A nearly a century-old puzzle is about to be solved by how delicate icebergs explode through the branches of decaying trees, such as hair.
The fibers are known as “hair ice” only exist when there is a cold-resistant fungus, and scientists now understand how those fungi stimulate ice growth.
Alfred Wegener, best known for his theory of continental drift, first identified and studied hair ice in 1918. At the time, he suspected that ice formation was linked to the roots of a mycelium – a fungus that lives on decaying wood and absorbs nutrients. Forms a pale, white, cobweb-like coating. However, about 90 years later, researchers discovered evidence that the fungus roots were essential precursors for hair ice. They found that wood treated with mycelium-coated wood did not develop ice after treatment with a fungicide or immersion in boiling water.