similar to the natural lakes that surround it, Abraham possesses an illuminating blue colour that looks idyllic with the snow-capped mountains that rise above it. Just like glacial lakes that neighbour Abraham, this colour is caused by the rock flour that lays bottom of the water. As glaciers move through the mountains they grind down the sedimentary bedrock into a silty texture that enhances the colour of the water to make it look magical.
However, when winter comes calling, the lake makes a miraculous transformation. In Alberta, the cold weather can bring temperatures that can reach lows of -25 Celsius and wind speeds up to 48km/h. This would certainly be a storm that you wouldn’t want to be caught up in, and when this weather front reaches Abraham Lake, ice forms that is clear as a crystal. But that’s not all, something magnificent forms within the ice that has left visitors truly astonished.
Lurking at the depths of most natural lakes, bacteria eat dead plants and organic matter. Just like us, they create a particular byproduct after eating (farts). Usually these just pass to the surface when the lake is in a liquid state, but when the ice begins to form, these bubbles of methane become trapped and create pale orbs that are visible below frozen surface. Some of these frozen bubbles create almighty columns that can be seen reaching right to the bottom of the lake, and because the ice is so clear, you can see these travelling far down into the dark depths of Abraham Lake. Wonderful structures are formed within the ice and no two formations are the same, they have been created in an immaculate fashion, they are visually similar to hundreds of pebbles that have been balanced upon one another, however those with empty stomachs think they take more of a likeness to a stack of pancakes!
Naturally, the lake and its unique phenomenon are now becoming more and more popular with photographers and tourists visiting the region. If the images included in this article aren’t enough for you, I strongly advise you have search online. Photographers have created some spectacular images of the superb gaseous ice structures that certainly capture the imagination.
It is not just Abraham Lake that possesses these frozen bubbles. Within the same region, Lake Minnewanka and Lake Vermillion also can produce these iced gassy columns. This is still a site that you will seldom see elsewhere in the world, though.
So, if you wish to make the journey, it is highly recommended to take a visit to one of these Lakes. To walk above the ice and see the columns of bubbles fall into the darkness below would be exhilarating. You could maybe even go for an ice skate too, and you don’t have to worry about falling into the icy water, as you can see how thick the ice is beneath you! My one word of caution would be to remind you that the bubbles are created from methane, and you certainly wouldn’t want to light one up with a match when it is about to burst…
This is a reason that the scientific field has also begun a strong interest in the lake’s icy orbs. Climate Change Scientists are giving a lot of attention to the phenomena as it is becoming increasing clear in recent years that methane gas may be one of the most potent greenhouse gasses. This contribution to climate change from lakes methane may be minimal in comparison to the livestock and agriculture industry, however, permafrost under the lake is believed to be decreasing, and therefore increasing the release of methane from the lakes.
This doesn’t stop Abraham Lakes frozen bubbles being a thing of beauty. Let’s hope that not only can this phenomenon can be a nice post for your photography blog, but something that also helps raise awareness to some of the serious climate issues that we are facing in the 21st Century.