Saturday, January 8, 2011

Curious Snow Sculptures

Snow is a remarkable substance that can be molded and deformed into all sorts of shapes and structures. A short walk in the snow can spark stimulating thought for anyone curious about the world around them, and I especially enjoy finding something unusual about the snow surface or snowpack and then playing Sherlock Holmes to try and understand it.  I picked up this habit from Craig Bohren, my undergraduate advisor at Penn State and author of one of my favorite books on atmospheric physics, Clouds in a Glass of Beer.  Dr. Bohren would regularly photograph something on his walk to work and then in class challenge students to explain it.  I'll never forget the day he showed up for class with photos of a manure pile and asked us to explain why there was steam above it.  

Yesterday we discovered some curious snow sculptures in the Stansbury Mountains.  As shown in the picture below, they were regularly spaced pedestals of snow, sticking up perhaps an inch above the snow.  The ski pole provides scale.

We found the snow sculptures along this ridge, just ahead of the skiers in the photo.

How in the world did these snow sculptures form?


  1. Either its a trick question and you made them... Or they could be packed snow from deer hoof prints and the wind has eroded the lightly (lighter) packed snow around them?

  2. No trick questions on this blog, and I didn't make them. I don't know if this will help, but there was no set of similar snow pedestals paralleling these.

  3. They look like something often known as "snow rollers" which are cylindrical shaped balls rolled up by the wind, but why would they be evenly spaced and in a row like this? And they are smaller and more uniform than typical snow rollers, which usually range from a couple inches to about a foot in size and also show layering. By the way I have some nice photos of snow rollers, I can email you some of these Jim (or anyone else who is interested).

  4. I don't think they are snow rollers, but of course, I'm only speculating. I'll post some thoughts on the possible cause tomorrow or Tuesday.