A Frost Quake or Cryoseism is similar to an earthquake except it is triggered by ice expansion instead of tectonic activity. A Cryoseism may also refer to the sudden movement of a glacier, but I am only interested in the thermodynamic expansion that result in explosive action.

I wish to create an artificial cryoseism in the laboratory.

Conditions favoring cryoseisms are known to include:

1.) When temperatures rapidly decrease from above freezing to subzero, in the first cold snap of spring.

2.) Water is a key ingredient that must permeate the sand, gravel, and rocks during a cold-snap.

3.) Cryocisms generally occur 3-4 hours after a significant change/drop in temperature.

4.) Snow is rarely present because its insulating properties actually hinder rapid changes in temperature, which are what instigate the cryoseism.


Taking a rock out of a fire and dropping it into cold water will often cause the rock to explode from raw thermodynamic contraction. However, a cryoseism seems like a much more refined creature needing careful planning. I am slightly skeptical that wet sand and gravel can create cryoseisms. There would have to be a pre-existant shell of ice within which liquid water might freeze and expand to create the pressure necessary to explode the shell. It would seem that a rock or chunk of ice shaped like a hollowed out explosive cannon ball. would be an optimal design as the shell should burst creating a concussion known as a cryoseism. The main question remaining in my mind is what materials, dimensions, and/or methods should be used to construct the shell?

The dimensions will no-doubt be material specific and so the cheapest shell will definitely be made of ice.

However, that seems a little lame and there certainly are more interesting materials that a shell could be made of such as iron, rock, other metals, and even ceramics perhaps. Would a plastic bottle explode? The plastic seems to expand more than other materials so maybe a brittle and thick bottle or a glass bottle. Ok so I googled "glass bottle exploding in freezer" and I found this video of a guy waving a smashed beer bottle held together by frozen beer. In case the video gets moved I uploaded a screenshot:

enter image description here

Further browsing yielded and exploded aluminum coke can:

enter image description here

So basically I need to take a beer and score the glass with a glass cutter and then video it freezing... Ok things to do! But wait, is An Exploding Beer Bottle An Accurate Simulation Of A "Frost Quake"? I mean some of those concussions called frost quakes could be beverages exploding.... right?

  • $\begingroup$ I think you need to define the mechanism of your frost quake better before anyone can say whether something else is a good simulation of it or not. What exactly causes the sudden movement of the frozen ground? Is it due to expansion of water as it freezes alone, or is something else going on? The cracking beer bottle may not be that good a simulation because the remaining liquid beer freezes as soon as the pressure is released by the bottle cracking. Is there anything similar in your frost quake? $\endgroup$ Jan 4, 2014 at 23:12

1 Answer 1


Take a brick. Use a brick saw to cut a channel in the brick about 1/2-3/4 of the way through it. Seal the ends of the cuts, fill the slit with sand (or maybe leaves) and then water. Put into the freezer, monitoring with a video loop that terminates when the brick cracks

  • $\begingroup$ *if the brick cracks. $\endgroup$
    – Dale
    Jan 5, 2014 at 22:52

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