Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Supercooling: global warming comes to Michigan

Warning: the pictures could be from Antarctica, after all, and it is not even clear whether supercooling was the only cause.
Michigan has had the coldest winter in decades. Water expands to freeze, and at Mackinaw City the water in Lake Huron below the surface ice was super-cooled.

It expanded to break through the surface ice and froze instantly into this incredible wave. Isn't it beautiful?
More 640 x 480 pictures: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.
I've seen pictures of this wave phenomenon in Antarctica, but in Michigan? Yes, it's been quite a winter!

Hat tip: Fred Moss and Jiří Wagner


  1. These pictures were in fact taken in antarctica and were lifted from a website and dropped into the Michigan supercooling email (so naughty!) - check it out on snopes.com where one can see ALL of the expedition's photos. Very impressive, especially the ice-wave ones. No picture of Lake Huron's ice wave...if there is one.

  2. Lubos,
    Unable to find your email address, this blog seemed the next best place to pose my question. Or should I say challenge? I firmly disagree with your position on global warming and here is why:
    You are familiar with Erwin Schroedinger, no doubt, but you might also be familiar with his arguments regarding entropy. While I do not endorse everything Schroedinger says I wish to point out only one of his more compelling (if not obvious) remarks: that life is an improbable microstate which will invariably tend towards a state of maximum entropy - that state corresponding to our ultimate demise. And so given the improbable nature of life, along with the observable fact that dead bodies don't spring from the ground fully animated, we are forced to conclude that, while alive, all random motion will put one inevitably closer to that final macrostate. Global warming, pollution, eating, breathing, it all contributes towards our irreversible drift away from the initial state. The point is that, as an improbable state, the longevity of life that one experiences will depend upon their surroundings. Toxins - for instance from the air, are far more likely to do harm than good (where harm is taken as an increase in entropy). Global warming, whether caused by humans or climate variability is more likely to increase the entropy of an improbable system than to decrease it. My point is that anything but the most carefully executed action will increase the entropy within our bodies more than it increases on its own. Taking this, along with the self evident fact that human industry dramatically alters the environment without the least bit of concern for the health of those whom it affects, one must conclude that an alert public hypersensitive to even the potential consequences of imprudent mass production is a welcome shift away from pop-culture and towards something that might make a difference. So what do you have to gain from arguing against it?

  3. Dear fonzo, what you write is not a proper interpretation of Erwin Schrödinger or a rational analysis of something but a misinterpretation of the second law of thermodynamics by a chronic pessimist.

    The fact that the entropy increases doesn't mean that everything is getting worse all the time. Living objects are able to reduce their own entropy. They are very good at it. While they are doing so, they are increasing the environment's entropy even more so that the second law holds but it is a part of their strategy.

    Erwin Schrödinger understood this ability of alive beings very well. Your ideas, when looked at properly, can clearly tell us nothing about climate change or its impact.


  4. Lubos,
    It is true that Schrödinger argued for negative entropy where life is concerned. The cells in our bodies work vigorously to keep us in tip-top shape. I did not want to obfuscate my argument by getting into this, but only make the point that whether you call it - positive or negative entropy - the second law still applies, entropy goes up. Are you suggesting that the increase in entropy is somehow always expelled from the body? We know it isn't:

    Consider the case of telomeres, which provide a buffer against indefinite cell reproduction. Telomeres are replenished by an enzyme but never faster then they are burned during cell-division. The only evolutionary necessity for such a buffer is to allow the cell to die before it is mutated into cancer. Thus, the body increases its own entropy to protect against the uncontrolled entropy of its environment. Therefore entropy exists within, and affects, the most basic properties of life.

    You are correct that these arguments do not relate directly to the debate over global warming, except that they help to illustrate what a precarious situation we find ourselves in. We might not have enough information to predict what effect an increase in temperatures will have, but I use these types of arguments to propose that, statistically speaking, the effect is unlikely to lengthen the telomere and that in fact the opposite is more likely true. If you can argue that the amount is statistically irrelevant then that is one thing, but if you do your research and emerge from the lab having found that our lifespan shortens by, say, 1 year/degree then we should be concerned.