Frozen Water as a Conductor
Does frozen water conduct electricity?
Ice conducts electricity only about enough to dissipate static electricity.
If it's far colder than freezing, it might not even conduct that much.
As water slowly freezes, it tries to exclude most ions from the growing
solid, and they end up concentrated in the remaining liquid.
The ions are what help water conduct substantial amounts of current.
Very pure de-ionized water might not conduct enough electricity to
electrocute you (from 120vac), for example.
ice is partly de-ionized, plus the molecules and ions cannot move most of
As the new ice gets colder and colder, the fraction of the time the ions
succeed in moving a little goes down,
and the ice gets less and less conductive.
I suppose a snowstorm on Titan or some other cold moon might have static
electricity in patches all over the icy ground,
as well as in the flying snow.
If the outside of the ice is shiny-wet, that film is not frozen, and that
film of water will conduct.
Especially if it's partly salty sea-water.
Good question Harris. As you probably already know, in order for anything
to conduct electricity, there must be some mobile charge carrier. In
metals, it is the loosely held electrons. In impure water, it is the ions
dissolved in the water. Pure water (one with no ions) is a poor conductor
of electricity because there are no mobile charge carriers. So we can
imagine that pure ice having no charge carriers would also be a poor
conductor. How about frozen tap water? While the liquid water may
initially have charge carriers, on being frozen the mobility of these
carriers become significantly diminished so that the conductivity drops
dramatically. There have been studies of doping ice (adding charge
carriers to the ice, and those can conduct electricity - at times up to
the level of mercury) but that is not ordinary water.
Greg (Roberto Gregorius)
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Update: June 2012