What Causes Ice to Melt Faster?

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The science behind the melting of ice impacts our daily lives, from road conditions to global warming to sports.

Ice is the solid form of water. At sea level water turns to ice at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The causes of ice melting are not only the subject of school science projects, scientists at world-renowned universities still study the phenomenon. In 2008 David van der Spoel, a chemist at Sweden's Uppsala University, created a computer simulation that demonstrates the motions of ice particles as they melt and contends that his model will greatly benefit chemical companies. In general, there are five ways to melt ice faster.

  1. Temperature

    • Because water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit placing ice in a warm environment will cause it to melt. Ice will melt at any temperature above 32 degrees Fahrenheit but higher temperatures melt ice faster than cooler temperatures.

    Water

    • Ice melts faster when placed in water. Frozen particles have less energy and move more slowly than warmer particles. Warmer, faster moving particles encourage the melting process by breaking up the crystalline structure. Because water is denser than air and contains more particles, there are more particles available to come into contact with the ice. Eighty degree Fahrenheit water will melt ice faster than 80 degree air.

    Salt

    • Salt lowers the freezing point of water, so salt water melts at lower temperatures and will not freeze at 32 degrees. Salt-containing compounds melt ice that has formed, for example, on roads and sidewalks, even in below-freezing temperatures. In cold climates crews disperse salt over roads to prevent the formation of ice.

    Surface area

    • When ice is broken into smaller pieces the surface area is increased and more surface area comes into contact with the surrounding air or liquid. If you have ever observed an ice cube melt you have likely remarked that the outside of the ice cube melts first. This is because the outside surface of the ice cube can absorb heat from the surroundings. The more exposed surface the faster the ice will melt.

    Pressure

    • Unlike most other liquids water expands and becomes less dense when it freezes. This phenomenon explains why ice floats in water. By applying pressure to ice you encourage it to contract, and if you exert enough pressure the ice will turn to water. You can witness this phenomenon with ice skates. The pressure of the skater's weight is enough to turn the surface of the ice briefly to water.

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