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  Frost is a solid deposition of water vapor from saturated air. It is formed when solid surfaces are cooled to below the dew point of the air next to the surface.[1] Frost crystals' size differ depending on time and water vapor available. Frost is also usually translucent in appearance. There are many types of frost, such as radiation and window frost. It is also a major destroyer of plants.



If solid surfaces in contact with the air are chilled below the deposition point (see frost point), then spicules of ice grow out from the solid surface. The size of the crystals depends on time and the amount of water vapor available.

Frost is often observed around cracks in wooden sidewalks due to the moist air escaping from the ground below. Other objects on which frost develops are those with low specific heat and high thermal emissivity, such as blackened metals; hence the accumulation of frost on the heads of rusty nails. The apparently erratic occurrence of frost in adjacent localities is due partly to differences of elevation, the lower areas becoming colder on calm nights. It is also affected by differences in absorptivity and specific heat of the ground which in the absence of wind greatly influences the temperature attained by the superincumbent air.

Because cold air is more dense than warm air, in calm weather cold air pools at ground level. This is known as surface temperature inversion. It explains why frost is more common and extensive in low-lying areas. Areas where frost forms due to cold air trapped against the ground or against a solid barrier such as a wall are known as "frost pockets".

Frost is similar in appearance to soft rime, but the two are distinct. In formation of frost, the water vapour condenses through deposition directly to solid ice and rime is formed following initial condensation into liquid droplets. Thus, frost is formed when the dew point is warmer than surface but colder than the air temperature, and colder than freezing point. The formation of frost is an example of meteorological deposition.

Types of frost


Radiation frost (also called hoar frost or, sometimes, hoarfrost) refers to the white ice crystals, loosely deposited on the ground or exposed objects, that form when the air is moist, the wind is weak or absent and surfaces are cold. It is often seen on clear winter nights, especially in valleys and hollows. Hoar frost can form in these areas even when the reported temperature is above the freezing point of water.

One can distinguish between some types of hoar frost, depending on where it forms. For example, air hoar is a deposit of hoar frost on objects above the surface, such as tree branches, plant stems, wires; surface hoar is formed by fernlike ice crystals directly deposited on snow, ice or already frozen surfaces; crevasse hoar consists in crystals that form in glacial crevasses where water vapour can accumulate under calm weather conditions; depth hoar refers to cup shaped, faceted crystals formed within dry snow, beneath the surface.

Depth hoar is a common cause of avalanches when it forms in air spaces within snow, especially below a snow crust, and subsequent layers of snow fall on top of it. The layer of depth hoar consists of angular crystals that do not bond well to each other or other layers of snow, causing upper layers to slide off under the right conditions, especially when upper layers are well bonded within themselves, as is the case in a slab avalanche.

Hoar frost does not occur exclusively in nature. Hoar frost is also found in and around freezers particularly in industrial cold storage facilities. It occurs in adjacent rooms that are not well insulated against the cold and around entry locations where humidity and moisture will enter and freeze instantly depending on the freezer temperature.


White frost is a relatively heavy coating of hoar frost with big and interlocking crystals. It forms when the air has a relative humidity above 90% and a temperature below -8 °C (18 °F).

Advection frost (also called wind frost) refers to tiny ice spikes forming when there is a very cold wind blowing over branches of trees, poles and other surfaces. It looks like rimming the edge of flowers and leaves and usually it forms against the direction of the wind. It can occur at any hour of day and night.

Window frost (also called fern frost) forms when a glass pane is exposed to very cold air on the outside and moderately moist air on the inside. If the pane is not a good insulator (such as a single pane window), water vapour condenses on the glass forming patterns. The glass surface influences the shape of crystals, so imperfections, scratches or dust can modify the way ice nucleates. If, otherwise, indoor is very humid water would first condense in small droplets and then freeze into clear ice.

Frost flowers occur when there is a freezing weather condition but the ground is not already frozen. The water contained in the plant stem expands and causes long cracks along. Water, via capillary action, goes out from the cracks and freezes on contact with the air.

Effect on plants

    Many plants can be damaged or killed by freezing temperatures or frost. This will vary with the type of plant and tissue exposed to low temperatures.

Tender plants, like tomatoes, die when they are exposed to frost. Hardy plants, like radish, tolerate lower temperatures. Perennials, such as the hosta plant, die after first frosts and regrow when spring arrives. The entire visible plant may completely turn brown until the spring warmth, or will drop all of its leaves and flowers, leaving the stem and stalk only. Evergreen plants, such as pine trees, will withstand frost although all or most growth stops.

Vegetation will not necessarily be damaged when leaf temperatures drop below the freezing point of their cell contents. In the absence of a site nucleating the formation of ice crystals, the leaves remain in a supercooled liquid state, safely reaching temperatures of −4°C to −12°C. However, once frost forms, the leaf cells may be damaged by sharp ice crystals. Certain bacteria, notably Pseudomonas syringae, are particularly effective at triggering frost formation, raising the nucleation temperature to about −2°C[2]. Bacteria lacking ice nucleation-active proteins (ice-minus bacteria) result in greatly reduced frost damage[3].

The Selective Inverted Sink [4] prevents frost by drawing cold air from the ground and blowing it up through a chimney. It was originally developed to prevent frost damage to citrus fruits in Uruguay.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ What causes frost?. Retrieved on 2007-12-05.
  2. ^ Maki LR, Galyan EL, Chang-Chien MM, Caldwell DR (1974). "Ice nucleation induced by pseudomonas syringae". APPLIED MICROBIOLOGY 28 (3): 456-459. PMID 4371331.
  3. ^ Lindow, Stephen E.; Deane C. Arny, Christen D. Upper (October 1982). "Bacterial Ice Nucleation: A Factor in Frost Injury to Plants". Plant Physiology 70 (4): 1084-1089. PMID: 16662618. Retrieved on 2006-08-08.
  4. ^ Selective Inverted Sink Rolex Awards site (won award in Technology and Innovation category) 1998.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Frost". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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