12 November 2010

Floating layers of snow-and an illustration of Occam’s razor

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Image taken 14 Feb. 2010. Courtesy Dr. Georg von Tiesenhausen. Taken at the edge of the Tennessee River, South of Huntsville in Alabama.

Georg von Tiesenhausen emailed me some amazing pictures today. They appear to show floating layers of snow surrounding trees. Pretty cool, no??

Floating layers of snow near Ditto Landing on the Tennessee River. Image by Dr. Georg von Tiesenhausen.

So what caused this?

Dr. von Tiesenhausen has an explanation that is very thoughtful. I will let him explain it in his email:

“As best as I can tell, what happened was that the water level had been up, since Huntsville is used as a watershed by the TVA.  Then we had a big freeze, and the area on the photo was iced in. Then the TVA dams must have dropped the water level by about a foot or so, breaking off the ice that had formed around the trees, but leaving ice rings.  Then it snowed, covering the ice rings but not the water, and then everything froze again, leaving the black ice below, with the snowed up rings around the trees above, creating a surreal image in the woods.”

Occam’s razor is at work here. In case you are not familiar with it, it can be stated as “The simplest and most likely explanation is probably the correct one.” It seems to me that Dr. von Tiesenhausen has come up with just that.

You can read a much more detailed discussion of Occam’s razor here.

Excellent scientific reasoning Georg!


Note: Dr. von Tiesenhausen is a well known educator in Huntsville, as well as my daughter’s high school English teacher.