Ice Vases and Snow; Golden Slumbers; Heavenly Hamamelis; New Year, New Look.

SDIM6753 (2)After taking the hair dryer to the ice encrusted satellite dish this morning, and getting connected again, I can write this post and feature an Ice vase. Until last weekend, I didn’t know that such structures existed. I’d been walking and chatting with a friend through our lower meadow last Sunday, and we’d gone past the frozen water bucket, when my brain kicked in and screamed WHAT.

How did that happen?

Turning back to concentrate on the bucket, what had I seen?

A bubble filled ice spike, stood about 10 cm above the frozen water surface at one edge of the bucket. Telling Fiona about it later, she sensibly reckoned there was probably a blade of grass at its core, and the gravity defying icy spike had formed the previous night as a strong easterly wind had whipped across the field, blowing water droplets onto the vegetation. Thus allowing the ice crystal to grow, stalactite fashion, above the surface ice. We’ve seen similar forms quite often along stream sides and ponds, given suitable conditions. But when I returned to photograph it, I realised that there was no material within it. And what’s more, it had an open centre, filled with water.

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Lots of photos later, I thought I’d compare it with other images on line, and found that there are really very few. It’s a pretty rare phenomenon. So I reckoned I’d take a few more pictures with a snowdrop, Galanthus “Melvillei”, placed in the natural vase, to give a better sense of scale.

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I found an excellent site which you can access by clicking here, which gives a concise clear explanation of how such structures form. Basically, a tiny chink in the freezing ice surface can allow still liquid water to be forced out on to the ice surface, and gradually a raised structure grows. ADDENDUM TO POST A critical factor in the process, as I’m indebted to Corriegendus pointing out in his detailed comments at the end of this post, is the way in which the density of water changes when it gets close to freezing point. Courtesy of Kevin’s hard work and research, I’m including a graph below which he emailed to me later, which illustrates this point with clarity. The fact that water’s density changes in this fashion around zero degrees C (freezing point) and actually becomes most dense at 3 degrees C, just above freezing, is very unusual amongst compounds and without this, life would be very different to how it has evolved, particularly in aquatic environments. You can see that solid water, ice, being lighter than water just above freezing point, will float on the water’s surface, and to a degree insulate the water below from further temperature falls.Water Density vs Temp

For photos of other similar, though I have to say not, I think, quite as lovely structures, click here. Interestingly, I noticed that the few images which are listed on this site from the UK are mainly in the wetter and more humid West of the country. Does humidity play a part in their development? My guess is that since I’ve never seen one before, this will turn out to be a once in a lifetime sighting, but with more freezing temperatures ahead, look out for any, whenever you are near a frozen water surface. What a stunning little natural phenomenon an ice vase is.

Meanwhile before today’s snowfall, we’ve had another dusting of ‘the other sort of snow’, as assessed by the differential melting on our spiral washing line base, over the quarry tiles and crushed slate. (Click here for other images).

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Golden Slumbers

Fill Your Eyes,

Smiles Await you when you rise.

                                           ( The Beatles lyrics, for Golden Slumbers, Lullaby)

This seemed an appropriate quoted text for introducing some of the stunning, and often golden, sunrise moments, in amongst the predominantly grey of this winter blues month.

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They’ve certainly had WOW and variety impact. And have a brought a smile to me early in the morning. I hope that you enjoy some of them.

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It’s also been during the last fortnight that some of the Hamamelis cultivars have literally shone. By chance most of the plants are located on our curving amphitheatre bank, underneath the outstretched limbs of a big oak tree, and under planted with Hellebores and snowdrops. Hamamelis ‘Rubin’, ‘Vesna’ and ‘Nina’ below.

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The unplanned benefit of this slightly elevated position is that you can appreciate the flowers from below and when backlit with low early afternoon sunshine, which really makes the gold, red and yellow flowers glow. The flowers are as tough as old boots, and shrug off the current freezing, with a different appeal when dusted in snow. Same cultivar sequence below.

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Perhaps if one of the Hamamelis seedlings which I successfully managed to germinate last year survives to maturity and flowers with golden or orange blooms, ‘Golden Slumbers’ might be a suitable name for it?

Visitors to the blog over the last fortnight may have noticed some changes in layout. I’ve been experimenting with a couple of different ‘themes’ and also opted to pay out for a customisation facility. As with all WordPress challenges to date, it’s extremely simple, but working out exactly what you like best isn’t always quite such an easy decision. Thanks to all at WordPress for designing the mechanics of switching to be so straightforward.

But apologies to you, the patient reader, for any temporary disruption. For now I hope that things are pretty settled with this layout, (having changed it again in a major way since publishing this post – clearly not!)

The news from WordPress, in their funky annual report to me early in January, included the data that last year the blog was read in 88 countries. When thinking about what to write next, or indeed deciding to brave the elements occasionally for a good image, knowledge of such a surprisingly global form of contact with other people is a great encouragement.

So thanks to all who have read some of my musings, and I can now confirm that I have chosen Corrigendus as posting the most interesting blog comment of the year, on 22/11/2012. It will provide in future years a fond reminder for me of The Year of Wiggo: Tour de France winner, Golden Olympian, Knight of the realm, and BBC Sport’s Personality of the Year. ( I’ve posted KTB’s amusing and interesting comment again at the end of this post, for those who missed it first time). Dave, Rinka and Carolyn were pretty damn close, but to everyone who’s taken the trouble to respond to anything in any of my posts, again a Big Thank You.

Having written far too much in recent posts, I’ll stop here with a few more images on this bitter, blizzard blown, upland Carmarthenshire, January day, and get the shovel out so that I can go and take some temperature readings from the greenhouse.

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The favourite 2012 blog comment.

Thank you again Corrigendus.

Hi Grumpy Hobbit,

I was about to pour scorn, as is my way, over your incredibly ambitious and hugely energetic attempts to heat your greenhouse, by asking whether you had taken into account the number of kWh you and especially her nibs had spent in preparing the thing and whether, if you had spent the same amount of energy walking in circles in the greenhouse, you might have achieved even more spectacular temperature rises, when I suddenly underwent a sort of Damascene conversion. It was the annualised usage of electricity after the PV installation wot did it! That and the fact that in my idle state, I awoke at 4am this morning and watched on the flat screen (one can’t call it the box anymore) a documentary about Bradley Wiggins’ “Year in Yellow”, and fascinating it was too.

Your usage statistics caused me to have an embarrassed look at our own and I dug out an email from our energy supplier which told me that what with gas and electricity, last year we used 28,936 kWh of energy in our little Surrey home, which means that at your latest consumption, our usage would have powered a full 7.4 hobbit homes! Now that is a vindication of your efforts if not a condemnation of our own (except that the vultures who wheel and ascend on the heat thermals above our house would feel bereft if we suddenly became hobbits!).

While watching the Wiggins thingy, I spied a PowerPoint chart in the background, showing the “power curve” of his energy output. With the magic of the PVR (personal video recorders: hobbits may be ignorant of the term), I was able to freeze the action and look carefully at the graph, which showed that Wiggins regularly achieves an output of around 1kW at peak, reducing to much lower levels downhill, but just prior to the “Tour de France” his average output in training was 400W.

Now then, Mr Wiggins completed his Gold Medal winning Time Trial in the Olympic Games at an average speed of 51.2 km/h. Assuming he achieved this at a power output of 0.4kW, it follows that a single kWh of Mr Wiggins’ effort would drive him 128 km. It also means that if Mr Wiggins was to expend the power output that we consume in our home per year, he would travel 3,703,808 km. The circumference of the Earth at the Equator is 40,075km, which means that Mr Wiggins would ride around the Earth a total of 92.4 times in a single year! (10,000km/day)!

Perhaps we should turn the dial down a bit!

15 thoughts on “Ice Vases and Snow; Golden Slumbers; Heavenly Hamamelis; New Year, New Look.

  1. I am so glad that you took pictures of the “ice vase”. It is awesome! I’ve never seen that before. You both live on such a beautiful piece of land and I always enjoy the wonderful pictures of it.

    Blessings ~ Wendy

  2. Hello Wendy,
    Thanks for the kind comment. I reckon the Ice vase was indeed awesome. But it’s extraordinary how if you have time, and keep your eyes open, you seem to keep seeing such amazing things in the natural world, that you’ve never seen before.
    Best wishes to you in, I guess, a chilly Canada?

  3. I am humbled and delighted that my meagre comment should have been rewarded with such lofty praise, and I am grateful! Suffused as I am with this warm glow, I have a sense that in this dank winter, generosity of spirit and fellow feeling must prevail. Not a bit of it! If you think that for one second my flinty-eyed glare will be averted by your praise; that I will lessen my seering inspection of the science and aesthetic of your creativity, think again! And I know you would expect no less! Your every move will continue to be scrutinised. You have nowhere to hide!

    For instance, I did not receive an email advertising your latest blog. This may have been a result of your tampering with the themes of the blog, or of some fault from WordPress itself, but you can hardly expect us hard-pressed critics to comment on your blog if we don’t receive it! If any other readers of this blog have similarly been affected, let us hear from you. Although, I can’t exactly discount the possibility that I am alone in this exclusion, either through my own folly, or more likely because the author has had enough of these pesky comments!

  4. Your pictures of the ice spike are aesthetically magnificent; a triumph! The fact that you observe these phenomena is truly inspirational and I look forward with pleasure to seeing your discoveries into the future (provided you sort your blog email adverts…. Let’s not get carried away here!).

    Regrettably, I am unable to include in this comment a graph of the density of water against temperature. WordPress dictatorially prohibits pictures in comments! I’ll send it to you by email. Essentially, it shows that water is at its densest at 4 degrees C. As it chills further, it starts to expand and its density falls. As it freezes, its density drops much further, which is why ice floats. This is unusual in nature, as most solids are much denser than their liquid forms. It has to do with the Hydrogen bonds between water molecules, but I will spare you the details. Suffice it to say that if it wasn’t for this property of water, life on earth would not exist in its present form. Because water is most dense at 4 deg C, water at that temperature falls to the bottom of all water systems like lakes. Because water is a relatively good insulator, colder temperatures from above have difficuly descending by conduction. Convection, on the other hand, reverses!! Colder water rises!! It is less dense. This amazing phenomenon means that the water in the depths will remain unfrozen, even though the surface is completely iced. And so life below can continue in the liquid until the thaw above….

    Now that is what I think is happening with your beautiful ice spike. The external temperature would have been well below zero, so the surface of the water in the bucket would have frozen and become relatively impermeable. As the temperature of the water in the bucket fell, it eventually reached 4 deg C, and as the temperature fell further, the water would have started to expand. The ice on the surface would have prevented this expansion, until a weak spot on the surface gave way. The pressure would have forced the water upwards where it would have come into contact with the freezing air, producing the glorious spectacle of your ice spike.

    To test this theory, you will have to reproduce the circumstances in the bucket, and perhaps help by creating a weak spot in the surface of the ice, perhaps with a straw or some other insulating element that allows pressurised water egress into the frozen air…

    Perhaps the possibility of further beautiful sculptures will induce you to this experiment?

  5. Hello KTB,
    I note with pleasure that the New Year finds you still in fine commenting form….but I regret to see that yet again you don’t acknowledge the possible adverse impact of all that EXCESS Surrey heat on the functioning of the Corrigendus techie equipment….. To date you do appear to be the only follower reporting a System malfuntion. I do have further enquiries to make on this subject, but in the meantime do PLEASE put in your thoughts on the Ice Vase, water density changes around 4 degrees C, etc. which you mentioned earlier on the phone…….. Come to think of it though, at what temperature do all the silicon bits and pieces in your computer undergo a phase change??? Around about the Corrigendus ambient, I’ll be bound….

    • I’m another reporting in with a similar malfunction! I have been missing out on all the recent blogs!! But my world is all the better for the sight of the beautiful ice vase! And I really do like the new look Theme.

      • Hello Rinka,
        Sincere apologies that you’ve also missed your regular fixes of the hobbits’ travails. I am at a loss as to why, other than my musings with KTB about overheating of equipment in the Surrey abode. However, on the bright side, you’ve missed all my dabbling with new appearances until finally, I called in the maetro, her Nibs, to do some colour and font tweaking. Eh Voila! A big improvement I think.
        And in the end much easier flipping a blog to create a new look, than achieving the same in a garden.
        BW GH

  6. KTB,
    Our comments passed in the ether….. Your explanation of the ice Vase and water density is indeed comprehensive, valuable and elegant.I am extremely grateful as always for your additions to the pseudo scientific nature of my musings. But your challenge to replicate what nature miraculously produced in a Welsh Meadow should, of course, not have been cast before a hobbit now scratching around for a new challenge. Game on. Though I fear that I shall fail miserably to produce anything of photographic merit from this experiment….

  7. Ah ha!! Your belief in synchronicity or simple serendipity is again reinforced! In your comment about the ambient temperature here in this Surrey abode, you mention that the silicon in my home made computers probably undergoes a phase change. Would you believe that one of the few materials other than water that undergoes inverse thermal expansion as it approaches its freezing point is molten silica! The phenomenon results from powerful forces between the molecules which are the result of the relative orientation of adjacent molecules, but I promise not to bore you any further with this. Suffice it to say, that silica is just sand and is one of the most abundant substances on earth. So you could probably conduct the same experiment with molten sand. Imagine what a photograph that would produce! It would though use the entire hobbit annual heating supply in one experiment!

  8. Hello again KTB,
    Another fascinating comment from the blog’s resident advisor on all matters physical. Indeed a bit serendipitous of me to raise this.
    Perhaps when, as I think you favour as a long term prospect for the human race, we all fry due to the sun’s increasing impact through a warming atmosphere….. the hobbit should be poised beneath our PV panels……
    And in true climactic Lord Of The Rings fashion, stand with our cast iron cauldron poised to catch the molten residues of our PV panels, which as glass and, well silica, should create a liquid mixture of precisely the type you recommend….. and wait patiently for a silica vase to grow before my eyes. ……
    Insulating themselves from such fiery heat wasn’t a problem for Frodo and Sam on the slopes of the exploding Mount Doom, so I’m guessing that Welsh hobbits will be equally heat tolerant…… It’s just the cold that gets to us…..

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