Condensation, Cold and Mold

With the beginning of the New Year Talkeetna and its immediate environs have seen a switch from above normal temps to those which even the locals would find a bit on the ‘cool’ side. Yesterday (01/03) we never reached 4.0 F (-15.6 C) and just at sunrise this morning – which occurred at 10:24 AKST or 19:24 UTC – we bottomed out at -8.3 F (-22.4 C). As a broad generalization Talkeetna ‘expects’ to see high temps around 19.2 F (-7.1 C) and lows around 0.9 F (-17.3 C). Based on this you can see we’re a bit on the cool side although for me it just feels great! Anana and Qanuk cannot get enough of these temps although I have to time Qanuk’s exposure as when it’s 0 F (-17.8 C) to -10 F (-12.2 C) he should have no more than 40 minutes of exposure as even his tough GSD pads will begin to crack and bleed. One of the local mushers gave me a tip on some cream and thus far it seems to be really helping the poor boy but I still must be wary when the air temp is below zero.

One of the less pleasant issues with which I’ve had to grapple involves the build-up of condensation on the interior of the windows when the temps do drop below 25 F (-3.9 C). Understand my place has double pane glass in all the windows and this does a reasonable job of insulation; without question I really need triple pane glass and I’m looking into options to make this happen. But once I see outdoor temps drop much below 25 F (-3.9 C) the condensation really does begin to accumulate. As I have wooden window frames having water pool on the frames for any period of time is not good! I have played around with numerous methods in an attempt to decrease this condensation with very little luck. I have an inquiry into UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks) which has a world renown department on building insulation regarding any suggestions. For now I’m reduced to using a sponge on a daily basis to try to manage the moisture. I’ve also tried laying out strip of highly absorbent material along the glass/window frame interface; this works but requires the material be wrung out every day. In addition when it is below zero the material gets trapped on the windows frame by ice and cannot be removed.

But the buildup of condensation has another negative consequence which can be even more destructive in the short term; mold quickly grows on the spots where the condensation pools. Because of the extremely low angle of the sun this time of year the naturally anti-microbial properties of sunlight cannot hit the corners of the windows where the mold loves to grow. And this stuff must be ‘Alaskan mold’ as it thrives at temps right down to 32 F (0 C) and can withstand being frozen in water for weeks yet still emerge viable once the ice melts. The stuff is the classic ‘green/black’ mold which I immediately associate with Rhizopus nigrificans; however, this stuff is definitely a psychrotroph and R. nigrificans is not so my next guess is some form of Aspergillius. If I had access to my old micro lab from 30 years back I could ID the beggar within a week. I am planning to see if API test strips can be purchased for ID’ing molds; if so I’ll be getting some. Anyway, whatever the stuff is it has no issue growing stoutly at freezing temps and hence it spreads out even in the cold. I’m trying a 20% chlorine to 80% water solution in spray form but thus far this hasn’t been effective; next step is to increase it to a 50% solution.

Having come from the lower 48 I was much more aware of trying to keep moisture in the air during the winters; this was caused by the prevalence of forced air heating. As the standard in Alaska is fuel oil via a Toyo stove or wood stove the air doesn’t get a chance to dry out like that run through a gas furnace and hence retains a much higher relative humidity. I remain impressed to this day as to the amazing differences I’ve encountered in such seemingly simple things like interior humidification and condensation formation when comparing the lower 48 to Alaska. Without question things are ‘different up here’ and I continue to learn just how different they can be! The following are some images pertinent to this posting:

Icy window glass with mold in the corner; outside air temp -7.7 F

Icy window glass with mold in the corner; outside air temp -7.7 F

The yellow is a highly absorbent felt like material which has become frozen to the window; outside air temp -7.7 F

The yellow is a highly absorbent felt-like material which has become frozen to the window; outside air temp -7.7 F

Just rising sun illuminates a south facing window and highlights the amount of condensation followed by ice at the edges; outside air temp -7.7 F

Just rising sun illuminates a south facing window and highlights the amount of condensation followed by ice at the edges; outside air temp -7.7 F

The result of closing off the NE bedroom on the second floor and an outside temp that never reach 0 F for two days and dropped to -23 F at night.  The ice in the corner was 0.6 inches (15.24 mm) thick!

The result of closing off the NE bedroom on the second floor and an outside temp that never reach 0 F for two days and dropped to -23 F at night. The ice in the corner was 0.6 inches (15.24 mm) thick!

Creaking Snow & Cold Valleys

Winter finally arrived in south central Alaska a week ago Sunday with a snow event that dropped around a foot of snow over the Talkeetna area.  However, the same ridge pattern that has been keeping the temps so warm as well as pushing moist air into the region held on until this weekend when it finally broke down; with its collapse the cold air from the Arctic began filtering into the state and it appears to be making up for lost time.  Early Sunday morning I recorded a low of -2.7 F but thanks to continuing clear skies and almost no wind this morning I saw -10.1 F just as the sun began to paint morning in the east.  That’s quite a bit cooler than normal for November 18th which is a high of 27 F and a low of 12 F.  On Sunday our temp ranged from 10.4 F to -2.6 F giving us a mean temp of just 3.6 F even though there were crystal clear sky conditions.  So it appears that after an exceptionally wet and warm September and October the ole scales have swung back and now we’re seeing air temps that are more common for January and February.

While walking the dogs yesterday late morning with the air temp right at zero I was delighted to hear something I haven’t heard in ages; the snow was creaking under foot!  Anyone with experience in snow and air temps below 0 F has heard this sound; with each step the snow emits a grinding, creaking noise as one’s sole presses down upon it.  This phenomena becomes more prevalent as the air temp drops and is also effected by the snow’s moisture content although once you get much below 0 F the snow is almost always dry and relatively low in water content.  Although I’ve heard this effect many times in my life it was extremely noticeable up here; I could hear the creaking over the Huskies barking at our passage down by John and Ruth’s place.  It dawned on me that the reason for the apparent volume was really due to a number of facts; first off, its just plain very quiet up here.  I’ve written of my love of the extreme silence which just seems to wrap this area in a thick, comfortable blanket.  Secondly this effect is heightened by the thick snow cover which still remains on all the foliage and ground; there has been no wind strong enough to dislodge it!  The thick layer of snow acts a an additional layer of sound absorption and so heightens the perceived silence.  Lastly, the very cold air temps have now been in place for a couple of days and the snow exposed to the air is dehydrating; this really increases the ability of the snow to groan and creak when compacted.  All these items add up to allowing the snow to really make noise as my heavy weight size 11.5 Kenetrek boot soles dig into the snow for traction.  It will be very interesting to see just how the snow noises will change when I walk the dogs this morning; I’m betting the sounds will be sharper and more pronounced.

During yesterday’s walk I observed the long shadows even though it right around noon; I also could feel a definite chill in the areas of the roads that were shielded from the sun by the trees or landscape.  This really became apparent when I would walk into a low area that was shaded; the air was noticeably cooler.  Of course cooler air is more dense and hence heavier so it will sink into the low spots of the terrain; if in a survival situation in cold temps its always better to find a location to overnight that is a bit above the lowest areas in order to be just a bit warmer.  While I’ve felt this condition in the past it is much more noticeable up here.  Any road running east-west feels cooler than another that runs more north-south because the latter will feel some effects from the sunlight; in this area the boreal forest is just too tall and dense to allow any sunlight to filter through and strike a road running east-west.  This is exacerbated by the very low angle of the sun this time of year; while I didn’t actually measure the sun’s angle at it’s high point it cannot be much more than twelve degrees above the horizon.

I’m learning that so many situations are amplified up here and there’s a message in this recognition; while cold can be deadly anywhere in the world up here it can and does kill very quickly.  What I could get by wearing in a Michigan winter can be completely ineffective up here in terms of keeping me warm.  Making just a quick run to the local grocery or hardware stores still requires one ‘suit up’ for the weather because there are sections of the Spur with no houses or buildings visible for at least a mile and based upon the weather trying to walk that after one’s vehicle breaks down without proper clothing can easily lead to frost nip, frost bite or even death.  This is an amazingly beautiful land with wonders of sight and sound to fill one’s soul but it can also be a very unforgiving land to those who would be careless or too cavalier.  Just another learning that I best take to heart and always keep in mind..!