Sunday, February 6, 2011

A NYS Ice Age

   Although it surely is not anywhere close to being an ice age, we certainly have had an overwhelming amount of snow in the NYS tri state area during this winter so far. According to the weather channel, we have had 57.7 inches of snowfall already and it is only February fourth! Usually, the seasonal snow accumulation average is about a foot! That means NYS has accumulated an extra 45.7in of snow thus far. There is snow everywhere you look, and it is a very beautiful sight to admire. However, the streets are piled with snow, parking is extremely difficult, and it is very hard to see over these snow piles while driving. Almost every day there is a lingering threat of a snow storm, and although I love the chance of having a snow day, I think I’m becoming a little sick of seeing so much snow everywhere. The icicles hanging from rooftops and houses are becoming larger with each snow storm, as well. While working at the nature museum, I saw icicles about 5 ft long hanging from rooftops. Although this apparent “snow apocalypse” is not nearly an ice age, this large accumulation of snowfall is above average for NYS. Not only is the snow increasingly building up, the slight melting of the snow during the day is only freezing and preserving the snow into a large frozen ice cube at night. Will spring ever be here? Here’s to the longest winter ever…

    With so much snow surrounding every aspect of my life recently, it led me to think about the properties of water. When water in a lake freezes, it becomes less dense and floats on water, which is unlike any property of any other liquid. Usually, when other liquids freeze they become more dense and sink in their liquid. The annual changes in the density of water mix the water in a lake (turnover). In the fall, cold water loaded with oxygen from the atmosphere sinks to the bottom of the lake. This continues until the entire mass of lake water reaches 4-degrees Celsius in temperature and then the surface water can cool further to the freezing temperatures. Eventually the surface water is cold enough to freeze at the surface. Ice fishermen are always fishing in water whose temperatures are between 0 and 4 degrees C. This is why the fish do not freeze and there is plenty of oxygen in the water available even if it is cut off from the atmosphere. This property of water is due to hydrogen bonding of the water molecules. The water molecules become more spaced out which causes their structure to be less dense and ice to float. Hydrogen boding occurs between the hydrogen and the oxygen molecules in water (H2O). It is truly fascinating! In addition, the hexagonal structure of snowflakes is also due to the hydrogen bonding of water molecules. Hydrogen bonding is to thank for the unique properties of water!

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