Simone Engels had been gazing out over the waters of the Strait of Georgia from a beach on Vancouver Island when she spotted something bright and shiny on the horizon.
She had come to Moorecroft Regional Park in Nanoose Bay, British Columbia, on Sunday to photograph the mainland mountains at sunset on a beautifully clear winter’s day, but the object in the distance looked like no mountain that she recognized.
Engels raised his camera to get a closer look.
“I zoomed in and couldn’t believe what I was seeing because it looked like there was a huge iceberg floating around,” she told CBC News.
The target, first reported by NanaimoNewsNOW, seemed impossible, but the object remained on the horizon for a good half hour while Engels remained on the beach.
When she posted a photo on social media, everyone was convinced it was an iceberg — even a friend who had studied iceberg geomorphology for her doctorate, Engels said.
“I was very puzzled,” she said. “We don’t usually see icebergs here.”
It turns out that Engels had captured footage of an unusually clear optical illusion.
“It’s not an iceberg,” said Colin Goldblatt, associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Victoria.
“It’s a beautiful photograph, and what we see is a fine example of a higher mirage.”
He explained that this type of mirage is possible during an atmospheric inversion, when warm air sits on top of a layer of cooler air, causing light to bend downward.
Weather conditions caused the light to bend
What Engels saw were the peaks of the Cheam Range near Chilliwack, over 180 kilometers away. Normally, these mountains would be on the far side of the horizon, hidden by the curvature of the Earth and invisible to someone in Nanoose Bay.
“We can see it because of the curvature of light in the atmosphere,” Goldblatt said.
In this case, the dry conditions on Sunday made for a particularly crisp and clear mirage.
According to Goldblatt, mirages are a much more common occurrence in BC waters than the average person realizes.
“We actually see a lot of mirages. I see them when I’m kayaking or sailing on the Salish Sea,” he said, referring to coastal waters off Colombia’s southern coast. -British.
Besides upper mirages, like the one captured by Engels, there are also lower mirages, where something like a ship can appear to be overturned. Goldblatt explained that an inferior mirage occurs when a layer of cooler air sits on top of warmer air near the surface of the ocean.
Still, for Engels, an avid photographer who tries to get out into nature as much as possible, the experience was unique.
“I will definitely enlarge this photo and put it on my wall,” she said.