Huge chunks of ice that formed on the Fraser River this winter have washed up near Agassiz and Chilliwack, drawing quite a crowd to the shores.
Brent Ward, a professor in the Earth Sciences Department at Simon Fraser University and co-director of the Centre for Natural Hazard Studies, told Global News this is not an uncommon phenomenon but what makes this year unique is the fact that the ice chunks are so thick.
“They’re people-sized tall,” he said. “So, it really reflects that strong cold snap we had in December and now some of that ice has now broken up and moved downstream.”
In December, a winter storm blasted many parts of B.C. with some Vancouver reaching -13 C and the Williams Lake area reaching -36 C.
Read more: B.C. deep freeze: 41 temperature records broken as arctic chill pushes through another day
Ward said that the ice likely formed during the deep freeze. As temperatures warmed up and water flowed on top of the ice, he said, it likely froze again and again until it was about six-feet deep.
“This is very common in most of the rest of Canada because it gets really cold in the winter and then you get thick ice and that breaks up in the spring,” he added.
“So this is usually associated with spring breakup in most of the rest of Canada.”
While the ice has become a small tourist attraction, Ward cautioned people against walking out too far onto any of the flows, in case someone slips between them and falls into the water below.
“It’s a good question to try and determine why it’s so thick but it’s nothing really unusual in terms of most parts of Canada,” Ward added.
Dr. Drew Brayshaw, a hydrologist and geoscientist with Statlu Environmental Consulting in Chilliwack, said the extended drought the province experience this summer also contributed to the thick ice forming.
“Low and cold for a long time let that ice form and then at the end of that it snowed quite a bit on it, we had a foot of snow out here,” he said. “And when it snows on ice, it just builds up and freezes, then we had some rain and it broke up and the water level rose and all of the ice was pushed onto the bank by the rising water level and then it dropped again and they were all stranded here like little icebergs.”
Brayshaw said what makes this year unique is how much ice built up and the combination of drought, cold and then rain contributed to this sighting.
Resident Karen Klop, who is from Ontario and lived in Agassiz for five years, said she has also never seen this before near her house.
“I really wanted to come and check it out,” she said, adding that it reminded her a little of the Icefields Parkway in Alberta.
“In Ontario too, the Niagra Falls area, we’ve seen big chunks of ice like this but not in the Fraser Valley, the Fraser River,” Klop added.
Local resident Mike Harris said he has also never seen anything like this before.
“These are just giant boulders of ice,” he told Global News. “As soon as I got out of the car I thought, ‘Wow, this is neat.'”
Harris said it is unusual for them to see this in their local area so he had to come down and see it for himself.
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