Friday, March 10, 2006

the mysterious melt-proof ice cubes

When I was off work with my dislocated shoulder, I had a lot of time on my hands. One day in the kitchen, I noticed that the ice cubes in my refrigerator freezer were stale. Normally, I toss the old ice in the kitchen sink, wash the trays, refill with fresh water from my Brita, and freeze. But since I had already moved a container of homemade stew from the freezer to the fridge for thawing, I had an idea: put the ice cubes in the fridge, and let them melt there.

Since I pay for the electricity in my apartment, I thought this made sense: try and recapture some of the energy that went into freezing the water. (Again, I was off work for five days, stuck in my apartment with the kind of sling that's not fun. The mind tends to wander.)

I got a bowl, put the ice cubes in, and placed it in the fridge.

The next day, my stew had thawed. But the ice cubes were still there. Slightly melted and 'glommed' together, but still ice.

They didn't melt for four days. I took the bowl out and investigated. The cubes had melted a bit around the bottom, taking the shape of the bowl. There was a bit of water. I put the ice in the sink and washed the bowl. Experiment over.

Although I don't have a fridge thermometer, the temperature setting must be about right. Even in the back of the fridge, items don't freeze. Why didn't the ice cubes melt? Maybe I should be scared of Toronto's water.

Sometimes, I think of the cities "upriver" from Toronto in the Great Lakes watershed: Chicago*, Milwaukee, Detroit, Windsor, Cleveland, Buffalo. Add to that list the smaller cities--many with manufacturing/petrochemical refining/paper mill concerns (Duluth/Superior, Thunder Bay, Green Bay, Escanaba, Sault Ste. Marie, Sarnia, Toledo, Erie, Hamilton). A lot of wastewater is heading down to Lake Ontario, Toronto's water source.

*Chicago diverts its wastewater out of the Great Lakes basin, and into the Mississippi watershed. I don't know whether to be relieved or concerned about this.

Why didn't the ice cubes melt?

links and resources:
great-lakes.net
diversions from the Great Lakes watershed
shhh everything is fine!
CBC series on the health of the lakes

19 comments:

tornwordo said...

That is very strange. I have no idea, but hopefully some scientific type will have a simple explanation.

I do know melting takes energy and therefore absorbs heat thus taking heat from its surroundings.

Perhaps in a bowl, the gradual melting caused the air in the bowl to chill, thus prolonging the melting process.

Then again, I could be talking out of my ass.

madamerouge said...

But how would that look under, say, the fluorescent light of a hotel bathroom in Ottawa?

;-)

Dead Robot said...

Your fridge, like any other, turns itself on and off to keep to a certain average temperature. When it turned itself off, the cubes melted. When it turned itself back on, the cubes refroze easily due to the lack of mineral content in your britta-made cubes. They refroze in one clump, clinging to each other like tina-encrusted club kids at the end of the night.

That or magic pixie faries peed in the bowl. Their urine is quite cold.

teh l4m3 said...

Maybe it's because you live in a godforsaken, Arctic wasteland of a country.

madamerouge said...

Dead R, we're going to have to start calling you "Bill Nye the Science Guy." BTW, I can't comment on your blog.

madamerouge said...

teh, that's it! I'm not marrying you and making you a Canadian citizen. You'll have to stay in God-Land a while longer...

btw, it was warmer in Toronto this morning than it was in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. I'm just sayin'.

George Larson said...

What in the fuck is a stale ice cube?

How long do they stay fresh?

Natasha said...

Rouge, you need help. Great post and great comments. Fuck - I can learn something here.

N

Jason said...

Oh I just was hanging out with Gerry Adams's nephew. He didn't like when I wouldn't lend him $100 for a prostitute so he punched me in the face. I love my life.

Butchieboy said...

Hey, I read that whole post. We have ice cubes in Indiana, also. Except we call them "ICE"

Dead Robot said...

yeah sorry MadameR. Technical glitch has my blog living in the FuUUUuuTure! I'm hoping after mar28th things will resume to stupidly normal. Try putting the words "incognito" after your name for now.

Adorable Girlfriend said...

UC, a Canadian, American trained scientist informs me that the reason is because your fridge is 4 degrees Celcius. Barely above freezing level. However, with time it will melt because it is above freezing and shifts due to opening and closing of your fridge door.

So, there you go.

madamerouge said...

j0rg3: when the cubes look a bit shrunk, and have pulled away from the sides of the tray, they're stale. Toss the fuckers.

butchie: yeah, and in Indiana, I'll bet you call your soft drinks "soda."

AG: why did the homemade stew thaw so much faster? Riddle me that, Uncanny Canadian. Is it because of the difference in relative water content? (ice, obviously, being about 100%)

I still think it's the water. I'm probably growing a huge tumor inside me as we speak. TOXINS! DIOXINS! I'M MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!

(heehee!)

Butchieboy said...

No, we call them phosphates and ride arount on old timey bike with the one big wheel in the front and have handlebar moustaches and play banjos and wear bow ties and skimmer hats.

The Persian said...

I hate how my fridge freezes everything it shouldnt (like Lettuce!) And for the record I've been to Toronto, it's so similar to New England in it's temps.

What does he think you live in Alberta??

:)

Adorable Girlfriend said...

Persian, do you currently live in New England?

I will send UC the link and see if we can get a guest Scientist comment over here.

The Uncanny Canadian said...

My best guess is that it is some combination of what tornwodro and dead robot said, with regards to needing energy to melt and the fridge being a cycling device, and differences in salt concentrations. Your stew has plenty of salts in it, which change the ionic properties of the water. Hence the water molecules are further apart, and require a much lower temperature to freeze (a result of molecular compaction in part). Think about why salt melts ice even below zero. The Brita filter contains activated charcoal, which will remove a large amount of charged particles from the tap water, which is totally fine and delicious (it being from Toronto and all).

If you are really concerned about environmental factors affecting the meltling of your ice cubes, buy some distilled water from Shopper's Drug Mart, and make ice cubes from those. They will be the same. If you want to test out the ionic contribution, I can mail you some distilled deionized water from lab, and you can set up that experiment side-by-side.

madamerouge said...

I didn't even consider the presence of salt in the stew as a factor. Brilliant. And I think I understand the whole charged-particle thing. Sounds like Star Trek. I like it.

We can stop short of mailing me distilled deionized water. I probably seem crazy enough after this post. (My main intent was to get people thinking about the source of their drinking water, the environment, etc.)

I am so happy now.

Adorable Girlfriend said...

No, UC is crazy science boy. He is cerebral and this kind of mailing gesture if very UC.

I am so excited you're happy now.