Monday, January 08, 2007

IN FROM THE COLD: EUROPE'S ENIGMATIC ICEFALLS

Icefalls
By Scott Corrales
© 2000

Scott Corrales (Sml)     The 1930's were one of the 20th centuries most turbulent decades--kicking off with a world in the midst of economic depression, the sharp divide between democracy, fascism and communism, and ending in all-out warfare. While the pages of history are devoted to the famous--and infamous--names of that time, there are other names which will probably pass from memory at some point in the coming century. One of them is that of Hans Hoerbiger, the Austrian proponent of the Wel theory--"The Eternal Ice", a belief fostered as official by Nazi Germany.

Much has been written about Horbiger elsewhere, but in a nutshell, his theory postulated that our planet had endured the acquisition and loss of a number of moons, and that each of these periods had ended in enormous ice showers as the outer shells of these moons plunged into the Earth's atmosphere. The ice showers would be followed by larger meteors of ore and iron. Hoerbiger's disciples, such as Hans Bellamy, employed this fanciful theory as a "vindication of the cosmogonic myths in the Book of Genesis" (which is, indeed, the subtitle of Bellamy's own text on the subject.

We now know that the surface of the Moon--Hoerbiger's "planet Luna"--is not made of ice, although the exciting news about this substance's discovery in deep polar craters recently made the news. The urge to play devil's advocate becomes irresistible, however, when strange chunks of ice begin plummeting into our atmosphere and leaving scientists bewildered. Could Hoerbiger have been onto something, after all?

Ice in Spain

In the month of January 2000, when chunks of ice--some of them weighing more than just a few pounds--began peppering the southern and western regions of Spain, known for their mild weather and fine beaches, people began to wonder if something wasn't seriously amiss. Certainly, France had experienced a terrible winter storm the previous month, which caused untold damage in Paris and Versailles, and north-central Spain had undergone snow related hardships. But this was something utterly new.

The first few icefalls were overlooked as mere "flukes" or curiosities: the ice blocks which fell on Soria on January 8th and in Seville on the 10th barely made it into the news (despite the latter projectile weighing in at a healthy 1.8 kilograms).But on January 13, 2000, headlines across Spain trumpeted the discovery of an enigmatic chunk of ice measuring 13 centimeters across and weighing over a pound. The celestial missile's trajectory led it to punch a hole in the zinc roof of an industrial warehouse belonging to the Viferma Corporation in that town of L'Alcudia (Valencia). The mega-hailstone's destructiveness would have been completely overlooked during a hailstorm, particularly during the winter months, but the intruder had appeared out of the clear blue Mediterranean sky. Workers in the industrial warehouse heard an explosion at around 11:00 am, followed by a shower of zinc fragments from the roof above. A closer inspection revealed that the icy projectile had encrusted itself between the shattered zinc roof and an I-beam, from where it was carefully removed and placed in a refrigerator. Some employees expressed the belief that the unwelcome guest could have been much larger, given the fragments of ice visible on the floor below and scattered on the intact part of the roof. A spokesman for the local weather bureau (Centro Meteorologico de Valencia) ordered that the fragment be placed in a clean container and preserved until one of their representatives could collect it for investigation. The explanation issued at the moment was that the "object was of possible cometary origin".

Within twenty-four hours, reports were being received from the village of La Unión in Murcia, where another large ice rock had fallen behind a local bar. The National Police dutifully picked up the object and forwarded it for study.

In a matter of days, the Spanish icefalls had gone from curiosity to news item and from there to the outskirts of panic: on January 16, 2000, the ABC newspaper reported that the eight such chunk of cosmic ice had fallen in downtown Cádiz, striking the ground on La Palma street at 3:30 in the afternoon--a time and place where one or more people could have been seriously injured or killed.

The following day, another large chunk of ice would strike the Valencia region, this time in the town of Albalat de la Ribera. The object in this incident was described as having "the size of a basketball" and to have fallen on a local road joining the communities of Sueca and Algemesa. In this event, two teenagers driving along the road collected the object and preserved it until experts could come for it.The phenomenon was by no means over. On January 17th, the media reported that two more "frigoliths"--as they were now being called--had fallen on Huelva and Albacete. Scientists, who had drawn battle lines regarding their provenance of the phenomenon, were more divided than ever and helpless. The citizens fo the towns of Tocina (Sevilla), L'Alcudia (Valencia), La Uni£n (Murcia), Meliana, Enguera (Valencia) and Xilxes (Castell£n) anxiously awaited the results for the analyses conducted on the objects fallen on their respective communities

On February 1, 2000, the owner of a dwelling located at #87 Bruc Street in Barcelona was startled to find a 1250 kilogram chunk of ice on her terrace, according to sources of the Urban Police which assumed custody of the object. The chunk of ice remained at police headquarters in Barcelona until it was forwarded to Madrid at noon for further study.

Grappling with the complex matter of the ice showers fell to the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones (CSIC), a government agency, and one of its first assignments was to keep the situation under control and within logical guidelines. Geologist Jesús Martínez Frias, who was in charge of collecting most of these ice fragments from the affected areas, stated that he was "the most startled one when it [came] to this type of phenomena. It's too risky to engage in a priori evaluations, but everything points to a cometary origin for these ice fragments." Martínez immediately dismissed one of the prevalent theories, which pointed to the possible origin of the ice as residue from high-flying aircraft. "If this hypothesis is confirmed," he observed, "it would be a worldwide scientific scoop, because there is no evidence that other cometary remains have fallen on our planet. In such an event, we would have to notify our findings to NASA and to ESA (European Space Agency)."

Not all members of Spain's scientific establishment were so sanguine about a possible extraplanetary origin to the ice. In fact, most adhered to the highly skeptical position best exemplified by that of Javier Armentia, director of the Pamplona Planetarium and a well-known UFO skeptic. "I'm convinced that part of these phenomena are little more than pranks. In other words, that following the falls of one or two ice fragments,there was a wave effect, similar to what happens with UFOs."

Francisco Anguita, dean of Petrology and Geochemistry at Madrid's Unversidad Complutense, also came out in favor of a non-extraplanetary origin for the frigoliths.

Italian Ices

The backdrop for the events would soon change from one Mediterranean view to another. On January 28, another block of ice weighing 2 kilograms in a Salesian monastery in the town of L'Aquila, an event preceded by similar icefalls in the Campania region

According to the Italian NTX news agency, the magistrate's office in the city of Ancona initiated an investigation after a 24 year old worker was injured after being hit by a block weighing approximately 1 kilogram. Physicist Giancarlo Tebaldi of Milan's Hygiene and Prevention Institute expressed their belief that ice is was a result of the same storms that ravaged France in December during one of the worst natural disasters in that country's history. The Veneto Region Environmental Agency's studies proved the blocks to be made of a "material similar to distilled water, in other words, lacking any salts whatsoever,and with traces of ammonia and nitrates," and discarded the possibility that the chunks of ice could be radioactive.

Ufologist Eufemio Del Buono, however, stated that the ice "is a warning from extraterrestrial intelligences". A sorcerer named Alex from the city of Genova, told radio stations that these were really fireballs sent to destroy the world, but they turned into ice balls upon making contact with the Earth's atmosphere.

On the other side of the world from Europe, less attention was commanded by a shower of large blocks of ice which completely destroyed croplands to the north of Bogotá, Colombia, on March 17th,2000. The ice storm, complete with hurricane-strength winds, laid waste the agricultural community of Oiba (some 120 miles from Bogota), shearing the roofs of the peasantry's fragile homes and killing all types of animals. Primitivo Báez, a spokesman for the mayor's office, told reporters for Associated Press that "the ground looked as if it had been scorched by a huge fire." The unusual weather event, which lasted three hours, left in its wake large blocks of ice littered over a 200 hectare-wide area. According to Báez, the damage to cash crops such as coffee, sugarcane and yucca was such that farmers were forced to uproot any surviving plants and re-plant them.

"The event was so sudden," stated Báez in the March 19 AP newswire, "that birds were unable to fly away from the hurricane-strength winds and the ice. They died on the ground, as did the chickens. Only some animals which managed to find shelter beneath trees escaped injury."

Colombia had experienced unusually powerful hailstorms before, mostly attributed to the "La Niña" meteorological phenomenon, but as in Europe, there was no explanation for the sudden icy destruction.

Scientists on Ice

While scientists stared at each other like gunslingers at sundown, the frigoliths continued to fall, this time far from the Mediterranean "theater": residents of the Dutch cities of Groningen, Hoogeveen, Veendam and Zoutkamp were startled to find huge chunks of ice--of the same size and characteristics of the Iberian and Italian ones--sitting in their back yards. A scientist from the University of Groningen, Dr. Theo Jurriens, investigated these occurrences and reached a preliminary verdict of "drinking water from an unknown source."

Spain's Instituto del Frío (Cold Research Institute) and the National Insitute of Meteorology were entrusted the task of determining the frigoliths' provenance and nature. This apparently straightforward assignment would soon deteriorate into a battle of opposing factions that would end with the firing of the director in charge of one of these agencies.

The bureaucratic handling of the specimens was part of the problem: time slowly passed between delivery of the objects by the National Police to the CSIC, and thence to the interdisciplinary working group led by meteorologist Luis Muñosiguren. Efforts at shoehorning the phenomenon into a strictly meteorological framework began from the start, even when Muñosiguren stated that there was no evidence pointing to a natural meteorological phenomenon at work in the creation of the frigoliths. "We don't know of any scientific mechanism which provides a basis for such a phenomenon." The meteorologist pointed to the fact that the Earth's stratosphere, where the frigoliths almost surely formed, contains very little water vapor--the crucial element in their formation. "Normal detection equipment does not detect water vapor concentrations in the atmosphere, where the normal concentrations are so low as to be nonexistent." Chemical analyses ultimately proved that the Spanish ice bombs were made of ordinary H2O with trace minerals, ammonia (NH4) and low levels of silica (SiO2).

However, some things were made clear during the January 21st "summit". The experts agreed that the objects had no connection whatsoever to high flying aircraft or liquid discharges from airliners; they discarded the possibility of their being aeroliths or meteorites, and agreed that whatever they were, they were unrelated to any conventional atmospheric processes. Scientists also confessed not knowing what manner of air currents would allow vast quantities of ice to remain aloft, calling attention to the 100 pound ice missile that fell in Brazil in 1998, or the three-foot wide block of ice that bombarded China in 1995.

In an op-ed piece written for Spain's Karma-7 magazine, Carlos González Cutre, a meteorologist with the Spanish Air Force, discussed the various forces at work in the troposphere and stratosphere, emerging at the end with a highly disturbing conjecture: what if, suggests González, we are dealing with a gigantic mass of ice floating in the darkness of space, shedding chunks of material every time Earth's gravitational pull reaches out to it with invisible fingers?

A notion worthy of Charles Fort himself.

Those Who Forget the Past...

The media and academe alike treated the Western Mediterranean icefalls with the level of concern usually reserved for completely new--and even a tad ominous--phenomena. A world in recovery from Pre-Millennial tension perhaps deserved better, but the fact remained that such icefalls were quite a common occurrence, and not just in the casebooks of Charles Fort.

According to Fortean researcher Thanassis Vembos, a similar phenomenon had been visited upon Greece in 1988, when an object crashed to earth in an empty field near the town of Chalkoutsi, 30 miles north of Athens. One local resident claimed having witnessed the descent to earth of a large dark mass "the size of a human body" shortly before noon on January 4th. The unknown object's impact threw up large amounts of mud into the air as a small crater was formed. Authorities reporting to the location would later discover a lump of ice almost a foot in diameter, which appeared to be a perfectly normal in all respects. Subsequent chemical analyses confirmed its normalcy, adding that the object was made of frozen chlorinated water. Vembos, whose report appeared in Strange (#6--1990), tied the incident in with other unusual phenomena being experienced in the Eastern Mediterranean at the time: mysterious aerial booms ("skyquakes"), earthquakes and a UFO flap. Nor was this the first time that such events had occurred in Greece: In September 1980, a 10 pound block of ice fell on the village of Chiona in the Peloponnese, where a similar block of ice had fallen in 1976. Cold comfort, indeed.

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