Pretty snowfall

It was nice to have a snowfall that didn’t come with a storm.  Just 2 or 3 inches and sunshine to welcome February.  Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

The inlet, February 1, 2009
The inlet, February 1, 2009
Snow on the sumac, February 1
Snow on the sumac, February 1

An icy ocean wonderland to explore

Walking on the ice past a mooring buoy, Jan. 25
Walking on the ice past a mooring buoy, Jan. 25

We’ve had quite a long cold snap, and the ocean ice in and near our inlet is way over 6 inches thickness, the recommended thickness for safety.  Beautifully smooth too, in places, though the wind chill discouraged us from going back for our skates.

A branch which has been stuck in the ice for weeks now
A branch which has been stuck in the ice for weeks now, next to a mooring buoy, with other moorings in the background
We walked out to a small island and explored the ice formations around the rocks
We walked out to a small island and explored the ice formations around the rocks
Along the shoreline at low tide, a weird and wonderful landscape to explore
Along the shoreline at low tide, a weird and wonderful landscape to explore

At low tide, the ice is sitting on or near the bottom, so there’s little risk. It’s harder to get onto the ice when the tide is higher, as the broken pieces around the edge may not bear one’s weight, as my son learned this morning! No harm done, just wet boots and an uncomfortable trot home.

These rocks are just underwater at high tide, and we have to avoid them when rowing or paddling in the summer.
The big rocks in the middle are barely underwater at high tide, and we have to avoid them when rowing or paddling in the summer.

Momentous events leave nature cold?

After yesterday’s grand celebrations in Washington, and us watching on TV with much of the rest of the world, the ice and the sea were still there this cold morning.  The frigid air knew nothing of rarefied oratory or high expectations, of the helicopter that had spun a departing president into the sky, and the ice had not heard of the new one – the president of the world, no less –  who magically came into power at precisely noon while listening thoughtfully to Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Mah’s divine music.  The ice floating on the sea, like the air suspended above it, just was.

Ice floating on the tide, January 21, 2009
Ice floating on the tide, January 21, 2009

But if a butterfly flapping its wings can alter events far away in space and time, perhaps this ice is not exactly the same as it would have been had yesterday been less auspicious.  And if we cannot observe things without changing them on some microscopic level, then because I am thinking these thoughts, the morning has been made different just by my presence, by the same mechanism that Barack Obama’s inauguration has changed the world.

I am reminded of a woman I met in a Nigerian market who spoke of how much better life had been under the brief regime of a certain president a few years before. She said that in those days, “I would go home from the market and make better soup.”  Seasoned with a dash of optimism and happiness, the flavour of ordinary, mundane ingredients can actually be improved.

Lastly, I recall reading some time ago how the culture of government in the US had spawned a sort of anti-intellectualism: it wasn’t cool to be smart.  Is that like the old custom of not standing higher than the king?  Let’s not be smarter than the president?  How disastrous for a nation!  I predict a change in that regard, folks.  So don’t hide your light under a bushel.  This world needs all the smarts it can get.

After the freezing rain

Morning of January 8, 2009
Morning of January 8, 2009

Schools were cancelled due to road conditions like this. Icy and completely slippery, treacherous just to walk on.  I could have skated.  Later in the day the ice had melted and run off into the ditches – in most places.

The edge of the ice

The tidal inlet on January 2, 2009
The tidal inlet on January 2, 2009

Ice always builds up and stays in the inlets where it isn’t easily carried out to sea.  At low tide it just sits on the bottom, on the mud. There’s always a dynamic edge out there forming, melting, breaking off depending on the wave action, with pieces getting carried out to sea.

Freezing and thawing

The tidal inlet on the cold morning of December 9th
The tidal inlet on the cold morning of December 9th

The temperature has been bouncing around like a yo-yo – rather like the price of gas, from minus 10 degrees C to plus 10 and back again within a few days.

Unlike fresh water, which is at its most dense around 4 degrees C, salt water is most dense at its freezing point, which is typically around minus 2 C.  The more salt is in the water, the lower its freezing point.  In oceans that freeze, the water deeper down is saltier, so it stays down, and is less likely to freeze because the high salt concentration lowers its freezing point considerably.  The lighter, relatively fresher water stays on top – so it’s more likely to freeze, and when it does freeze it has little salt in it, as I found out by tasting it.

Ice that formed over rocks at high tide, then bent and cracked as the tide fell.
Ice that formed over rocks at high tide, then bent and cracked as the tide fell - December 14.

Ice on salt water

Ice crystals forming
Ice crystals forming

People are sometimes surprised to learn that ocean water can freeze (but think about it: we’re worried about the melting polar ice cap).  Two winters out of the last four, we’ve been able to skate on Mahone Bay after a really cold snap.  Salt water freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water, and the saltier it is, the colder it has to be to freeze.  I’ve found that it has a softer quality than freshwater ice, perhaps because of the impurities it would contain.  But I’m sure it’s just as unforgiving if you crack your head on it!

I’ve always found crystals fascinating. In my days as a lab chemist I enjoyed doing crystallization, which is done in the lab as a means of purifying a substance.  That’s because a crystal is formed when the molecules of a substance lock together in a close pattern.  There isn’t much room for anything else in there, between the molecules.  Separate the crystals from the rest, and you’ve got a pretty pure product.

Ice on a rock as the tide recedes
Ice on a rock as the tide recedes
This morning there were water crystals forming in quiet corners of the bay.  They are supposed to contain very little salt.  (Next time I’ll try tasting some!)  When salt water freezes on the surface, the ice is relatively fresh (i.e. not salty).  Polar bears are observed (not in Nova Scotia!) drinking from puddles on ice floes.  Meanwhile, the water beneath the ice gets saltier – and denser, sinking – which makes it even less likely to freeze.

Of course, these ice crystals I saw this morning melted during the day.

Watching the changes in the ice on the bay is one of the joys of living in Nova Scotia in winter.

If you want to read more about the science of seawater freezing, see the Water Encyclopedia.

Solar powered snow removal

Almost gone

It was a joke in the editorial cartoon of the Herald – a comment on the slowness of HRM to remove snow from the streets, but it sure worked in our neighbourhood. The foot of dense heavy snow that fell on the weekend disappeared in a couple of days.  High winds early in the week helped a lot too.  The Annapolis Valley had at least twice as much snow to go.  There were flood warnings in some areas.

It feels like spring!  🙂

Ducks

Pair of bufflehead ducks
Pair of bufflehead ducks

On my walk this morning, I saw no fewer than three species of duck in the little inlet taking shelter from the gale force southeasterlies: the American Black Ducks that breed prolifically around here, Mallards, and a pair of cute little Buffleheads.

Lobster season starts in southwest Nova Scotia

After what will surely be remembered as the great November snowstorm of 2008, I went for a walk this morning in crystalline -8 degrees(C).  From Crandall Point I looked out on the still waters of Mahone Bay, the open ocean behind, and counted six boats between Oak Island and Tancook.  I thought of our sailboat, now snug and dry, and marveled at the fishermen who brave such cold. But it’s the first day of lobster season, too important a day to stay home if you have traps to set.