Why Does Ice Float?

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Why Ice Floats

  • Ice is the solid state of water. Ice floats because frozen water is not denser than its liquid form. This happens because water does not follow the basic principle of thermodynamics. In other words, a solid is heavier than its liquid counterpart and should sink. However, ice has a unique molecular structure that allows it to float.

Water's Construction

  • The structure of the common water molecule is simple. Many people know its chemical designation as H2O. This means a molecule of water has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. While the two hydrogen atoms attract to the single oxygen atom, they also push away from each other. This causes a single water molecule to adopt a triangular shape.

The Process

  • When water is frozen, the molecules are forced to pack in very tightly to each other, eliminating as much space between them as possible. Ice may look and feel solid enough, but it's actually made up of a lot of empty spaces. The triangular shape of ice's molecules keeps them apart and creates a tightly knit latticework instead of a dense solid structure. When water is frozen, it actually decreases in density and increases in volume, which makes it much lighter than its liquid form.
    So it's water's unique molecular shape that allows ice to be lighter than water and float.

  • Photo Credit http://www.divequest.co.uk/holiday_images/ai2_63.jpg
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