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Snowballs Wash Ashore In Northwest Siberia

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Lots of surprising things wash up on the world’s beaches—including snowballs. As NPR reports, a beach in northwest Siberia, on the Gulf of Ob, is covered in frozen spheres that have drifted ashore. According to experts, the rare phenomenon occurs when pieces of ice form, and are rolled into balls by wind and water.

The frosty orbs began accumulating along the Siberian coast around two weeks ago, according to the BBC. Currently, they cover around 11 miles of beach. Some are the size of a tennis ball; others are nearly 3 feet across.

Sergei Lisenkov, press secretary of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, provided Russian media outlets with an explanation. “As a rule, first there is a primary natural phenomenon—sludge ice, slob ice,” he said. (NPR defines “slob ice” as a Canadian term used to describe "sludgy masses of floating ice.”)

“Then comes a combination of the effects of the wind, the lay of the coastline, and the temperature and wind conditions,” Lisenkov continued. “It can be such an original combination that it results in the formation of balls like these.”

Residents of the nearby village of Nyda are amazed. "Even old-timers say they see this phenomenon for the first time," village administrator Valery Akulov told The Siberian Times.

But as other media outlets point out, this isn’t the first time that waves have washed spherical ice formations onto land: Similar events have been reported in the U.S. around Lake Michigan, and in the Gulf of Finland in Europe.

In short, the unusual weather surprise is rare, but perfectly natural. Hopefully, the people of Nyda love a good snowball fight—especially one that comes complete with ready-made ammo. Watch a video of the wintry occurrence below.

[h/t NPR]

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science
What’s Really Happening When You "Smell" Snow
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Does snow have a scent? The logical side of your brain may say no: Snow is just frozen water, and therefore odorless. But if you’ve ever predicted a big snowstorm based on a familiar tickle in your nose, you know the answer isn’t so straightforward. So what exactly is happening when you “smell” a meteorological event? The answer has less to do with specific odor molecules as it does with the climate in which you smell them.

For an episode of the podcast Physics Central, olfactory scientist Pamela Dalton laid out the perfect storm of physical conditions you interpret as the smell of snow. When temperatures approach freezing right before it snows, it’s actually harder to detect scents in the air than it is during milder weather. Cold weather slows down molecules in the air, and with less molecular activity, certain smells become less pungent. That means “smelling snow” is, in part, just smelling fewer odors outdoors than what you’re used to.

But if there was nothing else to it, a snowstorm would smell no different than a cold, dry day. The factor that determines the difference is humidity. Right before a snowstorm, the air is more humid than usual. This is what causes the flakes to fall: When the atmosphere hits the maximum amount of moisture it can hold, it reacts by dumping some of the moisture—whether in the form of rain, sleet, or in this case, snow—back onto the ground. That humidity has the added effect of giving your olfactory system a quick boost. To many people, the sensation of being able to smell with a warm, moist nose in freezing weather is linked with the promise of snow.

As all of that’s happening to the world around you, there are mechanisms at work inside your body that also help to explain the unmistakable scent of snow. You sense the cold air you breath with your trigeminal nerve, the same nerve that interprets sensations caused by tingly hot peppers or cool mint toothpaste (it also interprets other facial sensations and is why you might sneeze in sunlight). This is separate from your olfactory system, but you still lump the information it gives you with conventional scents like coffee or pine.

These elements—cold weather, humidity, and a stimulated trigeminal nerve—combine to create something that isn’t an odor, but a sensory experience you’ve come to associate with snow. That’s why when asked to describe the scent, people often use words like “clean,” “fresh,” and “cold"— a.k.a. things that don’t have much of a scent at all.

[h/t Physics Central]

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The Getty Center, Surrounded By Wildfires, Will Leave Its Art Where It Is
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The wildfires sweeping through California have left countless homeowners and businesses scrambling as the blazes continue to grow out of control in various locations throughout the state. While art lovers worried when they heard that Los Angeles's Getty Center would be closing its doors this week, as the fires closed part of the 405 Freeway, there was a bit of good news. According to museum officials, the priceless works housed inside the famed Getty Center are said to be perfectly secure and won't need to be evacuated from the facility.

“The safest place for the art is right here at the Getty,” Ron Hartwig, the Getty’s vice president of communications, told the Los Angeles Times. According to its website, the museum was closed on December 5 and December 6 “to protect the collections from smoke from fires in the region,” but as of now, the art inside is staying put.

Though every museum has its own way of protecting the priceless works inside it, the Los Angeles Times notes that the Getty Center was constructed in such a way as to protect its contents from the very kind of emergency it's currently facing. The air throughout the gallery is filtered by a system that forces it out, rather than a filtration method which would bring air in. This system will keep the smoke and air pollutants from getting into the facility, and by closing the museum this week, the Getty is preventing the harmful air from entering the building through any open doors.

There is also a water tank at the facility that holds 1 million gallons in reserve for just such an occasion, and any brush on the property is routinely cleared away to prevent the likelihood of a fire spreading. The Getty Villa, a separate campus located in the Pacific Palisades off the Pacific Coast Highway, was also closed out of concern for air quality this week.

The museum is currently working with the police and fire departments in the area to determine the need for future closures and the evacuation of any personnel. So far, the fires have claimed more than 83,000 acres of land, leading to the evacuation of thousands of people and the temporary closure of I-405, which runs right alongside the Getty near Los Angeles’s Bel-Air neighborhood.

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