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Giant Snowballs Wash Up On Siberian Beach

A snowball thrown at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. A lot of snowballs have washed ashore in western Siberia.
Felipe Dana
A snowball thrown at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. A lot of snowballs have washed ashore in western Siberia.

There were snowy, icy balls everywhere.

Videos and photos from western Siberia, on the Gulf of Ob, showed an entire beach covered in snowballs that had apparently washed ashore. In one image published online by the Siberian Times, a woman sat on the frozen balls. In another, a dog ran near the balls, which had also formed what looked like a vertical mass of balls mashed together into an icy ball-wall.

The BBC reports that the balls started washing up about two weeks ago. They're strung along some 11 miles of coast and are said to range from about the size of a tennis ball up to almost 3 feet across.

Here's a video of the beach shot by someone named Valery Togo, who told the Russian news site Vesti Yamal that he lives in the nearby town of Nyda, which is on the Yamal Peninsula just above the Arctic Circle.

The BBC reports the chilled orbs that washed ashore "result from a rare environmental process where small pieces of ice form, are rolled by wind and water, and end up as giant snowballs." It adds:

"Russian TV quoted an explanation from Sergei Lisenkov, press secretary of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute:

" 'As a rule, first there is a primary natural phenomenon — sludge ice, slob ice. Then comes a combination of the effects of the wind, the lay of the coastline, and the temperature and wind conditions.'

" 'It can be such an original combination that it results in the formation of balls like these.' "

The Collins English Dictionary defines "slob ice" as "sludgy masses of floating ice" in Canadian English.

Rare and original as the ball-forming process might be, this is not the first time humans have witnessed these globular creations. In 2010, a Chicago Tribune video showed snowballs that washed up along Lake Michigan.

In 2015, a man waded into the water — again in Lake Michigan — to heft a couple of frozen balls himself, and videotaped it. He and other witnesses to the snowball phenomenon have noted that the main body of water is not frozen even though the balls are.

That same year, waves of icy spheres turned a Maine lake into an undulating ball-mass, captured on video by a Facebook user called Stone Point Studio.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.
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