Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Freezing Ocean
Name:  Anita C.
Status:  student
Age:  19
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2000-2001

In the blizzard of 1995 in new jersey, someone I know is telling me in Cape May, NJ the shore line of the ocean froze. I am under the impression that it would be impossible for the moving water and breaking waves to freeze. Is this assumption correct?


Although I know nothing of the incident to which you refer, even ocean salt water will freeze if gotten cold enough consider the arctic and the ice0breaker ships that ply those waters. However, your analysis is correct. Certainly freezing would be made more difficult by breaking waves both because of the mechanics and the fact that waves represent inflow of water from the deeper off-shore source which would not be nearly so cold as the surrounding air. Like so many news stories that do not always get the facts straight, perhaps the report dealt with a more-or-less stationary backwater area rather than open coastal waters.



Under very cold conditions, even salt water can freeze. So, the temperature was probably way below freezing, allowing the water to freeze and accumulate as ice on the shoreline. Where I see this every winter is on the shores of Lake Michigan (which contains fresh water), where the ice buildup on the shore during very cold winters can extend out into the lake for many yards.

David R. Cook
Atmospheric Research Section
Environmental Research Division
Argonne National Laboratory

No, the assumption is not correct. If the temperature is low enough, salt water will freeze. There are two regimes. In the first, water freezes as pure water ice, leaving a more concentrated brine. In the second, salt water freezes occluding the brine. Search, the topic: "icicles" for more details.

Vince Calder

Click here to return to the Weather Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory