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Physical Properties of Sea Water
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Properties of Sea Ice

The processes of freezing and the chemical properties of ice formed from sea water in high latitudes are discussed elsewhere. The physical properties of sea ice, like those of the water, depend upon the salt content, which in turn is a function of the rate of freezing, age, thermal history, and so forth. The salts in sea ice (p. 217) do not differ greatly in composition from those in the water, as they are generally present in brine that is enclosed in small cells. Therefore, within practical limits, the terms chlorinity and salinity of sea ice have the same meaning as for the water, although the salts are not uniformly distributed in the ice.

The freezing point of sea water, as was pointed out previously, represents the initial freezing point at which ice is in equilibrium with sea water of the indicated chlorinity. If the ice and sea water are in a closed system, as when brine is enclosed in cells in the ice, a further reduction of temperature is necessary to cause additional ice to separate.

Observations by Ringer (p. 217) make it possible to find the salt content of the brine that will be in equilibrium with ice at different temperatures (fig. 16A). The salt content used in this case is the total amount present, although at low temperatures certain salts crystallize out. The reason for giving the data in this way is that analyses for the chlorinity or salinity of the ice do not discriminate between that existing in solution or as crystals. Given the salt content of the brine that will be in equilibrium with the ice at any temperature, it is possible to calculate the amount of enclosed brine per kilogram of ice of unit salinity at any temperature. The amount of brine in any sample of ice at a given temperature can be obtained by multiplying the value at thet temperature, shown by the curve in fig. 16B, by the salinity of the ice. Thus, sea ice of salinity 10 ‰ at −3°C is essentially a mush containing 200 g of brine per kilogram. From the data in fig. 16 it is also possible to compute the amount of ice that is formed or melted when ice of a known salinity is cooled or heated.


Specific conductance, reciprocal ohms/cm3, of sea water as a function of temperature and chlorinity.

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Another variable which markedly affects certain physical properties of sea ice is the gas content. The gases normally occur as small “bubbles” in the ice, and the quantity is generally large in ice that has frozen rapidly, in which case bubbles represent gases originally in solution in the water, or in old ice that has undergone partial thawing and been refrozen, in which case atmospheric air is trapped in the ice.


(A) Salt content of the enclosed brine in equilibrium with sea ice at different temperatures. (B) Amount of brine in 1 kg of sea ice of salinity 1 ‰ at different temperatures.

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In the following discussion the numerical values relating to the properties of sea ice are quoted from the work of Malmgren (1927), unless otherwise noted. The corresponding values for pure ice represent physical constants for gas- and salt-free ice, and are taken from Barnes (1928).

Pure ice at 0° has a density of 0.91676, whereas pure water at the same temperature has a density of 0.9998674. The density of sea ice

varies both above and below that of pure ice, depending upon its content of water or brine and the gas content. Malmgren reports a range between 0.857, in old surface ice, and 0.92.

The specific heat of pure ice depends upon its temperature and varies within narrow limits, but that of sea ice is a much more variable property, depending upon the salt or brine content and the temperature. Changing the temperature of sea ice will generally involve either melting or freezing, and the amount of heat required will depend upon the salinity of the ice, as shown in table 17. It should be noted that the specific heat of pure ice is less than half that of pure water. Near the initial freezing point, the extremely high specific heat of ice of high salinity is, of course, due to the formation of ice from the enclosed brine or its melting.

Salinity ‰ Temperature (°C)
−2° −4° −6° −8° −10° −12° −14° −16° −18° −20° −22°
0………… 0.48 0.48 0.48 0.48 0.48 0.47 0.47 0.47 0.47 0.47 0.46
2………… 2.47 1.00 0.73 0.63 0.57 0.55 0.54 0.53 0.53 0.52 0.52
4………… 4.63 1.50 0.96 0.76 0.64 0.59 0.57 0.57 0.56 0.55 0.54
6………… 6.70 1.99 1.20 0.88 0.71 0.64 0.61 0.60 0.58 0.57 0.56
8………… 8.76 2.49 1.43 1.01 0.78 0.68 0.64 0.64 0.61 0.60 0.58
10………… 10.83 2.99 1.66 1.14 0.85 0.73 0.68 0.67 0.64 0.62 0.60
15………… 16.01 4.24 2.24 1.46 1.02 0.85 0.77 0.76 0.71 0.68 0.65

The latent heat of fusion of pure ice at 0°C and at atmospheric pressure is 79.67 calories per gram. As the melting of sea ice does not occur at a fixed temperature on account of the presence of the salts, it is impossible to designate the latent heat in the usual way. Malmgren gives the heat required to melt 1 g of ice of given salinity that was initially at the indicated temperature (table 18). It may readily be seen that the presence of salts reduces the apparent latent heat.

The vapor pressure of sea ice has not been investigated, but it cannot depart very much from that of pure ice, which has the following values:

The latent heat of evaporation of pure ice is variable. It has been found that under certain conditions the ice can volatilize directly to vapor without going through the liquid stage, in which case the latent heat of evaporation is about 600 calories per gram. If the evaporation

proceeds more slowly, the ice melts before vaporizing and 700 calories per gram are required. The latter process seems to prevail in nature.

Temperature (°C) Salinity (‰)
0 2 4 6 8 10 15
−1………… 80 72 63 55 46 37 16
−2………… 81 77 72 68 63 59 48

For pure ice the coefficient of thermal expansion (e) per one degree is about 1.7 × 10−4, where e = (l/α)(dα/dϑ). The coefficient is independent of temperature. The thermal expansion of sea ice is a function of its temperature and salinity and shows a considerable range over both positive and negative values, as shown in table 19, where negative values indicate expansion on cooling, positive values contraction on cooling. This anomalous behavior is again related to the salt or brine content because any change in temperature leads to the formation or melting of a certain amount of ice. Thus, the processes in sea ice are a combination of the sudden change in volume associated with the ice ⇌ water transformation and the thermal expansion of the brine and the ice. According to table 19, sea ice of high salinity expands rapidly as it is cooled below the initial freezing point. The coefficient decreases at lower temperatures but is always negative. On the other hand, ice of low salinity first expands and then contracts as its temperature is lowered.

The coefficient of thermal conductivity of pure ice is about 0.005, which is approximately three times as great as that of pure water at 0°. Malmgren carried out a number of measurements in the Arctic ice fields and found that the conductivity was greatly affected by the character of the ice, particularly by the gas content (that is, the porosity) of the ice. Under natural conditions, porosity is greater near the surface than in the deeper portions of the ice. On the average, the coefficient of thermal conductivity near the surface was about 1.5 × 10−3, at 0.5 m it was 4.0 × 10−3, and below 1.0 m it approached the value of pure ice given above—namely, 5.0 × 10−3.

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Physical Properties of Sea Water
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