Surface phase transitions and crystal habits of ice in the atmosphere

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Science Advances  20 May 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 21, eaay9322
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay9322


With climate modeling predicting a raise of at least 2°C by year 2100, the fate of ice has become a serious concern, but we still do not understand how ice grows (or melts). In the atmosphere, crystal growth rates of basal and prism facets exhibit an enigmatic temperature dependence and crossover up to three times in a range between 0° and −40°. Here, we use large-scale computer simulations to characterize the ice surface and identify a sequence of previously unidentified phase transitions on the main facets of ice crystallites. Unexpectedly, we find that as temperature is increased, the crystal surface transforms from a disordered phase with proliferation of steps to a smooth phase with small step density. This causes the anomalous increase of step free energies and provides the long sought explanation for the enigmatic crossover of snow crystal growth rates found in the atmosphere.

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