Monday, February 17, 2014

The Science of Frost

Fascination. Awe. Astonishment. Wonder. Bliss.

All these words describe what I feel when I am immersed in a white-frosted wonderland on frigid winter mornings.

As with other natural phenomena, I tend to fall in love first. Pure astonishment and wonder, like a child. Then, sooner or later, I want to know more about the subject of my fascination, do some research, and see how the research compares with my own observations. And I like it that way because I think too much knowledge to begin with can get in the way of wonder and awe. I also suspect that fascination is an important part of the learning process for many people. (Perhaps even a learning style?) Help me to open my eyes and be fascinated by something, and then I'll not only want to learn more about it but also will want to: 1) know how it's connected with everything else, and 2) take care of it. That, in my opinion, is the role of a true teacher. In the current, data-obsessed educational climate, it seems the only outcomes that are deemed ultimately important are those that can be quantified, measured, and monitored. Imagine if fascination were given such importance in schools! Quantifying fascination, caring, connection, creativity, etc. sounds utterly absurd, but imagine the implications of gauging the health and effectiveness of our educational system in part on such attributes! My guess? More engaged learners, for starters. A new generation with a passion for learning.

Anyway... Back to the current focus of my fascination: frosted trees on frigid mornings.

It seems the technical name for my current photography obsession (a.k.a. "the effect") is either hoar frost or rime ice. I'm leaning toward hoar frost, but the two can be quite similar in appearance and are distinguished by how they are formed. Hoar frost is like frozen dew and develops when water vapor (gas) freezes (becomes solid), whereas rime ice occurs when supercooled water droplets (liquid) freeze (become solid) upon contact with a cold surface (such as a tree branch). From what I understand, hoar frost forms uniformly around exposed surfaces, whereas rime ice is deposited on the windward side.

However, the more I read about hoar frost and rime ice, the more confused I get when I zoom in and scrutinize my photos because I swear I can see both. Some photos suggest hoar frost, whereas others seem to clearly show rime ice. So the jury is still out, and my inquiring mind intends to consult a meteorologist for answers. There is a lot of steam fog rising from the surface of the river in the area I like to photograph, but it seems the pertinent question is whether the vapor froze before or as a result of coming into contact with the tree branches.

Trying to get some clarity, I brought my macro lens outdoors this morning, and here is what I captured: 

Basically, this is why I get so excited when the temperature is below zero when the sun rises and I don't have to rush off to work. Whatever it's called, the effect is stunning! 

It is also dazzling when the frost falls in gentle, shimmering frost showers throughout the morning. (There is probably a technical term for that, too, but I'm going to just enjoy the show and leave it at that.)

Here is some brief video I took of that happening:

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Again, I can't tell for sure where the frost showers come from: the crystals deposited on the tree branches or the air. After observing the frost showers for a while, I noticed the trees had lost some of their white coating. There was a gentle breeze at the time.

Whatever the technical term is, the bottom line is that I am grateful for the opportunity to experience the beauty of four distinct seasons, especially during years like this when winter reveals its full glory!

The photographs in this blog and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a "custom print" in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears. 

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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