Curse You, Frost Flowers

Another sea ice day on Friday. We admired some Fata Morgana mirages on the way out:

Some nice sastrugi (snow dunes) with a band of mirage in the background

A mysterious cyclopean edifice in the distance

We returned to our previous sample spot and attempted to get better measurements by removing the snow:

Janitorial duty on the sea ice

The crust of snow was pretty well stuck on to the ice, requiring us to shovel, sweep, and then kneel down and scrape with spatulas and ice axes until the ice was more or less clear. We tasted the snow and found it was salty, which means that a lot of it actually started out as frost flowers. Frost flowers are fluffy, rather ethereal-looking crystals that form on new sea ice; they are pretty fascinating, scientifically. If anyone requests it in the comments I’ll write up a post about how they form.

Nifty as frost flowers are, they are making our life difficult. As you may recall from my previous post Salt, Sea Ice and Science we are looking at the way the albedo of sea ice changes when the salt in brine pockets forms crystals. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to see anything useful through a layer of frost flower remains. Hence our janitorial activities.

I am reminded that I promised equipment pictures in that post I just linked. You’ve seen the field equipment, of course, but I shall have to do a post about lab technique and some pictures of my impressive array of beakers.


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9 Responses to “Curse You, Frost Flowers”

  1. Teri Carns Says:

    And the little frost flowers sounded so sweet and interesting when you were describing them in July!

  2. Ellen Says:

    Hi, I’m Rich’s other half. He pointed me to your blog, which is great! feel much more in touch with what you all are doing down there. And all I can say is – better you than me!

  3. Ramon Says:

    The picture with the building in the distance deserves to be in the Fortean Times, or at least in a Lovecraftian fanzine. Is that some distant outpost or just the distorted outline of terrain?

  4. MYSTERY « Squid on the Ice Says:

    […] is intriguing, because, as I mentioned before, we originally figured that the peculiar snowy crust on the ice must be composed of old frost […]

  5. Dennis Gentry Says:

    OK, if you have to sweep away frost flowers or whatever to measure the albedo, then why do you care what the albedo of the sea ice is? Shouldn’t you be measuring the albedo WITH the prevailing frost or snow or whatever on it?

    Or, if there are giant swathes of ice that are bare, shouldn’t you measure those instead?

    • psychroteuthis Says:

      That’s an excellent question. Really, we WISH there were giant swathes of bare first-year sea ice, and we’ve done a lot of driving around to look for it, but we have yet to find any. It all has this stuff on it. There’s some bare multi-year ice (sea ice that’s lasted through several seasons) but summer melts flush out all the salt, so it’s useless for our purposes.

      We sweep off the ice to look at it because we’re not really trying to learn about modern Antarctic ice. Undoubtedly we WILL learn something about modern Antarctic ice, but primarily we’re using it as an analog to ice that might have existed on Snowball Earth. So we’re trying to get the surface to resemble what we think the Snowball ice looked like. Of course, it’s possible the Snowball ice had this snow crust too, and that’s another thing we’re looking at right now.

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