Mar 12

Winter Song: When Yellowstone Lake Sings

Icicles frost the trees. The air glistens in the below-freezing temperatures, all moisture having been frozen into tiny specks of glittering ice. A deep layer of early snow blankets the park and dampens all sound. Stand on the shores of frozen Yellowstone Lake and, if conditions are just right, you may hear the mystical wintertime singing of the frozen depths.

It is not a sound often heard, but it is a sound that makes you believe that you have fallen into the mad Wonderland that Alice knew. Imagine an echo of breath blowing over different glass bottles—each a different pitch; the song of air blowing through a pipe organ or a sound like the beating of distant wings; an abundance of pops and groans of ice.

You stand in amazement—what could create these sounds?

In the wintertime, ice on the 132-square-mile Yellowstone Lake can range from just a few inches to more than two feet thick. There are some spots of open water, the consequence of thermal features beneath the ice. But even those thermal features are not enough to keep the lake from fully freezing over.

The exact source of the “singing” is uncertain. One theory is that as the ice freezes and expands, the moving water underneath the ice creates cracks that travel and create the eerie sounds.

What goes on beneath the ice is difficult to fathom, and the sounds the lake produces make it seem all the more magical. Standing in this Wonderland, it is sometimes just as easy to imagine the fantastical explanations as it is to believe the scientific ones—and who’s to say you can’t indulge in a little of both on your travels here?

Even when we don’t know for sure what is happening beneath our feet, taking the time to find out more about the inner workings of Yellowstone makes it even more amazing!

This article was originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Yellowstone Quarterly.