Needle ice forms in porous, wet soil or sediment when the soil temperature is above freezing and the surface atmosphere temperature is below freezing. Permeability is important. Capillary action pulls water up toward the surface where the water freezes at the bases of growing ice crystals. The growing crystals are capable of lifting small particles and vegetation above the normal soil surface. This differential motion can thoroughly disaggregate and disrupt the upper several centimeters of the soil profile in temperate climates.
The images in this gallery were made in an elementary school yard where patches of bare soil are exposed. By the time I walked over the yard, the sun had melted most of the crystals except for those protected by shadows. Most of the single, larger grains on top of the crystals are coarse sand, perhaps around 2 mm (millimeters) in diameter.
Carter, J. R., 2013, Flowers and ribbons of ice: American Scientist, v. 101, p. 360-369.
Li, A., Matsuoka, N., and Niu, F., 2017, Frost sorting on slopes by needle ice: A laboratory simulation on the effect of slope gradient: Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, p. <xocs:firstpage xmlns:xocs=””/>. 10.1002/esp.4276
Li, A., Matsuoka, N., and Niu, F., 2018, Frost sorting on slopes by needle ice: A laboratory simulation on the effect of slope gradient: Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, p. n/a-n/a. 10.1002/esp.4276
Soons, J. M., and Greenland, D. E., 1970, Observations on the Growth of Needle Ice: Water Resources Research, v. 6, no. 2, p. 579-593. 10.1029/WR006i002p00579
Yamagishi, C., and Matsuoka, N., 2015, Laboratory frost sorting by needle ice: a pilot experiment on the effects of stone size and extent of surface stone cover: Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, v. 40, no. 4, p. 502-511. 10.1002/esp.3653
Needle ice in a loamy soil in a schoolyard near Salisbury, NC. The individual particles on top of the needles are coarse sand in size. Needle ice forms when soil water moves upward under capillary pressure and freezing when it contacts cold air. I will be posting a gallery of images with context on my blog soon. (The server is having intermittent problems right now.)