For the first time since 2009, the coastline of Lake Superior has frozen hard enough that people can venture out onto the ice and into the sea caves that line the shore near Wisconsin's Apostle Islands. Like the Lake, itself, the sea caves are frozen and covered with sparkling icicles — from dainty needles to thick, massive stalactites.
These are different caves from the ones I went through in a dinghy in the summer a couple of years ago. Those caves were at Devil's Island, about 6 miles from the mainland. The caves you can see in this, and several other videos taken by YouTuber Shannon Kowalski, are right up along the mainland shore, at the base of some steep sandstone cliffs. The cliffs themselves are the remains of a sandy river basin and chains of shallow ponds that dotted the landscape here a billion (yes, with a "b") years ago. The caves are much more recent, forming as waves from Lake Superior slowly erode holes in the sandstone. Read the rest
In Minneapolis, an estimated 4000 people ride their bikes as part of a daily commute — year round. (The number doubles for the non-winter months.) At the Pedal Minnesota blog, you can see some of their happy faces. Or, anyway, happy eyes. The rest of their faces tend to be hidden under balaclavas. Like you do. Read the rest
Redditor Unspeakablefilth lives in northern Ontario, where December was plenty cold (daytime highs of -25C!). He made the best of an icy situation by freezing blocks of coloured ice in shifts, a new batch every 12 hours, ending up with hundreds of them, which he used to piece together a gorgeous ice-fortress that he opened up to his neighbours. The Imgur set does a great job of showing off the build process and the ensuing enjoyment.
It's a great variation on last winter's coloured ice igloo from Edmonton. Can't wait to see what next year brings! Read the rest
It's a pilot program, and admirably thrifty and ingenious. Provolone or mozzarella have the saltiest brine and are best for clearing the ice. Brine is mixed with salt to make it into a wet, sticky slurry that substantially reduces the overall amount of salt used. (Here's Maggie' Read the rest
Back in September, the city of Milwaukee announced that it would be spreading cheese brine on its streets this winter in a pilot program to see whether the salty liquid could reduce the amount of rock salt necessary to de-ice roads. Now, it looks like the plan is working out well. In fact, there's not even a smell to the streets. Read the rest
Temperature is just a measure of jigglyness, says Henry Reich of Minute Physics. Not in the "I don't think you're ready for this jelly" sense, but at the scale of atoms. And it's this jiggle that can help explain why two things that are, technically, the exact same temperature can feel totally different when we touch them. Great science for a cold day! Read the rest
This happened in my friend's henhouse this morning.
My friend Kate Hastings, who took this photo, thinks this egg froze because the hen cracked it slightly. But it also looks like the kind of expansion cracking that you can get when eggs freeze and burst their own shells. When the water in the egg white and yolk freezes, it forms a crystalline structure — and that structure isn't very tightly packed. There's lots of space between the molecules, which means that solid ice takes up more space than the liquid it replaced. If the egg freezes solid enough, it's got nowhere left to expand except outside the shell.
Eggshells, as it turns out, are not a great insulator from the cold. Chicken butts are, but chickens also don't always sit on their eggs consistently enough to keep those eggs from freezing.
One side note: You can actually thaw and eat frozen eggs. But you shouldn't thaw and eat an egg like this. That's because the shell is actually a pretty good barrier against bacteria. If a fresh egg — the kind sitting under a hen — has cracked, there's a higher likelihood of bacterial infiltration.
Thanks to Kate and Grampaw!
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Up north — in Canada and other places where snowy winters are reliable (and reliably heavy) — you find more animals whose fur comes in various shades of white. This is true even for species that are brown or black further south. The difference is obvious. But how does it happen? Carl Zimmer presents two possible paths to paleness — random mutation, and fortuitous cross-species mating. In related news: Golden retrievers are probably getting it on with Canadian coyotes. Read the rest
They're the mullet of cold-protective clothing. Half glove, half mitten — really, fingerless gloves with a handy mitten flip-top.
They are also fantastic.
Now, partly, this is a matter of personal opinion. But partly, it's just good science.
Before you spend your weekend outdoors, or take your next chilly commute, let's talk briefly about glittens — and the science that makes them superior hand covering. Read the rest
Flu season is in winter. Okay, great. But why? (Consider this an open thread for all your favorite humidifier recommendations.) Read the rest
This beautiful, rainbow hued igloo was designed by Edmonton's Brigid Burton, who wanted to entertain her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend (an engineer student), visiting from New Zealand over winter break. Burton froze cartons full of colored water and left the boyfriend, Daniel Gray, to do the rest, building the structure out of 500 ice-bricks.
Made a coloured ice igloo while visiting my gf in Edmonton, Canada. The local news station did a story on it. News article in comments (imgur.com)
(via Colossal) Read the rest
The physics behind a viral video
Plants and animals have to adapt to live in high latitudes and chilly mountain environments. With animals, we kind of instinctively know what makes a creature cold-weather ready — thick, shaggy fur; big, wide snowshoe paws. But what are the features of cold-weather plants? It's one of those really interesting questions that's easy to forget to ask.
At The Olive Tree blog, Tracey Switek has at least one answer. In cold places, you see more plants that grow in little mounded clumps. Of course, plants can't really rely on huddling together to create warmth. So you still have to ask, "Why is it better to grow in a mound when it's cold out?"
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The dome-like shape which the cushions tend to take (made possible by an adaptation that makes all the plants in the clump grow upward at the same rate, so no one plant is high above all the others), and the closeness with which those plants grow, makes these clumps perfect heat traps. The temperature on or inside a cushion can be up to 15 °C more than the air temperature above it. The cushions are able to retain heat radiating up from the soil, as well as absorbing heat from the sun (a very dense, large, clump of green can get surprisingly warm on a sunny day at high altitude). Add to that the fact that the wind speed in and around a cushion can be cut by up to 98% from open areas, you have a perfect recipe to prevent heat loss.
Smithsonian's Food and Think blog has a (Northern-hemispherically biased) list of ideal Christmas/wintertime drinks — along with some cool history about where those drinks come from and how they're made. For example, Imperial Stout beer was invented in the late 1690s as a way to help delicious English stout beer survive frigidly cold Russian winters. Raise the alcohol content — and bam! — beer fit for a czar. Read the rest
Some snowflakes are unique. Other's aren't. Chemistry is why.
Earlier this year, construction workers discovered what is now the world's oldest known bra. It dates to the 15th century and was found with a bunch of other clothing, stuffed between the floors of an Austrian castle. Most likely, it was being used for insulation, the same way we might stuff a wall with fiberglass batting today. (Via Christopher Mims) Read the rest
The Weather Channel has decided to begin naming winter storms the way we already name tropical storms. But while tropical storm nomenclature is an organized and official process, carried out by a branch of the United Nations, winter storms will be named apparently at the whim of The Weather Channel. The result: Not only can we move past calling every blizzard either Snowmageddon or Snowpocalypse, but we also get to hear news anchors discuss the damage caused by Winter Storm Gandolf. (Please note that this is Gandolf, not Gandalf. The former is a character in The Well at the World's End, an 1896 fantasy novel. The latter is probably tied up in intellectual property restrictions.) Read the rest