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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring Thaw

We live in northern climes and we’ve had lots of snow this winter so it’s going to be a long cold spring while it thaws. The very word ‘thaw’ sends a chill through me.

The reason is that, snow is just water in the solid state and it takes a lot of heat energy to release the bonds that keep the water molecules stuck to one another. To heat a gram of water up 1 degree takes only 1 calorie but it takes 80 calories for one gram of snow to melt. Doing my sums I find it requires a whopping 36,000 calories to melt a single pound of snow. That’s enough calories to keep an average person alive and kicking for 18 days!

So where does all that energy come from? Even if the sun shines and you feel its lovely warmth, the gleaming white snow just reflects the sun’s rays away so it doesn’t absorb much if any heat that way. The enormous amount of heat needed to melt our snow in the spring must come directly out of the surrounding air and from us if we don’t dress warmly enough. The spring air will be cold and 'raw' and we’ll have to wait until all the ice and snow thaw before we get the warmth we so eagerly await!

If you have ever wondered why global warming doesn’t seem to be really affecting the temperature much yet, you’ll understand now that it’s because so much heat is absorbed in the melting of the ice caps that we are literally being buffered from the full effects of temperature rise until all the ice is gone. Rie

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