I’ve been pining for winter. Yes, I know it’s winter, but it’s one of those warmish Seattle winters where it’s just solid gray and dribbly. No lovely white snow (and right now, I’d give up a day’s driving for snow. Snow! Sparkly white pretty snow! Just something, anything, different than this endless dripping gray). Too much greenery amongst the gray. It’s not a proper winter at all, yet it’s cold. Ish. Not cold according to people who know from cold, like Minnesotans. But cold according to Seattle standards. That just makes the whole thing drab and disappointing.
It has gotten so bad that I went out in the dead of a dark night to tromp through the millimeter of snow that was falling, because snow.
We did have an interesting stretch of below-freezing weather coupled with brilliant sunlight that had the frost working overtime. Oh, people. Such frost! We had freezing fogs, and frozen ground, and frozen things everywhere, some of it tough enough to withstand the sunshine so that it gleamed and glistened, some that survived only in the shadows. So lovely. I put on ye new winter clothes (part of my angst is that, for once, I am properly kitted out for winter adventuring – and there’s no winter adventuring within walking distance), and I went out to get some lovely images. I found all sorts of wonderful things. Now I have spelunked YouTube for winter songs, and I can get us properly set up with winter music and winter scenes. Huzzah!
We’ll start with needle ice. And, of course, for ice that looks like it’s building an ice palace, you need an Ice Queen, so we’ll also begin with Within Temptation’s “Ice Queen.”
(I would have given you the official version, but it’s one of the worst videos I’ve ever seen, including one of the band members looking like he’s trying to pinch a loaf on camera without benefit of a toilet, so no. Just, no. Note to record labels: you’ll have much more success with your music videos if they don’t suck leper donkey dick. Just sayin’.)
Right. Needle ice. Have you ever seen needle ice? I know Gregory has, and in the same weekend. Perhaps he’ll show us his if I show you mine, eh?
So I’m learning things about ice and the bizarre things it can do. This happens when the ground is above freezing but the air is not. If the ground has lots of water in it, capillary action or hydrostatic pressure can be bringing it to the surface, where it freezes in the below-freezing air, whilst the liquid water in the not-frozen ground below keeps rising. Et voila – needle ice!
The first place I found needle ice was the strip of soil between the sidewalk and the rock wall, which is dry and home to some sort of wasp in summer, but is perpetually damp in winter.
Some of the needle ice right next to the sidewalk is overturned and churned. If you embiggen the photo, you’ll notice the ground next to it is bumpy – if you pulled on that ground, you’d pull needles of ice out. It was bizarre.
I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen it. I’ve seen frost and ice, and I’ve seen them do pretty things, but nothing quite like this. I’ve never paid attention before. I’d not have been paying attention now, except Michael Klaas posted a bit about frost flowers on G+ a while ago, and that’s made me willing to bestir myself in bloody cold weather in search of beautiful patterns of frozen water.
You hear about things like frost weathering and so forth, you know ice has some power, but it’s one thing to read about and another to see. (And speaking of seeing – this video has some very nice geology in it).
Appetite whetted for awesome ice, I headed over to a portion of the road that’s in perpetual shade in the winter. It’s generally moist over there. This time, it was white with frost – and filled with needle ice.
It’s kind of flopping over. This stuff sometimes grows in curves. Quite interesting.
Here it’s pushing up bits of moss that had been quietly covering the soil. Nearby, it was pushing pebbles.
And you notice the cavities – there are a lot of voids in the ice.
Next year, I’ll know enough to go have a look at the area before it freezes, but it looks like the needle ice is taking a fairly solid, smooth surface and churning it up, entraining pebbles, creating pockets and voids.
The growth of the needles seem to be affected by this nearby tree root.
So you see there the patterned ground where you can see only the debris-capped tops of the needles, and the needles themselves showing by the root.
And if you look very closely, you can see what seem to be frost crystals growing on the ice.
So these formed, and were exposed to air, which was filled with freezing fog, and we end up with ice upon ice – “Eternal Ice” indeed. Until the sun comes, or the rain falls, anyway.
I discovered some more needle ice over by a fire hydrant. This was an area where there wasn’t so much entrained debris, and the ice had formed tiers – in some places, up to three tiers of needles.
And here you can see much more clearly the patterns formed by the tops of the needles.
You can see pits where it’s lifted pebbles, and cavities around stones where it’s cleared away soil and debris.
I love this stuff. I love its names – German Kammeis (comb ice), Swedish pipkrake (fine tube), Japanese shimobashira (columns of frost). Germans noticed the stuff shuffling soil downslope, and gave a name to the phenomenon: kammeissolifluktion. Very neat!
And very beautiful, especially when it forms tiers of shining crystals.
So these are the kinds of scenes you can see deep in the bleak midwinter. Suddenly, there’s nothing bleak about it. (And nothing bleak about this video, especially for those of you in the audience who love birds.)
And when the warmth comes and the ice melts, there are patterns in the ground left behind, patterns that can tell us what frozen water got up to on a freezing winter’s day, and form patterns of change, showing us the power of water to change the world around us. Water and earth are intimately entwined.