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Water Stabilizes Temperature

6 April, 2016 - 17:26

The hydrogen bonds in water allow it to absorb and release heat energy more slowly than many other substances. Temperature is a measure of the motion (kinetic energy) of molecules. As the motion increases, energy is higher and thus temperature is higher. Water absorbs a great deal of energy before its temperature rises. Increased energy disrupts the hydrogen bonds between water molecules. Because these bonds can be created and disrupted rapidly, water absorbs an increase in energy and temperature changes only minimally. This means that water moderates temperature changes within organisms and in their environments. As energy input continues, the balance between hydrogen-bond formation and destruction swings toward the destruction side. More bonds are broken than are formed. This process results in the release of individual water molecules at the surface of the liquid (such as a body of water, the leaves of a plant, or the skin of an organism) in a process called evaporation. Evaporation of sweat, which is 90 percent water, allows for cooling of an organism, because breaking hydrogen bonds requires an input of energy and takes heat away from the body.

Conversely, as molecular motion decreases and temperatures drop, less energy is present to break the hydrogen bonds between water molecules. These bonds remain intact and begin to form a rigid, lattice- like structure (e.g., ice) (Figure 2.9a). When frozen, ice is less dense than liquid water (the molecules are farther apart). This means that ice floats on the surface of a body of water (Figure 2.9b). In lakes, ponds, and oceans, ice will form on the surface of the water, creating an insulating barrier to protect the animal and plant life beneath from freezing in the water. If this did not happen, plants and animals living in water would freeze in a block of ice and could not move freely, making life in cold temperatures difficult or impossible.

Figure 2.9
(a) The lattice structure of ice makes it less dense than the freely flowing molecules of liquid water. Ice's lower density enables it to (b) float on water. 


Click her( see a 3-D animation of the structure of an ice lattice. (credit: image created by Jane Whitney using Visual Molecular Dynamics (VMD) software 1 )