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NASA visualises the dance of a melting snowflake

29 March 2018

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NASA has produced the first three-dimensional numerical model of melting snowflakes in the atmosphere. Developed by scientist Jussi Leinonen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the model provides a better understanding of how snow melts can help scientists recognize the signature in radar signals of heavier, wetter snow -- the kind that breaks power lines and tree limbs -- and could be a step toward improving predictions of this hazard.

Snowflake research is one of many ways that NASA studies the frozen regions of Earth, collectively known as the cryosphere.

Leinonen's model reproduces key features of melting snowflakes that have been observed in nature. First, meltwater gathers in any concave regions of the snowflake's surface. These liquid-water regions then merge to form a shell of liquid around an ice core, and finally develop into a water drop. The modeled snowflake shown in the video is less than half an inch (one centimeter) long and composed of many individual ice crystals whose arms became entangled when they collided in midair.

Source: NASA

Image credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/ Lauren Ward - Illustration of the first three-dimensional numerical model of melting snowflakes in the atmosphere, developed by scientist Jussi Leinonen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.