The Short Life of Refractive Methane Bubbles

This year there were some stunning conditions on Lake Minnewanka in Banff; methane bubbles were trapped throughout the clear ice that formed on the lake late in January. These were particularly interesting because many were clear and also refracting light. It was a case of being in the right place at the right time. I stopped at the lake after a day of scouting along the Icefields Parkway. The skies were clear, and the sun was beginning to set, so the light was hitting the bubbles just right to create little rainbows throughout the textures of the bubbles. 

Methane Bubbles Refract Light in Banff by Calgary Photographer Monika Deviat

Layers of bubbles in all shapes and sizes creating rainbows.

It was a busy weekday afternoon at the lake with lots of people skating and some just walking around and enjoying the bubbles. I got some strange looks when I told a couple, “there are some really neat bubbles refracting light here!”. I’ve photographed methane bubbles many times at Abraham Lake, probably the most popular place for bubble hunting, but I’ve never seen bubbles like this.


At first, I found some tiny bubbles that looked like jewels. As I wandered further along the ice, there were many more gems to photograph. Some were quite opaque and clustered close together, and occasionally crossed with cracks and skate marks.

Methane bubble stacks in Banff

Cracks and skate marks intersect the bubble patterns.

Methane Bubbles in Banff National Park

These ones looks like something you would see under a microscope.

Methane Bubbles in Banff National Park by Monika Deviat

The light plays differently on the variously layers of the bubbles.

Methane Bubbles in Banff National Park

More bubbles that look like close ups of microorganisms.

Methane bubbles and mount inglismaldie in Banff

Large patches of bubbles in big clear sections had skate marks everywhere. You can see the footprints in the snow too.

I foolishly thought I might have more time to photograph these bubbles. I had a workshop to teach that night, so I left to prepare for that. Between a couple of days of snowfall combined with a day of temperatures up to +8C, the clear ice was ruined within a week and then mostly snow covered. During that week I was of course teaching workshops and working everywhere but Banff.


I was able to get out for a couple of shots of the bubbles at night during the full moon. I had hoped to get them without the moon creating glare over the lake, but I guess that is going to be a project for another season…if these conditions ever happen again. 

Moonlit methane bubbles and orion at night in Banff

Moonlit bubbles with Orion in the sky.

Night photography is my favourite genre, and if you would like to learn how to take stunning night photos (especially of the Milky Way), check out my Night Photography Workshop that I am so excited to host at Dinosaur Provincial Park. 

If you are new to using digital cameras, especially in manual mode, I have a Camera Basics and Beers course running on February 28th. Enjoy a pint or craft soda on me while learning about camera basics, then get some practice time in the brewery section.