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Differences Between Artificial and Natural Snow

In this article the main differences between artificial snow and natural snow will be discussed. Natural Snow: When snow is formed in the atmosphere the humidity in the air builds up the snowflake around a small nucleus (eg soil or pollen). Natural snow crystals are delicate and pointy, which helps them to attract one another and stick together to form snowflakes.
a snowflake
© Luleå University of Technology

In this article the main differences between artificial snow and natural snow will be discussed.

Natural Snow

How natural snow is formed

When snow is formed in the atmosphere the humidity in the air builds up the snowflake around a small nucleus (eg soil or pollen). Natural snow crystals are delicate and pointy, which helps them to attract one another and stick together to form snowflakes. This buildup makes the snowflakes star shaped or column shaped and some of the snowflakes can even be hollow. Natural snow falls from a great height, which gives time for the crystals to drift together and create large, fluffy snowflakes with air between the crystals.

Shape

The buildup and form of the natural snowflakes makes the snowpack very soft and with low density as the snowflakes from gentle bonds with each other. The form also makes them very brittle, meaning that they brake easily and create smaller snowflakes. The form of the natural snow also makes it more susceptible to melting as they are not that compact. When natural snow ages it becomes more spherical and more similar to manufactured snow so in the spring, it might be difficult to distinguish between real snow and artificial snow.

Artificial Snow

How artificial snow is manufactured

When snow is manufactured water is sprayed out in cold air creating small ice spheres that create the snow particles. Depending on the pressure and the size of nozzle for the water outlet, different sizes of ice spheres is created. An important factor is also the height of fall of the water droplet, as that determines how frozen the water droplet will be and if the fall is high enough some interference between the snow particles and the humidity in the air can occur. This will make the snow particles grow even more.

Effect of Air Temperature on Snow

Air temperature is another factor effecting the manufacture of snow particles; warmer temperature will create softer ice particles and there may also be a liquid water layer around the ice particles that can make the snow particles freeze together to make a compact snow layer when they land.

Another effect that can happen if the temperature and humidity is low is the snow becoming sugar-like. This is when the snow just falls between your fingers if you pick it up because there is no water to create bonds between the snow particles/flakes. To get the snow particles/flakes to connect the snow must be left to lay so that it can absorb the moisture in the air. Another way is to spray the snow with water to add humidity.

Shape of Snow Particles

Manufactured snow particles consist of solid ice and are almost completely spherical. This means that when they fall to the ground the snow particles will not break or stick to each other in the same way as natural snow, so the snowpack gets much more compact.

Another important property for manufactured snow is that, as the snowpack consists of ice spheres that are compact ice, they will be less sensitive to heat and melt at a slower rate than natural snow.

© Luleå University of Technology
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Snow: What It Is and Why It Matters

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