Why Does Ice Float? The Science Behind This Fundamental Natural Phenomenon

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Why does ice float? | Live Science

  • Ice floats because it is less dense than its liquid form
  • Water is a very unusual substance due to its molecular structure
  • Icebergs and sea ice play crucial roles in ocean circulation and marine life
  • The fact that ice floats could have profound impacts on some climate change tipping points
  • Insights into the Floating Nature of Ice

    Whether it’s the cubes in your cocktail or a raft for Arctic seals, floating ice is a basic fact of nature we may take for granted. Floating ice is “such a fundamental fact of the world, it’s hard to truly imagine what the world would be like [without it],” said Brent Minchew, an associate professor of geophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    Unusual Molecular Structure of Water

    Water ice, the solid state of water, floats because it is less dense than its liquid form. Most other substances, by contrast, become denser in the solid phase. “Water is a very unusual substance,” Claire Parkinson, a former climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, told Live Science.

    Importance of Floating Ice in Ocean Circulation

    Sea ice, which floats on top of the ocean’s surface, is crucial for ocean circulation. As it freezes, sea ice exudes salt and makes the water beneath it extremely salty and dense. This dense water created by the sea ice sinks to the bottom of the ocean and pushes up deep water to the surface, helping to circulate ocean water worldwide, Minchew explained.

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