Published: May 7, 2019

The University Libraries are pleased to announce that Mickey Rush has won the 5th annual Earth Sciences & Map Library Photo Contest. His piece “Needle Ice,” will be framed and displayed in the library with previous photo contest winners.

Originally from Minnesota, PhD candidate Rush studies hydrology, water resources, and environmental fluid mechanics in the College of Engineering & Applied Science. His thesis research uses coupled thermo-hydraulic modeling to understand how changing mountain snowpacks may contribute to changes in seasonally frozen ground formation, and to what effect frozen soils shift the timing and magnitude of subsurface water flow.

Rush said that although he’s always been in awe of the world’s natural beauty, it wasn’t until he moved to Colorado that he felt inspired to think about photography. He enjoys practicing both landscapes and macro shots to highlight the Earth’s many intricate textures and patterns. He captured “Needle Ice” in the Aysén region of the Chilean Patagonia, where he conducted field and modeling research throughout 2018 with a Motorola cell phone.

“In Patagonia, the biggest challenge was finding a way to keep my phone dry,” said Rush, noting that some areas of Chilean Patagonia receive over three meters of rainfall annually. “I learned to keep a stash of plastic bags for this purpose.”

A year in Patagonia taught Rush to appreciate the details in the rolling hills, the rocky outcrops, the lonely stumps, the mossy forests, the grassy plains, and the gentle rains. He said that through photography, he strives to find beauty in the ordinary.

“We have a habit of focusing our attention on jaw-dropping views and ‘peak’ experiences, but we often don’t take the time to move slowly, look down, and smell the flowers,” he said. “There is a really excellent phrase in traditional Patagonian culture, 'Quien se apura en la Patagonia pierde el tiempo.’ That is, ‘whoever hurries in Patagonia loses time.’”

There is more to photography than the image displayed on a wall or kept in a phone gallery. Rush said that with every photo taken, there is a long and winding tale about how the photographer stood where they were to get the perfect shot. From taking the long way home on the bike path to sharing an interesting conversation with a group of Chileans.

“What I love most about photography and recent advances in our ability to instantly share photos with millions of people is reminding folks that adventure begins at your front door,” he said.

The eleven runners-up photos from this year’s Earth Sciences & Map Library Photo Contest will have their work printed and displayed in Norlin Library near the Laughing Goat Cafe, alongside the winning photo, as well as at the Earth Sciences & Map Library. More works by Rush are located on his online gallery. The winner and runners-up works can be viewed below:

"Needle Ice" by Mickey Rush

"Needle Ice" by Mickey Rush

Needle ice (or piprakes, shimobashira, hielo acicular, among others) forms when the ground is warmer than the air, the thermal gradient drawing frozen strands from soils that fall within a “Goldilocks” range: grains must be small enough to retain water near the surface by capillary action, but large enough to allow water to flow steadily towards the surface through permeable, well connected pore spaces. Fine grained, highly porous volcanic ash soils of Chilean Patagonia, like those deposited by the August 1991 Hudson eruption, are “just right." Growing ice lifts a thin layer of grains up to ten centimeters above the soil surface; on sloping ground these particles migrate down slope as the ice strands melt.