August 2, 2021


Through Education Matters

Illustrations or photos of snow crystals mix art and science to study our most useful resource: Drinking water

It is the most superb time of the 12 months to photograph snow crystals, which is why Steven Fassnacht can be observed in his backyard in below-freezing temperature.

“My partner, she just form of shakes her head, ‘cuz I’m outside in the morning and it is -5˚C, -10˚C [23˚F, 14˚F] and I’m in my dressing gown and slippers having photos,” claimed Fassnacht, a Colorado Point out College professor of ecosystem science and sustainability who studies snow hydrology.

He’s interested in the condition of the snow crystals, not just for their magnificence, but to understand how the snow crystals kind, tumble and eventually lead to our water supply.

“I drink my glass of water and most of this begun off as that [snow],” he discussed, holding up a glass of h2o as if in tribute to the miracle of how the two hydrogen and one particular oxygen atoms arrange themselves in every single drop (or crystal).

In arid Colorado, drinking water is saved, pumped, calculated and fought in excess of as a valuable useful resource for agricultural and city locations alike, which is why modeling and measuring it properly is so crucial.

In his study, Fassnacht uses remote sensing technologies (like radar and satellites) to try to evaluate h2o in the ambiance and on the ground.

“As it is slipping, how do we measure it?” he questioned, with the curiosity of a boy or girl. “Then, how does it improve, and how does it increase into the drinking water which is in the river?”

Fasnacht encourages his students to not only look at the knowledge from these systems but to engage with their study wholly.

“All those applications [remote sensing technologies] are having much better and superior, but we however need to have to go out there and be amongst the medium,” he thinks. “You need to touch it. You need to have to experience it. You require to style it. You will need to have that link to see what is truly going on.”

How snow crystals get their condition

Oxygen (blue) and hydrogen (purple) atoms arrange them selves to type a lattice of hexagons in ice. Image courtesy

The shape of a snow crystal tells a tale of how it came to the earth.

“Water is a mineral. And the character of it, the angle within just the h2o molecule changes – which is a single of the definitely cool points,” explained Fassnacht. “In solid form, ice is actually in this matrix, this lattice, that has 6 sides.”

Snow crystals are usually six-sided since of the lattice shaped by the unique spacing involving each molecule when freezing. Regardless of whether the crystal grows out in a long, slim needle or a flat star form (known as a stellar) has to do with temperature and the amount of dampness in the air.

The crystal will expand as it falls through the atmosphere as very long as the air is supersaturated with h2o. Layers of colder temperatures will inspire a star, while slightly hotter levels (still colder than freezing) will make needles. This is why every single snowflake is distinctive: No two snowflakes fall as a result of precisely the exact temperatures and moisture amounts in cloud layers. (But a person snowflake fanatic has grown equivalent twin snowflakes in a lab.)