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Ice Formation Demystified | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Ice Formation Demystified

Ice Formation Demystified

Ice is cool. It’s fun to play on. And, to some, it’s a mystery. How in the world does ice form on your pond? Why does it expand when it freezes? Why does it float? And how is it possible that ice can actually support the weight of a vehicle?

Don’t glaze over just yet. Unlike lessons from those boring middle school science classes, this explanation will be simple—and as interesting as possible.

Lesson #1: Cold Water is Heavy Stuff

When the air temperature cools, the water on the surface of your lake or pond loses its heat and becomes heavier. This cold, heavy water sinks to the bottom while the warmer water from the bottom rises to the top and cools. The cycling process continues until the overall water temperature reaches 39 degrees Fahrenheit (or about 4 degrees Celsius). Before long, the water on top cools enough to freeze.

Lesson #2: Water Crystals Need Their Space

As the water in your pond freezes, the liquid molecules transform into solid ice crystals—and those things expand and space themselves out when they form, which is why ice takes up more room than liquid. Think of how freezing water can cause a pipe to burst when temperatures dip below freezing, or how expanding ice can crack a rock in two.

Lesson #3: Ice Floats

The spaced-out ice crystals are also less dense than liquid, which is why ice floats. As mentioned in Lesson #1, cold water is heavier than warmer water—but ice is lighter than them both. Confusing? Consider the ice cubes in your glass of lemonade: The crystallized water molecules float on the surface, the lemonade that’s cooled by the ice becomes more dense and sinks to the bottom, and the warmest liquid in the glass rises to the top where it’s cooled by the cubes.

Lesson #4: It’s Strong Stuff

When given enough time to form, the ice layer formed by this crystallized frozen water thickens—and becomes strong enough to support critters, humans and even vehicles! An inch of ice can hold a small animal without cracking, 3 inches of ice can bear the weight of an average person, and 6 to 8 inches of ice can host a hockey team or even a snowmobile. Once the ice layer grows to 8 to 12 inches, it can support a slow-moving vehicle—but we don’t recommend it!

Pond Talk: What burning questions do you have about ice formation and safety?

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Ice Safety 101 | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Ice Safety 101

Ice Safety 101

Ice is fun—but it can be dangerous business.

Winter brings cold weather and snow to your pond or lake, as well as a perfect layer of ice for skating, ice fishing, snowmobiling and more. You may want to get out there and play, but it’s important to know whether your ice is safe and strong or a potential hazard.

Here’s how to determine whether the ice on your pond is thick enough and safe for wintertime fun.

1. Check Its Temperature, Formation

After about two to three weeks of freezing temperatures, a solid sheet of ice will begin to form on your pond or lake. But low temps aren’t the only thing that influence ice formation. Water currents, wind and snow coverage will also make a difference in the integrity of the frozen surface. So once the weather and temperatures stabilize after several weeks, you can venture onto the ice and inspect its thickness.

2. Check Surface for Quality

Ice quality matters. When you inspect the ice, you can visually gauge its quality by looking for bubbles, trapped snow and cracks. You can also determine its quality by color, as a solid blue ice sheet is much stronger than a white brittle layer, which is caused by air pockets and other flaws. Of course, new ice is stronger than old ice, too, as temperature fluctuations haven’t thawed and refrozen the ice, which can weaken its integrity.

In addition, if you’ve left your aeration system running while the ice has been forming, the ice layer will have air pockets—and be unsafe for winter recreation.

3. Verify Its Thickness

You’ve given the water time to freeze and the ice time to form, and you’ve ensured the quality of the ice sheet’s surface. The next step is to verify its thickness. You can either drill or cut samples—but make sure you do so in multiple locations as you work your way toward the center of the pond as the water won’t necessarily freeze evenly.

In general, a layer of ice less than 3 inches is too thin for most people to walk out on. It may be able to hold up lighter people or small animals but can easily crack. So if you plan to have a group of people on the pond or want to take your snowmobile out on your lake, an ice formation of 6 to 8 inches minimum is ideal.

4. Be Patient, Stay Safe

Winter recreation on an ice-covered pond is fun—but be patient and use extreme caution when venturing on the ice. Take time to inspect the ice quality and take samples because doing so can make all the difference between a blast and a disaster.

Always make sure you have a life ring or floatation device within reach in case someone accidentally falls through the ice. And always use common sense when venturing out—better to be safe than sorry!

Pond Talk: What is your favorite wintertime activity on your frozen lake or pond?

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How do I create the perfect hockey or skating rink? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

How do I create the perfect hockey or skating rink?

Q: How do I create the perfect hockey or skating rink?

Chris – Gardners, PA

A: One of the many benefits of having a lake is inviting friends and family over for fun water-related activities—including ice skating or hockey scrimmages during the wintertime. Here are some simple four-step instructions for how to create a nearly NHL-ready rink on your pond.

  1. First, using a pond rake and some weed cutters, remove dead floating debris, such as dead cattails and Phragmites. If those are on the water’s surface or along the lake’s edges as the ice forms, you could wind up with bumpy or weak ice.
  2. Next, if you haven’t done so already, turn off and remove the aeration system from your lake. If you keep it running while the ice forms, that could result in uneven ice formation—and that can be a dangerous situation for skaters.
  3. Once snow begins to fall, regularly remove the snow from the ice with a snow shovel before nightfall so the lake freezes evenly. Make sure, however, that the pond ice is at least 4 inches deep before walking on it.
  4. On a calm night so the water stays still, use your thermostatically controlled
    K&H™ PVC ThermoHose™ to flood the rink area with a thin layer of water to fill in any gaps. By the next morning—weather permitting—the new ice layer should be frozen and the rink ready to enjoy!

Remember to practice water and ice safety by having a life ring available in case of emergency, and by marking the acceptable rink area, particularly if you are using just a portion of a much larger body of water.

Sharpen your blades, pull on your skates—and have fun!

Pond Talk: What’s your favorite activity on an ice-covered pond?

Create A Smooth Skating Surface

Can I move my diffuser plates all to the shallow end of the pond so I can skate on the other side? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Can I move my diffuser plates all to the shallow end of the pond so I can skate on the other side?

Q: Can I move my diffuser plates all to the shallow end of the pond so I can skate on the other side?

Adam – Locust Valley, NY

A: Though it would be nice to have the best of both worlds, a pond that’s aerated with diffuser plates is not safe for ice skating. Here’s why:

The reason you run a diffuser through the winter is to aerate the pond and move the water surface to maintain a hole in the ice, allowing for gas exchange. This ensures the water in your lake is well-circulated and your game fish and other underwater inhabitants have enough oxygen to get them through the cold season.

The trouble is that the ice that forms on the surface of water that has been moving for even a short time can be porous and not suitable for skating. Even movement on one end of the lake and not the other can make the ice at the edges unsafe.

If you want to use your pond for skating, plan in advance. Before the ice forms:

  1. Shut your aeration system down completely. It’s critical to do this before the ice starts to build on your pond’s or lake’s surface for the safety of those who will skate on the pond.
  2. Stow components away. Your airline and plate may stay in the pond, but the system’s cabinet and compressor should be stored indoors to prevent condensation and rusting.
  3. Have an emergency plan, just in case. While you’re prepping your lake for ice skating fun, now’s a good time to make sure you have water safety items available, too, like a Taylor Made Life Ring. If the ice breaks, a safety preserver like this can save someone’s life.

Even if ice skating isn’t your thing, it’s still important to follow this all-or-nothing aeration strategy. Running your system “part time” could cause condensation in the unit from the hot compressor cooling, causing rust to form. It could also allow moisture to get into the airline, which could then freeze.

Bottom line: If you plan on skating on your lake or running your aeration system “part time” for whatever reason, it’s best to shut it down completely. Otherwise, keep it running all season to ensure good water quality for your fishes.

Pond Talk: What’s your favorite wintertime activity at your pond or lake?

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Are there any tips to making sure the ice on my pond is safe to stand on?

Are there any tips to making sure the ice on my pond is safe to stand on?

Are there any tips to making sure the ice on my pond is safe to stand on?
Nicki – Sandusky, OH

Winter brings not only cold weather and snow to your pond or lake but a perfect layer of ice for skating, ice fishing, snowmobiling and other fun as well. While you may be eager to get out on the ice this season, it is important that you know how to distinguish the difference between safe strong ice and a potential hazard.

There are a lot of different factors that determine the ice thickness on a water body. Temperature has a large part in ice formation of course but water currents, wind and snow coverage also play a role in how water freezes. You should see a satisfactory layer of ice form on your pond after two to three weeks of freezing temperatures. Once temperatures stabilize and the ice has time to thicken you can venture onto the surface and perform an inspection.

You can visually determine the quality of ice by looking for bubbles, trapped snow, cracks and color. A clear solid blue layer of ice is stronger than a white brittle formation caused by air pockets and other flaws. Keep in mind that a pond with a running aeration system will have air pockets and should not be used for recreation in the winter. Naturally new ice is stronger than old ice as there are less chances of warm weather thawing and re-freezing. Once you have inspected the surface of the ice you can drill or cut samples to verify thickness. Since a water body will not always freeze evenly you will want to take samples in multiple locations as you work your way out towards the center. A layer of ice less than 3 inches is unsatisfactory for most people to walk out onto. It may be able to hold up lighter people or small animals but can easily crack. If you plan on having a group of people on the pond or want to take your snowmobile out on your lake an ice formation of 6-8 inches minimum is ideal. Click over to our blog on Ice Formation for more information regarding ice thickness and formation.

Be patient this winter and exercise extreme caution when venturing onto the ice. Taking the extra time out to visually inspect your ice and take samples can mean all the difference between a fun day outdoors or potential injury. Always make sure there is a floatation device within reach in case of a fall-through and always use common sense when venturing out on the ice.

Pond Talk: How do you determine when it is safe to venture out onto your pond or lake in the winter?

keep your pond safe at all times with a life ring!

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