How ice spikes happen


Anybody else might shrug off these ice spikes as a meaningless hiccup in the preparation of a frosty beverage, but not Lenore and Windell at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories! has a fairly detailed explanation of how these things form, and it’s documented elsewhere as well. (Roughly speaking, supercooled water is pushed up through a hole, somewhat like magma forming a volcano.) It’s relatively easy to form these in your freezer if you start with distilled water, but occasionally– as in our case –they do occur with regular tap water.

28 thoughts on “How ice spikes happen

  1. Here’s some video-

    in quicktime movie format.

    another in compressed .avi format.

    “Compressed avi movie of a controlled ice spike growth experiment. The frame rate is about 50X normal time. The air temperature was -11.5C and the grid squares are 1 mm. The colours that appear on the ice surface toward the end of the video are potassium permanganate crystals sprinkled onto the ice. It looks as if there is evidence of a liquid layer on the surface, suggesting (though not conclusively) that there is some overflow at the spike orifice near the end of its growth. Movie made in the ice lab of Edward Lozowski at the University of Alberta. Movie by Lesley Hill, Russ Sampson and Edward Lozowski, with technical help by Kenny Lozowski. “

  2. … This happened a couple times in my dorm fridge… Never could figure out how… Thanks for the post… I feel more informed!

      1. Please tell me you’re not one of those people putting hot tap water in your trays because you think it freezes faster….

        Physics people…colder water is closer to freezing than hot water. Use cold water if you want quick cubes.

        1. Actually, it depends on your freezer. In frost-free freezers, hot water won’t make a difference. But if you’re placing it on a large bed of frost, the hot water will serve to melt the frost and bed the tray down into the ice, providing a significant increase in contact area and resulting improvement of the thermal conductivity. Hence, it cools faster!

  3. I’ve seen the exact opposite of this whilst casting molten aluminium into ingots. Since aluminium shrinks as it cools (unlike ice which expands) you get a sinkhole in the ingot.

Comments are closed.

Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

View more articles by Becky Stern