Nature photographer Mathew Nichols spent a few chilly nights this winter in the woods of Washington's Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park, documenting the surreal formation of "hair ice" – also known as "needle ice" or "beard frost" – which can be found when cold conditions are just right.Nichols, who spends quite a bit of time outdoors, has seen these odd-looking branches that have icy needles protruding from the branch.
How did they get there? You need the right kind of wood and the right kind of fungus."Hair Ice is caused by a fungus that lives within the decaying wood, and this fungus 'breathes' or releases its spores through the night, pushing the moisture harnessed within the wood out of the wood's pores, causing it to immediately freeze with contact of the below freezing temperatures," Nichols said.As the fungus' "breath" continues to freeze through tiny pores, long, thin strands of ice form, which in the aggregate, appear to look like hair.Nichols wanted time-lapse video to show how they form and melt, but this was no easy photo shoot."Hair Ice" grows on a dead branch in the woods of northwestern Washington in March. (Mathew Nichols Photography / FOX Weather)First, he had to wait until the right weather conditions were present.
He had taken extensive notes during previous encounters on the temperature, humidity, cloud cover and wind needed for hair ice formation.
He also learned the best wood to find hair ice was dead alder branches."From there, I waited for the right conditions to occur again," Nichols said. "I wanted to not only know what caused it, but I also wanted to see it grow."On this day, Nichols said ambient temperatures were about 33 degrees but closer to 31 along the ground.