Sparkling 'Jewel Ice' Can Only Be Found in One Place on Earth

Ice on Diamond Beach near Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon in Iceland. Brad Erwin/Shutterstock

There's a beach around the mouth of the Tokachi River in Japan that's covered in treasure. Dazzling jewels that you might mistake for diamonds blanket the sands. But these jewels, made of mere ice, are more precious than diamonds. They can be found no place else on Earth, and they're fleeting, impermanent; destined to vanish into the waves as the warmer air melts them away.

The rare gemstones, called "Tokachi River ice," "jewel ice" or "jewelry ice," are formed by a unique set of conditions to give them a glint unlike any other form of frozen water. When temperatures drop, the mouth of the crystal-clear Tokachi River freezes over. Ice fragments then get chipped off as the river meets the waves, and those fragments are shaped, briefly, by the frigid sea until eventually they are scattered across the beach.

“I had never heard of this type of ice and have never seen any sea ice like it,” wrote Peter Wadhams, an ocean physicist at the University of Cambridge, to the New York Times. “It’s just river ice, which is transparent because it has no salt in it.”

Another factor contributing to the crystal-clear nature of the ice is that it must freeze extremely slowly so that impurities, like air bubbles, don't get trapped within. All of these conditions, taken together — the slow freeze of freshwater, the movement of the pristine river into the salty sea, the smooth shaping from the waves — make this place unique in the world.

The nearest comparison might be the gleamy shine of glacier ice in southern Chilean fjords, or like the ice found at Alaskan panhandle inlets. But nothing quite compares to this treasure-strewn beach in Japan. It's a phenomenon that one local town's tourist website is beginning to take advantage of. Guided tours and even a museum are on tap if you're interested in a visit. The jewels certainly offer a photography opportunity unlike any other.

If you can't make travel plans anytime soon, you can always titillate yourself by checking out what's being posted to Instagram, including the beautiful images show above and below.