The Antarctic zipper

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It's been a great few weeks for interesting finds at our South Pole -- remember those crazy new species they found under the melting ice shelves? -- and now, here's something even cooler. (Pun intended.) It's called "finger rafting," and its the process by which colliding ice sheets interlace themselves, alternately pushing under and over one another. A researcher from Yale wrote:

The natural patterns look like meter-wide rectangular zigzags, and only occur when both sheets of ice are roughly the same thickness. Their theoretical analysis was confirmed experimentally using flexible layers of wax on water to simulate the phenomenon. They demonstrated the relationship between the width of the resulting fingers and the material's mechanical properties.

We've known about the phenomenon for at least 50 years, but haven't been able to explain it until recently; now it seems that "finger rafting" has implications for everything from plate tectonics to self-assembling nano-machines. But we'll bet that it looks cooler nowhere more than in the Antarctic.

March 6, 2007 - 9:18am
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