A disk of ice roughly 100 yards across that formed on the Presumpscot River and was slowly rotating and gaining size Monday had Westbrook buzzing almost as much as when city police spotted a giant snake eating a beaver in roughly the same location in June 2016.
Nothing ever came of those mysterious snake sightings – the reptile was dubbed “Wessie” by locals – but the sight of an alien-looking circle of ice stuck in the river had some people wondering about that section of the river’s knack for producing weird events.
“It kind of looks like a crop circle,” said Doug Bertlesman, a web developer at Ethos Marketing. His company is at 17 Ash St. The four-story building with a roof deck overlooks the river where the ice disk formed.
“It’s pretty wild to look at,” he said. “It’s certainly not every day that you can watch a spinning circle of ice in the river.”
Bertlesman estimated the disk was 100 yards in diameter and appeared to be rotating in a counter-clockwise direction.
Rob Mitchell, who owns the Ash Street office building, spotted the alien-looking disk just before 10 a.m. Monday and immediately notified the city of Westbrook.
“There were ducks sitting on it. The ducks were rotating on this big Lazy Susan. It was a big duck-go-round,” he said.
Mitchell, who noted the ice disk formed in roughly the same location as where Westbrook residents and local police spotted a giant snake in June 2016, said the disk does not appear to be moving downstream or upstream. “It’s stuck right there. It’s not going anywhere,” Mitchell said. “I think it will continue to gain in thickness as long as it keeps spinning.”
Tina Radel, the city’s marketing and communications director, also is a licensed drone operator. She went to the Westbrook River Walk – a 1.2-mile walking path adjacent to the river – and used the city’s drone to take aerial photographs.
Once Radel posted photographs on the city’s Facebook page, public interest surged. She even got a call from the Weather Channel asking if it had permission to use the photos, which show a circle of navy blue-and white ice.
Several people commented on the city’s Facebook page.
“Wessie,” Matt Ireland wrote. “Frozen Crop Circle,” David Lawrence posted. “Cool! Looks like a moon,” Candice Dutil said.
“It’s where the aliens landed,” Larry Liston commented.
Mark Battle, an associate professor of physics at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, said he’s never seen anything like the Westbrook ice disk.
The disk could have rotated clockwise instead of counterclockwise, but Battle attributed the disk’s movement to the river current, the thickness of the ice, and to the friction caused by the ice grinding against the shoreline.
“It’s definitely not being caused by the Coriolis force (that objects experience because of the Earth’s rotation),” Battle said. The Coriolis force or effect tends to deflect moving objects to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere.
Battle said he looked at Facebook photos of the ice disk.
“It looks marvelous,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Man-made ice disks have become popular in countries like Finland and Sweden, where residents are looking for entertaining ways to pass the long winter days.
Last April, residents in Sinclair, a village in an unorganized territory in Aroostook County, created what they believed was the world’s largest ice carousel on a frozen lake. About 100 volunteers cut a circle in the ice that was 427 feet in diameter, and they used four outboard motors to get it rotating.
While Wessie the snake was never captured or found, there was no talk Monday that a reptile could be propelling the ice circle on the Presumpscot. Experts had said that any serpent that might have been living in the river would be unable to survive a Maine winter.