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Mystery Solved! Scientists Reveal The Truth Behind The Bizarre Phenomenon Known As “Hair-Ice”

For nearly 100 years, “hair-ice” has stumped scientists across the globe. The phenomenon was first studied by a German meteorologist named Alfred Wegener in 1918. Wegener theorized that hair-ice grew under specific conditions with a biological component, an unknown fungus, acting as the catalyst for the unusual ice formation. Wegener’s theory was never confirmed — until now, thanks to a team of scientists led by Dr. Christian Mätzler of The Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

So, what exactly is hair-ice? Hair-ice is a term given to an ice structure that grows from the filaments of decaying logs and branches in the shape of fine, silky fibers that can grow up to 20cm in length. Hair-ice only grows in broadleaf forests under humid conditions with temperatures teetering below freezing. The hair strands are extremely delicate and melt instantly when exposed to direct sunlight. However, hair-ice is able to hold its structure for a few hours to several days when the conditions are right.

Taking Alfred Wegener’s notes into consideration, Dr. Mätzler set out to find the fungus responsible for hair-ice growth on decaying wood. To do this, his team sampled a number of logs for fungus where hair-ice was present. In his findings, Dr. Mätzler identified the fungus Exidiopsis effusa as the key biological component behind the growth of hair-ice. That discovery aside, one mystery persists — no one is able to identify the recrystallisation inhibitor, the mechanism behind the ice crystal growth. In the future, the team of scientists hope to fully explain the connection between the fungus and the growth mechanism behind hair-ice.

Watch the timelapse video below for more information and to see hair-ice in action!

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Mitchell Canh is a West Michigan resident and enjoys exploring the great outdoors. He lives by the Vietnamese proverb and his family's motto: "The good leaves protect the worn-out leaves." He hopes to protect the Earth and its inhabitants from climate change and pollution.