Physics Photo of the Week

December 6, 2013

Ice Garden
This "garden" is frozen mud from a construction site.  The bare ground had been saturated with rain soon before a hard freeze last January.  The freezing forms a crust on the surface of the soggy soil.  As the freezing temperature penetrated deeper, the pressure from the expanding forming ice beneath the frozen crust eventually pushes through the crust and we have sprouts of ice!  Notice that the tops of the ice sprouts have pushed up grains of dirt and mud, but the ice sprouting up from the dirty soil is quite clear.  This clearly resembles bean sprouts planted in a moist inside environment that produces a much more nourishing food in the middle of January.  Click on the image for a larger view. 

An interesting project (others are certainly invited to attempt this) is to set-up a camera, a light source, tripod, and interval timer overnight at a muddy site that is expected to freeze hard overnight.  Program the camera to take a photo about once a minute and produce a time-lapse photo of the growing ice sprouts.  This is especially challenging due to the risk of leaving an expensive camera and tripod outdoors unguarded overnight, the threat of rain, snow, and foul weather, and running out of battery power overnight.  Inexpensive interval timers can be obtained at very nominal cost from on-line sites such as Amazon and eBay.

A very early Physics Photo (Feb. 27, 2004) shows a rare ice sprout in the ice-cube tray area of a friend's ice-cube freezer.

More photos of this ice garden are below.  Click on each for larger views.

Physics Photo of the Week is published weekly during the academic year on Fridays by the Warren Wilson College Physics Department. These photos feature interesting phenomena in the world around us.  Students, faculty, and others are invited to submit digital (or film) photographs for publication and explanation. Atmospheric phenomena are especially welcome. Please send any photos to

All photos and discussions are copyright by Donald Collins or by the person credited for the photo and/or discussion.  These photos and discussions may be used for private individual use or educational use.  Any commercial use without written permission of the photoprovider is forbidden.

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