Slurpee waves: a rare natural phenomenon that creates frozen-like ripples | Illustration: SurferToday

The winter season can completely transform the environment and natural life. For instance, have you ever wondered how slurpee waves form?

If there's something obvious about a wave is that it is a moving and morphing phenomenon that travels for a distance until it breaks.

Waves are in constant movement and mutation until they lose energy and dissipate into whitewater.

But what if they moved across the ocean and, as the temperature gets close to zero degrees Celsius, they started to freeze?

Nature is infinitely creative and endlessly unpredictable, capable of conjuring up the impossible with effortless ease.

So, all you need is a few factors and variables to align to make it feasible.

A slurpee wave - also known as a frozen wave or slushy wave - is an ocean wave that resembles the famous crushed ice and sweet drink, similar to granita.

Slushy waves: they move and break slower than normal waves | Illustration: SurferToday

A Rare Phenomenon

Jonathan Nimerfroh, a surf photographer from San Juan Capistrano, California, was one of the first to document the rare phenomenon.

The lensman's pictures of slurpee waves went viral in 2015 when he shot near-frozen ripples taking shape in Nantucket, Massachusetts, an island 90 miles (145 kilometers) southeast of Boston.

Three years later, Nimerfroh was at Nobadeer Beach, capturing his surfer friends' waves, when he once again witnessed the unusual undulating slush.

It is the result of several weather phenomena, including the fact that it was the coldest winter experienced in 81 years.

So, how do these salty slurpee waves form? Why do they look frozen when they are about to break?

When the air and water temperature reaches nearly 0° C (32 °F), icy particles begin forming in the water.

However, while fresh water freezes at 32 °F ( 0 °C), sea water only freezes at 28.4 °F (-2 °C) due to its salt content.

So, if temperatures continue to drop, the surface of the sea could get close to the freezing point.

When it happens, a soft layer called frazil forms due to the accumulation of ice crystals in water that is too turbulent to freeze solid.

Simultaneously, salt, which doesn't freeze, gets left behind.

Slushy Waves Move and Break Slowly

But how do slurpee waves get that dreamy, slushy look? Why do they resemble wool blankets or yogurt-like curls?

Whenever the shoreline is calm, surface ice gets smooth and dark at first and then whiter as it thickens.

However, if there's enough swell and wave energy, small patches of ice formed start bumping into each other, producing a mesmerizing, slushy appearance.

Slush is eventually tossed onto shore, creating a snowpowder effect.

Interestingly, these nearly frozen waves move and crash incredibly slowly and almost make no noise when they break.

Slushy waves are so smooth and brain-satisfying that they make you want to touch them. And they are surfable, too.

And as it happens in lakes, if the temperature remains low for a longer period, the patches will start merging and forming a uniform sheet.

Sea ice is relatively common in the Arctic and Southern oceans, covering 25 million square kilometers of the planet's surface.

Slurpee waves are a rare occurrence on shorelines, mainly because the naturally turbulent nature of swells tends to break the ice.

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