Bizarre ‘hair ice’ mystery solved by scientists

Scientists recently discovered that the growth of thin strands of ice that would sprout from rotting wood and which imitated hair were stimulated from a fungus that was apparently tolerant to the cold.

This puzzled scientists for over  a century  as to how ice in glistening strands could simply burst through tree branches that were half-rotten as though it was a head of hair sprouting new growth.

These strands as expected, are now termed ‘hair ice’ and can only be present if there is fungi that is tolerant to the cold and scientists today have now come to understand how it is that the mysterious fungi stimulates the growth of ice in the first place.

The discovery was first laid to rest when Alfred Wegener who was a scientist present during the earlier half of the twentieth century, discovered that hair ice was present around 1918. He suspected at the time that it was mycelium- which were the roots of fungus that thrived on old, rotten wood and which absorbed nutrients that resulted in the formation of hair ice and which gave the elusive strands of ice their weird, white, almost cobweb-like coating. It wasn’t until 1998 however –almost 90 years later, that scientists proved that fungal roots were indeed significant in the growth of hair ice.  They found that if you treated mycelium with either fungicide or if you dipped it in scalding water, the chances were that hair ice would not grow.  Christian Matzler of the Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Bern in Switzerland stated that the same amount of ice could be produced on wood without any fungal activity; however the vital difference was that without any fungal activity the ice would simply form a lifeless crust-like structure.

The fungus was what helped the ice grown into skinny hairs that grew with a diameter of just over 0.01 millimeters and which helped the strands of hair ice to stay in shape for over several hours at a time, in temperatures that ranged form 32 degrees Fahrenheit to 0 degrees Celsius.

Researchers cited that the reason that hair ice grew was originally because it grew in a climate that existed in the northern range; that the strands of shiny, glistening hair mostly grew in climates that belonged to countries such as France, Canada, Slovenia, Ireland or the Netherlands.

Gisela PreuB of the Wiedtal-Gymnasium in Germany stated that hair ice mostly grew during the night and would then melt again by daytime; she further stated that hair ice was mostly invisible in the snow and was then inconspicuous in hoarfrost.

 

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