The science of snow-melting
IQALUIT — Dirt is a snowscape architect, according to the journal Nature. Researchers have found that the sun sculpts narrow peaks, rounded dimples or a web of ridges in a smooth snowfield depending on whether the snow is clean, dirty, or really dirty.
In clean snow, melt patterns form in predictable wave-like designs. Dirty snow, however, can either insulate snow from melting or speed up the melting process, leading to less stable designs.
High in the Himalayan mountains, melting snow can produce cones up to 85 metres high.
More common are “sun cups.” Heat from the sun causes these depressions on the surface of the snow, and as they become larger, they melt more quickly, creating patterns that disappear and reform until all the snow melts.