Siberian Snowballs May Mean Snowy Winter in the U.S.

ENVIRONMENT

Incredible photographs from a beach in Siberia show thousands of naturally formed snowballs spread across an 18-kilometer (11-mile) stretch of coast. This is now officially the best place in the world to have a snowball fight. (Gizmodo)

But should you eat them? Use our study guide to investigate further.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit, including a link to today’s simple MapMaker Interactive map.

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Discussion Ideas

  • Huge Arctic “beach balls” have invaded shorelines along the Gulf of Ob, in northwestern Siberia. These mysterious orbs … aren’t actually that mysterious. How did the Siberian snowballs form? Why did they wash up on the beach?
    • Well, they did NOT wash up on the beach. They formed there.
    • The Gulf of Ob experienced sea level rise, and “[w]hen the water in the gulf rose, it came into contact with the frost [on the beach]. The beach began to be covered with ice. Then the water began to slowly retreat, and the ice remained. Its pieces were rolling over and over in the wet sand, and turned into these balls.” Physics!

 

  • Where else have these “beach balls” of ice and snow been created? How are these locations significantly different from the Gulf of Ob? Take a look at the second bookmark in today’s MapMaker Interactive map for some help.
    • Frosty snowballs have formed along the chilly winter shores of Lake Michigan (Illinois) and Sebago Lake (Maine).
    • Both Lake Michigan and Sebago Lake are well below the Arctic Circle, while the Gulf of Ob sits just north.
    • Lake Michigan and Sebago Lake are both typical inland lakes; they’re freshwater. The Gulf of Ob, on the other hand, is a bay of the Arctic ocean basin. (Find it on this zoomable map!)
      • The southern part of the gulf, where the snowballs formed, is actually an estuary—the Ob River discharges more than 12,000 square meters of water per second there. Regardless, the ocean is much bigger than that and the gulf is a brackish or saltwater bay.

 

  • Why do some meteorologists think that the Siberian snowballs may forecast a “brrr-acing” winter in the northeastern U.S.?
    • Siberia is near record cold for this time of year, and snow cover is at around the highest level for this time of year since at least 1998 … Some U.S. meteorologists use Siberian snow cover levels in October to forecast how key weather patterns will likely evolve downstream … Siberia’s abundant snow cover last month, and the faster advance of that snow cover, might be linked to a weaker winter polar vortex, which could cause more frequent incursions of cold air into North America and Western Europe. Perhaps that will bring more giant snowballs to the U.S. Great Lakes.”

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

Gizmodo: Thousands of Giant Snowballs Suddenly Appear on Siberian Beach

Nat Geo: Invasion of the Giant Snowballs! MapMaker Interactive

Nat Geo: Arctic Ocean hi-res map

Nat Geo: What is frost?

Nat Geo: Snow: Delicious or Dangerous? study guide

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