Category: "Hoar frost"

Film frost grains and radiative cooling of the ground

December 10th, 2017

December 8th brought the first frost to the Seattle area. This doesn't mean that this is the first time this season that the ground reached 0 degrees C or lower. True, we had gotten snow in late November, though this by itself doesn't mean the ground reached 0 C because snow deposition differs from frost formation. The snow was below zero when it formed in the air, but for the rest of its existence, it could have been melting and the ground itself likely sped up the process by remaining slightly above 0 C. But in contrast with the snow, for frost to form, the ground itself must cool below 0 C.



When I used to put out some metal plates with recording thermocouples, I didn't see visible frost until about -5 C, but that was based on just a handful of measurements. Anyway, what this means is that we may have had a few mornings with some patches of ground (including anything connected to the ground) dipping slightly below zero but with no obvious frost appearing. Also keep in mind that "ground temperatures" reported at weather stations are 1.5-2.0 meters above the ground, and thus may be 5-10 degrees C warmer at night than some ground patches. Why? At night, the ground cools by radiating, and if the atmosphere is not radiating much down, then considerable cooling happens. This is why clear nights are the ones with the most frost or dew.



Anyway, here is one shot of some of this "first frost" on my car window.

Film frost grains and radiative cooling of the ground


The image shows patches of different texture. These regions differ in texture because they are tiny hoar-frost (i.e., vapor-grown) crystals of differing size or orientation. That is, they stick up differently in different patches. They stick up differently because they sprouted off of a thin layer of film-frost that had a different crystal orientation. So, the patchy look comes from the different grains in the film-frost. See some of my previous posts with diagrams about this phenomena (category: "film frost"). Here is one with particularly helpful diagrams.

http://www.storyofsnow.com/blog1.php/choppy-waves

-- JN

Concentric Film Frost

October 25th, 2017

October 16, 2017, the first frost of the 2017-18 winter as far as I know. Frost in Eastern Washington anyway, those of us on the west side of the Cascade Mts have not gotten any yet. Marc Fairbanks, an avid nature observer from the mountains near Cle Elum, sent me the following shot (click on the image to fully appreciate the pattern).

Concentric Film Frost


This is primarily film-frost, that is, is based on ice that formed when liquid film froze. But as I discussed in a previous post, some important growth processes here also occur through the vapor phase:

http://www.storyofsnow.com/blog1.php/crystal-to-crystal-communication-through-vapor-and-heat

I had even earlier noted some "ripple" patterns on a windshield and mused about their formation:

http://www.storyofsnow.com/blog1.php/ripples


As I'll discuss next, there are some other illuminating observations here.

Full story »

Glaze-rime Ice Buildup Facing Creek

November 23rd, 2014

Here's a reed of some sort, with a glaze of clear rime on the side facing a creek. How did the clear ice get there, and what is the white ice on top of it?


The fact that the clear ice is just on the side facing the creek indicates that the ice came from droplets blown off the creek. To have the ice buildup just on the side means that the droplets must have frozen soon after landing, but slow enough to spread out and fill gaps.

So, the droplet must have been larger than typical cloud droplets, and the temperature must have been within a few degrees of freezing. Clearly, the flowing water must have been above freezing, so the droplets must have cooled to below zero while drifting through the air.


A closer shot shows that the outermost ice, the white ice, is hoarfrost. Only hoarfrost would show the flat crystalline facets. Definitive proof that that ice grew out of the vapor that was blowing by. You can also see some hoar on the other side of the reed.

--JN

A Change in Habit

November 23rd, 2014

The two main growth modes of snow and hoar (i.e., ice growth from the vapor) are columnar and tabular. In columnar, the shape is long and thin, like a pencil or cluster of pencils (bound snugly with a rubber band). In tabular, the shape is plate-like or fan-like. When a crystal form has an easily expressed shape, like a column or plate, we say it has a certain habit.

In hoar frost that had been growing for several nights, I saw some that had changed their habit.


On the first night, when the vapor was more plentiful, large columnar forms appeared. This habit grows between -3 and -8 C. On a subsequent night, the temperature got colder, below -8 C, leading to tabular growth. More vapor exists out near the ends, so this is where we see the tabular habit.


The arrows above show the fast growth directions. There is a transition that sometimes happens when both of the main growth directions are fast, making a flare, or trumpet-horn shape (other times, it may be more of a cup or vase). Such a transition is far more common in hoar than in snow, because, I believe, hoar on the ground can experience a much higher excess of vapor.

The dark region in the background is the water of a creek.

--JN

Smaller Hoar Growing on Larger Hoar

November 22nd, 2014

Cold air came down the interior, spilling through gaps in the Cascades, cooling the western side. In the Seattle area, we got our first frost on Nov. 11, but the days stayed cold. Areas in the shade never lost their hoar, so the hoar frost kept growing.

But does a hoar-frost crystal continue growing the same way as on the previous night? Does it keep extending uniformly, getting larger and larger, keeping the same general shape?

Or do smaller hoar crystals form on previously grown larger crystals?

A few days later, I found myself walking in Maple Falls near Mt. Baker. In a shady pocket near my feet, I saw some hoar. Subtly different -- it appeared like small, translucent leaves encrusted on their edges with hoarfrost. But it turned out that the "small leaves" were actually tabular hoar (plate-shaped). That is, hoar encrusted on hoar: smaller crystals on larger crystals.


When frost resumes growing on previously grown frost, the other possibility may also happen; that is, the hoar just resumes growing the way it did the previous night. But I think this is generally quite rare because it would require very slow and constant growth conditions, which is generally incompatible with the diurnal temperature cycle. See the sketch below for both possibilities.


Note that I write above 'smaller hoar crystals grow on the larger ones' even though technically, they are all the same crystal. You can see this is true by the fact that their faces all line up.

The view that got me to look closer:


- JN

Crystal-to-crystal “communication” through vapor and heat

January 5th, 2013


Two mornings ago, I saw this on the windshield of a parked car.


The bulls-eye pattern wasn’t centered on any particular feature on the windshield, and there were similar, though less developed, patterns nearby. See them on the photo below.


The dark parts are largely frost-free regions, and thus are regions that dried out during the crystallization event. (It was still dark when I took the shots.) Later, under a brighter sky, I saw a different pattern on the hood of another car, a pattern that I figure has a similar cause. In the hood case, shown below, the dry regions are bright due to reflection of the sky.


Now, about those concentric rings …

I puzzled over a larger such pattern in the Feb. 5, 2010 posting “Ripples”. The causative process that I proposed back then seems consistent with this newer observation, but I will clarify it here.

Before the first frost formed, the windshield, though seemingly dry, nevertheless had a thin layer of liquid water. This thin film had cooled to some temperature below freezing. (See the sketch “How hoar frost forms” in the Jan. 11, 2012 posting.) As the windshield and water film continued to cool, freezing was inevitable; the only issue was where. The first such spot to freeze must have had some feature, however minute, that was advantageous to freezing. It may have been a nucleant particle (e.g., a mineral dust grain, a type of bacteria, or even a tiny fleck of ice that wafted in from somewhere else), a slightly cooler spot, or a slightly thicker water film (e.g., from a scratch or indentation). But for whatever reason, the ice formed there first.

Now suppose the ice spreads outward from the nucleation spot in all directions with about the same rate. I suspect this happens when the film is extremely thin, as it would have been under the relatively dry conditions of this day. So, the frozen film grows outward, roughly as a disc. See the sketch below; the black dot in the center is the first place that froze.


Full story »

Caution!

February 1st, 2012

Hoar. It's just a white coating on things, so why does it make everything look more interesting?

I saw this hoar coating on a plastic trash-can lid:


The hoar frost on the lid had various whirls, just like I've seen on the plastic surfaces of car door handles and side-view mirrors. This hoar was a little different though in that the crystals were definitely sticking up and not laying flat on the surface. Nevertheless, the fact that they show a pattern at all, and are not just randomly oriented, means that there must have been a liquid film of water that first froze to the surface. The film froze, producing a pattern of crystal orientations on the surface, and these orientations were not revealed until the hoar frost grew. Hurray for hoar!

Here's another warning:


The hoar crystals are longer on the raised lettering, particularly near edges. This is not because such places are further from the ground, but because they have more radiative cooling (due to their more expansive view of the sky) and can stick out into regions with a greater density of water vapor molecules.

If you click on the images, you can see the crystals a little better. But I forgot my tripod on this particular morning (I took the shots after I got to the office), and so the images aren't as crisp as my other close-up shots.

- Jon

Choppy waves

January 11th, 2012

I thought this hoar frost pattern looked like rough seas. I see choppy, cusp-like waves down there.

Not having any pictures of rough seas, I hopped in our bathtub and kicked my legs around to make waves. Perhaps you can see a little resemblance.

However, the processes that caused the cusp-like, choppy wave pattern in the frost are completely different from those in the bathtub. Look more closely at the hoar-frost pattern:

It just goes to show you that hoar frost is never as simple as you’d think. Though from a distance it might look like white whiskers, up close it shows unexpected patterns. These patterns reveal something about how the crystals strained, twisted, and competed with each other.

Though it is true that the hoar crystals we see are built of deposited vapor molecules (invisible water molecules once floating in the air that happened to strike and freeze onto a cold surface), the story of hoar has an earlier beginning. In the beginning, the surface already had a thin film of liquid water. See the top panel in the sketch below.

Full story »

What We Sometimes Miss

March 8th, 2011


For the first few years in which I would excitedly go out on frosty mornings to photograph ice formations, I never paid any attention to frost on car bodies. Sometimes I would notice something on our car window, but that was basically it – I was essentially blind to ice in places where I didn’t expect to see anything interesting. Then one day, while returning from an area that often had fascinating puddles and ground ice, I walked next to a black car with the most stunning display of frost that I had ever seen. The car was completely covered roof, hood, and trunk with a thick, large, curvy white pattern of ice made distinct by the background of black underneath.


I spent the next hour or so taking pictures, returning home once to get another camera when my roll of film ran out. Though I understood roughly the processes involved, the initial freezing of a thin layer of water, making curvy ice patterns, followed by vapor depositing onto the frozen parts as hoar, making the ice white, there were other puzzling things that kept me entertained. However, the most puzzling thing of all was the fact that people would walk right by without even slowing down. Here was a strange and rare sight: strange because of the hastily dressed man (myself) leaning over a parked car with a tripod snapping pictures, and a rare yet striking display of curving frost in full view, and yet they paid me nor my prize no mind. It was as if I was the only person who could see the pattern.

The reverse thing happened to me just a few days ago. We had wet weather one day followed by a cold, clear night – perfect conditions for good hoary film frost. And indeed, many cars in our parking lot had beautiful curvy film-frost. I walked around, looking specifically for black cars, which show the most contrast to the white hoar, and photographed some on one car, but somehow overlooked the most amazing one of all: a speckled-seaweed-like pattern that I've seen only once before (see the Dec. 1 posting).


Even though the above was on a black car in a region I checked, I still missed it. But luckily, my neighbor caught it and emailed a few photos. In the image, some of the trails seem to cross over each other, but closer inspection instead suggests a coincidental merging of two trails on one side with a forking off on the other side.


Full story »

Mystery of Whirlpool Hollows

February 3rd, 2010
I’ve seen this whirlpool pattern on two mornings on the same plastic side-mirrors of the same car.



The hollow columnar crystals are oriented lengthwise along concentric circles, which strongly suggests that an underlying film froze with the same rotating crystal orientation. This is strange. To see why I think it strange, we need to specify crystal direction. Consider the ice-crystal optic axis, the length-wise direction of the columns (or the direction straight into a stellar-star crystal). If we draw the optic axis for each crystal as an arrow, then we would have something like the following picture.



When a film of water on a smooth surface like glass or a car roof freezes, the preferred crystal orientation is that with the arrow pointing straight up and out of the surface. So, I find the above pattern mysterious - why don't the arrows have any trend toward pointing upward? Why do all  the arrows  stay in the same plane? Another mystery is the fact that I’ve seen this same whirlpool pattern with about the same center spot on both side mirrors on more than one morning. Perhaps the whirlpool pattern arises somehow because the surface is curved. Or maybe films of water on plastic freeze differently than films on smooth metal or glass. For now, I’ll call this the mystery of whirlpool hollows.

- JN