Brinicles as a case of inverse chemical gardens
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Brinicles are hollow tubes of ice from centimeters to meters in length that form under floating sea ice in the polar oceans when dense, cold brine drains downward from sea ice to seawater close to its freezing point. When this extremely cold brine leaves the ice, it freezes the water it comes into contact with: a hollow tube of ice - a brinicle - growing downward around the plume of descending brine. We show that brinicles can be understood as a form of the self-assembled tubular precipitation structures termed chemical gardens, which are plantlike structures formed on placing together a soluble metal salt, often in the form of a seed crystal, and an aqueous solution of one of many anions, often silicate. On one hand, in the case of classical chemical gardens, an osmotic pressure difference across a semipermeable precipitation membrane that filters solutions by rejecting the solute leads to an inflow of water and to its rupture. The internal solution, generally being lighter than the external solution, flows up through the break, and as it does so, a tube grows upward by precipitation around the jet of internal solution. Such chemical-garden tubes can grow to many centimeters in length. In the case of brinicles, on the other hand, in floating sea ice we have porous ice in a mushy layer that filters out water, by freezing it, and allows concentrated brine through. Again there is an osmotic pressure difference leading to a continuing ingress of seawater in a siphon pump mechanism that is sustained as long as the ice continues to freeze. Because the brine that is pumped out is denser than the seawater and descends rather than rises, a brinicle is a downward-growing tube of ice, an inverse chemical garden. © 2013 American Chemical Society.