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Frost Flowers

This is a discussion on Frost Flowers within the Environment forums, part of the US Discussion category; Suddenly There's A Meadow In The Ocean With 'Flowers' Everywhere by Robert Krulwich December 19, 201211:19 AM It was three, maybe four o'clock in the ...


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Old 12-26-2012, 04:43 PM
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Frost Flowers

Suddenly There's A Meadow In The Ocean With 'Flowers' Everywhere

by Robert Krulwich
December 19, 201211:19 AM
It was three, maybe four o'clock in the morning when he first saw them. Grad student Jeff Bowman was on the deck of a ship; he and a University of Washington biology team were on their way back from the North Pole. It was cold outside, the temperature had just dropped, and as the dawn broke, he could see a few, then more, then even more of these little flowery things, growing on the frozen sea.
"I was absolutely astounded," he says. They were little protrusions of ice, delicate, like snowflakes. They began growing in the dry, cold air "like a meadow spreading off in all directions. Every available surface was covered with them." What are they?
"Frost flowers," he was told. "I'd never heard of them," Jeff says, "but they were everywhere."

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Courtesy of Matthias Wietz
They aren't flowers, of course. They are more like ice sculptures that grow on the border between the sea and air. On Sept. 2, 2009, the day Jeff's colleague Matthias Wietz took these pictures, the air was extremely cold and extremely dry, colder than the ocean surface. When the air gets that different from the sea, the dryness pulls moisture off little bumps in the ice, bits of ice vaporize, the air gets humid but only for a while. The cold makes water vapor heavy. The air wants to release that excess weight, so crystal by crystal, air turns back into ice, creating delicate, feathery tendrils that reach sometimes two, three inches high, like giant snowflakes. The sea, literally, blossoms.

Jeff's professor Jody Deming believes that as the poles warm, there will be more and more of these meadows, because there will be more and more open sea that turns to thin ice in winter. But as beautiful as they are, scientists prize frost flowers because they are so salty. These blossoms suck up seawater, concentrate the salt and have three times the salinity of the ocean. You could think of them as beautiful pickles.
Which is why it would be surprising to find anything alive in these things. But here comes the surprise. "If you take a frozen flower and let it melt," and that's what Jeff and his colleagues did ...
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A very interesting environmental effect!
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Old 12-26-2012, 06:00 PM
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What a beautiful effect. Read the article and some of the comments, here is a similiar woodland effect;

Ice Formations Diurnal Freeze-Thaw Cycles
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Old 12-26-2012, 07:13 PM
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What a beautiful effect. Read the article and some of the comments, here is a similiar woodland effect;

Ice Formations Diurnal Freeze-Thaw Cycles
Very cool stuff! I've witnessed something similar in deep leaf litter beds in dense NE/NW forests. But, nothing near as large or substantial, I used to run into patches of little minature ice crystals in the twilight period right before dawn when I was out on late-season hunting trips. I'm impressed by the apparent speed that these structures form. I was under the previous (apparently mistaken) impression that these types of structures formed more slowly, the large sea frost flowers were apparently rapidly and visibly forming.
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Old 12-26-2012, 07:34 PM
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Old 12-26-2012, 08:11 PM
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Very cool, yes it looks like you can see some of those growing; I guess the difference is the volume of flowing water creating lots of surface water vapor in sub-freezing, very dry air. In the leaf litter there is a fine vapor stream due to decomposition going on in the deeper layers, but the water vapor is very low volume and the additional heating probably inhibits the ice forming process as much as it drives the vapor generation.

interesting process, beautiful expression.
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Old 12-27-2012, 07:25 PM
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Very cool, yes it looks like you can see some of those growing; I guess the difference is the volume of flowing water creating lots of surface water vapor in sub-freezing, very dry air. In the leaf litter there is a fine vapor stream due to decomposition going on in the deeper layers, but the water vapor is very low volume and the additional heating probably inhibits the ice forming process as much as it drives the vapor generation.

interesting process, beautiful expression.
Thanks, Trakar. I'd seen them but didn't know there was a name for the crystal formations seen near waters of the Platte in 35 years of living in central Wyoming, along banks, and even in gardens I planted in my yard. They grow off weeds and make them pretty, but I didn't know they were called "frost flowers." I loaded the words on Bing, but didn't think they were as pretty as the ones you showed at your link. I love youtube, so went there and did likewise. A lot of scientifically inclined people post really neat stuff there, and there were several to choose from. I chose the one, even though it was obviously from the other side of the world, they tagged it right for English speakers, and it was my pick of the litter of frost flower offerings at YT.
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