In the May 1, 2000 reader Richard King wrote in with this problem: "I'm turning to you in the hope that your readers may be able to shed some light on a fluids-related phenomenon that occurs in my fridge/freezer combo at home." We asked readers to provide their theories on what is creating Richard's stalagmites. Their answers varied all over the map. Some even had experienced the same phenomenon. All clearly had fun coming up with an explanation. Here are some of the more creative responses we received. For many more theories from our readers, check out our website at www.designnews.com.
Distilled water is answer. I have been seeing the same phenomenon for the last three years. Sometimes it will form several at a time. Some are dramatic spikes at all angles, some are small pointy bumps that did not freeze instantly.
We have a bottled water service that supplies water in five-gallon plastic containers. The container states that the water is distilled and filtered. I have tried a side by side comparison with tap water. The bottled water will do it regularly and the tap water will not. Our local water supply is pumped from underground and is hardened from the limestone.
My theory is that the purified water can become super cooled. The ice freezes on the outside first, on the top surface and all around the individual cube. The pressure builds up until a crack is formed on the top surface. The water squirts out and instantly freezes.
—Robert Fox, Principle Design Engineer, Gammaflux
Vibration, not thermo. I think the answer lies in vibration analysis rather than thermodynamic phenomena. I believe the water in that particular ice cube compartment is subject to a large displacement just at the moment it freezes. What we are seeing is a frozen wave.
Tipsy cubes. I have noticed this phenomenon also, but I use distilled water to make my ice cubes, and I think this happens with nearly every tray. I pour my evening Bourbon over these cubes, and I just figured they were jumping for joy.
—Lanny Reed, Lathe-Mill Resource, Euless, TX
Monkeys didn't do it. Don't worry, there are no ice monkeys in your freezer. The weird ice formation is formed as the freezer's blower blows the air around inside the freezer. The blower pulsates the surface of the water which causes small eddies to smash into the sidewalls of the ice tray. After hitting the walls on opposite sides, these waves travel back to the center where they collide, forming a jet of water ice at the point of collision.
—Todd Fidalgo, Test Engineer, Tyco Packaging Systems
Studly ice. Your ice isn't really weird, it's just been contaminated with Viagra!
Impurities the culprit. I worked in a biological lab several years ago and witnessed the same phenomenon there. Because of the nature of the lab, the ice trays were filled with filtered deionized water. The occurrence of the "stalagmites" was more frequent than mentioned in the article. My theory was that there was an impurity in the water at the point the stalagmite formed. This provided the "seed" for the initial crystal formation which eventually grew into the stalagmite. I deduced this theory based upon not seeing the formations at my home using regular tap water (with so many impurities, stalagmite formation was thwarted).
Blame it on Elvis. There are two possible solutions. The first and most likely is that a little miniature "Elvis" is in there creating the best ice sculpture he can with only his bare hands. The second and less likely solution is that the defroster (standard on most units) activates and cause a slight amount of condensation which drips onto the ice cube tray and forms the stalagmite.
—John F. Pezzuti,
Senior Engineer, Test Engineering Pitney Bowes