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October 22, 2013

Snowflakes that are ice crystals formed by condensation in the air

A variety of snowflakes that are simply ice crystals formed by condensation in the air. These images were taken using a new high-speed, three-camera system.

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Tim Garrett, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah who developed the camera, is taking the first automated, high-resolution images showing the complexity of snowflakes in free-fall, while measuring how fast they fall, and is collecting vast amounts of data that can be used in obtaining more accurate and representative characterizations of snow in clouds. The new camera system is called the Multi-Angle Snowflake Camera (patent pending).

Traditional photos of snowflakes are usually of rare, perfectly symmetric, six-sided snowflakes photographed in a controlled environment under a microscope. But Garrett says that snow is almost never a single, simple crystal. For example, snowflakes can have riming, where millions of water droplets collide with a snowflake and freeze on its surface, creating a little ice pellet called a "graupel." Or snowflakes may collide with other snowflakes, together forming something fluffier called an "aggregate."

The purpose of the research is to improve computer simulations of falling snow and how it interacts with radar, which could improve the use of radar in weather and snowpack forecasting and reveal more about how snowy weather can degrade microwave (radar) communications. Development of the camera was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (under grant ATM 1127692).

To learn more, see the University of Utah news story Snowflakes falling on cameras: New device reveals what snow looks like in midair. (Date of Image: 2012-2013)

Credit: Tim Garrett, University of Utah

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