Unlike spring, summer and autumn, which have strong aromas (blooming flowers, beaches, decaying leaves), the current season smells of “nothing”
How would you describe the aroma of winter?
Unlike spring, summer and autumn, which have strong aromas (blooming flowers, beaches, decaying leaves), the current season is marked by the smell of nothing. Nothing grows. Nothing dies. This is a kind of olfactory pause – solid material in the Washington Post and continues:
But snow has a scent, and researchers say the scent depends on what’s on the ground and in the air. As both the atmosphere and the earth warm, the aroma of the snow becomes stronger.
Johan Lundström, a professor of clinical neurology who describes himself as a “smell researcher” at the Monel Center for Chemical Senses in Philadelphia, says that because the smell of snow reflects impurities in the air, snowflakes in Wisconsin smell different from snow. Sweden or from the snow in a city.
Lundström says people notice odors more in the summer because the humid and warmer air enhances the movement of odor molecules, in the same way that perfume smells more intense and different on the skin than when it is dispersed in the air. But the cold and dry air in winter creates a “bad environment for odors.”
“This is the same reason why the worst place to smell is the transcontinental plane,” he said. “You have dry air, different air pressures, and it’s often colder than it’s usually in a room.”
Snow, especially the top layer covering the ground, absorbs compounds mainly from the air, Lundström said. Over time, snow absorbs more and more of these aromatic compounds, which increases its odor.
“For example, decomposing biological material creates the chemical geosmin, a chemical we are so sensitive to [this is the smell of mold] that if you take a drop and put it in an Olympic-sized swimming pool and mix the water well, you can still feel it. the smell, ”he said. “In other words, it often doesn’t take a lot of pollution to be able to smell it.”
Climate change is affecting the way snow smells, the scientist said
A. Aria, chemist and head of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at McGill University. As the earth and air become warmer, this promotes the circulation – and intensity – of odor molecules.
Climate change also affects the amount of snow that falls in temperate latitudes – in the lowlands of Bulgaria, for example, this winter there was virtually no snow in most places with altitudes below 200-300 meters, including the north.
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, since 1901-1930, when climate standards were first calculated, the United States has warmed by 1.7 degrees. This means that it is getting wetter, but not snowier, and according to an analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency, 80% of meteorological stations have reduced snow.
When it snows, Aria says, it’s a “snapshot of the atmospheric process.” In 2017, she helped conduct a study that looked at how snow absorbs the exhaust emissions of gasoline engines, which can then contaminate water and soil when it melts.
What is on the ground is released into the air, so more trace elements in the snow can be seen in a polluted area, and there may be more nitrogen [from fertilizers] in an agricultural area, says Aria. Once the snow has melted, some of the pollution is released into the soil, water supply and back into the atmosphere. And the cycle begins again.
“Rising temperatures are thought to increase the toxicity of some pollutants and increase the speed of chemical reactions and degradation processes,” says Aria.
The reason people often say they “smell the coming snow” is similar to the differences in the air when a thunderstorm approaches in the summer, Lundström said. The air feels a little warmer and more humid, which transmits the aroma better, and there is a change in barometric pressure.
Lundström, who runs two research centers, one at Monel and another at the Department of Clinical Neurology at the Carolina Institute in Sweden, said the city’s snow smelled whether it was car exhaust or tire fumes. tires.
But when he went to his hut in Burstrask, about 60 miles from the Arctic Circle, it smelled “extremely clean,” he said.
According to him, it is not only the snow that smells. The ice too. Think of the old ice in the fridge – it smells weird and moldy as it absorbs food odors. But ice can also carry aromas that evoke happy memories.
When Lundström was 4 years old and grew up in Sweden, he went ice fishing with his father and grandfather. He clearly remembers the smell of ice chips as they drill a hole for perch and pike.
“I was lying on the reindeer’s fur and Mick’s face was right there by the hole, and I could smell the pieces of ice, and they smelled like the lake,” he said, adding that it was a freshwater lake, so the ice smelled fresh with a hint of freshness. of seagrass and sludge. “So every time I go back with my daughter and make a hole in the ice, I go right back, I’m 4 years old, lying on reindeer fur and trying to catch fish. It’s a very positive emotion.”
Trying to explain how snow smells is a challenge. When perfumer Christopher Brosius creates a fragrance he calls “Snow”, he seeks a surge of something fresh and cold. Nothing happened – until he talked to a friend about her first snow.
“She reminded me of a line from the French book Claudine at School, in which she bites a snowball and says, ‘It always smells a little dusty, that first [snow],” says Brosius, founder of the perfume line. , I had something that was earthy, damp and slightly green, but there was no dust. Then I grabbed a bunch of bottles from the archive and started creating. “
In 2018, he created an art installation based on the smell of snow for Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Museum of Design based in New York. The project includes a room with a woolen rug below and pale blue balls of felted wool on top, both saturated with the scent of snow. Compared to his other “snowy” scents, he describes this one as “fresher, wetter, frozen and colder”.
“It was the smell of snow when you put woolen gloves next to your face to keep your nose warm, with a few pine trees about 50 to 75 meters at the end of the field,” Brosius said. “Some people even said it smelled cold.”