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. 

Cryoseism

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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Gamburtsev Mountain Range – The Unexplored

By Anupum Pant

Unexplored

First, think of something that is 1,200 km in length, 3000 m in height and yet it is complete buried under the Antarctic ice. A whole mountain range called the Gamburtsev Mountain Range in Antarctica has remained unexplored, buried for centuries under a 2 to 4 kilometer thick sheet of ice. The range is named after Grigoriy A. Gamburtsev – a Russian geophysicist.

It amazes me how something of the size of European Alps, right here on earth, has remained unexplored for decades. Scientists estimate that these mountains are several millions of years old. But, till date they have no concrete idea on how they were actually formed.

In the words of Robin Bell, a geophysicist at Columbia University:

Amazingly, we have samples of the moon but none of the Gamburtsevs’.

Discovery: year 1958

In the year 1958, these mountains were discovered by a Soviet expedition. For exploration, this expedition investigated the surface using seismic sounding at around 10 points. During this time, not much detail was known.

Year 2000: It was only in the year 2000 that a project by British Antarctic Survey was able to produce a fairly detailed 3D map of Antarctica to date. As a result, some more information about these mountains was gathered. Still, it wasn’t enough for finding out their origins.

To solve the mystery of their origins, in the year 2011, aircrafts equipped with radars, lasers and various other meters were sent out by researchers to image the last unexplored mountain range on earth. They flew a distance of around 3 times the earth’s circumference over Antarctica – about 120,000 kilometers.
In the end, this flying around returned good results.

This Image gives you a rough idea about how deep these mountains are buried. [PDF]

I hope that in the coming years, scientists will be able to drill through the ice that has accumulated there for millions of years. And then, probably they’ll be able to retrieve real Gamburtsev rock samples for detailed investigation.

Note: Pardon me if I’ve been writing too much in the “Earth” category for the past few days. Trust me it is just a coincidence. In my defense, It is completely possible that a truly random die roll can land 6 consecutive 6s.

The Feynman point is one such example. It is a sequence of 6 nines somewhere in the decimal digits of pi. In short, you cursing me for writing under the same category for the past few days is not justified, logically.

Feynman point

Hot Ice

By Anupum Pant

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For years we’ve been subconsciously conditioned to think of something cool when the word ‘ice’ is heard. But, does ice always has to be cool? How much more interesting, than water-ice, can ice be?

What is it?

The name: Hot ice isn’t solidified water, it isn’t anything even close to water. Neither is hot ice, hot. It is just a common name for Sodium Acetate Trihydrate. At room temperature, this substance looks like ice crystals and if heated, it starts turning into a transparent liquid. Since, the ice like crystals are formed at a relatively hotter temperature than water-ice, it is called hot ice.

Everything freezes. While metals ‘freeze’ at extremely high temperatures and carbon dioxide freezes at extremely low temperature, Sodium acetate freezes at 54 degrees centigrade. But, that is hardly anything interesting about it. There is more.

Touch water and turn it to ice

Think about water: Cooling water, beyond its freezing point without it getting solidified, can be done and it is called ‘super-cooling‘. This can be done by not letting water (distilled water) find any ‘nucleation points’ or simply by using an extremely clean tray to freeze it. Now, water remains in a liquid state despite being cooled under 0 degree centigrade. At such a state, if water is disturbed, say using your finger, a chain reaction starts and the water freezes almost instantly. But, doing it is tough.

Making hot ice at home – The same thing that happens with super-cooled water, can happen with sodium acetate. Touch the liquid sodium acetate and it magically turns to ice, it is indeed a fascinating process to watch (watch in the video below). And can be done fairly easily. Moreover, you are not at a danger of getting poisoned in any way. This is the reason it is used to make hot ice. It can be made at home using vinegar, baking soda and a steel vessel.