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New Form of Frozen Water Has Never Been Seen Before

First Posted: Feb 15, 2016 10:56 AM EST

Scientists may have discovered a new form of frozen water. Researchers have predicted a new form of ice that has never been seen before.

In this latest study, the researchers used a computational algorithm and molecular simulation to determine the ranges of extreme pressure and temperature under which water would freeze into the predicted configuration. The configuration itself takes the form of a clathrate, which is essentially a series of water molecules that form an interlocking cage-like structure.

It was long believed that these cages could maintain their structural integrity only when housing "guest molecules," such as methane. This gas fills an abundance of natural clathrates found on the ocean floor and in permafrost. However, researchers have now found that the clathrate would retain its stability even after guest molecules have been evicted.

"We performed a lot of calculations (focused on) whether this is not just a low-density ice, but perhaps the lowest-density ice to date," said Xiao Cheng Zeng, one of the researchers, in a news release. "A lot of people are interested in predicting a new ice structure beyond the state of the art."

With that said, actually synthesizing the clathrate will take more than a bit of effort. The new ice will only form when water molecules are placed inside an enclosed space that is subjected to ultra-high, outwardly expanding pressure.

"Water and ice are forever interesting because they have such relevance to human beings and life," said Zeng. "If you think about it, the low density of natural ice protects the water below it; if it were denser, water would freeze from the bottom up, and no living species could survive. So Mother Nature's combination is just so perfect."

The findings are published in the journal Science Advances.

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