As many states still lie entrenched in winter’s gloom, it might help to “know thine enemy.” Here's a list.
1. Ice and snow are technically minerals, just like quartz. They fit the official geological definition. And just like other minerals…
2. Ice and snow come in a variety of colors, depending on the impurities. Volcanic particulates of the Tambora Eruption of 1815 produced blue, brown and red snows in Maryland; and red and yellow snow in Taranto, Italy. In 2010, the Stavropol region of southern Russia experienced a light purple snow, attributed to Saharan dust. There has even been…
3. Pink snow! Pink snow is regularly found in the Sierra Nevadas and is called “Watermelon Snow” due to its pink color. It even smells like watermelon (though you shouldn’t eat it)! The color is the result of Chlamydomonas nivalis, a species of cold-loving green algae that has a secondary red carotenoid pigment (astaxanthin). But the true color of pure ice and snow is…
4. Blue! Pure ice is blue, for the same reason the sky and oceans are blue. Water absorbs more light from the red spectrum and reflects more blue. However, snow looks white because trapped air reflect back all light. If an ice cube doesn’t look blue, it’s because large quantities are required to make the effect obvious…and beautiful. But you don’t want too much ice or otherwise we could have another…
5. Ice Age! Starting about 2.5 million years ago (the Pleistocene Epoch) glaciers grew rapidly and spread across the world. At their peak, glaciers covered as much as 30% of Earth’s current land area. Summer temperatures were 10ºC (18ºF) colder than present. Sea levels dropped by more than 90 meters (250 feet), resulting in an extra eighteen percent increase in dry land, in turn creating land bridges across the Bering Strait, the English Channel, and Indonesia. The last Ice Age ended 15 thousand years ago, and the Pleistocene Epoch ended almost 12 thousand years ago. But to this day, no one is really sure…
6. Why the Ice Age began in the first place! Theories abound. The foremost theory involves the Milankovitch cycles, a term for how the Earth’s “wobble” (precession), axial tilt (obliquity), and planetary orbit (eccentricity) all vary with a regular cycle of every 20 thousand, 40 thousand and 100 thousand years respectively. Those variations affect how the Earth is exposed to the Sun’s heat and radiation, and could chill the planet. However Milankovitch cycles have operated since the Earth was turning. But the Ice Age was a geologically recent event, only in the last couple million years. For the majority of Earth’s history, the planet has been considerably warmer. What else could have cooled the planet? Did the erosion of the newborn Himalayas absorb and remove vast quantities of carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas? Did the connection of the North and South American continents provide the catalyst? When the two continents joined, the Gulf Stream now carried much warmer and wetter waters farther north. This would increase precipitation (snow), and so increase glacier growth. Other scientists say that continental drift plays a factor, as Ice Ages don’t really occur until there were large ice caps on the North and South Poles (which only occur when large landmasses are near the Poles to serve as climatic “anchors”). No one is certain how the Ice Ages were born, or if they’ll return again.
In a way, it’s much like our winters today. They come. They go. But humans have tackled winters - and worse - and we still survive. We have fought every crisis that Mother Nature brings to us. And we have what it takes to overcome…or move to Florida.
"Southern Russia overwhelmed with purple snow 09/03/2010." YouTube. Uploaded by czesio95, 8 Jul. 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ty8kWGhWyYU. Accessed 22 January 2017
Armstrong, W.P. "Watermelon Snow." Environment Southwest. Number 517, 1987, pp. 20-23.
Officer, Charles & Jake Page. Tales of the Earth: Paroxyms and Pertubations of the Blue Planet. New York City: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Fagan, Brian, ed. The Complete Ice Age: How Climate Change Shaped the World. New York City: Thames & Hudson, 2009.
Rafferty, John P, ed. The Cenozoic Era: Age of Mammals. New York City: Britannica Educational Publishing, 2011.
Heath Shive is a freelance writer and former geologist. His articles have won regional and national awards. His favorite hobby is to read any book put in front of him. His second favorite hobby is writing about what he reads.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.