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Published January 22, 2013 | Submitted
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Toward a Comprehensive Model of Snow Crystal Growth Dynamics: 1. Overarching Features and Physical Origins


We describe a comprehensive model for the formation and morphological development of atmospheric ice crystals growing from water vapor, also known as snow crystals. Our model derives in part from empirical measurements of the intrinsic ice growth rates as a function of temperature and supersaturation, along with additional observations and analyses of diffusion-driven growth instabilities. We find that temperature-dependent conformational changes associated with surface melting strongly affect layer nucleation dynamics, which in turn determines many snow-crystal characteristics. A key feature in our model is the substantial role played by structure-dependent attachment kinetics, producing a growth instability that is largely responsible for the formation of thin plates and hollow columnar forms. Putting these elements together, we are able to explain the overall growth behavior of atmospheric ice crystals over a broad range of conditions. Although our model is complex and still incomplete, we believe it provides a useful framework for directing further investigations into the physics underlying snow crystal growth. Additional targeted experimental investigations should better characterize the model, or suggest modifications, and we plan to pursue these investigations in future publications in this series. Our model also suggests new avenues for the continued exploration of ice surface structure and dynamics using molecular dynamics simulations.

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