Cryoseism – Frost Quakes in Canada

By Anupum Pant

Note: Remember that the ideas I share on this blog everyday don’t magically get formed in my brain. I’m no genius. What I am, is an average curious person. I read about things and then I experience a burning urge to find out more. I think of this blog as a record of everything I learn – kind of a public journal (NOT an Official gazette). I hope it helps you in some way. If it does, do mention it in the comments section below.

The Polar Vortex

For the past few days, in most of the things I’ve read, I’ve come across a reference to the extremely cold polar winds (incredible pictures) people are experiencing in the United States and Canada. 50 states have gone sub-zero in the US. Similarly, Canada is experiencing even  colder temperatures. While some have decided to stay at home, others are tossing boiling water to try out the Mpemba effect in the open. 8,500 miles away, almost sweating in a room with temperature 30 degrees (Celsius) above zero, I’m learning about new frost related phenomena that I had never heard of before.

My sympathies to the people who are suffering this bitter cold wave. 


Thanks to the frost, I’m coming across some of the never-before-heard things that are appearing in the mainstream media. One of them which I came across yesterday was – Cryoseism or an Ice-quake.

People in Toronto woke up to loud sounds and rattling objects yesterday. People thought that an earthquake had hit Toronto. It wasn’t an earthquake. What they were experiencing was an Ice quake or Cryoseism.

What caused it?

Expanding water can be an extremely powerful force. It can break the strongest materials ever made. Industrial valves and pipes made of thick steel walls can be fractured by water as it expands. In this case, the earth got split open by it.

Unlike most other liquids, water expands on it freezing. Thus, ice formed is of higher volume and lower density. Although we aren’t dealing with density here, it is interesting to know, the phenomenon of expanding water is what makes gargantuan icebergs float on water. Apparently, there is nothing in the world that can contain expanding water without getting fractured (if you know about something that can, inform me in the comments section below). For a live demonstration, you can have a look at the video below, in which a metal pipe is split by freezing water.

This is what happened in Toronto. Water below the surface froze. As a result, it expanded and fractured the surface with a boom to find space for the 10% increase in volume. This was a Cryoseism.

With loud sounds some people have reported distant flashing lights. What was that about?

Electrical changes happen in the rocks when they get squeezed, pushed and rubbed around when pressure stored in the ground is released. The flashing lights are most definitely caused by these electrical changes due to rubbing and squeezing of rocks.

In the past the north and north-eastern parts of US have also reported such quakes.

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That Sweet Scent of Rain

by Anupum Pant

When rain starts falling after a long dry spell, most of us notice a sweet-musky scent around us. Sometimes, it is as if you can smell the rain coming. Have you ever wondered what causes this peculiar smell?

Well, scientists have also wondered the same for a long time and now they have some concrete answers for us. According to them, this evocative scent is a mixture of several individual smells. In essence, there are three factors which combine to form the “petrichor” – The smell of rain.

  1. Bacteria – The best (my favorite) of all the three is caused because of a specific type of bacteria in mud called Actinomycetes. The force, with which the rain water falls, disrupts the bacteria-produced-spores in dry mud, and the moisture present in the air carries them to our noses. Most people love this odor and associate it with rain.
    So, spores of bacteria are responsible for the kind of smell you get, when rain falls on dry mud.
  2. Plant Oils – A blend of oils produced by plants during the dry spell is another main source of this aroma. When it rains, volatile parts of these oils get released into the air. It is the kind of smell you get when you are getting wet in the woods.
  3. Ozone – Another smell associated with the rain, is a minor part of petrichor and it smells like burning wires. This is produced by a reaction caused when lightning strikes, the Nitrogen and Oxygen present in air to form Ozone molecules.

Subjective senses

Besides that, smell is a subjective sensation. That means, you can’t explain a smell to someone, and you can never know what the other person smells. So, it becomes really hard for scientists to communicate to us, which scent is which.

Some of us like the bacteria smell, while others might like the third component of petrichor.

Some like the smell of rain, others don’t. But we’ll never know accurately, if the scent you adore is the same as the one your friend hates. One way to communicate some information about these scents is by comparing them with other popular smells (like I did above). This could probably give you a vague idea, but the exact sensation will remain elusive. It is like trying to explain the color red to a person who’s been blind all his/her life.