Using multiple demonstrations and visuals, Ewing will give a Pinhead Town Talk on Tuesday, July 27 from 6 to 7:15 p.m. at the Wilkinson Public Library. The talk, entitled "Ice: From Snowflakes to Glaciers," promises to capture the interest of children as well as anyone who has traversed the Telluride landscape in the winter.
The first six children to attend the Talk will receive a special science-kit gift. A $5 donation is requested and doors open at 5:30 p.m.
Guggenheim Fellow and Chancellor's Professor Emeritus at Indiana University, Ewing is in Telluride this week to work alongside 44 other Telluride Science Research Center scientists from Israel, Japan, Germany, Czech Republic, the United Kingdom and elsewhere, to delve into the complexities of ice.
Why study ice?
"Johannes Kepler had his own reasons, says Ewing of the 15th century German astronomer. "He was interested in the spiritual aesthetics of the symmetry and order of snow crystals. He became interested in snow crystals after he figured out the orbit of the planets. He was super smart, but he couldn't figure out why snow crystals are six-sided. It took science another 300 years to answer that question."
Kepler lived in a pre-atomic age; the concept of an atom was a necessary piece to solving the puzzle.
Ewing says Wilson A. Bentley, a Vermont farmer born in 1865, first looked at snowflakes as a boy on his father's potato farm. By pairing photography with a microscope, Bentley discovered and documented the fact that no two were alike. During his life, he photographed over 5,000 images of snow crystals.
Snowflakes and snow crystals are made of nothing more than ice.
So what's the difference between the two?
"The language is muddled," explains Ewing. "A snow crystal is the intricate six-cornered image associated with a snowflake. But a snowflake can be the entanglement of many snow crystals. Anyone can see a snow crystal with the naked eye. They are about 1/16th of an inch across. Under some conditions snow crystals fall individually, usually during a light snow. Under other conditions, they clump together amorphously."
Snow crystals form in clouds when water vapor (a gas) condenses directly into ice. The patterns they make are classified into types, with names like Stellar Dendrite (tree-like) or Sectored Plates (flattened shapes). They are typically less than .1 millimeter thick.
But Ewing is interested in all aspects of ice, not simply snow crystals.
"Understanding ice involves geology, biology, chemistry, even medicine," says Ewing, who currently spends much of his time in Maine writing a book on the subject for the general educated public.
"There is an entire ecology of ice."
In the Pinhead Town Talk, Ewing will touch upon the red algae that lives in snow and turns it pink, as well as the ice worms that feast upon the algae.
Feeding on airborne pollen, fern spores and algae, ice worms live in coastal glaciers of southeastern Alaska and as far south as Mount Rainer, near Seattle, Washington. At this time, only four species are known. All are less than one inch long.
Discovered in 1887 squirming between crystals of ice and through channels in the snow, ice worms are still little understood by science.
Related to the common earthworm, ice worms have no eyes. But they do sport big mouths. To thrive, the ideal environmental temperature for these creatures is 32 degrees Fahrenheit. At 5 degrees, they start to disintegrate.
Ewing has seen ice worms only once in Alaska.
"They appear only during particular times of the year," he says, "and if you pick them up, they die."
When conditions are right, as many as a hundred black or pink threadlike worms can be observed in one-square-meter. Ewing, who admittedly takes an "eclectic view" of ice, suggests that to understand ice in all its forms, one could read a recipe book about gelato and ice cream, or pick up a polar expedition book by Scott, Shakleton, or Byrd. For climatology and understanding why scientists collect ice cores, he suggests reading "The Two Mile Time Machine," by Richard Ailly. Another helpful work is "Snowflake Bentley," by J.B. Martin.
The Wilkinson Public Library is now soliciting reading suggestions and book purchases from the Pinhead lecturers, and will be making these books available.
To learn more, come to the Town Talk Tuesday, July 27 for a visceral demonstration about the wintry, high-alpine world we live in. For more information call the Pinhead Institute at 970-728-0713 or visit www.pinheadinstitute.org