Natural phenomena: Penitentes


Here’s another cool ice formation, about as far away from underwater as you can get—high in the mountains. These spiky fields of ice are called penitentes, and each individual shard can be up to a whopping 13 feet (4 meters) high. These intimidating snow structures are formed in high-altitude areas with low humidity, such as the glaciers of the Andes mountains. If the conditions are right, the sun’s rays are so hot that they can actually sublimate fields of snow—meaning that the frozen water vaporizes without ever becoming a liquid. This leads to slight pockets in the ice, which—thanks to their shape—actually end up attracting even more heat. The sharp spikes, then, are just the lucky parts of the snowfield that the sun didn’t target for complete and utter annihilation.



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