Studying Glaciers on our Roof (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Tue, 03 Feb 2015

Studying Glaciers on our Roof

[Roof glacier as it slides off the roof] A few days ago, I wrote about the snowpack we get on the roof during snowstorms:

It doesn't just sit there until it gets warm enough to melt and run off as water. Instead, the whole mass of snow moves together, gradually, down the metal roof, like a glacier.

When it gets to the edge, it still doesn't fall; it somehow stays intact, curling over and inward, until the mass is too great and it loses cohesion and a clump falls with a Clunk!

The day after I posted that, I had a chance to see what happens as the snow sheet slides off a roof if it doesn't have a long distance to fall. It folds gracefully and gradually, like a sheet.

[Underside of a roof glacier] [Underside of a roof glacier] The underside as they slide off the roof is pretty interesting, too, with varied shapes and patterns in addition to the imprinted pattern of the roof.

But does it really move like a glacier? I decided to set up a camera and film it on the move. I set the Rebel on a tripod with an AC power adaptor, pointed it out the window at a section of roof with a good snow load, plugged in the intervalometer I bought last summer, located the manual to re-learn how to program it, and set it for a 30-second interval. I ran that way for a bit over an hour -- long enough that one section of ice had detached and fallen and a new section was starting to slide down. Then I moved to another window and shot a series of the same section of snow from underneath, with a 40-second interval.

I uploaded the photos to my workstation and verified that they'd captured what I wanted. But when I stitched them into a movie, the way I'd used for my time-lapse clouds last summer, it went way too fast -- the movie was over in just a few seconds and you couldn't see what it was doing. Evidently a 30-second interval is far too slow for the motion of a roof glacier on a day in the mid-thirties.

But surely that's solvable in software? There must be a way to get avconv to make duplicates of each frame, if I don't mind that the movie come out slightly jump. I read through the avconv manual, but it wasn't very clear about this. After a lot of fiddling and googling and help from a more expert friend, I ended up with this:

avconv -r 3 -start_number 8252 -i 'img_%04d.jpg' -vcodec libx264 -r 30 timelapse.mp4

In avconv, -r specifies a frame rate for the next file, input or output, that will be specified. So -r 3 specifies the frame rate for the set of input images, -i 'img_%04d.jpg'; and then the later -r 30 overrides that 3 and sets a new frame rate for the output file, -timelapse.mp4. The start number is because the first file in my sequence is named img_8252.jpg. 30, I'm told, is a reasonable frame rate for movies intended to be watched on typical 60FPS monitors; 3 is a number I adjusted until the glacier in the movie moved at what seemed like a good speed.

The movies came out quite interesting! The main movie, from the top, is the most interesting; the one from the underside is shorter.
Roof Glacier
Roof Glacier from underneath.

I wish I had a time-lapse of that folded sheet I showed above ... but that happened overnight on the night after I made the movies. By the next morning there wasn't enough left to be worth setting up another time-lapse. But maybe one of these years I'll have a chance to catch a sheet-folding roof glacier.

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[ 19:46 Feb 03, 2015    More photo | permalink to this entry | comments ]
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