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Ice stalactites: comparison of a laminar flow theory with experiment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 March 2006

Seelye Martin
Department of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle


Recent field observations in the polar oceans show that the hollow tubes of ice called ice stalactites form around streamers of cold brine rejected by the growing sea ice. In a laboratory study of this process, we inject cold, dense brine a t a constant salinity, temperature and volume flux into an insulated tank of sea water held at its freezing point, then photograph the resultant stalactite growth. Because the inner wall temperature of the stalactite remains on the salinity-determined freezing curve, as the stalactite grows and the temperature deficit of the brine goes into the growth of ice, the inner wall melts to dilute and cool the adjacent brine back to its freezing point. This melting means that both the inner and outer stalactite radii increase with time. The radius of the stalactite tip, which is constant for each experiment, is shown to be controlled by the onset of a convective instability. If the tip becomes too large, overturning occurs and the sea-water intrusion freezes, reducing the radius of the tip so that the flow leaving the tip is marginally stable. Inside the stalactite, since the inner radius increases with time, both theory and experiment show the interior flow to be convectively unstable. The present study also derives a solution from the constant-heat-flux Graetz solution for the growth in both length and side-wall area of the stalactite. The experiments show that away from the stalactite base and the very beginning of the experiment this solution, with convection accounted for by an adjustable coefficient, describes the experimental growth. Finally, analysis of the experiments shows that as much as 50% of the ice represented by the cold brine does not go into the stalactite, rather the ice goes directly into the ocean as loose crystals.

Research Article
© 1974 Cambridge University Press

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