Edinburgh University students discover why snow has ‘distinctive feel’

Edinburgh University students have established why snow has a distinctive feeling.
Edinburgh University students have established why snow has a distinctive feeling.
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The reason snow has such a distinctive ‘feel’ underfoot has been deciphered by scientists.

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Trudging through the snow can often feel firm and stable at first, but putting just a little more weight onto the surface you’ll feel your foot sink a lot deeper very quickly.

Boffins at Edinburgh University used both real and artificial snow to examine how snowflakes move closer together when we stand on them.

They either stick to each other and strengthen the snow, or the weight may break the bonds between the particles and weaken the white stuff.

When a patch of weakness develops it spreads throughout the snow and causes sudden movement without any extra weight being applied.

How much it compacts can vary even within the same batch of snow, depending on the shape and the movement of the particles involved.

Researchers will use the results to help develop snow equipment such as vehicle tyres and treads.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Physics, back up the long standing technique used by mountaineers tackling steeper snow, who gently increase pressure through their foot until the snow collapses or takes their weight.

Study leader Dr Jane Blackford, of Edinburgh University’s School of Engineering, said: “Experienced mountaineers instinctively understand how snow behaves under pressure - now we have a scientific understanding of the processes involved.

“We hope that with further investigation, our findings can translate into real

benefits in developing equipment for use in snowy conditions.”