Miniature ice mountains surround the shoreline. Swirls of an eerie mist rise from the water. Just a few feet from us we hear the creaking movement of an anchored fishing boat, but it remains invisible. Looking up, above the mist we see blue sky. It is still early morning. The "Northerners" hurry along empty streets to open their shops. They brave the cold, bundled in layers of heavy clothing, with faces wrapped in scratchy wool cloths.
They know about this thing called sea smoke. Do you?
Sea smoke is a kind of fog that happens only in the very coldest places during winter months. Frigid arctic air blows south from central Canada into New England. During the same period, ocean temperatures off North America warm as they mix with tropical Gulf Stream currents. The average temperature in the North Atlantic is a toasty 38 degrees. Compare this to the 20 degree chill when a Canadian cold front blasts into town. The contact between freezing air and warmer ocean water creates this extraordinary site.
Puffs of smoke drift 10-20 feet above the water, while clear sky and bright sunshine sparkle on the land. As the sun rises and warms the air, the smoke disappears, only to return when subzero temperatures arrive the next morning. During especially chilling winters, this pattern can last for days.
Here's how: Drops of sea water are pulled up into dry cold air. This is called evaporation. As water droplets rise, salt from the ocean waves, along with dust and other particles, help them stick together. The air fills with more and more water molecules until it can hold no more. It is saturated. Saturated air appears like a heavy white mist known as steam fog. The Northerners affectionately call it sea smoke.
If you are curious about seeing real sea smoke, you should plan a winter trip to the north Maine coast. (But, don't forget a warm hat and mittens! When you arrive in the land of winter and ice, remember the fish swimming below the ocean waves are probably warmer than you are!) Until then, here is a quick experiment that you can do at home to make your own version of sea smoke.
glass jar with lid
table or sea salt
1. Fill the jar to 1/3 with hot water.
2. Rub 1/4 teaspoon of salt around the top of the inside of the jar.
3. Cover tightly with lid.
4. Place jar in the back of the freezer for 30-40 minutes.
5. Remove the jar and observe the fog that forms.
6. As the glass warms to room temperature, watch what happens to the smoke.
* illustrated by Pamela Harden
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|Publication:||Fun For Kidz|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2010|
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