Stunning Bubbles Frozen Under Lake Abraham | Travel | Smithsonian
Surreal frozen bubbles of methane beneath Alberta's Lake Abraham. (Emmanuel Coupe)

Stunning Bubbles Frozen Under Lake Abraham

Frozen bubbles of methane trapped beneath Alberta's Lake Abraham are beautiful, but dangerous if popped

These frozen bubbles under Alberta's Lake Abraham might look like winter jewels, but you wouldn't want to be too close to one if it popped: the bubbles are actually frozen pockets of methane, a highly flammable gas. Most of the time, methane escaping from the surface of water is relatively harmless—but if you happen to be lighting a match at the time one of these bubbles explodes, watch out.

Methane bubbles form in bodies of water when dead organic matter (leaves and animals) falls into the water and sinks to the bottom, to the delight of bacteria waiting below. The bacteria munches on the matter and poops out methane, which turns to white floating blobs when it comes into contact with frozen water. Methane is formed in thousands of lakes around the arctic, but decreasing permafrost means more and more of this methane is being released into the atmosphere, a worrying trend for climate scientists who note that methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Photographer Darwin Wigget has been leading photography tours and workshops to Lake Abraham for 11 years, which has helped popularize the location. He has published an eGuide, "Kootenay Plains and Abraham Lake - Winter Edition" for visitors looking to trek out onto the clear ice.

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