Q:Hi Joe! I have a question. I thought when something gets heated up, it expands, but when you put a can of pop in the freezer it explodes. I thought if heat makes things expand, then cold must make them contract?? WHAT IS GOING ON
Water’s weird like that. It’s one of the few substances that expands as it freezes, due to its particular molecular arrangement. Liquid water is bouncing all over the place and the molecules are pointing every which way, so on average they are closer to each other than they would be in the nice, non-bouncing, ordered lattice that is an ice crystal.
Check out the GIF I made below, showing the structure of water ice. See all that empty space? That’s why solid water takes us more volume than liquid water.
What if all the ice melted?
The ocean holds most of Earth’s water. After that, it’s ice. 5.7 million cubic miles of the stuff.
What if, thanks to natural and man-made climate change, it all melted? What if, by burning enough deep-Earth carbon (dead dinosaurs, prehistoric plants, or as we call it… fossil fuels) we raised Earth’s average temperature to around 80˚ F? What if that new normal caused the ocean’s now-warmer water to expand, rising even further?
Thanks to National Geographic we know: This is is what 216 feet (66 meters) of sea level change looks like.
Olafur Eiasson’s installation at MoMA, Your Waste of Time, consist of broken chunks of Iceland’s Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier. The museum had to turn one of their main galleries into a walk-in freezer to able to display them. “According to PS1, the pieces of ice chosen for the project are about 800 years old. That sounds about right to Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Scambos speculates that the ice came from the ‘Little Ice Age,’ the period between the 16th and 19th centuries during which glaciers grew larger than they ever have since—and advanced quickly.
‘These glaciers bear testimony to our history-being suspended and frozen for thousands of years-and now they are melting away, as if our whole history is fading,’ said Eliasson.”
Wonderful art, sad message.
I was pretty shocked to find out just how little liquid fresh water Earth contains, like we saw in this post. But I was equally shocked to find out that as much as one-fifth of Earth’s fresh water is locked up in the beauty above: Lake Baikal.
Siberia’s Lake Baikal, not only the world’s oldest lake at ~25 million years of age, is the largest single fresh water source on the planet. The water is so deep and so pure that when it freezes it becomes a sort of cold, turquoise glass, giving an observer a lens that can see over 100 feet straight down.
I Didn’t Know That : The Science Behind Ice Skating
Do you know why you can skate across ice? It’s not because ice is slippery. Richard Ambrose and Jonny Phillips demonstrate the science behind ice skating while trying to maintain their balance!
I remember Mr. Wizard doing this wire/block of ice trick when was a kid, but I never put it together with ice skating. I love when simple physics and chemistry can explain our favorite past-times.
These snowflake-like crystals grow from tiny imperfections in floating sea ice, the super-frigid air causing water vapor to crystallize right out of the air into the stunning ordered shapes you see.
These “frost flowers” have been found to harbor microbial life, far more than the sea around them, creating tiny ecosystems like forzen coral. Life does find a way, huh?
A Beautiful Chill
One of the most fascinating things about living in central Texas, where I live, is the volatility of the weather. And by “fascinating”, here I mean “completely weird and rather shocking.” This is my favorite part of the year in that regard. What we miss out on in terms of leaves changing color (they don’t) and a lowly hanging autumn sun (it’s high and hot until November), we make up for in pure meteorological chaos.
Tonight, the temperature will drop approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit in three hours. It boggles my mind that this nothing but a huge bubble of cold air, swooping in clear from the reaches of the Arctic Circle all the way down to Texas. The rotation of the Earth and the jet stream grab hold of this icy mass of atmosphere like an invisible snowball, and throw it at 60 kilometers per hour in the direction of unsuspecting Texans, who today were sweating in shorts for the last time in 2012.
Although this year’s Blue Norther will arrive under cover of darkness, the pewter-colored wall of clouds that proceeds them is not a sight you’ll ever forget. We won’t quite reach freezing temperatures by morning, not like the record 65 degree drop seen in the 1911 Blue Norther, so the only frozen spiderwebs I’ll be seeing are right here on my computer screen. I think that’s fine with me. It’s always best to ease into this kind of chill if you ask me.
So as we in the northern half of the planet begin our descent into autumn chill, curl up with this beautiful science/art video gallery of exotic ice crystals forming on the tip of a needle. It’ll send chills up your spine.
Scenes From Antarctica is a stunning gallery from The Atlantic’s In Focus blog that captures the amazing landscapes and research facilities that populate this harsh territory.
Superb photo tour of the inhospitable and exotic end of the world.
See that top photo of the gorgeous sun halo? If you missed it last week, we toured through some of the atmospheric phenomena that you see in pictures like that. It’s pretty neat stuff.
Capturing a Heavenly Halo at Greenland’s Summit Station
It’s easy to see a photo like this, pause for a moment, let out an “ooh” or an “ahh” or two, then continue on about your business. But that takes all the fun out of it!
Let’s stop for a moment, and really appreciate what’s going on in this picture. What is the science behind such atmospheric phenomena?
- Almost every optical phenomenon in the daylight sky, whether it’s a rainbow or a halo or a “sun dog”, occurs due to light bending through water that’s suspended in the atmosphere. That water could be liquid (like rainbows) or crystallized ice (like above), but it acts as a prism all the same.
- Start with the inner ring around the Sun. This is a solar halo. To be precise, it’s probably a 22˚ halo. This ring occurs when hexagonal ice crystals, randomly distributed and aligned in the atmosphere, refract light coming from the Sun back to the eye of the viewer. While every crystal of ice in the air is bending the light that hits it, only the hexagon-shaped crystals that happen to be sitting at exactly 22˚ away from the Sun AND oriented just right are able to bend light straight back at your eye. This is because of their particular six-sided geometry. Someone standing 50 feet to your right would see the same halo, but from a completely different set of randomly aligned ice crystals!
- What about those two orbs of concentrated light to the left and right of the Sun? Those are called "sun dogs". Aristotle used to refer to them as “mock suns”, chasing the real Sun through the sky. They usually are only seen when the Sun is low in the sky, and always at the same elevation as the Sun itself. What causes these? The same ice crystals as the 22˚ halo! You see, as the hexagonal crystals sink down to Earth, they begin to align. It’s the same thing that happens to a falling dart: the air resistance makes them stand up straight. Remember how the 22˚ halo was formed by whatever crystals just happened to be pointing our way? The sun dogs appear brighter because there’s simply more “ice prisms” pointing in the right direction to send light into your eyes. You can even see a red-to-blue prism effect at work, since different wavelengths of light get bent at slightly different angles.
- And that blob at the top of the halo? That’s an upper tangent arc. It’s origin lies in the same alignment of ice crystals that form the sun dogs, but instead of falling vertically, they are arranged horizontally. If you look closely ou can even see the far edges arcing down like wings, suspending the orb of light in mid-air. The arm of light reaching upwards like a solar pillar is the result of simple reflected sunlight off of the icy faces of suspended crystals.
- The outer ring is perhaps the most rare. I’m pretty sure that’s a 46˚ halo. The same hexagonal ice crystals are at play, but instead of bending light through their six-sided faces, they are bending it through their base. That particular geometry of refraction gives bends light at a wider angle, meaning the halo is larger. It’s fainter, because there are fewer ice crystals randomly oriented that way, and can only be seen when the Sun is low and the air is clouded with frozen water.
There’s definitely more in there that I’m not mentioning, but wow … right? Sights such as these would be carry plenty of beauty without further explanation, but a little knowledge certainly enriches nature’s grandeur, no?
(via Alan Boyle, photo by Ed Stockard)
Is this an icy Death Star exhaust port approach simulation or fly-through of a Grand Canyon-like Antarctic rift that could calve an iceberg 350 square miles in area and is giving scientists an inside look at how warm sea currents are speeding up glacial melt down south?
Because it could totally be both.