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Diamond dust is a ground-level cloud composed of tiny ice crystals. This meteorological phenomenon is also referred to simply as ice crystals and is reported in the METAR code as IC. Diamond dust generally forms under otherwise clear or nearly clear skies, so it is sometimes referred to as clear-sky precipitation. Diamond dust is most commonly observed in Antarctica and the Arctic, but can occur anywhere with a temperature well below freezing. In the polar regions of Earth, diamond dust may persist for several days without interruption.
Diamond dust is similar to fog in that it is a cloud based at the surface; however, it differs from fog in two main ways. Generally fog refers to a cloud composed of liquid water (the term ice fog usually refers to a fog that formed as liquid water and then froze, and frequently seems to occur in valleys with airborne pollution such as Fairbanks, Alaska, while diamond dust forms directly as ice). Also, fog is a dense enough cloud to significantly reduce visibility, while diamond dust is usually very thin and may not have any effect on visibility (there are far fewer crystals in a volume of air than there are droplets in the same volume with fog). However, diamond dust can often reduce the visibility, in some cases to under 600 m (2,000 ft).
The depth of the diamond dust layer can vary substantially from as little as 20 to 30 m (66 to 98 ft) to 300 metres (980 ft). Because diamond dust does not always reduce visibility it is often first noticed by the brief flashes caused when the tiny crystals, tumbling through the air, reflect sunlight to the eye. This glittering effect gives the phenomenon its name since it looks like many tiny diamonds are flashing in the air.
These ice crystals usually form when a temperature inversion is present at the surface and the warmer air above the ground mixes with the colder air near the surface.Since warmer air frequently contains more water vapor than colder air, this mixing will usually also transport water vapor into the air near the surface, causing the relative humidity of the near-surface air to increase. If the relative humidity increase near the surface is large enough then ice crystals may form.
To form diamond dust the temperature must be below the freezing point of water, 0 °C (32 °F), or the ice cannot form or would melt. However, diamond dust is not often observed at temperatures near 0 °C (32 °F). At temperatures between 0 °C (32 °F) and about −39 °C (−38 °F) increasing the relative humidity can cause either fog or diamond dust. This is because very small droplets of water can remain liquid well below the freezing point, a state known as supercooled water. In areas with a lot of small particles in the air, from human pollution or natural sources like dust, the water droplets are likely to be able to freeze at a temperature around −10 °C (14 °F), but in very clean areas, where there are no particles (ice nuclei) to help the droplets freeze, they can remain liquid to −39 °C (−38 °F), at which point even very tiny, pure water droplets will freeze. In the interior of Antarctica diamond dust is fairly common at temperatures below about −25 °C (−13 °F).
Artificial diamond dust can form from snow machines which blow ice crystals into the air. These are found at ski resorts.
Diamond dust is often associated with halos, such as sun dogs, light pillars, etc. Like the ice crystals in cirrus or cirrostratus clouds, diamond dust crystals form directly as simple hexagonal ice crystals — as opposed to freezing drops —and generally form slowly. This combination results in crystals with well defined shapes - usually either hexagonal plates or columns - which, like a prism, can reflect and/or refract light in specific directions.
While diamond dust can be seen in any area of the world that has cold winters, it is most frequent in the interior of Antarctica, where it is common year-round. Schwerdtfeger (1970) shows that diamond dust was observed on average 316 days a year at Plateau Station in Antarctica, and Radok and Lile (1977) estimate that over 70% of the precipitation that fell at Plateau Station in 1967 fell in the form of diamond dust. Once melted, the total precipitation for the year was only 25 mm (0.98 in).
Diamond dust may sometimes cause a problem for automated airport weather stations. The ceilometer and visibility sensor do not always correctly interpret the falling diamond dust and report the visibility and ceiling as zero (overcast skies). However, a human observer would correctly notice clear skies and unrestricted visibility. The METAR identifier for diamond dust within international hourly weather reports is IC.
Frost is a thin layer of ice on a solid surface, which forms from water vapor in an above-freezing atmosphere coming in contact with a solid surface whose temperature is below freezing, and resulting in a phase change from water vapor to ice as the water vapor reaches the freezing point. In temperate climates, it most commonly appears on surfaces near the ground as fragile white crystals; in cold climates, it occurs in a greater variety of forms. The propagation of crystal formation occurs by the process of nucleation.
Ice is water frozen into a solid state. Depending on the presence of impurities such as particles of soil or bubbles of air, it can appear transparent or a more or less opaque bluish-white color.
Cirrus is a genus of atmospheric cloud generally characterized by thin, wispy strands, giving the type its name from the Latin word cirrus, meaning a ringlet or curling lock of hair. Such a cloud can form at any altitude between 5,000 and 13,700 m above sea level. The strands of cloud sometimes appear in tufts of a distinctive form referred to by the common name of "mares' tails".
Fog is a visible aerosol consisting of tiny water droplets or ice crystals suspended in the air at or near the Earth's surface. Fog can be considered a type of low-lying cloud usually resembling stratus, and is heavily influenced by nearby bodies of water, topography, and wind conditions. In turn, fog has affected many human activities, such as shipping, travel, and warfare.
Mist is a phenomenon caused by small droplets of water suspended in air. Physically, it is an example of a dispersion. It is most commonly seen where warm, moist air meets sudden cooling, such as in exhaled air in the winter, or when throwing water onto the hot stove of a sauna. It can be created artificially with aerosol canisters if the humidity and temperature conditions are right. It can also occur as part of natural weather, when humid air cools rapidly, for example when the air comes into contact with surfaces that are much cooler than the air.
Ice crystals are solid ice exhibiting atomic ordering on various length scales and include hexagonal columns, hexagonal plates, dendritic crystals, and diamond dust.
In meteorology, precipitation is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravitational pull from clouds. The main forms of precipitation include drizzling, rain, sleet, snow, ice pellets, graupel and hail. Precipitation occurs when a portion of the atmosphere becomes saturated with water vapor, so that the water condenses and "precipitates" or falls. Thus, fog and mist are not precipitation but colloids, because the water vapor does not condense sufficiently to precipitate. Two processes, possibly acting together, can lead to air becoming saturated: cooling the air or adding water vapor to the air. Precipitation forms as smaller droplets coalesce via collision with other rain drops or ice crystals within a cloud. Short, intense periods of rain in scattered locations are called showers.
Cloud condensation nuclei or CCNs are small particles typically 0.2 µm, or 1/100 the size of a cloud droplet on which water vapor condenses. Water requires a non-gaseous surface to make the transition from a vapour to a liquid; this process is called condensation. In the atmosphere, this surface presents itself as tiny solid or liquid particles called CCNs. When no CCNs are present, water vapour can be supercooled at about −13 °C (8 °F) for 5–6 hours before droplets spontaneously form. In above-freezing temperatures the air would have to be supersaturated to around 400% before the droplets could form.
In physics and chemistry, flash freezing is the process whereby objects are frozen in just a few hours by subjecting them to cryogenic temperatures, or through direct contact with liquid nitrogen at −196 °C (−320.8 °F). It is commonly used in the food industry.
Cloud physics is the study of the physical processes that lead to the formation, growth and precipitation of atmospheric clouds. These aerosols are found in the troposphere, stratosphere, and mesosphere, which collectively make up the greatest part of the homosphere. Clouds consist of microscopic droplets of liquid water, tiny crystals of ice, or both. Cloud droplets initially form by the condensation of water vapor onto condensation nuclei when the supersaturation of air exceeds a critical value according to Köhler theory. Cloud condensation nuclei are necessary for cloud droplets formation because of the Kelvin effect, which describes the change in saturation vapor pressure due to a curved surface. At small radii, the amount of supersaturation needed for condensation to occur is so large, that it does not happen naturally. Raoult's law describes how the vapor pressure is dependent on the amount of solute in a solution. At high concentrations, when the cloud droplets are small, the supersaturation required is smaller than without the presence of a nucleus.
Rime ice forms when supercooled water liquid droplets freeze onto surfaces. Meteorologists distinguish between three basic types of ice forming on vertical and horizontal surfaces by deposition of supercooled water droplets. There are also intermediate formations.
Nucleation is the first step in the formation of either a new thermodynamic phase or a new structure via self-assembly or self-organization. Nucleation is typically defined to be the process that determines how long an observer has to wait before the new phase or self-organized structure appears. For example, if a volume of water is cooled below 0 °C, it will tend to freeze into ice, but volumes of water cooled only a few degrees below 0 °C often stay completely free of ice for long periods. At these conditions, nucleation of ice is either slow or does not occur at all. However, at lower temperatures ice crystals appear after little or no delay. At these conditions ice nucleation is fast. Nucleation is commonly how first-order phase transitions start, and then it is the start of the process of forming a new thermodynamic phase. In contrast, new phases at continuous phase transitions start to form immediately.
The Wegener–Bergeron–Findeisen process, is a process of ice crystal growth that occurs in mixed phase clouds in regions where the ambient vapor pressure falls between the saturation vapor pressure over water and the lower saturation vapor pressure over ice. This is a subsaturated environment for liquid water but a supersaturated environment for ice resulting in rapid evaporation of liquid water and rapid ice crystal growth through vapor deposition. If the number density of ice is small compared to liquid water, the ice crystals can grow large enough to fall out of the cloud, melting into rain drops if lower level temperatures are warm enough.
Freezing drizzle is drizzle that freezes on contact with the ground or an object at or near the surface. Its METAR code is FZDZ.
Graupel, also called soft hail, hominy snow, or snow pellets, is precipitation that forms when supercooled water droplets are collected and freeze on falling snowflakes, forming 2–5 mm (0.08–0.20 in) balls of crisp, opaque rime.
Ice fog is a type of fog consisting of fine ice crystals suspended in the air. It occurs only in cold areas of the world, as water droplets suspended in the air can remain liquid down to −40 °C (−40 °F). It should be distinguished from diamond dust, a precipitation of sparse ice crystals falling from a clear sky. It should also be distinguished from freezing fog, which is commonly called pogonip in the western United States.
In meteorology, the various types of precipitation often include the character or phase of the precipitation which is falling to ground level. There are three distinct ways that precipitation can occur. Convective precipitation is generally more intense, and of shorter duration, than stratiform precipitation. Orographic precipitation occurs when moist air is forced upwards over rising terrain, such as a mountain.
Airport weather stations are automated sensor suites which are designed to serve aviation and meteorological operations, weather forecasting and climatology. Automated airport weather stations have become part of the backbone of weather observing in the United States and Canada and are becoming increasingly more prevalent worldwide due to their efficiency and cost-savings.
A snowflake is a single ice crystal that has achieved a sufficient size, and may have amalgamated with others, then falls through the Earth's atmosphere as snow. Each flake nucleates around a dust particle in supersaturated air masses by attracting supercooled cloud water droplets, which freeze and accrete in crystal form. Complex shapes emerge as the flake moves through differing temperature and humidity zones in the atmosphere, such that individual snowflakes differ in detail from one another, but may be categorized in eight broad classifications and at least 80 individual variants. The main constituent shapes for ice crystals, from which combinations may occur, are needle, column, plate, and rime. Snow appears white in color despite being made of clear ice. This is due to diffuse reflection of the whole spectrum of light by the small crystal facets of the snowflakes.
This glossary of meteorology is a list of terms and concepts relevant to meteorology and atmospheric science, their sub-disciplines, and related fields.
Note that images are different from naked eye in that they capture out-of-focus crystals which are shown as large, blurred objects.