Phenomena

Why Fish Don’t Freeze

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Have you ever wondered why it is that fish in a pond or lake don’t freeze during the winter? The secret is due to a peculiarity of water that’s vital for life here on Earth. In general, cold things are denser than warmer ones. This is why, for the most part, cold fluids tend to sink and warmer ones rise here on Earth. So as fall moves into winter and water near the surface of a pond cools, it sinks. But only to a point.

Water is at its densest at 4 degrees Celsius. Any colder and the water will actually expand and become less dense. This is why you can’t fill ice cube trays to the very top before putting them in the freezer. In the pond it means that buoyant convection shuts down at 4 degrees Celsius. When the water at the top keeps cooling down to the freezing point, it doesn’t sink. Instead, the fish and other pond life get to spend the winter at a chill – but not freezing – 4 degrees. (Video credit: A. Fillo)

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