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How Cold is Ice Water? An Expert Guide

Hi there! As a fellow streaming and gaming enthusiast, I know you‘ll be amazed to learn just how cold ice water can actually get. While ice water is commonly around 32°F (0°C), under certain conditions it can reach temperatures far below freezing. Keep reading to get some chilling facts about the extremes of ice cold water!

The Short Answer: As Cold as -40°F!

Let‘s start with the key fact: Ice water can potentially get as cold as -40°F (-40°C)! This incredibly frigid temperature has been achieved in laboratory settings through a process called supercooling. Out in nature, cloud droplets have been measured at about -40°F as well while remaining liquid. So ice water can get absurdly, dangerously cold under the right circumstances!

Normal Freezing Point of Water

Normally, pure water freezes and becomes solid ice at:

  • 32°F (0°C)
  • 273.15 K (kelvins)

This transition from liquid to solid at 32°F is known as the freezing point of water. Once water cools to that precise temperature, ice crystals start to form as the molecules rearrange into a rigid lattice structure.

Salt Content Lowers the Freezing Point

However, dissolved minerals and salts actually lower the freezing point. For example:

  • Seawater (3.5% salt) freezes at about 28.4°F (-2°C)
  • 23.3% saline solution freezes at -6°F (-21°C)

So salty ocean water remains liquid at temperatures below 32°F. The salt gets in between water molecules and obstructs ice crystallization.

Supercooled Water Defies Freezing

Under carefully controlled conditions in the laboratory, pure water can be cooled significantly below its normal freezing point while still remaining a liquid. This metastable state is known as supercooled water.

How is this possible? Freezing requires an initial seed crystal to trigger solidification. In the absence of any disturbance, the molecules just keep moving past each other while continuing to cool.

Record Supercooled Water Temperatures

Through meticulous experiments, researchers have achieved stunning supercooled water temperatures as low as:

  • -42°F (-41°C)
  • -44°F (-42°C)

At these incredible temperatures, the water should be completely frozen solid! Yet somehow it remains liquid for a brief period before ice nucleation occurs.

Supercooled Water in Nature

Out in nature, supercooled water has been detected in high altitude clouds where droplets reached about -40°F (-40°C). Solar absorption allows the droplets to exceed the expected freezing point by up to 50°F!

However, real-world supercooled water is precarious. Any disturbance like collisions or particles can trigger sudden ice formation. So while water can remain liquid at very cold temperatures, it takes ideal stable conditions.

Adding Salt Cools Ice Water Further

Since dissolving salts into water lowers its freezing point, adding salt to ice water can drive the temperature even lower. Here‘s a look at how salt depresses the freezing point:

Salt Concentration Freezing Point
5% NaCl -6°F (-21°C)
10% NaCl -13°F (-25°C)
23.3% NaCl -21°F (-29°C)

Table salt (NaCl) is very effective at lowering freezing temperature. So a highly salted ice water bath could reach 21°F below the freezing point!

Water Survival Times

Frigid ice water quickly becomes deadly. According to survival experts, exhaustion or unconsciousness happens around:

  • 50°F – Within 2 hours
  • 40°F – Within 1 to 2 hours
  • 32°F – Within 15 to 30 minutes

At temperatures close to 32°F, cold shock and hypothermia severely impair muscle strength and coordination within minutes. Protective clothing like wetsuits improves survivability, but ice cold water is extremely hazardous.

Natural Examples of Freezing Waters

To put frigid ice water in perspective, here are some naturally occurring freezing cold water temperatures:

  • Arctic Ocean – 29°F (-1.7°C) average
  • Antarctic Ocean – 30°F (-1.1°C) average
  • Glacier meltwater – 34-36°F (1-2°C)
  • Deep oceans – 32-37°F (0-3°C)

The oceans remain liquid due to their salt content. But they circulate absolutely frigid water around the globe driven by thermohaline currents. Mountain glacial runoff also feeds ice cold streams.

Creating Supercold Ice Water

To make ice water colder than the normal freezing point, here are a few DIY methods:

  • Add lots of salt – Table salt lowers freezing point significantly
  • Use alcohol like vodka – Ethanol decreases freezing point too
  • Increase pressure – High pressure drops freezing point slightly
  • Flash freeze with dry ice – Dry ice (-109°F) freezes water instantly

Commercial ice machines and chillers can cool water down to serving temperatures as low as -2°C (28°F). But with the right techniques, you can create supercold ice water at home!

Incredibly Cold Substances for Comparison

To fully appreciate frigid ice water temps, here are some other materials with unbelievably cold temperatures:

  • Dry ice (solid CO2) – -109°F (-78.5°C)
  • Liquid nitrogen – -320°F (-195.8°C)
  • Coldest achieved temperature – 0.000 000 1 K
  • Outer space – -270°C (-454°F)

Dry ice immediately vaporizes water on contact into fog due to its incredible cold temperature. And the vacuum of space approaches just a few degrees above absolute zero!

So while ice water can get well below freezing, other substances like cryogenic liquids and the void of space are on a whole other level of coldness!

The Enduring Mysteries of Water

I hope this guide gave you some chilly insights into exactly how cold ice water can become! Water continues to confound scientists with its many anomalous properties like supercooling. Understanding all the factors that allow water to remain liquid across such an incredibly wide temperature range (-40°F to 212°F) will unlock many secrets of life and physics.

Next time you have some ice water, consider just how cold it could be! Let me know if you have any other freezing cold water questions!