Snow and Cold Weather Science (Part 1)

We are still finishing up our volcano studies, but interest is waning.  They did enjoy watching Nova’s Deadliest Volcanoes and C worked on a volcano model with his Jr. FLL team.


This week I picked up some books on snow and polar regions.  These were greeted with enthusiasm!

First up was The Secret Life of a Snowflake by Kenneth Libbrecht.  The photography in this book is amazing!!!   I love the explanation of “The Right Way to Make Paper Snowflake”.

We looked through the incredible catalog of snowflakes in Wilson Bentley’s “Snow Crystals”.   Wilson Bentley was a Vermont farmer, who was fascinated by snow crystals.  Back in the early 1900’s he purchased a camera capable of microphotography and cataloged thousands of pictures of snow crystals. We read “Snowflake Bentley” by Jacqueline Martin.  It is written picture book style, so it feels a bit young, but it is the only kid biography of Wilson Bentley I could find.  I’m also reading a biography of Wilson Bentley myself.  It doesn’t seem like it would make a good read aloud, but maybe I will find some good tidbits to share.

We set up an “Iceberg” experiment.


We filled an aquarium with 10 cm of water (Make sure to do your measurements in cm) We placed our “icebergs” in the aquarium to observe how they floated in fresh water.  Then we removed the icebergs back to the freezer.


E calculated the volume of water in the aquarium in cubic cm.  Once we had the volume we converted it to grams.  This is the beauty of the metric system.  For fresh water at atmospheric pressure and a temperature of 4 C, 1 cm3 = 1 g = 1 mL. (and yes it is annoying me that I haven’t figured out how to superscript the 3 in my blog editor)

Next we calculated how much salt we needed to add to replicate ocean water based on 3% salt by weight.


We mixed in the salt and then floated our icebergs again taking note of the water level.  The addition of the ice caused a 3 cm rise in water level, however we did not observe any significant difference in buoyancy of the ice comparing fresh to salt water.

As the ice melted we measured the water level to verify there was no change.

The purpose of the experiment is to show that melting icebergs don’t raise ocean levels, because they are already displacing water.  The melting of glaciers does raise ocean levels.  When glaciers break apart and fall into the ocean they become icebergs so glaciers add volume to the ocean when they either break apart and fall into the ocean or when they melt.   This experiment happened to fit very well into E’s math studies this week as he was working on both volume and percentages.

Next week we will be using benzoic acid crystals to make snow globes.  If you ask a mom to order benzoic acid, she will get a good price from the soap making supply store.  Once she is shopping soap supplies, she will want to make her own lip balm.  When she orders the supplies to make lip balm, she will also order lotion making supplies.  Since Christmas is coming she will order enough to make gifts.  Once her cart is full, she will suddenly notice she forgot the benzoic acid.  Now we will be making snow globes,  lip balm, and lotion.   All of these make great winter science projects, even if they don’t directly involve snow.

Now if I can just remember where I stored my molecular modeling kit…… we can explore WHY snow crystals have 6 sides.

Check out this list of Fun Holiday Science Activities.

Also Kenneth Libbrecht has a website that has an AMAZING gallery of snow crystal pictures as well as physics explanations of snow flake formation and ice spikes.

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8 thoughts on “Snow and Cold Weather Science (Part 1)

    • The Snowflake Man by Duncan Blanchard. It has a section of pictures from Jericho and of Bentley himself. I really liked this quote from Bentley, “The snow crystals. . . come to us not only to reveal the wondrous beauty of the minute in Nature, but to teach us that all earthy beauty is transient and must soon fade away. But though the beauty of the snow is evanescent, like the beauties of the autumn, as of the evening sky, if fades but to come again.” Wilson Bentley

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