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The Importance of Ice

Updated on December 1, 2014

Dependance on Ice

Ice could well be nominated as the fifth element that forms our world. It stands apart from the other four; i.e. earth, fire, air and water because of it's nature and structure, While it is composed of water it has undergone a physical change that has vastly altered its state. Whereas a physical change only alters something's appearance a chemical change alters the molecular structuire in such a way that it no longer resembles the original state nor will it revert to the original state.

The molecule of water, H2O, (pictured right) is simple

while that of ice is more complex (pictured above) although composed of the same atoms but in different formation. The molecular structure of ice is still. H2O or H-O-H but the density has changed. Ice is less dense than water and so floats on top of the latter instead of being dispersed throughout. (Both images are from Wikipedia and in the common domain.)

Ice is, however, dependent on temperature to maintain its state. As heat is applied it melts and reverts to water. If heat continues to be applied it rises into the atmosphere where it condenses in the high colder layers to form clouds. As the water droplets increase and become heavier they then fall back to the earth as either rain, hail or snow.

Many claim that ice is a mineral whereas water is a liquid and in another form, steam, comparable to a gas. Each stage of its transformation is related to the other through the atomic structure that remains stable. It has, therefore, undergone only a physical change rather than a chemical one.

Frozen Wappinger Creek
Frozen Wappinger Creek

The Wonderful Properties of Ice

It is one of those things we literally take for granted. It is cold and often frowned upon when it hinders our lives but we cannot live without it. It's beneficial properties are too many to list but the main ones are its biospheric aid to the simplest forms of life. The image from Wikipedia commons shows how water freezes quickly even in motion as the waterfall demonstrates. During that process anything caught in the water, such as fish, algae, even air, is preserved.

We mostly think of ice as the white stuff around the earth's poles or on top of high mountain peaks. In the case of the former the huge depth of it is mind boggling. It is that depth that provides a measurable constant and within it is preserved a record of the earth's history. That is why scientists probe it to recover the geological events from millions of years ago. Deposits within are matched to known occurrences, such as volcanic eruptions. Trapped therein also are pockets of air that can be used to determine things like the amount of CO2 during given time zones. This is an indicator of past periods of global warming and cooling.

The Polar Ice Caps can be thought of as one of the earth's temperature regulators along with other physical features of the earth. Ocean currents are warmed by tropical heat during their cirulatory travels. This allows them to bring changes of seasons to land regions along their route. These currents are then cooled by the ice as they arrive in the frigid areas near the poles. This drop in temperature sends them down deep until the warmer waters of the equator region send them back again. As tney merge with warmer water the currents rise to the surface and are further warmed by the sun. On their return journey towards the poles they warm the air and produce summery conditions in regions that would otherwise remain cold.

This is nature doing its stuff. Like great circles of magic the currents are warming and cooling the earth and allowing conditions that encourage animals to breed, trees to fruit, plants to blossom, and so forth, Then everything becomes dormant and rests for a few months. But the cold, frozen parts of the ocean do much more than that.

Because ice floats the thinner sheets of ice on the surface of ocean and rivers allow light to pass through while protecting the underside from weather extremes and wind-chill that kills. This protection allows life beneath to flourish including bacteria and algae that is food for krill and other small crustacea that larger animals depend on. The ice sheets are also a resting stage for animals seeking food, such as polar bears, penquins, seals and so forth. While we think of the ice as cold and offputting it is a rich food source for those who live there, including humans.

The latter have learned to use the ice in other ways as well, The innuits carve out blocks to make houses called igloos in which they live and stay warm over the long winter months. The cold atmosphere preserves food, such as animal kills, for months. It is this example that led those in hotter climates to use ice for food storage. The common household freezer is a direct result of someone observing the preserving effects of frozen food in the polar regions. Where woukd we be now without that device in our homes?

Because of global warming these currents are at risk and not functioning as they were intended. This is causing extreme heat in some areas and extreme cold in others. In other words the balance has been altered. While this effect is only in the early stages of change as warming continues the status quo will not be maintained and more erratic weather patterns will be seen. Already the effects are being seen on ocean life and on land where seasons are out of sinc and insects, birds and plants in particular are paying the price.

Ocean coral reefs are dying, rivers are suffocating from algae blooms that block out and suffocate the life within, and fish are disappearimg. There are now great swathes of ocean where there is no life to be found. Of course overfishing is also to blame.

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An unusual sculpture

U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers near McMurdo Station, February 2002 (Wikipedia open source)
U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers near McMurdo Station, February 2002 (Wikipedia open source)

Healing Properties of Ice

Aside from ice packs and general use there are many other applications, When stung by a European wasp recently I was in big trouble. The pain was unbearable and it was ice that came to the rescue. Within a short time the pain subsided although the swelling remained and only went down slowing over the next few days. Cold causes numbness which instantly reduces pain under certain conditions. On the other hand the same cold can cause frostbite leading to the loss of extremities, such as the nose, fingers and toes, when exposed for a prolonged period of time.

There are cases recorded of humans surviving freezing and although producing no heart beat ithey can revive. On warming patients may return and fully recover without lasting effects. This led to the use of ice to freeze bodies during heart operations and so forth. By lowering the body temperature the blood flow is temporarily slowed enough to allow the surgeon to repair the damaged organ. Now, of course, this procedure is no longer practiced as machines have taken over and the heart can be safely stopped, even removed and replaced when required.

Embryos, eggs and sperm can also be frozen in liquid nitrogen without destroying their life giving functions. This has led to a huge industry in animal breeding as exchanges of such parts can be shipped safely anywhere around the world.

Cooling a feverish patient can also lead to a quick recovery from illness. Ice can be used to lower the temerature of a building, It is used in ships to preserve fish catches and other ocean harvests. In long haul refrigerated freezers in containers carry meat, fruit and vegetables or frozen goods to markets, thus expanding the areas and selection of food that was once not possible. For instance goods harvested in one part of the world can now be processed and sent to any country without it spoiling. Even flowers can be sent this way.

The world is dependent on ice for many things and we depend on it to uphold our lifestyles and health. It is a true miracle of nature that ensures our survival on a planet where the temperatre is regulated and things we eat is seasonally available. Ice is a gift that we should treasure and never again take for granted.

Global warming is, however, melting the ice caps and causing interference in the finely balanced ways of nature. We can change our habits and change our selfish ways to ensure that the damage we do to the environment is reversed. If the Ice Caps fail so so we.

Glacier Melting

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Still images from Dreamstime - click here

© 2012 norma-holt

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    • profile image

      MiaMusement 4 years ago

      There's a new movie out -- Chasing Ice -- that I plan to see this weekend. Wonderful lens here!

    • BuckHawkcenter profile image

      BuckHawkcenter 4 years ago

      Wow, what great information you featured here. Our ice means so much to this planet and hopefully others will read this and do something to help out!

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      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Very informative! Thanks so much for sharing!