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What is Fast Ice?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Everyone knows that James Bond likes fast cars, fast women, and fast ice. Well, actually, no. In the case of the latter, that's "fast" as in "landfast." Fast ice is ice which is anchored to a landmass, remaining fixed in place instead of floating like drift ice does. Technically, the term "fast ice" is also used specifically to refer to sea ice, like the ice which forms in the Arctic and along the coasts of Antarctica.

There are a number of ways in which fast ice can attach itself to land. In the first case, it forms along coastlines as the weather grows colder in the winter months, anchoring itself to the land and slowly developing into an extensive iced region which can protrude significantly far from land. The fast ice may be surrounded by a field of drift ice, some of which may be left over from the previous year's fast ice.

Fast ice can also anchor itself to shoals, appearing around harbors and in other shallow regions, and it can connect directly to the ocean floor. Sometimes, it links itself to anchor ice, submerged ice which has attached itself to the ocean floor. Anchor ice holds the fast ice in place while it develops, often developing fanciful undersea patterns in response to the movement of the tides.

A number of properties make fast ice interesting. Although it is fixed to land, fast ice still moves with the tides, contributing to the development of strange patterns, cracks, and fissures, since the ice is not flexible enough to give with the change in sea level. Fast ice also usually cracks away from the land in the summer months, creating ice floes and turning into drift ice. Over time, the floes will be broken up into smaller chunks of ice which float in the open ocean.

Fast ice can be useful for navigation, if the properties of a particular deposit of fast ice are well known. Sturdy ice, for example, can support the weight of vehicles and sledges which can be used to transport goods from a ship which could not otherwise make harbor. It may also form temporary bridges or links between land masses which can be used for land transit. Deposits of fast ice may also pose a hazard, as the ice can crack apart or give under the weight of a unsuspecting person or vehicle if it is thin enough. In cases where fast ice has formed over the water, a failure of the ice can be catastrophic.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By GigaGold — On Mar 01, 2011

Fast ice "holds fast" to landmass. The etymology of the word "fast" is unique, and it was originally most similar to its usage in "steadfast," in that it meant "strong and persistent." Running "fast" meant to keep a steady pace and not slow down. Holding fast meant to have a steady hold.

By anon136567 — On Dec 23, 2010

Fast ice is also a term used in curling to describe the quick speed the rock will travel if there is a low surface tension to the ice. Also, slow ice is the opposite and describes a higher surface tension and therefore a slower pace to the shot rock. Or something like that.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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