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Not 'just ice': USM faculty, alumni weigh in on Westbrook ice disk

Westbrook ice disk, Jan. 22, 2019

All of Maine, much of the country and even some parts of the globe have been captivated by the giant, rotating “ice disk” currently occupying part of the Presumpscot River in downtown Westbrook.

Although recent warmer temperatures have distorted the natural formation — so much so that it can no longer really be called a disk — it has no doubt created a buzz on social media, earning headlines from London to Tokyo.

But why? University of Southern Maine Professor of Sculpture Michael Shaughnessy gave his thoughts to the Portland Press Herald.

“There hasn’t been anything like this of this scale,” said Shaughnessy, a professor in USM’s art department and head of Friends of the Presumpscot River. “People would say, ‘It’s ice on the river. What’s so unique about ice?’ That’s like saying about the Grand Canyon, ‘What’s so unique about erosion?’”

The 300-foot-wide circle of ice formed overnight on Jan. 14, quickly drawing the attention of those working in view of the river.

It gained particular fame because of its counter-clockwise rotation, which USM Professor of Physics Paul Nakroshis told Maine Public’s “Maine Things Considered” was possible because of river water moving past it, leading it to spin continuously.

USM alumnus Justin Levesque '10But what is so captivating about ice that the disk managed to capture the attention of millions?

USM alumnus Justin Levesque ‘10, who has explored the Arctic and ice as a theme in his work, said it was the mystery of the ice disk that brought tens of thousands of people to downtown Westbrook.

“Ice is inherently mysterious,” he told Press Herald reporter Bob Keyes. “In a fundamental way, we’ve always been curious about ice and the world we can peer into through it, and the way it has always defied our expectations of nature and how we fit into it,” Levesque said.

Read the full story at the Portland Press Herald, and listen to Nakroshis’ interview on Maine Public.