Exploring our world: Ice protecting life

We all know ice floats, but do we realize its significance?

In the accompanying article, “Exploring our world: Why does ice float?,” we explored the science behind why ice floats. But have you ever wondered about the impact of ice floating? What would happen if ice sank? You can help youth understand the significance of ice floating.

Use a clear empty container, like a peanut butter jar, as a model and put in some sand, a toy fish and a plant. Put a piece of ice or foam on top and ask youth, “What might happen if ice did not float, but sank to the bottom?” Think about how our lakes and ponds would freeze. They would freeze from the bottom up as ice formed on the top and sank to the bottom. Now, push the foam or ice to the bottom of the jar and hold it there. What would happen to the plants on the bottom of the lake or pond? The exposed parts of the plants would be crushed and frozen by the ice when it sank. What would happen to the fish, snails, turtles and other animals that live in the lakes and ponds? Unlike plants, animals can move so they would move as far as possible or be trapped and frozen when the ice sank. If ice did not float, life underwater would be impossible!

Ice floats when water freezes on the top. It stays on the top and ice slowly gets thicker, freezing our lakes and ponds from the top down. When lakes and ponds freeze, the ice on the surface forms pockets of air and helps insulate the water so it doesn’t freeze solid. Michigan lakes and ponds are home to a variety of plants and animals. Ice helps protect most aquatic plants and animals throughout the winter months. As ice melts in spring, it absorbs heat from the environment to slowly change its state back to liquid. Because it takes a lot of energy to change the state of water, this gradual process helps prevent a sudden increase in temperature that could be harmful to life.

Ice and water are vital to Michigan’s ability to maintain a variety of aquatic plant and animal life. Ice also provides Michigan residents with an opportunity to experience our lakes from a different perspectives while ice fishing, skating or just walking. Michigan State University Extension encourages the use of lakes during winter for recreational enjoyment. Always use caution when travelling on ice to be sure it is safe.

You can help youth explore their world by helping them discover answers to questions. For more ways to share science with youth in your life, please explore the MSU Extension Science and Technology website. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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