Record of the Week: Ice Hotel

Some really cool buildings...
11 June 2019

Interview with 

Heather Jameson, The Naked Scientists


Ice hotel


Now, this is the part of the show where we usually tackle your questions for Question of the Week - but as it’s extreme month, we’re bringing you an extreme record of the week. This week Heather Jameson has been looking into some really cool buildings…

Heather - Humans have been using frozen water as a building material for centuries. The inuit mastered the technique of building igloos using the most abundant material they had available: snow.

The igloo was a means for hunters to survive brutal winters in a vast area spanning more than 3,500 miles, including eastern Siberia, Greenland, Alaska and parts of Canada, which can reach chilling temperatures of -58 degrees celsius.

Despite being made of frozen water, the temperature on the inside of an igloo can be 40 degrees celsius higher than the outside when warmed by body heat alone. That’s because pockets of air trapped in the snow provide really good insulation.

Contrary to the way they are often depicted, an igloo is not so much a perfect dome shape but more of a cone shape with a curved top - otherwise known as a paraboloid.  When it comes to this shape, compression is key. The snow bricks are strong when you push down on them, but if you held a snow brick in both hands and pulled your hands apart the brick would crumble. An igloo that is built correctly will support the weight of a person standing on the roof.

Traditional inuit igloos have an average internal diameter of three and a half meters and the largest ever built had an internal diameter of over nine meters.

But the largest structure ever to have been built from ice is the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden.The entire hotel is made out of snow and ice blocks, even the glasses in the bar are made of ice! This requires around 1,000 tonnes of ice and a volume of about 30,000 cubic metres of “snice”... And no, that’s not just a compliment you give someone if their igloo is particularly fetching.

Snice is a cross between snow and ice, it is made from a carefully controlled combination of water and air. It reflects the sun rays and protects the ice inside the hotel from melting, which is down to the fact that snice has a higher density than natural snow and therefore insulates better and melts slower.

But ready your sunglasses for this snowy site, Jukkasjärvi’s high positioning on the globe means that it experiences almost a hundred days of continuous daylight in summer months. With so much sunlight, this traditionally meant that the whole of the hotel melted back into the river every year. But now the ICEHOTEL is using this solar power to its advantage and since 2017 the hotel has been open for business all year round. That’s thanks to a large concrete shell that has been erected to house a part of the ice hotel. The concrete shell is cooled by refrigerators which runs off the power generated by 600 square meters of solar panels, which can capture 24 hours of sunlight throughout the summer months.

So now guests can enjoy cocktails in the ice-bar under the northern lights in the winter or the midnight sun in the summer, either way I’m sure they would say that it’s pretty snice.


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