drew on a lot of our greatest strengths, and I think we’ll get some
While the group of scientists is proud of the experiment’s
unconventional execution and excited about the reams of data it
will yield in the decades to come, by all accounts, the research con-
ditions were absurdly unpleasant. All but a few of the icings took
place at night, when the low air temperature and lack of sunlight
would allow the ice to form quickest. In addition to the cold and
the not-insignificant challenge of having to navigate a calamitous
scene of falling trees in the dark, they also had to contend with the
thousands of gallons of water being sprayed into the freezing air.
“We were bundled up: we all had winter gear on, and then, on
top of that we had thick, rubber rainsuits,” Schwaner recalled, “but
water even gets through that – I’d take my stuff off and I’d have ice all
around my collar, going down my arms, just coating my torso. When
I sprayed the first day, I had about 10 to 15 pounds of ice on me, and
it was actually starting to rip up this industrial lobsterman suit I had
on: whenever I bent my arms all the ice would tear at the laminate.”
“The worst thing,” he continued with something approaching
bemusement, “was around your eyes, because if you tried wearing
the ski goggles, they’d get iced up immediately, just totally encased,
and there would just be no way you could see anything at all.”
I visited two of the plots the morning after they had been iced.
They were easy to spot in the leafless winter forest: giant and sur-
really well-defined cubes of white amid the gray woods. Rustad
walked me through the icy plots, noting spots of exceptional
destruction and noting proudly how well they’d managed to deliver,
for instance, exactly a half-inch of ice to the half-inch plots and
exactly a quarter-inch to the quarter-inch plots.
It was interesting to look around and think of the chaos that
had occurred just hours before: trees cracking and falling, a roaring
water pump, a gushing fire hose, and 20 cold and wet scientists racing around trying to ensure that everything was going as smoothly
as possible. It contrasted sharply with the eerie, frozen silence of the
scene that remained the next morning.
We paused for a moment in the plot that had been entombed
in three-quarters of an inch of ice, where many of the trees had
been ripped to icy shreds by all the weight. “There’s something
about these storms that is so sublime,” Rustad noted thoughtfully.
“There was a point during each one of these icings when we could
all feel the conditions suddenly tip from beautiful to dangerous. In
one moment we were marveling at how strange and magical it all
looked, but in the next, the whole canopy was suddenly coming
down, we all had to run away from the plot, and I have to tell you,
it was truly scary. It was like at any given moment you didn’t know
what was going to happen, and you feared it could be anything.”
Ben Cosgrove is a musician and writer interested in the relationships
between people and landscape. He lives in northern New England,
and more about his work can be found at www.bencosgrove.com.
4 The destructive power of ice on display. 5 The build-up of ice was carefully calibrated in each
plot to create various ice storm scenarios. 6 The morning after – moving quickly to evaluate the
immediate impact of the ice. 7 Researchers will continue to monitor the test sites to chart the
longer-term impacts of the ice storm.