Frost Flowers Bloom on the Surface of the Arctic Sea

Spiky white ‘blooms’ scatter across the surface of the Arctic Ocean in stunning photographs captured by University of Washington graduate student Jeff Bowman and his professor Jody Deming. Frost flowers grow from imperfections in surface ice when temperatures reach extremes nearing -7.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Not only are these flowers beautiful to look at, they’re teeming with life. Bowman and Deming discovered that the frost flowers contain much higher concentrations of bacteria than the sea ice below them.

On the thin layers of young sea ice, the surface can quickly change texture. Frost forms wherever an imperfection is found and builds into sharp points that wick salt and marine bacteria through the ice. The researchers are building a chamber in which they plan to grow artificial frost flowers, in the hopes of learning more about how life survives in extreme conditions. This knowledge could even lead to revelations about life in space.

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