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Front Page » January 3, 2013 » Carbon County News » A few cold, hard facts about ice
Published 659 days ago

A few cold, hard facts about ice


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

This is the time of year people cuss the ice.

But in the summer almost everyone loves it.

This paradox of loving something one season and hating it another leads people to simplistic feelings about the hard stuff. It is either good or bad, depending on where it is. For a cold drink, it can be like paradise; underfoot, well not so much.

Right now it's on the roads, on sidewalks, by entrances to buildings and it gets into about everything.

Most people have experienced the uncanny feeling of ice underneath their shoes as they fall to the ground or the sticking (sometimes almost gluing) of the doors of a vehicle to its frame after a wet snowstorm and a cold night.

It seems a simple enough natural process. Water, whether it be rain or snow falls from the sky, and the temperature falls to 32 degrees or below then the moisture turns to ice.

But there is more to it than that. And there are a lot of interesting facts about ice that many people don't know.

First of all water doesn't always freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below. It actually needs a medium for its molecules to latch on to. Ice crystals form around a particle or a "nucleus." Dust works very well, but just about anything will do.

When it doesn't freeze at 32 degrees water can be super cooled. In fact it can go down to -44 before it freezes without the particles. If it is a slow cooling process it can happen.

But on the opposite end, water that is cooled down super fast can result in an entirely different condition. It can actually bypass the stage called ice (that is made up of a crystalline structure) and can turn into what is called glassy water. It doesn't happen on the Earth naturally, but in the lab. However, it does happen in outer space. Many comets are made up of glassy water. So imagine all of space and think of all the glassy water out there. And ice is not only found on moderate and cold planets, it can be found on planets that are hot as well. In November it was announced by NASA that ice had been found by a space probe in the polar region of the second-hottest planet in the solar system, Mercury.

While most people take ice for granted, there are a lot of unique facts about ice that many people don't know.

• Ice covers 10 percent of the earth's land surface. It is also seven percent of the planets. These figures are slowly changing as the climates shift, however. It is said that 80 percent of the Earth's fresh water is locked up in snow and ice.

• Ice that is observed in nature is often cloudy looking, even colored. This happens particularly in big ice floes with large scale amounts of ice. Air bubbles cause this opaque view.

• Hot water freezes faster than cold water. This may seem odd to most people, but it is true and was proven to the world by of all people a high school student named Erasto Mpemda in the 1960s, although it had been common knowledge to many for centuries. It is easy to be skeptical about this and it seems illogical, but in actuality scientists have not definitely figured out why this happens. Work that has been done on this effect also shows there are a lot of factors that go into it and studying the process is very complicated. To honor this young student the process is called the Mpemda Effect.

• Ice has had a huge effect on the planet ever since it formed. Many of the Earth's landscapes have been formed by ice. Glaciers are the most glamorous as they grind their way down toward a lower elevation because of the effects of gravity. However, the heat and freeze cycle across the planet, which break off small pieces of rock and earth at a time, probably has a bigger overall effect.

• The thickest ice is located in Antarctica. In some places there the ice is over 15,000 feet thick. It would make sense that scientists also believe that the oldest ice on earth also exists there.

• Ice has a strong structure in many ways, but also can be very unforgiving. At a thickness of two inches, ice on a body of water will support a human being. At four inches, it will support human on horseback. At a thickness of 10 inches, it will support 1,000 pounds per square foot.

• No one knows when ice was first used to cool drinks (ice in the drinks) but certain lake ice has often been coveted as being the best for that. Lake Wenham in Massachusetts has always been known as a place that had very clear ice, in fact so much so that it was imported to England for royal dinner parties in the 19th century. Today most ice used in an area is generated in that same area by refrigeration equipment, not by natural occurrence.

• When one talks about ice, one must also talk about snow, because it is ice in a different form. A general snowstorm across a broad area can easily dump millions of tons of snow. And what about the statement, "There are never two snowflakes that fall that are alike." Science, again, does not know the answer, because it is impossible for every snowflake that has ever fallen to be examined. It would also become a matter of semantics in that what one means that they are alike. It is a virtually impossible question to answer.

Ice has been on the planet a long time, and scientists still study it today in many different ways. While simple and commonplace, it can still be enigmatic when it comes to is forces and processes.

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