Experiments on the morphology of icicles

Experiments on
the morphology of icicles

Physical Review E, 83, 026307 (2011).

Antony Szu-Han Chen and Stephen W. Morris

Department of Physics, University of Toronto, 60 St. George St., Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 1A7.

Icicles form when cool water drips from an overhanging support under ambient conditions which are below freezing. Ice growth is controlled by the removal of latent heat, which is transferred into the surrounding air via a thin film of water flowing over the ice surface. We describe laboratory experiments in which icicles were grown under controlled conditions. We used image analysis to probe the evolution of the icicle shape under various conditions. A recent asymptotic theory suggests that, overall, icicles converge to self-similar shapes which are predicted to be attractors. On the other hand, stability theory predicts that the ice-water interface can become unstable to form ripple patterns on the icicle surface. Our experimental results show that the predicted self-similar profile is only found in certain cases, and that icicles can also exhibit unpredicted non-uniformities such as branching near the tip. We also find that pure water icicles are more likely to be self-similar than those grown from tap water. Ripples, which are also deviations from the self-similar profile, were observed to climb upward during icicle growth.


Download this paper here:

See the movies:


Go back to the Nonlinear Physics Group papers page


The Experimental Nonlinear Physics Group / Dept. of Physics / University of Toronto / 60 St. George St. Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 1A7. Phone (416) 978 - 6810