Frost Flowers are Insanely Beautiful
By now it should come as no surprise that the volume of Arctic sea ice is rapidly declining as temperatures in the region continue to rise– and that as a result of these warmer temperatures, we are seeing the breakage of ice shelves in both the Arctic and Antarctic sea.
While the arctic fox, walrus, seals, polar bears, emperor penguins, and even plankton along the ocean floor continue to struggle amidst the increasingly troubling effects of Climate Change, frost flowers have become a new topic of public fascination and concern.
Instead of mourning the way in which nature’s ice is diminishing, scientists are looking to Frost Flowers as a beautiful phenomenon worth celebrating.
Neither frost nor flower, these delicate clusters of ice form when there is a 15°C/59°F difference between an icy surface and the air that lingers above it. When these contrasting temperatures amalgamate, the ice (several water molecules stuck together, which creates a solid) begins to move rapidly– so fast that they can no longer hold on to one another.
Today it is not uncommon to spot meadows of frost flowers in the Arctic and Antarctic sea– landscapes full of flower-like ice clusters that can grow up to three inches in height.
This familiar process of molecules darting in different directions in order to become a gas– what we know as evaporation– is critical to the formation of frost flowers. Water vapors humidify the air above a body of water, and once the air has become heavy it releases the particles, which quickly turn to ice. This rapid exchange of energy and condensation forms a weightless curl on-top of the water’s surface. Through the repetition of this natural chemical reaction, several layers form what resembles a flower petal– illustrious dimension and all.
Today it is not uncommon to spot meadows of frost flowers in the Arctic and Antarctic sea– landscapes full of flower-like ice clusters that can grow up to three inches in height. Frost flowers are typically three times the salinity of the ocean, which is why they are able to float.
We are beginning to see these frost flowers appear on thin lakes and even peculiar nooks in the woods throughout the world. Scott Campbell, also known as the “half fast hiker” on Flickr, captures a plethora of frost flower formations in Jackson Falls, Illinois every year. These differ in structure because they have a slightly-different formation process. When air is at a subzero temperature but the soil has retained its heat, the sap that’s inside the stems of the plant expands, and this causes the stem to crack. Out comes oozing sap that freezes when it comes in contact with the air; the curl of the frost flower begins. (Check out one of Campbell’s captures below.)
Inside all of these frost flowers there are millions of invisible bacteria. Scientists at NASA continue to study the biogeochemical roles of frost flowers in the microbial community. The increased appearance of these icy formations leaves us with yet another reminder that nature has much to teach if we are willing to listen. We encourage you to hunt for frost flowers in your neck of the woods, in the early morning before the sun has whisked them away. (Share your photographs of frost flowers with us on Instagram by tagging #gardencollage.) It’s nature’s way of showing off its own garden– even in the wintertime.