Water bubbles up through a thin sheet of ice on Cold Stream in late December of 2020 in Johnson Mountain Township. The ice has formed into several vertical tubes. Credit: Courtesy of Lauren Watkinson

A family of six stumbled across a remarkable ice formation while hiking to Cold Stream Falls in December. Deep in the woods of Johnson Mountain Township, not far from the town of Jackman, a section of the stream was bubbling wildly, as if boiling. And some of the bubbles were traveling up through small chimneys of ice.

“I was actually off the trail looking at a tree, trying to decide if it was an animal home,” said Lauren Mazzotti Watkinson of Brunswick. “My 13-year-old son, Christopher, spotted [the ice formations] and called us over. We were all pretty amazed. We’d never seen anything like it before.”

In a cluster of four, the small, hollow tubes of ice stood vertically atop a thin sheet of ice. The tallest chimney was about 6 inches tall and no wider than a paper towel tube, Watkinson said. The shortest was about 2 inches tall.

Tiny bubbles crowded the surface of the stream, constantly popping and being replaced. They rolled under the ice and pushed through the chimneys like a science experiment gone wild, a frothing substance ready to escape the test tubes that hold it.

“We definitely theorized what could be causing it, how it could be made,” Watkinson said. “One of the ideas was maybe there was a mineral deposit or spring underneath there that was causing all the bubbles. And of course, there were lots of other theories by my younger children involving fairies.”

Maine State Geologist Robert Marvinney said that bubbles in bodies of water are often produced by decaying organic matter in the sediment.

“As [organic matter] decays, it generates gases — CO2, methane, hydrogen sulfide, all of those mixed together,” Marvinney said.

Decaying matter can be things like dead leaves or animals, and the decaying process can happen at any time of year, releasing gases that bubble to the surface of the water.

As for the formation of the chimneys, that we can only hypothesize about. A number of factors can influence how ice forms, including temperature changes, precipitation and currents, Marvinney said. And in this case, the bubbles likely played a role.

“I can only imagine that the bubbles coming up [the chimneys] from inside were freezing as they popped, and then it just kept getting higher and higher,” Watkinson said.

Have you seen any spectacular ice formations while exploring the Maine wilderness? Throughout the winter, keep an eye out, and if you find some interesting ice, take photos or videos and share them with us at asarnacki@bangordailynews.com. If we receive enough submissions, we’ll post a story showcasing the ice formations you’ve found throughout the state. Happy ice hunting.

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Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.