Extreme cold temperatures during the winter months can result in reports of a little-known phenomenon called cryoseism. More popularly known as ice quakes or frost quakes, because they feel and sound like minor earthquakes, cryoseism is most common on glaciers, where ice is continually expanding and contracting, leading to great booming cracks as fissures form in the ice.
But ice quakes can also happen on solid land, particularly when soil saturated by rain or melted snow drops in temperature from above freezing to subzero over a short period of time. As the moisture in the soil freezes, it expands.
This rapid expansion places stress on the bedrock below, which can sometimes crack under the pressure with an explosive pop.
The telltale signs of an ice quake are a booming sound, brief shaking, as in a minor earthquake, but in a very localized area, and usually a small crack in the ground, though the latter might be hard to identify in deep snow.
Many people who have experienced ice quakes initially thought there had been an earthquake, and were surprised to find that no one else experienced it.
Ice quakes have been reported in most of Canada. In the United States, only a handful of states experience ice quakes, all located in New England and the Great Lakes region: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
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