How Chandelier Ice or Ice ‘Chandeliering’ Works


Under certain conditions, ice can spontaneously crystallize into shards. This is called ice chandeliering. (photo credit: greg westfall)

Under certain conditions, ice can spontaneously crystallize into shards. This is called ice chandeliering. Ice on a lake is most likely to display the effect. (photo credit: greg westfall)

Minnesota resident Nadalie Thomas captured an incredible video of a phenomenon called an ice chandelier or ice chandeliering, where ice on the frozen lake crystallizes into sparkling shards, accompanied by a sound like breaking glass. The crystallization continues, producing piles of ice shards. So, how does it work? There are two likely explanations:

  1. Ice Changes Forms
    We’re all familiar with the form water takes when it freezes into snowflakes, but there are actually several forms of ice. Changes in temperature can cause ice to spontaneously change from one form to another. In the case of chandeliering ice, the ice may change into a form or allotrope that takes up more space, pushing out onto the surface.
  1. Supercooled Ice Crystallizes
    One property of water is that it easily supercools or supersaturates. This occurs when water remains a liquid below its freezing point. If ice on a lake melts, yet remains below the freezing point around 32°F or 0°C, touching the ice or otherwise disturbing it may cause it to spontaneously crystallize.

One interesting note: Ice is a material that displays triboluminescence. This means that light is produced when ice crystals fracture under stress. If you get the opportunity to watch an ice chandelier at night, you may be treated to sparks of light. If not, carefully watch your feet when you tromp through really cold snow (no liquid water) and you can view the effect.

Watch Ice Chandeliering on a Lake


Do you have another explanation of the phenomenon or have you experienced it? Feel free to post a reply!

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