Thursday, January 13, 2011

Frazil Ice at Hudson River Ice Meadows

Just North of Warrensburg in the Adirondacks, South of the Glen, along the Hudson River is a unique habitat. This microhabitat is 16 miles and a sparse 115 acres, part of which is protected by the Hudson River Shoreline Preserve. This unique preserve goes by another name: The Ice Meadows.

Some of the only natural grasslands in New York State can be found here. What makes the Ice Meadows so special are the rare species of plants and insects that can be found in this cooler microclimate habitat.

During this time of year, the magic happens that helps make the Ice Meadows what they are. Within the Hudson River, a collection of loose ice crystals are forming that look like slush in the water, this is called frazil ice. Frazil ice forms in super cooled water.

When frazil ice groups together, it forms pancake ice. Like the name suggests, it looks like yummy pancakes with upturned edges. These pancakes can be as large as 10 feet across. When the pancakes group together, they will cover the surface of the river with a skin of ice. This skin will grow and can reach a thickness of glacial proportions, as high as 15 feet.

The ice grows and pushes up on the shore and will scour the shoreline of the Ice Meadows depositing organic matter and removing trees. The thick ice can take into April to melt, which shortens the growing season, which maintains the cooler climate. This allows the unique alpine species to grow.

At least 5 endangered plant species and 5 threatened plant species are known to live in the Ice Meadows. These include: Ohio Goldenrod, Auricled Twayblade and the Dwarf Sand-cherry. A species of special concern is the dragonfly: the Extra-striped snaketail. There are other species found only in this unique habitat, they are common to alpine habitats and are generally dwarf species.

There are so few occurrences of the Ice Meadows in New York, that they need to be protected. Major threats include: invasive species, development and trampling by visitors. Little research has been conducted on this unique habitat that truly not much is known. There are only between 10-20 known Ice Meadows throughout New York State, they can be found along the upper portions of rivers near mountains.

If you want to view the Ice Meadows, they can be visited by the trail system that is just north of Warrensburg on Golf Course Road, or by visiting the canoe access site at the Warren County Fish Hatchery. For more information on the Ice Meadows or NY, check out the NY Natural Heritage Program website. Enjoy your visit into a unique world of glacier like ice shelves and miniature plants.

Photo’s: Top; Ice Meadows on the Hudson, Middle; Frazile Ice in the Hudson, Bottom; Glacier in the Adirondacks, Courtesy Blueline Photography, Jeremy Parnapy.



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Corrina Parnapy, an Adirondack native  transplanted to Vermont with her husband and son, is the District Manager for the largest Natural Resources Conservation District in the State of Vermont.  She is the lead Aquatic Biologist/ Phycologist for Avacal Biological, and writes about the natural world for the Adirondack Almanack and other Northeast publications.

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