Pancake Ice

pancake ice on lake superior

Pancake ice is a phenomenon that occurs when the slush on the surface of the water thickens and swirls in a process known as rafting. These pancakes can be anywhere from 1-10 feet in diameter and about 4 inches thick. One of the things that are common to these interesting ice rafts is raised edges caused by continued collisions forced by waves.

The process is kick-started when frazil ice particles come to the surface. These particles bond together and form a super-thin sheet of ice that resembles an oil slick. These sheets then begin to spin from the wind and current creating the familiar pancake shape. When the weather is cold the pancakes form quickly and disappear just as fast when they freeze together into a single sheet.

Pancake ice often forms when it is between 20-32 degrees – cold enough to freeze but not to freeze over completely. These are the best places to see some pancake ice (e.g. Agate Beach, Burlington Bay, Flood Bay, Beaver Bay, Good Harbor Bay, etc).

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