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Supercooled Water

December 8, 2005

Yesterday morning I went to get some bottled water from my garage. It had been in the garage for over a week, mostly undisturbed. The outside temperature was reportedly -17°C (about 1°F); I imagine the garage was slightly warmer than that, but still below the freezing point of water. I picked up a bottle of water and noticed that it was not frozen. In fact, it was completely liquid. But soon after I disturbed it, the water in the bottle began to crystalize. The water became progressively cloudy from the top down as it froze inside the bottle. The effect was much like the ice creeping along the walls and floors in The Day After Tomorrow (2004).

Unfortunately, I was unable to capture the action yesterday. With hopes of reproducing the phenomenon, I thawed a few of the bottles and put them out again last night. This morning it was slightly warmer (about -7°C), but I was pleased to find that several of the bottles of water were still in the liquid state. I managed to capture three videos of reasonable quality of the water turning to ice.


These videos were recorded with a Canon Powershot S50 digital camera. They have not be altered in any way, other than to reencode them to xvid from mjpeg to reduce size (edit: and then uploaded to YouTube, 2006-12-15). I assure you that the liquid you see in them is truly water with nothing added to it. It is straight from the bottle. The bottled water I happened to have was Nestle Pure Life Purified Water.

Video 1: This shows an open bottle, about half full, being shaken. The water solidifies in a matter of seconds.

Video 2: Water in a clear glass is stirred with a straw and freezes. (This is the most impressive video, in my opinion)

Video 3: I tried to pour some water from a bottle into a glass, but ice formed at the mouth of the bottle before I could get much out. This video (almost) shows the crystalizing in the bottle. Keep your eyes on the bottom of the bottle; you can see it get cloudy as the water changes states.

Note: As of 2006-12-15, the videos above are hosted on YouTube.


Well, if you’re impressed, you’re probably normal. Yesterday, when I first saw it happen, I picked up three or four more bottles, just watching it crystalize inside the bottle.

Wikipedia has an article on supercooling, and this article also has a mention of the supercooling of water. In order for water to be supercooled, it needs to be in a very clean and “smooth” container and it needs to be quite pure:

Water typically won’t freeze without some impurities around which its molecules can begin to coalesce. For this reason, researchers who study supercooled water do so with the purest water they can get. — Why Water Is Weird

So, with smooth clean plastic as the container for pure bottled water sitting undisturbed in a cold garage, the conditions were just right for the supercooling effect to occur. It is indeed quite the spectacular sight.