The round balls of ice, with a diameter of up to 10 cm, began puzzling social media users this week after images, taken in a town just outside the northern Russian city of St. Petersburg, began appearing on Instagram.
Russian social media users immediately started joking about the mystery ice balls, commenting that someone in the area must have had a massive snowball fight, comparing the images to cranberries covered in sugar, and suggesting that the ice balls were really some whale caviar that washed up on shore.
News of the odd phenomenon was eventually also picked up by a few Western tabloids, including The Daily Mail. Western readers had their own theories about what may have caused the event. One user joked that the ice balls were left by "snowmen pooping off a cliff." Another suggested that they floated across the Atlantic Ocean from a cancelled snowball fight event in New Jersey. "Must be Snowmen neutering season," another quipped.
Faux-conspiracy minded jokers also said this must have been some sort of sinister Russian plot. "This is definitely a Communist plot," one user wrote. "Putin might be controlling weather in order to influence the [US 2016] vote. I'm also thinking the technology they used to hack the election could have been disposed in ice to hide evidence," another jested. "That's Russia's version of a Cold War," a third quipped. "That is not a surprise; for years it has been known Russians have ice cold balls," another wrote. "Remnants of a huge Russian naval exercise…which broke out into a snowball fight," another joked.
Of course, a few users attempted a serious explanation for the phenomenon. "No mystery, wave action, cold and wind, happens up on the Great Lakes frequently," a user from the US Great Lakes region wrote. "My best guess? Hail over the water. Water was too cold for the hail stones to melt quickly," another user noted. A debate also broke out about whether the phenomenon was the result of an oil spill or some other form of environmental pollution.
Earlier, Gennady Grakhovsky, assistant professor at the department of meteorological forecasts at St. Petersburg's Russian State Hydrometeorological University, told Russia's Channel 5 television network that the ice balls are what happens when freezing sea water meets rough sea conditions.
"As it freezes, seawater passes through three phases," Grakhovsky explained. "The first is called slush, a fine-granular ice floating on the surface of the water. If the sea is calm, the slush turns into a continuous sheet of ice. If there are waves, it is crushed into so-called pancake ice. If the waves are strong, the slush forms clumps, and what results are these ice ball-like formations."
Serious explanations aside, it seems that internet users, Russian and Western alike, are more interested in coming up with whimsical and comical conspiracy theories for the phenomenon.