Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Episode 556 (12-21-20): Surviving the Freezing Season

Click to listen to episode (5:02)

Sections below are the following:

Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.)

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 12-18-20.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of December 21, 2020.  This week, for the arrival of the winter solstice on December 21, we feature two cold-weather mystery sounds.  Have a listen for about 15 seconds and see if you know what the two sounds have in common.

SOUNDS - ~15 sec

If you guessed ice, you’re right!  You heard ice shifting on Claytor Lake in Pulaski County, Va., and pebbles bouncing on a frozen pond in Montgomery County, Va.  Those sounds set the stage for exploring a crucial problem for animals in winter: With bodies made up of cells containing water, how do animals survive temperatures below the freezing point of water?  Take about 20 seconds to ponder that question while you listen to “Ice Dance,” composed for this episode by Torrin Hallett, a graduate student at Lamont School of Music in Denver.

MUSIC - ~21 sec – instrumental

Freezing of water inside living cells—known as intracellular freezing—can break or distort cell structures and can impair the function of cellular proteins.  So different groups of animals have different strategies for avoiding intracellular freezing.  Most birds and mammals maintain their body temperature by generating body heat through metabolism and conserving heat through insulating covers and various behaviors.  But the vast majority of animals don’t generate their own body heat, and their body temperature varies with the environment, so they need other ways to avoid freezing within their cells.  Here are three ways, with some examples of animals using them.

One way, used by various marine fish, insects, amphibians, and other organisms, is to produce antifreeze proteins that reduce the freezing point of intracellular fluids.

A second way is to remove much of the water from inside cells, that is, to dehydrate; an extreme example of this is the Antarctic Midge, the only insect native to Antarctica, which can survive removal of up to 70 percent of the water from its cells.

A third way is to manage the location of materials around which ice forms, called ice nucleators; Wood Frogs, for example, can move ice nucleators agent outside of their cells so that freezing outside of cells, where it typically doesn’t cause cell damage.    Removal of ice nucleators is also a survival mechanism of the Arctic Ground Squirrel, the only mammal known to tolerate a sub-freezing body temperature.  [Additional note not in audio: ice nucleators are also called “ice-nucleating agents.”]

This episode is focused on animals, but trees and other plants also use anti-freeze proteins, management of ice-nucleators, and removal of cell water to survive freezing temperatures.

As winter descends, a complex array of cold-survival strategies is happening right outside our doors.

Thanks to Torrin Hallett for this week’s music, and we close with the final 25 seconds of “Ice Dance.”

MUSIC – ~25 sec – instrumental


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at virginiawaterradio.org, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close this show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


“Ice Dance” is copyright 2020 by Torrin Hallett, used with permission.  Torrin is a 2018 graduate of Oberlin College and Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio, and a 2020 graduate in Horn Performance from Manhattan School of Music in New York.  As of 2020-21, he is a performance certificate candidate at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver.  More information about Torrin is available online at https://www.facebook.com/torrin.hallett.  Thanks very much to Torrin for composing the piece especially for Virginia Water Radio.  To hear the complete piece (46 seconds), please click here.

The ice sounds were recorded by Virginia Water Radio as follows:
ice creaking on a lake – Sloan Inlet of Claytor Lake, Pulaski County, Va., January 6, 2018;
pebbles on pond ice – Heritage Park, Blacksburg, Va. (Montgomery  County), December 28, 2012.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at http://newstandardbluegrass.com.


Ice-skaters’ marks on a pond in Heritage Park in Blacksburg, Va. (Montgomery County), January 14, 2018.

Ice-covered Goose Creek along Evergreen Mill Road in Loudoun County, Va., January 20, 2018.

Ice on Red Maple twigs along Shadowlake Road in Blacksburg, Va. (Montgomery County), December 16, 2020.


Claire Asher, “When your veins fill with ice,” March 11, 2016, BBC “Earth” Web site, online at http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160308-how-one-squirrel-manages-to-survive-being-frozen.

Beth Botts, How trees, plants protect themselves from winter's freezing temperatures, Chicago Tribune, December 14, 2015. 

Maria Vacek Broadfoot, Ask a Scientist: How do plants keep from freezing to death during winter?, Charlotte Observer, December 9, 2015.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel), “Living organisms need antifreeze to survive in the cold,” published by Phys.org, February 18, 2013, online at https://phys.org/news/2013-02-antifreeze-survive-cold.html.

Richard W. Hill, Comparative Physiology of Animals: An Environmental Approach, Harper and Row, New York, N.Y., 1976.

Richard W. Hill et al., Animal Physiology, Sinauer Associates, Inc., Sunderland, Mass., 2004.

Iowa State University, “How Woody Plants Survive Extreme Cold,” March 1, 1996, online at http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/1996/3-1-1996/brr.html.

Devi Lockwood, How Does Antarctica’s Only Native Insect Survive Extreme Cold?, New York Times, September 9, 2019.

Brian Rohrig, “Chilling Out, Warming Up: How Animals Survive Temperature Extremes,” ChemMatters Online Oct.-Nov. 2013 (American Chemical Society), online at https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/resources/highschool/chemmatters/past-issues/archive-2013-2014/animal-survival-in-extreme-temperatures.html.

Ruhr University Bochum (Germany), “Why fish don't freeze in the Arctic Ocean,” August 25, 2010, published by Phys.org, online at https://phys.org/news/2010-08-fish-dont-arctic-ocean.html.

Ben Sullivan, Supercold Squirrels Stump Experts : Mammal Survives Weeks at Freezing Body Temperatures, Los Angeles Times, June 30, 1989.

Dan Tinker, “These Animals Don’t Care That It’s Freezing Outside,” 12/14/13, National Wildlife Federation Blog, online at http://blog.nwf.org/2013/12/these-animals-dont-care-that-its-freezing-outside/.

Karl Eric Zachariassen and Erland Kristiansen, “Ice Nucleation and Antinucleation in Nature,” Cryobiology Vol. 41/Issue 4 (December 2000), pages 257-279, accessed online at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0011224000922892 (subscription may be required).

Sarah Zielinski, “Eight ways that animals survive the winter,” Science News (Society for Science & the Public), January 22, 2014, online at https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/wild-things/eight-ways-animals-survive-winter (subscription may be required).


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html).  See particularly “Physical/chemical properties of water” in the “Science” subject category. 

Following are links to some other episodes on ice and other water temperature topics.

Episode 195, 1-6-14 – Wading into the New Year, the New River, and Water Thermodynamics.
Episode 250, 1-26-15
– Reaching the Boiling Point.
Episode 313, 4-25-16
Evaporating Water Helps Bees Turn Nectar into Honey.
Episode 403, 1-15-18
– At the Freezing Point.
Episode 404, 1-22-18
– Ice on the Pond.
Episode 406, 2-5-18
– Ice on the River.
Episode 407, 2-12-18
– Snow Shows Chemistry and Physics at Work.

Following are other music pieces composed by Torrin Hallett for Virginia Water Radio, with links to episodes featuring the music.

“A Little Fright Music” – used in Episode 548, 10-26-20, on water-related passages in fiction and non-fiction, for Halloween.
“Beetle Ballet” – used in
Episode 525, 5-18-20, on aquatic beetles.
“Chesapeake Bay Ballad” – used in
Episode 537, 8-10-20, on conditions in the Chesapeake Bay.
“Corona Cue” – used in
Episode 517, 3-23-20, on the coronavirus pandemic.
“Geese Piece” – used most recently in
Episode 440, 10-1-18, on E-bird.
“Lizard Lied” – used in
Episode 514, 3-2-20, on lizards.
“New Year’s Water” – used in
Episode 349, 1-2-17, on the New Year.
“Rain Refrain” – used most recently in
Episode 455, 1-14-19, on record Virginia precipitation in 2019.
“Spider Strike” – used in
Episode 523, 5-4-20, on fishing spiders.
“Tropical Tantrum” – used most recently in
Episode 489, 9-9-19, on storm surge and Hurricane Dorian.
“Tundra Swan Song – used in
Episode 554, 12-7-20, on Tundra Swans.
“Turkey Tune” – used in
Episode 343, 11-21-16, on the Wild Turkey.


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources, or other information included in this post.

2020 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2018 Science SOLS

Grades K-3 plus 5: Matter
K.4 – Water is important in our daily lives and has properties.
2.3 – Matter can exist in different phases, and
solids, liquids, and gases have different characteristics

Grades K-4: Living Systems and Processes
1.4 – Plants have basic life needs (including water) and functional parts that allow them to survive.
1.5 – Animals, including humans, have basic life needs that allow them to survive.
2.5 – Living things are part of a system.
3.4 – Adaptations allow organisms to satisfy life needs and respond to the environment.
4.2 – Plants and animals have structures that distinguish them from one another and play vital roles in their ability to survive.

Grades K-5: Earth and Space Systems
K.9 – There are patterns in nature, including seasonal changes.
1.7 – There are weather and seasonal changes, and changes in temperature, light, and precipitation affect plants and animals, including humans.
2.7 – Weather patterns and seasonal changes affect plants, animals, and their surroundings.

Grade 6
6.6 – Water has unique physical properties and has a role in the natural and human-made environment.

Life Science
LS.2     – All living things are composed of one or more cells that support life processes.
LS.7 – Adaptations support an organism’s survival in an ecosystem.

BIO.2 – Chemical and biochemical processes are essential for life.
BIO.3 – Cells have structure and function. 

CH.5 – Solutions behave in predictable and quantifiable ways (including the solutions within and surrounding living cells).

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/.

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15
– on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15
– on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16
– on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16
– on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18
– on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18
– on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18
– on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18
– on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19
– on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.
Episode 524, 5-11-20
– on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school.
Episode 531, 6-29-20
– on various ways that animals get water, for 3rd and 4th grade.
Episode 539, 8-24-20 – on basic numbers and facts about Virginia’s water resources, for 4th and 6th grade.