Giant, spinning circles of ice found in Maine waterways have attracted national attention in recent years, fueling jokes about extraterrestrial beings visiting the frozen Northeast.
When Bill Lippincott of Hampden noticed the buzz on news stations, he thought, “That’s not that unusual.” After all, an ice disc pops up regularly in the stream behind his house. There’s even one there right now.
In a wide section of the Souadabscook Stream in Hampden, Lippincott has watched ice discs form, spinning slowly as they expand, layer by layer, for years. Most recently, he spotted one on Jan. 30. Measuring about 25 feet across, the disc had slowed to a stop, trapped by ice forming around it.
“It starts small and then it kind of grows in rings,” he said. “It’s fun to watch.”
To reach the edge of Souadabscook Stream, Lippincott walks on a private trail that’s used regularly by himself and his neighbors. An ice disc forms at a specific location on the stream when the conditions are right — but whatever those conditions are, he doesn’t know.
“It’s kind of a backwater place where the water slows down,” he said. “It must be currents. This is where it always forms.”
Lippincott has seen an ice disc form in that location several times, though not annually. He first posted a photo of the phenomenon on Facebook in 2013. Then, in 2019, he posted another photo and video of his Hampden ice disc after a giant ice disc in the Presumpscot River in Westbrook gained international fame.
Stories about the Westbrook ice disc — which measured about 100 yards wide — were published by National Geographic, the Boston Globe and the Washington Post, as well as major news networks such as BBC, CNN and CBS. In fact, ABC’s “Good Morning America” talk show ran a segment about the Westbrook ice disc to the tune of the X-Files theme song.
Since then, smaller ice discs have been pinpointed throughout Maine, including ones on the Kennebec River in Skowhegan, the Piscataquis River in Milo, the Penobscot River near Millinocket and the Mattawamkeag River in Haynesville. A small one was even found at the base of Smalls Falls in western Maine.
But this type of natural wonder isn’t new or unique to Maine. Ice discs appear in other ice-filled places such as the Arctic, Scandinavia and Canada, according to a previous Bangor Daily News story.
Multiple scientists have studied how they form. For instance, a pair of Swedish researchers in a 1997 study in the Royal Meteorological Society journal attributed the formation of ice discs to the “eccentric rotation” of the whirlpool effect.
Whatever the science behind their formation, one thing is for certain: These ice discs can pop up in many places throughout Maine. So keep an eye out for them. You never know. One could form right in your backyard.