Why Ice is Slippery, Snowflakes and other regular December items


December issue of Physics Today often features snow or ice related articles. A lot of them have to do with arguably the most misunderstood topic in physics – why ice is slippery? Generation of scientists were taught that skating on ice is possible due to lowering of melting point of ice under pressure, but this explanation is in fact wrong – one of the main reasons is premelting, existence of quasi-liquid layer coating the surface of a solid well below the melting point.

South Pole explorer Scott knew of this over a hundred years ago – below about 30 deg Centigrade ice ceases to be frictionless and skiing feels similar to skiing over rough sand. And the idea of premelting dates back to Faraday, who was arguing over origins of premelting with none other than James Thomson.

Here are some papers

J. Dash, “Between two and three dimensions” Physics Today, Volume 38, Issue 12, December 1985, pp.26-35

R. Rosenberg, “Why is Ice Slippery” Phys. Today Vol. 58 Issue 12 December 2005, p. 50

Y. Furukawa and J. S. Wettlaufer “Snow and Ice Crystals”, Phys. Today 70, December 2007, p. 70.

Gallery of snowcrystals

Explaining Ice: The Answers are Slippery, New York Times, Feb. 21, 2006

Dash, J.G., A.W. Rempel and J.S. Wettlaufer, “The physics of premelted ice and its geophysical consequences”, Reviews of Modern Physics, 78(3), 695-741, 2006

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