Experiment: Melting under Pressure

by John UpChurch on January 1, 2014; last featured April 19, 2015

Water is so much more than a refreshing drink. Scientists have long recognized its many special qualities that make life possible. The Creator’s choice to make this an H2O planet has other less-well-known benefits, as well. Like regelation.

No matter where you look in the Bible, water keeps springing up—more than 600 times in all. In the beginning, God’s Spirit hovered over the face of the deep. A great deluge destroyed the world, the Israelites passed through a sea, John baptized, Jesus promised living water, and Revelation points ahead to “a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1).

God’s Word puts a premium on this ubiquitous liquid. After all, the stuff makes life possible on our blue planet—and not only because we need to drink our fill. Just consider a few of the unique properties of H2O. They’re worth a quick review, but there’s a whole lot more, as examined in the experiment below.

High boiling point: Unlike many similar compounds, water needs to reach a high temperature to boil. That means our oceans and lakes don’t vaporize in the summer heat.

Dissolving power: If you’ve ever dissolved a packet of hot chocolate in your mug, you know that water can break down many other compounds. Thanks to this property, your body can transport many of the nutrients it needs.

High heat needed: As you wait for water on the stove to boil, you’ve probably realized how long it takes to get things rolling. Be glad for the inconvenience. Because water absorbs a great deal of energy before heating up, bodies of water don’t fluctuate quickly, which means sea creatures can survive.

Surface tension: Fill a glass with water to the very top—and then add a bit more. You’ll notice that even when the glass is slightly overfilled, water can stay in it without spilling. This property of water (surface tension) helps trees and plants grow tall by overcoming gravity to push water up to their highest parts.

Clearly, God knew how to make a splash when it comes to this mighty molecule. But we’ve only dipped our toes into what makes water so perfect for our planet. Consider, for example, the phenomenon that brings together gigantic glaciers, palm-sized snowballs, and ice skating—and we’re not just talking about cold. Instead, you could say that ice has a unique way of dealing with the pressure of life, a process called regelation (ree-juh-LAY-shun).

Before we dive into this strange behavior of water, we need to take a quick look at how ice forms. When hydrogen and oxygen get together, they develop into a bent molecule that looks similar to a cartoon mouse’s head. That lopsided shape gives the oxygen side a negative charge and the hydrogen side a positive charge—sort of like tiny magnets.

As water cools, the molecules move slower and interact with each other more and more. The negatively charged oxygen side attracts the positively charged hydrogen side of another molecule, and they stick together into clusters of hexagons. All these hexagons form a 3D crystalline framework or lattice.

So, what does that intricate lattice have to do with glaciers and ice-skating? You can find out by taking two pieces of ice from the freezer and pressing them together as tightly as you can for 20 seconds (a handful of snow will work as well). When you’re done, they should be stuck together into a larger block. Despite what you might think, the heat from your hands isn’t what caused the fusing. Instead, the pressure actually lowered the melting point of the water.

Regelation, first discovered by the Bible-believing scientist Michael Faraday, occurs because as pressure rises, the temperature has to be colder for the water molecules to get their act together and freeze into their hexagonal structure. Put another way, the pressure from your hands breaks down the lattice near the surface of the ice and makes it melt slightly. When you take away the pressure, the water can form crystals again.

The same process of regelation also allows huge glaciers to move overland. Enormous pressure causes the ice on the bottom to melt, which then acts as a slippery conveyer belt. This process has helped shape the planet’s surface, especially during the Ice Age. Ice skaters also rely on regelation to skim the surface of the ice. Their body weight causes enough melting to keep them gliding along.

All these special features remind us just how precious water is. We live on the only planet known to have such an abundance of this liquid—exactly what we would expect from a Creator who made Earth to be our home.

See For Yourself . . .

This one can be a bit tricky. So children will need permission to get started—and perhaps a cup of hot chocolate while you watch.

Materials

  • Two pieces of ice
  • A strip of wood that’s at least 1½ inches (4 cm) wide and ½ inch (1 cm) thick
  • 1 to 1½ feet (30 to 45 cm) of copper wire (other types of thin wire or cord may work, but copper is best if you have it)
  • Your bathtub or two high-backed chairs
  • A used milk jug filled with water
  • A towel

Procedure

  • Place the strip of wood across your bathtub or between the two chairs. (If you use chairs, make sure to put a towel down under them.)
  • Run the copper wire through the handle of the milk jug and then twist the ends together to make a closed loop.
  • Slide the copper wire onto the strip of wood and let the jug hang down.
  • Take the two pieces of ice out of the freezer, stack one on top of the other, and then squeeze them tightly together in your hands for about 20 seconds (use gloves if you need to). When you let go, they should be stuck together.
  • Place the ice in the middle of the strip of wood.
  • Put the copper wire on top of the ice.
  • Stand back, sip your hot chocolate, and watch as the wire slowly slices through the ice.
Experiment

What’s Going On?

The copper wire puts pressure on the surface of the ice, which lowers the freezing point of the water (see the article for more). That means the ice melts exactly at the point of the pressure and then refreezes behind the wire when the pressure drops.

John UpChurch serves as the editor for Jesus.org and is a contributor to the Answers in Genesis website. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Tennessee with a BA in English.

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Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.