Westbrook ice disc for video

As one might expect when a circular ice formation appears, crowds are lining the Presumpscot River in Westbrook and the internet is going wild over the spectacle.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Bob Mains, who lives nearby in Westbrook and went to the top of a nearby parking garage to look over the ice disc late Tuesday morning. “It’s one of God’s creations. Everything works in a circular way.”

Jean Bryenton, whose backyard overlooks the spinning pool of water where the circle formed, called the area “special.”

“I feel like this is just one of those energy spots,” she said.

[Giant ice disc in Maine river attracts attention]

“It’s just warm enough that it’s not solid from shore to shore,” agreed her friend, Sue Pastore, of Portland. “It’s a combination of factors. Mother Nature is stepping in to tell us to observe and be hopeful.”

Sarah Thorne, who came from South Portland to see the ice disc with Sam Crawford, said she’s “never seen anything like this.”

Credit: Troy R. Bennett

“It’s huge,” said Crawford from the top of the garage. “We were on the other side [of the river] and it doesn’t look as big, but from up here, you can tell that it’s really huge.”

The mesmerizing moon-like disc is slowly spinning in a counterclockwise direction, with area birds taking advantage of the merry-go-round.

“It’s a ducky carousel,” said Bryenton.

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“I love that the ducks are just sitting on it, chilling,” said Thorne.

More than two dozen onlookers gathered in bunches on nearby buildings or along a public riverwalk to see the disc late Tuesday morning. The city sought to use the attention to boost local commerce, posting a video of the spinning disc on Facebook and urging gawkers to eat at local restaurants when they come to check it out.

Bryenton said she’s seen chunks of ice swirling in the river in that location before, as there’s a whirlpool motion there, but has never seen them solidify in a circle like this.

Naturally forming ice discs are not unheard of. News stories of such circles have popped up over the years across the United States, but they’re considered rare and none that have gained any publicity have been as large as the one in Westbrook, which onlookers say is about 100 yards in diameter.

[Giant snakeskin found in Westbrook came from anaconda known for reaching 30 feet in length]

The largest naturally occurring ice disc otherwise reported was about 54 yards in diameter, forming in Pite River in Sweden in 1987, although there’s no obvious central authority on ice discs worldwide.

The discs “occur at bends in the river where the accelerating water creates a force called ‘rotational shear,’ which breaks off a chunk of ice and twists it around,” the Daily Mail once reported, when one of the circles was seen in Great Britain for what was believed to be the first time in 2009. “As the disc rotates, it grinds against surrounding ice, smoothing into a perfect circle.”

The internet enjoyed the spectacle of the Westbrook ice disc as well.

Perhaps the most common, presumably tongue-in-cheek, internet theory for where the giant disc came from was aliens. It sort of looks, after all, like a “frozen crop circle,” as one Facebook commenter said.

Another suggested it could be “debris from Capt. Nemo’s utopian underwater city,” referencing a Jules Verne adventure or the 1969 movie inspired by it.

A man-made ice carousel in Sinclair last winter reached about 427 feet — or about 142 yards — in diameter. About 100 volunteers used augers and chainsaws to create that ice circle, and got it spinning using outboard motors.

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Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.