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This is a project that came from continuing to think about frost,
the weather and interacting with the environment.

I really like this image.

A bottle of dirt.

I collect soil and stones from places I visit and this looks like some
of those collection bottles. It also makes me think, with a smile,
of De Maria's Earth Room.

I set this up on the porch. It's been quite cold here of late (23 Nov 2007) and I thought I might get something to happen here. Not much did. It's probably warmer near the house for one. And I may have too much moisture in the bottle. This is an ongoing experiment. I'm trying to see if I can get the soil in the bottle to heave up into those nice long crystals.

[ This is a frost heave from the garden. The soil buckles up kind of sponge-like but it's brittle. Under the surface are these elongated crystals of ice that have drawn up, pulling moisture from below and lifting the surface soil.

I've been fascinated with this phenomenon since I was a kid. Particularly after learning that stones will rise to the surface through frost heaving. My first thought was to put a stone in the bottle as well but I decided I should start out pretty basic. ]

I'm not even sure this is possible inside a bottle. It's kinda fun trying though (maybe there needs to be more allowance for evaporation).

I did get a bit of frost after setting the bottle in the garden
(25 Nov 2007).

So today, 27 Nov 2007, it warmed up a tad and rained part of the day (this is NW Oregon after all). I decide to cheat a bit and use the freezer...

Nice frost formation and I think just the slightest bit of heaving as there is a 'lens' of dirt that has come up at the top of the soil (and my wife did indeed notice there was dirt in the freezer - to her credit she did not insist on its removal, just its containment). No very apparent crystals though.

Now is probably a good time to see what information there is on how all this actually works...

Science Break

"A first principles dynamical theory describes the mechanism of lens formation by the thermomolecular pressure-driven flow of interfacially melted films at the lens-solid boundary."

So that's what's been not going on.

It seems there are two types of frost heave: in-situ freezing and segregational frost heave.

[from this point on I gleaned a fair amount from a Masters Thesis paper by Russell D. Lay called 'DEVELOPMENT OF A FROST HEAVE TEST APPARATUS'. The paper appears to have been accepted so I'm calling that good for an Art project.]

In-situ Freezing is pretty much what it sounds like, the moisture freezes where it is in the pore spaces between soil particles. Water expands approximately 9 percent in volume when it freezes, so there is some heaving occurring through simple freezing (which is what I've been doing to date).

Segregational Frost Heave, also known as ice lensing, is the mechanism that produces the more significant, and recognizable, frost heaves.

There are three conditions required for ice lensing to occur:

1. Must have sustained freezing temperatures

2. Free water must be available (by which I assume that it is not thermomolecularly bound [that isn't Mr. Lay's sentence above in italics by the way, I just like saying 'thermomolecularly bound'. Somewhat surprisingly, there's very little call for that phrase in most of my art projects.)

3. The soil must be frost-susceptible

So, as far as I can tell, I have all three of these conditions met (the bottle is in the freezer with moist soil and producing frost) and still no lensing. In-situ freezing seems apparent but I would like to see the classic 'lensing' crystals.

Reading further I find that "segregational frost heave occurs in freezing soil strata as frost penetration slows and a quasi-steady-state condition is developed." Water moves from the warmer, deeper soil toward the steady-state freezing zone (I'm not clear on the mechanics here - it seems to make intuitive sense that freezing water would 'pull' surrounding fluid water to itself - perhaps this is one of those first principles dynamical theory things). Ice lenses form when the heat removal approximately equals the heat supply at the freeze zone.

End Science Break

I take from this that I probably don't have enough of a temperature differential between the lower part of the bottle and the top seeing as how I'm just sticking the whole thing in the freezer. Nice 'in-situ', no 'lensing' (I did know it was called lensing by the way but 'in-situ freezing' as a heave mechanism was new to me).

Today (28 Nov 2007) I tried putting the bottle of dirt into a bowl of hot water and setting the whole thing in the freezer, figuring by the time the hot water cooled there would have occurred a temperature differential between the upper part of the soil and the lower.

(By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm using a Kenmore Elite Bottom Drawer Freezer for these experiments...)

This looked somewhat better. There appears to be a zone developing between top and bottom. I tried partially thawing and reimmersing in hot water a couple times to see if I could further push the zone development.

Looking at this I figured I really needed a deeper soil layer. As much as I like the image I began with I switched to a larger bottle with additional soil and a larger container for the hot water.

(Yes, this all suddenly seems too involved but I'm this far into it so I want to see what happens.)

29 Nov 2007 - After a couple immersions, with what looked like decent zones developing, I left the bottle overnight in the freezer (with the additional soil and moisture it was taking awhile to freeze all the way through).

In the morning I found that a pretty good lensing area had developed. I definitely had some layers that were not there previously.

The ice in this upper area was obviously different than the all-over frost I had been getting.

I'm calling that a lens. It's still not the nice long crystals I'd been looking for but it's a start. More attention to soil composition and a still deeper soil layer might be helpful. There's also no obvious 'heave' happening here. I don't really have a mechanism in place to measure that. I think I'll call it 'minor' for now.

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© jamie