The Chemistry of Minnesota Ice

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

Have you ever wondered why putting chemicals on a road makes the ice melt?  Here in Anarctica, I mean Minnesota, there have been lots of trucks out spreading de-icer lately.

You can see how one of these chemicals: NaCl, or table salt helps melt ice by lowering the melting temperature of water for yourself.  All you’ll need is an ice cube, a glass of water, a piece of kitchen twine or string about 6 inches long and salt.

Drop an ice cube in a glass of ice water.  Try to pick the ice cube up without your fingers by simply placing the string on it and pulling up.  Impossible, right?

Now, dip the string in water, lay it across the ice cube and sprinkle a generous amount of salt over the string/ice cube.  Wait about a minute and try again to lift the cube using only the string.  What happens?

It may seem like magic, but it’s only science.   I demonstrated how do do this experiment on Kare11 news the other day.  It’s right after the static electricity experiment. Here’s a video from my KidScience app where I demonstrate the experiment.

Salt lowers the temperature at which ice can melt and water can freeze.  Usually, ice melts and water freezes at 32 degrees Farenheit, but if you add salt to it, ice will melt at a lower (colder) temperature.

The salt helps the ice surrounding the string start to melt, and it takes heat from the surrounding water, which then re-freezes around the string.

Different chemicals change the freezing point of water differently.  Salt can thaw ice at 15 degrees F, but at 0 degrees F, it won’t do anything.  Other de-icing chemicals they add to roads can work at much colder temperatures (down to 20 degrees below zero.)  If it’s cold enough, even chemicals won’t melt the ice.

Brrr.

Pressure can also make ice melt at colder temperatures.  This is why ice skates glide on rinks.  The pressure is constantly melting the ice a where the blade presses down on it so the blade glides on a thin layer of water!

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