This is Lake Abraham... and the bubbles trapped at the surface are actually filled with methane. If the bubbles weren't frozen and suspended in the lake, it's not out of the question that they could break the surface and actually pop, which, considering the sheer amount of methane trapped in the lake, could be problematic. The problem with this lake is that it was man-made, which means that its production of methane - and trapped methane, as a result - is an unnatural feature of the lake.
Located in the Rocky Mountains, this lake is easily recognizable on a summer's day thanks to its unmistakable blue waters which tend to be a bit cloudy due to the amount of rock flour that's carried down from the mountains and eventually ends up in the lake. Although it's man-made, this is still the largest lake in Alberta and has been since 1972. Obviously, having enormous bubbles of methane trapped just below the surface isn't exactly something that can be deemed 'safe,' especially when it comes to a person being near or even standing on the lake's frozen shores. If there were to be a sizeable crack, a pop of methane would be released, which could mean problems for whoever happens to be standing near it.
What Causes The Methane Bubbles?
The actual process of making methane isn't the most pleasant and it's something most people know from cows and livestock... who tend to let out plenty of methane. While there are no livestock dwelling in or around the shores of Lake Abraham, there's plenty going on at both the surface and at the bottom of the lake to cause such large releases of the gas. When organic matter falls into the lake it sinks to the bottom, where bacteria then descend on it and begin to eat away at whatever it is. As this happens, methane is produced as a by-product of the bacteria and, in significant amounts, can account for the frozen bubbles that appear in the lake each year.
Thanks to the hefty amount of vegetation that grows at the bottom of this artificial reservoir, it's no surprise that the amount of methane released is off the charts for the average lake. This, combined with Alberta's freezing temperatures, has created the perfect storm of frozen gas trapped just beneath the surface of the ice. What's so captivating is the fact that these frozen bubbles literally appear to be stopped in their tracks which make them an alluring sight for those interested in nature photography.
The bubbles are the most visible when the sun is out and as long as there's no snow covering the frozen lake, visitors should have a clear view of any number of frozen bubbles. However, as they sit there, suspended within the ice, it should be known that methane is still an active gas. It's also highly flammable, which is another thing to keep in mind. With such gas being trapped under the ice, there's also pressure - one crack could lead to gas escaping the frozen waters.
While Lake Abraham is not the first to experience frozen methane bubbles, it is one of the most picturesque. With the Rocky Mountains as a suitable landscape in this tundra, it's no wonder that so many are attracted to its peaks and winter scenery. However, those traipsing across the lake should be aware that an abundance of caution is often recommended when visiting. If one of these pockets of air were to have a crack, and methane was to be released, it would come up in the form of a burst of gas that would likely be followed by a small bubbling spout of water.
Obviously, this could lead to further instability in the surrounding ice as pressure is released. As the water bubbles up from beneath the ice, it's adding more pressure to the top layer of ice, while also making the surrounding area incredibly slippery - and we don't know about our readers, but we're not too sure that anyone is that good at balancing on ice without a pair of ice skates.
Another thing to consider is the thickness of the ice. While it might look as though the ice itself is incredibly thick due to the bubbles trapped underneath, the science of ice thickness is dependent on more than just how it looks or what's trapped underneath. There's no saying where there's a weak spot or how the ice will crack, especially with so many pockets of gas just waiting to be released at the first hint of an escape.