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Let's say a group of people live on icebergs. They want to shape them - e.g., let's say they want to add a pier to their iceberg, how do they "grow" the ice.

Prefer a primitive answer, but if there is no "primitive" way, then get as advanced as necessary.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding, Bob the Guest! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. You may also find Worldbuilding Meta and The Sandbox (both of which require 5 rep to post on) useful. Have fun! $\endgroup$ Jun 5, 2018 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ If they got some fiber (paper, wood, etc) they can use Pykrete $\endgroup$
    – jean
    Jun 5, 2018 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ What is the air temperature? Do they have a source of heat, e.g. can they melt ice? Is there any unfrozen water nearby (e.g. is the iceberg drifting on sea water)? $\endgroup$
    – ChrisW
    Jun 5, 2018 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ You might want to check out the inuktitut traditional lifestyle (pre-colonialism). They did quite well until it became more convenient to live in a house. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Jun 6, 2018 at 0:18
  • $\begingroup$ Note that icebergs are notoriously roll-prone, and are therefore dangerous to stand on top of. $\endgroup$ Jun 6, 2018 at 1:38

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Those people can "harvest" ice from nearby Icebergs (ideally if they are uninhabited, that is).

They could also harvest the ice from their own iceberg, extracting it from parts they don't use or they don't need.

At night, when it is colder, they can leave water on "cases" shaped as they need so it freezes and they can get the desired part or shape.

Getting more fancy, if there is magic in your universe, they could have some sort of "water-bending" skills (think of it as The Last Air Bender's water tribe). These ice wizards play an important role in their community, as they are in charge of making the ice needed for construction. Ice wizards are instructed since young to master their skills.

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    $\begingroup$ The cases at night was the common way to make ice before refrigeration. In cold water, and cool to cold nights, this would be the most effective means I can think of. Especially if they combine it with harvested ice, using it almost like mortar. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Clarke
    Jun 5, 2018 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ @DanClarke yup, if these people can make fire and know some basic chemistry by trial-and-error, they could make the process easier. Boiling the water and condensing it again to remove the salt, thus making it easier to freeze. $\endgroup$
    – DarkCygnus
    Jun 5, 2018 at 19:15
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Many cultures already live in arctic environments and shape their environment to comfortably live.

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An igloo is a prime example of simple structures that can be cut from ice.

If the temperature is below zero, it may be possible to 'glue' ice together using water - you can further shape your environment to suit to create many additions to your iceberg.

All you need to do these things is to have a primitive saw (to cut the ice), and a helping hand or two.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 but I guess igloos are more commonly built (i.e. sawn) from packed snow than from (compressed) glacier ice. I guess that saws were originally made of notched bone rather than metal. $\endgroup$
    – ChrisW
    Jun 5, 2018 at 21:55
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Icebergs are (at the moment) pretty damned big - seems to me it'd be much easier to chip away at the edge to sculpt a pier than it would to grow more ice in the shape of a pier. Chipping away at big things to make small things is about as primitive as you can get.

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They'd need to find some way of raising the freezing point of the water where they want to pier to create new ice. There are a number of compounds you can add to water to lower it's freezing point, salt is a major one, that's why they use it to de-ice roads. I there are also compounds that do the opposite; the hormone Testosterone, no one knows why, and long chain alcohols. I feel that the odds of striking on such a compound through accident or experimentation would be extremely low, long chain alcohols are hard to even produce without a modern high pressure chemistry set, ditto isolation of testosterone. Fine dust as from powdered clay will raise the setting temperature but only slightly. If the ocean is cold enough, salt water brine can get below the fresh water freezing point and still be liquid, pouring fresh water out onto the surface in a slow controlled fashion may work.

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    $\begingroup$ Salty seawater generally has to reach -4C before it will freeze. So your suggestion of finding and using fresh water is definitely a better option. $\endgroup$ Jun 5, 2018 at 19:05
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Important info:

  • Pure water freezes at 0° Celsius, but saltwater has to be even colder to freeze. The more salty the water, the lower the freezing point drops. The freezing point of the water in Earth's oceans is -2° Celcius.

  • Ice can get even colder than the freezing point. This is obvious to some people but sometimes people's intuitions about phase changes get mixed up, and they think ice is always at the same temp it froze at. Ice can get much colder after freezing. If you make a glass of icewater with very cold ice, it is possible for the whole mixture to end up frozen. The ice was capable of absorbing plenty of heat without melting, and the heat it took from the water brought the water below freezing. This is what happens when you handle ice cubes with wet fingers and they seem to stick to your fingers. The ice cube is colder than freezing. It can absorb some heat without melting. It absorbs the heat of the small amount of water on your hands, causing the water on your hands to get colder and freeze.

  • If the climate starts to get cold enough, seawater (saltwater) will start to freeze. As it does so, it will leave behind the impurities. It will separate into salt crystals and icebergs of freshwater.

  • Oceans take a long time to freeze. Even if the air temp goes below -2°, it will take a long time for the massive ocean to dump enough heat into the air for all the water to chill to -2°.

If your climate is cold enough that the sea is gradually freezing, then the simplest way for your people to grow the iceberg is to wait. Gradually ocean water will freeze onto the side and bottom of the berg. Perhaps if your people can move the iceberg, they could sail it north to colder seas when they want growth. They can harvest blocks from the growth at the waterline, then 'weld' those on by applying a little heat when they place them.

If your climate is in that middle zone below the freezing point of freshwater but above the freezing point of saltwater, then simply any fresh water left on the berg will freeze overnight. The temps are no longer cold enough to spontaneously freeze seawater, but your people can desalinate (remove the salt) from seawater to make some freshwater, through various processes, then either let the freshwater freeze into blocks that they then 'weld' to the berg by wetting the place where they put them down, or they could simply repeatedly pour the freshwater on a spot, letting some freeze and collecting the runoff.

If your climate is above the freeezing point of freshwater, then a berg is not a sustainable or even safe place to live. When icebergs get to warm climates, they melt unevenly, with the top melting the most. This changes their bouyancy, causing them to roll over, sometimes suddenly. Your iceberg would melt and eventually flip over.

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Dark sky cooling effect (surroundings fully absorbent of all radiant energy transfer based on raycasting from higher temperature surfaces to lower temperature surfaces or spaces) in combination with convective cooling across all exposed surfaces mean that basically you'd be best off making thin walled water-tight formwork the shape of the items (think bricks or gradebeams), adding both reinforcing elements (like seaweed - think kelp) and seed ice - ideally crushed and scattered all placed into your ice formwork (or cases) which are set up to be sitting well proud of the groundplane - say on rocks.

Possibly the simplest most effective answer is that there are setup areas where your natives routinely create 2" thick ice sheets, sitting on layers of kelp or similar vegetative matter, then cut these into rectilinear shapes, then "weld" those together with a slurry of crushed ice and ice water to form brick forms and gradebeams... reinforcing the corner conditions of those forms with lapped kelp and ice slurry.

They then take the individual brick elements and assemble them together into larger elements on more layers (or the same layers re-used) of kelp... once they reach the greatest size and mass your residents can maneuver, they are then assembled onto the final construction just before nightfall, with again a slurry of crushed ice and icewater with shredded kelp as the mortar.

As others have stated above, freshwater's freezing point is lower, but I'm betting that with proper use of the dark sky cooling effect, you wouldn't need a lower freeing point to work as needed: this is why all those kids who enjoyed spraying water on their dark coloured tarmac asphault driveways got a great ice sheet forming there before other nearby lighter-coloured surfaces: black body radiation and dark-sky cooling.

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