Frost flowers aren’t just beautiful - they’re home (if you’re a bacteria)!
Researchers from the University of Washington were probably stunned when they showed up at North Pole and were greeted by a veritable meadow of flowers - frost flowers. As Robert Krulwich explains, frost flowers look amazing but their formation is well understood:
On Sept. 2, 2009, the day Jeff’s colleague Matthias Wietz took these pictures, the air was extremely cold and extremely dry, colder than the ocean surface. When the air gets that different from the sea, the dryness pulls moisture off little bumps in the ice, bits of ice vaporize, the air gets humid — but only for a while. The cold makes water vapor heavy. The air wants to release that excess weight, so crystal by crystal, air turns back into ice, creating delicate, feathery tendrils that reach sometimes two, three inches high, like giant snowflakes. The sea, literally, blossoms.
Due to the way they form, frost flowers also suck salt from the surrounding water - in fact, they become three times more salty than the sea. So the researchers asked themselves, can anything survive in a frost flower, given the extreme cold and saltiness? The answer was a resounding yes - the research team found literally millions of bacteria in each frost flower, living in just a few milliliters worth of water. The scientists are are busy trying to figure out what those bacteria are doing. I, however, and content to sit back and enjoy their beauty.