What happens if you freeze water in a rigid container?

I consider the OP’s question to be a “thought problem.” Architects and Engineers go through great pains to make sure that buildings don’t suffer structural damage from water freezing (Frank Lloyd Wright’s use of “rubble” foundations turned out to be problematic because of this problem). So, that, coupled with the fact that all skyscrapers have their foundations below the frost-line means that this is never a problem in real life.

However, I can imagine an experiment where a skyscraper was built on a piston sitting on a lake of water - when the water froze, it would easily exert enough force to lift the building.

Wow, I never knew ice could be such a complicated substance (with its numerous formations/crystal structures under different conditions). So if I understand correctly, the water would still become ice, but rather an exotic form of ice whose crystal structure is more tightly packed?

Has anyone come across any practical applications of using freezing water’s impressive strength capabilities? Or do the refrigeration requirements to freeze the water make it inefficient compared to other methods of exerting a force?

Here in New England, ice was commonly used instead of dynamite to create large granite slabs suitable for working in the spring for buildings in Boston, NYC and Washington, DC. Also for breaking up large boulders in farmers fields, too heavy to haul with a horse or oxen team.

Quarriers would drill holes all fall along the desired shear lines and fill the holes with water. Every freezing night would see more and more granite shear off the cliff or quarry wall. Dynamite was expensive, water and cold were free.

The foundations of large skyscrapers are not just simple rebar reinforced concrete floating on soil or atop flotation footings like your house or commercial office/school campus buildings. Because the building has both some significant dynamic wind loads to resist as well as a high center of pressure (c.p.) and center of gravity (c.g.), the foundation must be capable of resisting those loads internally and then transmitting them to the bedrock (all true skyscrapers mount to some kind of bedrock base). The foundation basically consists of a reinforced metal truss structure that looks somewhat like a multi-level truss bridge that is attached to pilings driving down to bedrock. The foundation itself is typically sealed from water intrusion specifically to prevent the kind of phenomena questioned by the o.p., for if a large mass of water were to freeze inside of or below the foundation it could very easily deform and possibly even lift the foundation.

If you were to intentionally pump and freeze water under the foundation, you’d probably topple the building as one side would start to freeze and push the liquid water to the other side. However, if you could control the freezing rate to keep it homogeneous and get it significantly below 0 deg C as described by Crafter_Man and Chief Pedant, you could certainly lift a building. This is, after all the same phenomena that during ice ages lifts and carries large slabs of rock significant distances.

I once came up with [POST=9514841]a concept[/POST] for a large, easily constructed, expandable, and relatively fail-safe rotating habitat using short and long fiber-reinforced ice as the hull material. The inherent energy in the latent heat of fusion makes the structure both stable (if protected against radiation incidence by a thin film of foil) and resistant to puncture by impact.


Perhaps I’m phrasing this badly. My point is, you would have to have a foundation which is already capable of holding the skyscraper up, upon which to place the water, which is then going to lift the skyscraper. Your reinforced concrete obviously would suffice.

The only reason I brought it up is that it’s part of the completeness of the answer. Yes, you can pick up a skyscraper; however, whatever the water is pushing on has to be strong enough to hold it all up. That’s all I meant.

The optimum solution to be sure, but it is my understanding that some areas lack a bedrock layer. It seems as if Eureka Tower, for example, isn’t founded on bedrock.

Slightly off topic question. A couple of the answers referred to increasing pressure leading to the formation of water at first. Looking at the phase diagram, I don’t see how increasing pressure doesn’t lead to further ice formation. What am I missing?

Referring to the phase diagram, look at the boundary between “Solid Ice I” and “Liquid.” Start at around 10^-1 MPa (atmospheric pressure). See how the top of the boundary curves to the left? If you’re close to that boundary and go straight up (increase pressure while holding temp constant), you’ll cross that curved part into the “liquid” territory.

My understanding is that this is why ice skates work (and in fact don’t work when it’s DAMN cold out), and why ice generally is more slippery around the freezing mark, and not so slippery when it’s extremely cold: lower temps move you (in that phase diagram) away from the “Solid Ice I”/“Liquid” boundary, so an increase in pressure (as from the blade of an ice skate) just takes you from “Solid Ice I” to “Ice II” or Ice III."

There are a bunch of factors involved in this process. Adiabatic cooling as CO[sub]2[/sub] outgasses from the liquid is part of the reason the liquid freezes. The soda may be supercooled, opening the lid causes bubbles that act as nucleation points for ice crystal formation, forming slush. Finally, a large amount of CO[sub]2[/sub] comes out of the soda solution, changing the freezing point dramatically in a short space of time. All these factors play a part in the rapid freezing process.


The problem in lifting a building isn’t so much the foundation – after all, it’s strong enough to support the building, and slowly lifting it requires only a tiny bit more force – as is the problem of keeping the ice from expanding sideways. You’re going to have to have a wall containing the ice that pushes sideways with the same force as the weight of a skyscraper. That’s not going to be easy to do.

Considering that “Ice II” appears to start at 200 MPa (29,000 psi), either you’re skating on razor blades or you’re quite heavy. :wink:

This is an apocryphal source, but you’re right, it seems more plausible than my previous position, at least as regards the mechanism by which ice skates work. However, my primary point in my previous post - that it is possible to turn ice to liquid water by squeezing the bajeezus out of it - still stands.

Thanks, Stranger! Ignorance fought.

Lifting and moving buildings can certainly be done.

Most of downtown Chicago was lifted this way in the 19th century.

Ed might want to talk about this for Straight Dope Chicago.

While only one building of that era seems to have been moved with water, i.e. hydraulic jacks, that is the preferred modern method. See The Five Heaviest Buildings Ever Moved. That title is obviously wrong, since the Chicago buildings were heavier. But as I frequently say, nobody knows history any more.

During WWII there were plans to build ships, including aircraft carriers, out of pykrete, a frozen mixture of water and wood pulp. Here is a Wiki article on it.