Curator’s Choice: Most Awesome Comment of the Day

Curator’s Choice: Most Awesome Comment of the Day

Have you ever seen ice grow upward on your ice tray and wondered why?Lyle Hardin was curious about why the bowl of ice he left out overnight turned out this curious configuration. Our Community had an interesting collective response! Brady MacDonald noted this phenomenon is known as an Ice Spike. Casey Webster explains:

“Water vapor gradients are strongest around edges of ice. The thinner and sharper of the edge or point, the stronger the gradient. This causes ice to preferentially grow where the gradient is stronger. With a good initial perturbation this results in a spike growing just as you pictured.”

Kevin Lui from Caltech University shows that ice spikes tend to work better with distilled water. There is higher success of growing them “when the temperature is just below freezing” and when installing a fan to blow the air in your freezer.  Lui should know; he investigated the Physics of ice spikes (http://goo.gl/8HUNmW). 

Stephen Morris, Professor of experimental nonlinear Physics at the University of Toronto, has also devoted his research to ice spikes. He notes in Scientific American that ice spikes are more likely to be formed in an ice tray (“a container with vertical sides”), birdbaths or pet drinking dishes left out overnight. But he also notes: “It is rather rare for them to form naturally – like on the surface of lakes or ponds — because the cooling rate of natural bodies of water is usually not rapid enough. They can, however, sometimes form on falling sleet pellets.” (http://goo.gl/KqJhq4). 

Want to see an ice spike growing at rapid speed or other science resources? Check out Morris’ ice spikes webpage! (http://goo.gl/YOkXVi)

Chosen for #SoG+CuratorsChoice by Zuleyka Zevallos who loves learning cool science from our Community members. #science   #physics   #ice   #icespike  

Originally shared by Lyle Hardin

Can anyone explain this phenomenon?  I found this on the deck a few years ago, one very cold morning. It was just a small glass bowl of water. Somehow, when it froze overnight, this happened. I wish I would’ve taken more photos and recorded the temperature, etc.

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29 Comments


  1. Perhaps the liquid was supercooled, a bird or bat flew over to dip up some water for a drink, creating a splash, disturbing the liquid and creating nucleation sites, it all solidified “instantly” due to being supercooled

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  2. The top surface forms a skin of ice around the glass bowl. When the water inside the bowl freezes, it has to expand to do so, since water is weird like that. So, pressure under the ice layer increases until the ice skin starts to deform at its weakest point, and it pushes as a slush, freezing in a stalagmite. 


    It’s something that doesn’t happen with very many freezing fluids.  

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  3. I agree ..it looks like a small nucleation site must have formed and grew upward against gravity.  Fascinating.  Any theories could probably be tested in a freezer with correct temp & humidity to replicate. “There’s science there – go find it”

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  4. I’m not at all certain of the explanation, but here’s something to think about. The water gets cool at the surface first, because that’s where it’s in contact with the cold air, and to a slightly lesser extent at the surface where it contacts the bowl, because heat is conducted out there. Now that means you’ll form a skin of ice around the outside of the water. But water expands as it freezes, unlike most substances. So the unfrozen water inside has to find an outlet somewhere, or crack the ice. It’s just possible that this formation represents the outlet for the expanding water, pushing up a little at a time through a weaker part of the top surface and freezing as it extrudes. 

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  5. Some interesting comments… I originally posted this on Facebook many years ago and had one friend comment we should bottle and sell the water as Viagra water. But, as we’ve found out, it is an “ice spike” and Bill Tyler explains the phenomenon quite well. I’ve never had it happen again, though, even with the same bowl at the same spot. Conditions and the water must have been just right that night.

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