Nature brinicle, icicle of death, Antarctica

Published on November 27th, 2011 | by Michael Ricciardi


‘Brinicles’? Bizarre Underwater ‘Icicles of Death’ Filmed by BBC Crew

brinicle, icicle of death, Antarctica[UPDATED - Dec. 11, 2001 - embedded video restored] A most unusual and amazing phenomenon of Nature, the ‘brinicle’ is a descending channel of brine (highly salty water) that resembles a twisting icicle, or perhaps, an underwater,  ‘slow mo’, ice tornado. And, not unlike the latter, it leaves a path of (frozen) death its wake.

What makes a Brinicle?

Air temperatures at the Poles are much colder than the temperature below the surface (especially so around volcanoes). Heat from this warmer water flows up to the colder air at the surface. This promotes the formation of new ice, bottom up. The concentrated salt in this newly formed ice gets pushed into these brine channels.

The brine, being cold and salty, is also denser, and sinks. But as it does so, it freezes the fresher, warmer water it comes in contact with, forming a “sheath” of ice around the descending plume of brine. This is the brinicle (pronounced BRY nick ul).

And, once it make contact with the see floor, it forms a frozen, saline stream or web which threatens any living creature (like urchins or starfish) in its path.

Surely one of the most eerily beautiful effects in Natures’ bag of tricks, these brinicles  were filmed for the first time by cameramen Hugh Miller and Doug Anderson for the BBC One series Frozen Planet.

Frozen Planet premiered on Wednesday, 23 November on BBC One (at21:00 GMT).

This amazing, time-lapsed film sequence was shot by the BBC crew beneath the ice off the foothills of the volcano Mount Erebus, Antarctica (the southernmost historically active volcano on Earth):

 Read the full story about filming these brinicles on the BBC news website.

Thanks to Pat Valerio for the news item tip.

Top photo: Hugh Miller and Doug Anderson (for BBC); from the Chicago Sun Times article ‘Brinicles are Underwater Ice Tornados

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About the Author

Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles as well as essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, Arthur Shapiro, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website ( He is also the author of the (Kindle) ebook: Artful Survival ~ Creative Options for Chaotic Times

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