New data helps researchers demystify weather-related 'frost quakes'

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What is a frost quake? Frost quakes are seismic events that are weather-related. A seismic event is any activity that causes vibrations within the earth, particularly its crust. Frost quakes are naturally-occurring phenomena caused by the freezing and expansion of water deep within the earth's crust, which results in the cracking of the ground, rock, etc., in the vicinity of the frozen water.

Frost quake phenonmenon. Cryoseisms, also known as "frost quakes" or "ice quakes," may have been the reason loud booms and banging sounds were reported in the Chicago area, where brutally cold, below-zero wind chills have taken over. The "frost quake" weather phenomenon occurs when the ground is saturated with water or ice. When there is a rapid drop in temperature, that saturated ground will quickly freeze. As that water underground suddenly freezes into ice, it then expands, causing the surrounding soil and rock to crack. The cracking is what produces the loud noises -- or the "frost quake."
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New Data Helps Researchers Demystify 'Frost Quakes'

EXCERPTS: Geoscientist Jarkko Okkonen and his colleagues had collected soil, water and temperature data from central Finland between 2011 and 2015 [...] They applied that data to a new study of frost quakes, published in September in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface. ... In the new study, "we were actually able to collect data on a frost quake and use that data to determine what the cause was," said study co-author Roseanna Neupauer, a hydrogeologist at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The scientists used the environmental data leading up to the 2016 event in Finland to model the environmental conditions leading up to frost quakes. They discovered frost quakes most likely occur when soil is saturated with water and close to freezing. "If the air temperature then drops rapidly, the water freezes quickly," Neupauer said. "When water freezes, it expands, and if the stress exerted by the rapidly expanding ice on the soil exceeds the strength of the soil, you get a frost quake."

The researchers noted that a thick layer of snow could reduce the chances of frost quakes by providing thermal insulation that would keep water and ice within the snow at more stable, albeit cold, temperatures. [...] Okkonen now wants to conduct experiments to see what kinds of soils might be more prone to frost quakes. Neupauer noted that because climate change is expected to lead to more extreme swings in temperature, "perhaps it'll become more likely that we'll see more frost quakes..." (MORE - details)

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