Quite wondrous from the Daily Mail

For those piling on jumpers at home, scowling at the frost outside and cursing the imminent heating bill, these nail-biting images will make you feel a whole lot warmer.

Stripping to nothing but a pair of speedos and a cap, more than 700 foolhardy swimmers today dived into a -27C pool carved open out of thick ice.

I sorta doubt it really.

Perfectly willing to believe that the air temperature was -27C. But not the water temperature for some reason that I can’t really put my finger on right now.

32 thoughts on “Quite wondrous from the Daily Mail”

  1. Are you really surprised about the total absence of scientific and numerical literacy at the DM? Not to mention the literal illiteracy? That they don’t just get the odd thing wrong (like we all do) but seem incapable of performing any kind of informal plausibility check on any story at all?

  2. Personally, I’ve not been swimming in -27C conditions at all (and I wonder what pressure water would need to be at to be liquid at that temperature – Wolfram Alpha suggests between 50 & 100 atm), although I have been swimming, quite comfortably, in the outside bit of Perth pool when it was about -6C air temp.

  3. My mother in law used to do this in the Volga in Russia. I have seen it at air temp of -25C with the river completely frozen over, but obviously the water underneath is not so cold (don’t know, but I guess is around 0C). Tried to video it, but the camera would not operate at that temp.

    The interesting phenonemon is that when they come out of the water, they start to give off huge clouds of water vapour from their bodies because of the differences in temp between body and the air.

    She said it is invigorating, I say it is insane.

  4. “Are you really surprised about the total absence of scientific and numerical literacy at the DM?”
    Genuinely, yes.
    That was 1st form senior school science lessons when i was educated. I can’t believe they’ve missed it off the curriculum..
    It’s the total lack of life experience prevents them connecting the knowledge with anything in the real world. The natural thought “Wow! It’d be warmer in than out!” doesn’t occur. So the written phrase doesn’t jar.with the impossible.
    What you get when people’s world consists of little but university arts courses & media..

  5. There is zero possibility that this writer doesn’t know that fresh water freezes at 0C and that saltwater freezes a bit below that. This isn’t scientific illiteracy, it’s just carelessness.

    Re invigoration, at school we had an outdoor pool (and an indoor one) and would break the two-inch thick ice on the outdoor one for a winter swim. (Not compulsory, for fun.)

    It was surprisingly pleasant, once you’d got over the shock, and warm when you got out, despite the snow.

  6. You can get down to about minus 17C and still have liquid, providing you add enough salt.

    You can get quite a bit below that by adding enough alcohol. Tequila slammer bathing* anyone?

    And, no, not volunteering to drink it afterwards.

  7. I have been swimming in a ‘pool’ cut in the ice of the river Ob at Novosibirsk at air temperature of -25C. And more recently a post-sauna dip in a lake in Finland at an air temperature of -32C You do (briefly) feel more alive than you thought possible, but no more than 5 min immersion recommended before hypothermia sets in, muscles stop working and there is a real risk of drowning. The ‘feeling alive’ moment can also rapidly change if you don’t get into a warm space pretty damn soon afterwards! The Ob was quite scary because there was a current under the ice. I was more worried about the heavy metal poisoning though….

  8. The Mail is loathsome but the subbing of it has historically been spot on, at least as good as the Sun at its best. So much so in fact that aspiring sub editors would hold their noses even as they wrote off for jobs on the acknowledged “subs’ paper”. Not any more. It is now so packed with mistakes that it bears comparison with The Telegraph, The Graun and (oh dear) The Times. The Mail told us last week for instance that Sherlock starred Dominic Cumberbatch and Tim Freeman. Who they? – Ed.

  9. @Interested, sadly I disagree. The probability of a DM writer not knowing that water freezes at 0ºC is >0, though in any one case it might well be carelessness, aided and abetted by using cheap interns on ludicrous deadlines. I think that, in the unlikely event that you had the luxury of their time and the writer had the inclination to care, you would have to explain to them very carefully why they are wrong.

    I’m waiting for SMFS to pop up and declare that mostly water does not freeze at 0ºC because it contains other stuff or the air pressure is different.

  10. I suppose it may be possible to get a pool of water (plus other stuff) to -27°C. But if the water was in fact at -27°C, this would be a story in itself: interesting enough at least to merit a line of explanation in the bigger story. (Something like, “The organisers achieved the incredibly cold pool by saturating the water with salt and alcohol. Participants were advised not to drink while in the pool, and several people had their stomachs pumped after taking on too much of the liquid.”)

    Like others, I suspect careless writing. Arts graduates: if they can’t think and they can’t write, what’s the point of them?

  11. The Mail is a bit like a content farm except its output has a shorter shelf-life. Still, even the Mail commentariat notice how certain stories get recycled regularly.

    They operate by churning out vast quantities of clickbait. Volume at low price is all that is required. The only way an article can seemingly fail QC is if it demands a reading age >9 years. Only the bare minimum of coherency, English grammar, correct spelling are required. Logic and consistency with the laws of nature are not required. They don’t even make their subs stick to a single style-sheet, vide the numerous articles franchised from American supermarket tabloids that are riddled with Americanisms, you know, the things that make it look like spoken and written English in the USA are becoming the same thing. In particular: lazy American journalistic habit, using commas, dropping articles and prepositions, running not-quite sentences on, and on, for ever, and then some.

    Sometimes I wonder why I even look at that website. Obviously they are doing something right.

  12. SE, are you sure?
    I thought 0 degree F was there because that was as far as Herr Fahrenheit could cool water. He would have used alcohol if he could?

  13. So Much For Subtlety

    JamesV – “I’m waiting for SMFS to pop up and declare that mostly water does not freeze at 0ºC because it contains other stuff or the air pressure is different.”

    SE and bif beat me to it. Most of the water on the planet is, indeed, full of other stuff like salt, and the pressure is very different (if you go deep enough, and it does not take long to hit 100 atm in the ocean), so it does not freeze at 0C.

    But you were saying about the scientific illiteracy of the subs at the Daily Mail?

  14. Surreptitious Evil


    Yes. Pure ethanol does not freeze until -114C. A 37% (by vol) solution of ethanol in water (trivially obtained from the local supermarket of your choice) will go down to -19C (aka -2.2F).

    We make a cocktail called Kirsberry Dry, particularly when the m-i-l is about. It’s 1 measure of Kirsberry to 2 measures of vodka (so easy to make, even if you’ve been on the cooking wine for a couple of hours, because the m-i-l is about!), then bung it in the fast freeze compartment. It doesn’t.

    I have no numbers as to what a tequila and salt solution will do with varying ethanol, salt and even lime content. Although I’d guess than the freezing point will drop as salt and ethanol concentrations increase.

  15. “I have no numbers as to what a tequila and salt solution will do with varying ethanol, salt and even lime content.”
    Data’s in. After much experimenting.
    Make you incredibly pissed.

  16. Surreptitious Evil

    I salute your sacrifice of one appalling hangover to the god of kitchen (or living room) science.

  17. I once went diving in a dry suit through a hole in the ice at the lake by Tignes in the French Alps. I am thinking about going to the Arctic to do the same.

    Anyway the very young and pretty holiday rep had written a flyer to sell it, promising us the chance to “dive into the world of the polar bear”. I think she writes for the Daily Mail now.

  18. Your average Mail journalist can instantly state to three decimal places the house price inflation for any postcode you care to mention, but beyond that they struggle.

  19. Water can exist in a supercooled state, i.e. liquid below 0C. That’s how those ice storms in Quebec work. I doubt it can stay liquid down to -27 but if it could, and you dived in, the explosive freezing around your body would instantly crush you to death and provide quite a spectacle for the onlookers.

  20. Let’s say the liquid actually was -27°C. The freezing point depression caused by a solute in a solvent is well-known and for dilute ionic solutions is K_F.b.i where K_F is the cryoscopic constant (1.853 K kg/mol for water), b is the molality of the solution and i is the number of ionic species released into the solvent (2 for salt). This only works for fairly dilute solutions and the full version is a horrendous piece of old bollocks. 2 molal brine (117g of salt in a litre of water) is easily doable. That gives a freezing point depression of about 4.75°C. Eutectic point for brine is -21.1°C. So it needs to be something else. Pure alcohol will certainly do although you’d sink like a stone. Freon would work since it’s a bit denser than water and freezes at -110°C.

    The problem is that immersion in a thermally-conductive liquid that wets the surface well is very efficient at cooling. The rate of cooling is also proportional to the temperature difference. You would be dead quite quickly after immersion in -27°C liquid and injured almost immediately.

  21. 0 degrees F is the temperature at which “freezing mixture” melts or freezes. Mixture of salt and ice/water.

  22. John
    The “freezing mixture” is the mix of salt & ice, will have a temperature of below freezing (latent heat), used for the bath in the standard experiment to show the freezing point of pure water in the vessel in the bath.

  23. And the latest idiocy from the Mail:
    “The record-breaking chill across the U.S. and Canada was so frigid it literally stopped Niagara Falls in its tracks.”
    In every single picture there is liquid, flowing water. Not exactly “literally stopped”.

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