Water: Five Frigid Facts To Thaw Your Students’ Curiosity
During this very busy teaching season, Sarah’s asked me to share some of the interesting science water facts that I come across. While not a professional teacher, I always love to learn more about science and am happy to share what I’ve found.
Here is a report by the National Science Foundation titled, Let It Snow! The Science of Winter that I found while doing some research following our recent big snowfall. With this report, NSF hopes to pique our interest in snow. Whether we live in a cold climate or not- we all share the same water supply, much of it dependent on snow melt.
Here are five fun facts that got my attention:
69% of all Fresh Water is in the Form of Ice
Snow covers 40% of the earth’s land mass all year round.
71% of the earth’s surface is covered by water, with 96.5% of all earth’s water held by the oceans. That leaves just 3.5% of the water supply in freshwater sources. According to an article at Universe Today, a stunning 69% of all the earth’s fresh water is held in ice!
Only 0.7% of all the earth’s water is in the form of groundwater, rivers, lakes and streams.
- Some Creatures Have Adapted to Thrive Inside a Natural Igloo All Winter Long
A subnivium is a seasonal habitat that exists beneath the surface of the snow, providing an insulated winter home for both plants and animals. Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation, intrepid winter ecologists are expanding our knowledge of these frosty biomes and the living things that overwinter there. In an interesting twist, scientist have learned that as less snow covers the earth, the soil temperature actually drops. Where there is snow, the underlying soil has a warmer more steady temperature.
Astrobiology Connection: Scientists from the University of Tuscany sent fungi from Antarctica into space to test just how tough these organisms were. Placed outside the International Space Station for 18 months, these little guys survived. The theory being tested: We might some day grow these things on Mars!
Read more about it at Phys.org, Antarctic Fungi Survive Martian Conditions on the International Space Station.
- Meteorologist, Scientists, and Indigenous People Need a Lot of Words to Describe Snow
You probably already know that no two snowflakes are alike. Snow is so unusual and diverse that many different words are used to describe it. The Inuit of Alaska refer to snow as Annui, api, pukka, Quli, siqoq, kimoagruk, upsik and many other terms, each describing a different way the snow falls or performs once it touches down.
Here in the continental U.S., snowfall is categorized in the following ways: A violent storm is a blizzard while a snowstorm is less rowdy but still has lots of snow. A snow flurry varies in intensity and comes with chunks of your favorite candy or cookie. Just kidding! A snow flurry doesn’t leave much accumulation. A snow squall is windy and intense but doesn’t last very long. A snow burst is really intense, short-lived and piles up snow accumulation fast. Finally blowing snow is carried by the wind and blocks visibility while drifting snow lodges itself in great piles.
To discover the names of snow formations and snow cover, visit the National Snow and Ice Data Center. There you can learn about firns, sastrugis, and sun cups.
- Winter’s Dust Cover Determines Springs Watershed
Snow that is covered in dark particulates melts faster than clean snow. White snow with no particulates reflects more than 80% of the sunlight that shines on it. Once the snow becomes darkened with dust, the sunlight is absorbed and speeds the melting process. Scientist in Colorado are now studying these dust-on-snow events to track snowmelt rates, which have a major impact on western water supplies.
- Studying Evaporation, Transpiration and Precipitation is Critical
Scientists have learned to predict how much water will be supplied to populations downstream from of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains by tracking the Sierra’s winter snowfall. This mountain snow runoff accounts for 60% of California’s water supply. Using wireless sensors and Critical Zone Observatories (CZOs), researchers can detect just how much snow is available for spring melts, and how much is held in the soil or has evaporated. Since all water is part of an ongoing cycle, this data helps the scientist better understand how much water will end up at the foot of the mountain and how much has re-entered the atmosphere to be redistributed elsewhere.
With much of our water supply held in snow, ice and saltwater the creatures of the earth share a very small supply of fresh drinking water. Through the water cycle, this supply is distributed throughout the world, from cloud to ground and back again. Snow not only gives us a beautiful winter landscape but plays a crucial role in maintaining our precious water supply. From the Arctic to the International Space Station, the study of all things cold is really cool!
Here are some additional resources about snow and our water cycle:
Science is For Kids Resources at Teachers Pay Teachers by Sarah Winchell:
This post was brought to you by Tonya and Sarah