Rain & Shine: Sky Crystals

Jan 7, 2021

Credit Calla Rose Ostrander

Water is life. It makes up 71% of Earth’s body and 60% of ours. An essential element it is often characterized by being in motion: flowing, ebbing, falling, freezing, melting, vaporizing, condensensing. Water is ever cycling through its different states of being, as a gas (vapor), a liquid (water), and a solid (ice).

One thing we don't often think about is how the speed, or the energy in the water molecules, determines water’s different states: vapor, liquid, solid. The water molecules of crystalized water in our winter wonderland are still. As water cools it loses thermal energy (heat), and as that energy goes the water molecules begin to slow down, until at 0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit they stand still and condense, locking together to form solid ice. When water gets warm, the molecules regain energy and start to move, breaking apart and eventually moving around each other forming liquid water. H20 molecules that continue to warm and gain energy eventually move so fast that they leave their liquid state to become a gas, evaporating into water vapor. In the air they rise and then congregate creating clouds. If they continue to come together they become heavier and cooler until they condense and fall as rain.

Credit Feras Abdallah / Design Workshop

Snow crystals or snowflakes are formed when water vapor hits very cold air and bypasses the liquid state, forming immediately into a solid in a process called deposition. When it’s cold, but just not quite cold enough, the water molecules turn from vapor to liquid and then into a semi solid which we know as  sleet. When water evaporates directly from a solid state, (ice or snow) into vapor it’s called sublimation. 

In our conversations about global warming and the disruption that it is causing conditions of drought and desertification Id like to invite us to think about how speed drives the shifting shapes of water- and what we can do to help it slow down and stick around longer, keeping it with us as liquid and those lovely solids on the Earth’s surface.