Ducks headed down to the Presumpscot river in Westbrook today are in for a big surprise, as Maine’s giant spinning ice disk has returned. Known to some as the “duck carousel”, the rare but natural phenomenon is the result of cold air colliding with mini whirlpools creating a giant, spinning, frozen circle that sometimes appears in the winter months.
First seen in Maine in 2019, it made a small appearance in 2020, and is now back with a vengeance.
Icy Lazy Susans like this one have been spotted in rivers across the globe, and one of the earliest reports of a sighting dates back to 1895 when a reader wrote into Scientific American to say they’d spotted a “revolving ice cake” in the Mianus River, New York.
The peculiar formation occurs when eddies – pockets of water moving in a circular direction – in a river freeze and begin to spin. Because the water in the middle of the eddy is moving the slowest, it’s the most likely part to freeze. The developing lump of ice gradually gets buffered into a near-perfect circle as the continuing current makes it spin and its edges scrape against rocks and ice.
That said, nothing in science is impervious to conspiracy theorists and some posited their own theories as to why the Duck Carousel has returned. “I'm not going to accuse you guys of engineering this,” wrote Meteorologist at WCSH/WLBZ Keith Carson under a Facebook post by City of Westbrook, “but I did see Patrick Dempsey in a wetsuit swimming around there in big circles just a few days ago.”
This year’s offering from the Presumpscot river is similar in size to previous years but a little thinner, says Discover Magazine. After appearing quite suddenly during a cold snap overnight, it spent a day living up to its Duck Carousel reputation before grinding to a frozen halt, but the immense circle is still visible.
Whether the giant ice disk in Maine will begin to spin again remains to be seen, so if you’re a duck we’d recommend getting down there lickety-split.