Shelf Ice a Beautiful, Dangerous Phenomenon

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February 14, 2014 — Officials at the Indiana Dunes State Park are warning residents not to walk on shelf ice. As cold temperatures freeze small areas of the massive lake, sections of floating ice begin to form. This ice builds up over time and is pushed against the shore, eventually accumulating on top of the beach, forming shelf ice.

Unlike the single sheet of ice which typically covers smaller bodies of water, the shelf is not a uniform sheet of ice. Shelf ice is a collection of ice chunks pushed together, but there is nothing connecting the individual pieces, making it very unstable. The uneven surface and possible air holes throughout shelf ice mean that no section is safe to walk across. Frigid temperatures this winter have created shelf ice that is both beautiful and potentially deadly, according to Indiana Dunes State Park interpretive naturalist Brad Bumgardner. “People should never attempt to walk on it,” Bumgardner said. “It’s not stable and cave-ins have occurred recently. Warming spring conditions will only make it more dangerous.”

While walking on the shelf ice is prohibited, visitors are still welcome to visit the beach to observe the frozen phenomenon from a safe distance.

In March, Indiana Dunes State Park’s interpretive staff will offer two shelf ice exploration programs. These programs will describe how the ice forms and offer a bird’s-eye view of the ice from atop the historic beach pavilion. The programs are March 1st and March 22nd, both at 2 p.m. CST. For more information, call (219) 926-1390. Indiana Dunes State Park is at 1600 North 25 E. Chesterton, 46304.




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