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Sounds of Spring: What Creates the Unique Sounds of Melting Ice

Katie Thoresen/WXPR

After a winter of heavy snow blanketing the woods creating a peaceful silence, the sounds of spring can be almost deafening.

Birds return. Frogs wake from their frozen slumber. The ice melting on the lakes creates its own unique sound.

“Some people tell me it sounds like a groaning whale or like a laser gun, a Star Wars noise, or like you just said a Doctor Who noise,” said Emily Heald, Water Program Coordinator at the North Lakeland Discovery Center in Manitowish Waters.

The sounds are most often heard in the morning and evening during the biggest temperature swings of the day.

“That expansion and contraction, that’s what’s causing the ice to crack, and the cracking is what’s making that sound,” explained Heald.

What sound you’re exactly going to hear is dependent on a number of factors and nearly impossible to predict.

“It’s going to depend on so many things about how that sound wave is moving through the ice. You know, it’s affected by temperature, how quickly the temperature changes, ice quality, snow presence or absence, things like that,” said Healed.

If you were lucky enough to hear the unique sounds for yourself this year, you likely notice it came a bit earlier than usual.

The early spring melt could mean you notice some difference on the lakes this summer, but Heald says it’s the changes in ice over hundreds of years.

She says there’s been some research that shows the time between ice on and ice off is declining.

“Long term changes in the ice can effect temperature which then affects the plants and animals that live in those lakes and there’s also a human component to that. It can be positive or negative depending on how you look at it, but think of things like shipping, transportation, fishing, cultural activities, things like that,” said Heald.

You can help with the research that looks into this.

If you track the day the ice covers a lake or the day it melts away, the DNR collects that information through its citizen lake monitoring program.

“A lot of people monitor ice on their lakes just for their own interest, but scientists can actually use those data for long term research studies,” said Heald. “You do need a long-term data set to draw conclusions about ice so there’s no better time than now to start doing that.”

We have a link to upload the information to the DNR on its website or you can email Heald and she’ll help you out, water@discoverycenter.net.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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