Just about everyone wishes for a White Christmas, but even when that happens, it’s rare to get a good look at the beauty of individual snowflakes. Alexey Kljatov’s macro photography of snowflakes is simply stunning and highlights the incredible variety of forms snowflakes take. A snowflake forms when a water droplet freezes onto dust or other particles and grows as more water vapor freezes onto the initial crystal. The symmetry of the snowflakes, as with any crystal, comes from the internal order of its water molecules. The shape and features that form vary due to the local temperature and humidity level while vapor is freezing onto the crystal. Check out this handy graph showing which shapes form for various situations. Since snowflakes can encounter wildly different conditions on their path to the ground, it’s rare or next-to-impossible to find any two alike. Join us all this week at FYFD as we look at holiday-themed fluid dynamics. (Photo credit: A. Kljatov)
Cold weather can create some wild fluid dynamics, so pay attention to your local rivers and waterfalls during the next cold snap. The video above comes from North Dakota where a combination of cold dense air and a stable river eddy created a spinning ice disk, roughly 16 meters in diameter. The disk forms as a collection of ice chunks—not one solid, spinning piece—because the ice formed gradually. As ice pieces form, they get caught in the river eddy and begin to spin as part of the disk, rather like dust and ice do in the rings of Saturn. Such formations are rare but not unheard of; here’s a video showing a similar disk as it grows. (Video credit: G. Loegering; via Yahoo and io9; submitted by Simon H and John C)
For the chemically-inclined, Simon Gladman has a neat implementation of Hiroki Sayama’s Swarm Chemistry that adds fluid dynamics and advection into the simulation. Check out videos and get links to the code here.
As the Arctic warms, methane that was previously trapped by permafrost rises from the muddy bottom of lakes to escape into the atmosphere. Here the first clear ice of the fall has trapped the rising methane bubbles, allowing scientists an opportunity to estimate the amount of methane being released. When spring arrives and the lakes melt, the methane will rise again. (Photo credit: M. Thiessen/National Geographic)
The time-lapse video above shows the growth of icicles of various compositions under laboratory conditions. Many icicles in nature exhibit a rippling effect in their shape, which some theories attribute to an effect of lower surface tension in some liquids. Here researchers show the icicle growth of three liquids: pure distilled water, and water with two concentrations of dissolved salt. They found that lowering the surface tension of the freezing liquid with non-ionic surfactants (i.e. not salt) did not produce ripples, but that dissolved ionic impurities like salt strongly affected the growth of ripples. They posit that this may be due to constitutional supercooling, in which growth of the solid-liquid interface is destabilized by the preferential concentration of impurities near the interface. (Video credit: A. S. Chen and S. Morris)
Ryan Teague’s “Cascades” music video features the enchanting process of ice growth. A chamber full of supercooled water vapor subject to a strong electric field is stimulated to grow crystals by providing a needle as the initial nucleation site. Because the vapor is supercooled, it will freeze upon contact with the nucleation site; the electric field keeps the water molecules aligned so that the crystal patterns formed are more even. The tree-like pattern seen here is called dendritic crystal growth; branches form at faults in the crystalline pattern. (Video credit: Ryan Teague, Village Green, Words are Pictures; via Gizmodo)
Icing on airplane wings remains little understood and a major hazard. These photos show examples of ice formation along the leading edge of a swept wing. If an aircraft flies through a cloud of supercooled water droplets, the droplets will freeze shortly after impact with the aircraft’s wings. As ice continues to build up in strange shapes, the aerodynamic profile of the wing changes, which can lead to disastrous effects as the stall and control characteristics of the wing shift. (Photo credit: NASA Glenn Research Center)
In the frozen reaches of our planet, the atmosphere and ocean can interact in bizarre ways. Under calm ocean conditions when the air at sea level is much colder than the water temperature brinicles—the underwater equivalent to an icicle—can form. The cold air above rapidly freezes ocean water at the surface, concentrating water’s salt content into a very cold brine which sinks rapidly. As this brine descends, it freezes the water around it into an ice sheath. As the brinicle grows and eventually reaches the sea floor, its cold temperatures can wreak havoc on the creatures living there.
The physics of dropletsfreezing is important for understanding applications like ice formation on airplane wings. Here we see how a warm droplet deposited on a cold plate freezes. A freezing front advances through the drop, which expands vertically as it freezes. Ultimately, the expansion of the ice and the surface tension of the water create a pointed singular tip.