Melting Ice

Melting ice can be used for a physics/chemistry demonstration of buffered systems and the energy of state change. A heat source is applied to a container of ice water that is being stirred and the temperature is recorded as the ice melts until the all is melted and the water has reached whatever temperature the heat source is taking it to. Sometimes the water is taken to boiling. Ideally, the result should be that the temperature stays at 0 C until all the ice is melted and then it rises at a rate dependent upon the heat source. Realistically the measurement of the temperature will vary depending on where the thermometer is reading and how well the ice water is being kept homogenous. But the basics concept will be the same. The ice in the water will buffer the temperature by soaking up the heat energy for a state change to liquid. Once the ice is gone however, the temperature of the water rises unimpeded and possibly quite quickly if the heat source is strong.

I think of this demonstration whenever something about global warming comes up. Our ice is melting. Climate change is some complicated stuff. The earth is big and complex. But our ice is melting. The ice isn’t the only buffer. But it is a buffer, until it has melted. 50 years? 100 years? I don’t envy the people who will have to live through that, nor the people who will die because of that. And it is avoidable. But humanity can’t process it. Maybe it isn’t on a time scale we seem to be able to collectively understand. Or perhaps too many people just don’t care about future generations. Sadly it wouldn’t be very difficult to turn things around if there was collective will to do so. It would mean giving up a lot of luxury and conditioned comforts, but doable. Having fewer children, using wind/solar/tidal/hydro energy, traveling less, eating less meat, reforestation. In general, being more efficient, creating less waste, conserving more. Individual actions help, but collective action is needed.


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