Visualized: How Snowflakes are Formed
The Art of Snow
If you look at snow up close, you will probably notice that it is made up of thousands of tiny flakes with beautifully complex designs.
These snowflakes are actually ice crystals. They form in our atmosphere, high in the clouds, and transform along their journey to Earth thanks to different factors and forces.
We look at how snowflakes are formed, and what atmospheric conditions contribute to the beautiful intricacies we’ve come to know them for.
How to Build a Snowflake
The designs of snowflakes are actually products of a crystallization process that is controlled by the atmosphere.
Water vapor in the atmosphere latches onto a free-floating speck of pollen or dust and acts as a nucleator. This means that it can begin to add on (ie. nucleate) more water molecules and grow in size. When this happens at cold temperatures, water also freezes and crystallizes.
Despite the many unique styles of snowflakes, they all crystallize in the exact same shape—a hexagon. The reason for this has to do with how water behaves at the chemical level. At room temperature, water molecules flow randomly around each other, forming and breaking bonds endlessly.
When temperatures cool, however, they begin to lose kinetic energy and form more stable bonds. By 0°C, they reorient themselves into an energetically-efficient position, which happens to be a rigid, hexagonal configuration. This is frozen water, or ice.
All snowflakes nucleate and crystallize this way. As more water molecules nucleate to the infant snow crystal, they crystallize long arms and branching tendrils, forming unique, artistic designs.
How these designs materialize is simply a matter of water availability and temperature, a relationship best described in the Nakaya Diagram of Snowflakes.
The Nakaya Diagram of Snowflakes
In the 1930s, Japanese physicist Ukichiro Nakaya created the first artificial snowflakes and studied their growth as an analog for natural snow crystal formation. The Snow Crystal Morphology Diagram, or the Nakaya Diagram, is his handy chart that illustrates how snowflakes are formed.
The diagram illustrates the kinds of snowflakes that form via atmospheric temperature and humidity during a snow crystal’s fall to the ground.
Snowflake size and complexity depend on the humidity of the atmosphere. More water means larger, more intricate snowflakes.
Surprisingly, snowflakes cycle between two classes of growth (plates vs. columns) as temperatures decrease.
Close to its 100-year anniversary, this detail of the Nakaya diagram still puzzles researchers today. Many continue to theorize and demonstrate how this phenomenon may be possible.
Start the Same, Finish Different
You might be wondering how it is possible that no two snowflakes are identical if they all have a hexagonal inception and can form only columns or plates.
The answer lies in the dynamic nature of the atmosphere.
The atmosphere is constantly changing. As each second goes by, temperature, humidity, wind direction, and a number of other factors bombard a snow crystal as it falls to the ground.
Snow crystals are sensitive to the tiniest of these changes. Water vapor that is crystallizing responds to different exposures which ultimately make new patterns.
Since no two snowflakes travel in the exact same path at the exact same time, no two snowflakes will look the same. Same start, different endings.
Mapped: Renewable Energy and Battery Installations in the U.S. in 2023
This graphic describes new U.S. renewable energy installations by state along with nameplate capacity, planned to come online in 2023.
Renewable and Battery Installations in the U.S. in 2023
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Renewable energy, in particular solar power, is set to shine in 2023. This year, the U.S. plans to get over 80% of its new energy installations from sources like battery, solar, and wind.
The above map uses data from EIA to highlight planned U.S. renewable energy and battery storage installations by state for 2023.
Texas and California Leading in Renewable Energy
Nearly every state in the U.S. has plans to produce new clean energy in 2023, but it’s not a surprise to see the two most populous states in the lead of the pack.
Even though the majority of its power comes from natural gas, Texas currently leads the U.S. in planned renewable energy installations. The state also has plans to power nearly 900,000 homes using new wind energy.
California is second, which could be partially attributable to the passing of Title 24, an energy code that makes it compulsory for new buildings to have the equipment necessary to allow the easy installation of solar panels, battery storage, and EV charging.
New solar power in the U.S. isn’t just coming from places like Texas and California. In 2023, Ohio will add 1,917 MW of new nameplate solar capacity, with Nevada and Colorado not far behind.
|Top 10 States||Battery (MW)||Solar (MW)||Wind (MW)||Total (MW)|
The state of New York is also looking to become one of the nation’s leading renewable energy providers. The New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) is making real strides towards this objective with 11% of the nation’s new wind power projects expected to come online in 2023.
According to the data, New Hampshire is the only state in the U.S. that has no new utility-scale renewable energy installations planned for 2023. However, the state does have plans for a massive hydroelectric plant that should come online in 2024.
Renewable energy is considered essential to reduce global warming and CO2 emissions.
In line with the efforts by each state to build new renewable installations, the Biden administration has set a goal of achieving a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and a net zero emissions economy by no later than 2050.
The EIA forecasts the share of U.S. electricity generation from renewable sources rising from 22% in 2022 to 23% in 2023 and to 26% in 2024.
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