Math in the Natural Sciences

Math in Meteorology

How are snowflakes defined using mathematics?

Thanks to some mathematical research in 2009, the symmetrical details of snowflakes has been revealed. Mathematicians have managed to build “snowflakes” using an elaborate computer model designed to replicate the complex growth of the flakes in three dimensions. In reality, a snowflake begins when a piece of dust, pollution particles, or even bacteria are surrounded by water; the water freezes to form a small crystal of ice. Dictated by the temperature, local conditions, and humidity, the flakes form, each one containing around one million million million (quintillion) molecules. The results show the minute details seen in snowflakes, including long needles, dendritic-tendrils, and star-like features, based on theory and computations of the mathematical model. The researchers hope that this model will help meteorologists understand how the various snowflakes not only form in the clouds, but also how the flakes affect the amount of water reaching the Earth’s surface.


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