Studying snowflake formation may improve weather forecasts

December 20th, 2008 - 3:24 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Dec 20 (ANI): Scientists are going to use an ice cloud chamber to delve into the delicate process of snowflake formation, and could even help weather forecasters better predict when snow is likely to fall.

According to a report in New Scientist, Paul Connolly from the University of Manchester, UK, will study ice crystal aggregation in the Manchester Ice Cloud Chamber from next year.

This giant three-storey stainless steel cylinder can be cooled to temperatures as low as -50 degrees Celsius to simulate the conditions that produce snow.

Ice crystals form when a burst of compressed air enters the tank.

The air expands and cools, triggering water vapour in the chamber to freeze. As the ice crystals drift down the chamber, they merge to create snowflakes.

Connollys set-up includes a pair of laser beams that trigger a burst from a third laser when a flake crosses their path. This third laser projects a shadow of the flake onto a digital camera.

Taking different images of the flakes as they fall will allow Connolly to gauge how their size changes during their journey down the cloud chamber.

He would also be able to study the shape of the flakes by placing oil-covered glass plates at different levels within the chamber, which record the outline of the flakes as they settle.

By running experiments at different temperatures, Connolly hopes to see how the speed of growth of the snowflakes changes.

Heavier snowflakes fall faster but are difficult to forecast, so this will allow his collaborators at the UK Met Office to better understand the relationship between snowfall and temperature. (ANI)

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