Abraham Lake: Nature’s Dutch Oven

Abraham Lake by Callum Snape

Abraham Lake. Photo by Callum Snape.

The expulsion of gas is very rarely a welcomed event; just ask anyone who has invited extended-family relatives over for Thanksgiving dinner. Yet every winter at Abraham Lake, locals and tourists alike flock to this body of water on the upper course of the North Saskatchewan River in Western Alberta. They arrive to witness a stunning display of frozen methane gas bubbles that slowly float to the surface. These bubbles create a spectacular tableau of shapes and designs that would render Jackson Pollock speechless.

Abraham Lake is a man-made body of water that was created in 1972 with the construction of the Bighorn Dam at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Named after Silas Abraham (who was a guide for many early explorers of the area) in recent years, the natural phenomenon of gas bubbles has attracted photographers, hikers, fishing enthusiasts and many more nature buffs owing to its milky blue colour year round and, in particular, to the stunning icy artwork in the winter.

So how does the lake produce these frozen bubbles?

They are created when bacteria in the water eat dead plant and animal matter, and then, as a result of “digestion,” release methane. In the summer months, the methane simply rises to the surface, floats out into the atmosphere, and people are none the wiser; but in the cold months of winter, these bubbles become temporarily frozen in time, creating a gorgeous display of natural artwork.

The area does not have many activities set up for tourists in the winter, since most flock here during the warmer months . However, if you are determined to see this phenomenon first hand then it is there for the taking. The lake is approximately half an hour west of the town of Nordegg on Hwy 11 (David Thompson Hwy).

Warning! Contents under pressure

Folks should not walk on the lake unless they know how to “read the ice” as most of it can be only a foot thick; there are patches of thin ice all around, especially close to the shore lines. The area can be very windy too, so prepare for wind chill when you’re bundling up.

Also keep in mind that if there has been a snowfall, it may take a few days for the snow to clear in order to see the bubbles below.

Even given these precautions, this experience has “bucket list” written all over it. So grab your camera, your buddies, and think of your best gas-related captions for Instagram on the car ride over.

Jonathan Hiltz

Jonathan Hiltz is a journalist and TV producer based in Toronto and regularly writes for a number of great publications, including GoodLife Magazine, NUVO and Triathlon Magazine.

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