The Science Behind This Stunning Frozen Tea Photo

December 23, 2015 | Joanne Kennell

Photo credit: Michael Davies/

A phenomenon known as the Mpemba Effect.

This image just makes you go “wow.”  It is stunning.  It was captured by Ontario-based photographer Michael Davies and his friend Markus in Canada’s northern territory of Nunavut.

Temperatures get pretty frigid in Canada’s north, especially in the winter, and Davies wanted to demonstrate how cold it really gets by throwing hot, leftover tea into the air at the top of a mountain.  The mountain where this photograph was shot was a mere 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) south of the Arctic circle, near the community of Pangnirtung where Davies has worked as a photographer for many years.

Davies meticulously planned this amazing photograph.  “I followed the temperature, I watched for calm wind, planned the shot and set it up,” Davies told IFLScience. “Even the sun in the middle of the spray was something I was hoping for, even though it’s impossible to control.”

SEE ALSO: 6 of the Strangest Natural Phenomena Caused by Ice

During winter months, Pangnirtung receives about 2.5 hours of sunlight, so Davies and Markus had to be very quick with their set-up.  The weather that evening was around -31 degrees Fahrenheit (-35 degrees Celsius), and the tea was kept very hot in a thermos.

But what exactly is happening in the photo?

When the tea comes in contact with extremely cold air, it changes from a liquid to a solid immediately.  It is no longer liquid, but instead, many tiny ice crystals — which gives it a mist-like appearance.

However, you may be wondering why they used hot tea instead of cold — since cold water is closer to freezing temperatures, wouldn’t it freeze faster?  Although there is some debate amongst the scientific community, it turns out that hot water actually freezes at a quicker rate than cold.  This phenomenon is known as the Mpemba Effect, however there currently is no agreement as to why.

Some theories point to hot water being closer to steam than cold water, meaning that when it is thrown into the air it easily breaks down into smaller droplets with large surface areas.  When surface areas are larger, heat is removed from the water more quickly, leaving cool and tiny frozen clouds that appear to briefly hover above the ground.

No matter the reason for its formation, it is a beautiful phenomenon that I for one never get tired of seeing.  You can view more of Davies stunning photography on Flickr or his personal website.

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