In ice, each molecule forms the maximum number of hydrogen bonds, resulting in crystals composed of open, hexagonal columns. Because these crystals have a number of open regions and pockets, normal ice is less dense than water. However, other forms of ice also exist at conditions of higher pressure, each of these different forms (designated ice II, ice III, etc.) having greater density and other distinct physical properties that differ from those of normal ice, or ice I. As many as eight different forms of ice have been distinguished in this manner. The higher pressures creating such forms cause rearrangements of the hexagonal columns in ice, although the basic kinked hexagonal ring is common to all forms.

When ice melts, it is thought that the fragments of these structures fill many of the gaps that existed in the crystal lattice, making water denser than ice. This tendency is the dominant one between 0°C and 4°C, at which temperature water reaches its maximum density. Above this temperature, expansion due to the increased thermal energy of the molecules is the dominant factor, with a consequent decrease in density.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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