Ice is considered a mineral when it meets the criteria of being naturally occurring, inorganic, solid, with a specific chemical composition and a crystalline structure. Naturally formed ice, like glaciers and icebergs, is generally classified as a mineral. 1 However, artificially produced ice, such as ice cubes or shaved ice, is not typically considered a mineral since it is a product of human intervention and not naturally occurring. 2
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Key Takeaways: Is Ice a Mineral?
- Ice is considered a mineral when it meets specific criteria: being naturally occurring, inorganic, solid, with a specific chemical composition, and a crystalline structure.
- Naturally formed ice, such as glaciers and icebergs, is generally classified as a mineral.
- Artificially produced ice and transient forms of ice, like ice cubes or temporary ice, are not typically considered minerals.
- Ice forms when water molecules freeze and arrange themselves in a hexagonal lattice structure under suitable temperature and pressure conditions.
When is ice considered a mineral?
Ice is considered a mineral when it fulfills specific criteria that define minerals. Generally, a mineral is a naturally occurring, inorganic solid with a definite chemical composition and a crystalline structure. 3 Applying these criteria to ice, we can determine when it is considered a mineral.
Firstly, ice must occur naturally. This refers to ice formations that are not a result of human intervention. Naturally formed ice can be found in various settings, such as glaciers, icebergs, and frozen lakes or rivers. 4 5
Secondly, ice is an inorganic solid. It consists of water molecules arranged in a crystalline structure. While ice is composed of the same substance as liquid water, its solid state and ordered arrangement fulfill the requirement of being an inorganic solid.
Thirdly, ice has a specific chemical composition. Its chemical formula is H2O, indicating that it consists of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom. 6 This consistent chemical composition is a characteristic of minerals.
Lastly, ice possesses a crystalline structure. Under suitable conditions, the water molecules in ice form a repeating pattern, creating a crystal lattice. This ordered arrangement gives ice its characteristic hexagonal shape. 7 8 9
When ice meets all these criteria—being naturally occurring, inorganic, solid, with a specific chemical composition and a crystalline structure—it can be considered a mineral. It is important to note that this definition applies to naturally formed ice and not artificially produced ice, which is a product of human intervention and not considered a mineral.
When is ice not considered a mineral?
Ice is not typically considered a mineral under certain circumstances. Here are a few scenarios where ice may not be considered a mineral:
- Artificially Produced Ice: Ice cubes, shaved ice, or any ice that is intentionally created by humans through freezing water under controlled conditions is not generally classified as a mineral. These forms of ice lack the natural occurrence required for mineral classification and are instead a result of human intervention. 10
- Amorphous Ice: Amorphous ice is a form of ice that lacks a crystalline structure. It is typically formed under high-pressure conditions or by rapid cooling. Since it does not possess the characteristic crystalline structure that defines minerals, amorphous ice is not considered a mineral.
- Liquid Water: Although ice is the solid form of water, when it melts and transitions into a liquid state, it is not considered a mineral. Minerals are specifically classified as solid substances, and liquid water does not meet this criterion.
- Transient or Temporary Ice: In certain instances, ice may form temporarily in non-natural environments or situations, such as the freezing of water in a household freezer or the presence of ice on a vehicle windshield. These transient forms of ice are typically not considered minerals because they do not meet the criteria of being naturally occurring.
It is important to note that the classification of ice as a mineral may vary depending on the context and the specific definitions used by different scientific disciplines. However, in the typical geological and mineralogical sense, the scenarios mentioned above would not classify ice as a mineral.
How is ice formed?
Ice is formed when water freezes. Water molecules are made up of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom (H2O). 11 At normal temperatures, water is in a liquid state, meaning the molecules are constantly moving and sliding past each other.
When the temperature of water drops below 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), the movement of water molecules slows down. As a result, the hydrogen bonds between the molecules start to form a more stable structure. Hydrogen bonds occur when the slightly positive hydrogen atom of one water molecule is attracted to the slightly negative oxygen atom of another water molecule.
As the temperature continues to decrease, the hydrogen bonds become stronger, and the water molecules arrange themselves in a hexagonal lattice structure. This arrangement forms the solid state of water, known as ice.
The freezing point of water (0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit) is the temperature at which the transition from liquid to solid occurs. 12 The process of freezing releases a small amount of heat, known as the heat of fusion, which is why ice can sometimes feel slightly warm to the touch when it first forms.
It’s important to note that the process of freezing is influenced not only by temperature but also by pressure. 13 For example, water can remain in a liquid state at temperatures below its freezing point if it is under high pressure. This is why water in deep ocean regions can stay liquid even though the temperatures are below freezing.
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- Glaciers & Ice Sheets – Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. (2020, November 5). Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. https://www.whoi.edu/know-your-ocean/ocean-topics/how-the-ocean-works/frozen-ocean/glaciers-ice-sheets/
- Wisconsin.edu https://minds.wisconsin.edu/bitstream/handle/1793/48066/IceMineralogy.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
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- The Chemistry of Water: Water Molecules | NSF – National Science Foundation. (n.d.). The Chemistry of Water: Water Molecules | NSF – National Science Foundation. https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/water/popup/flash_molecules.htm
- NOAA’s National Weather Service – Glossary. (n.d.). NOAA’s National Weather Service – Glossary. https://forecast.weather.gov/glossary.php?word=kelvin+temperature+scale
- Office of Marketing and Communications, G. E. (n.d.). Air Pressure and Water Freezing. Air Pressure and Water Freezing | Physics Van | UIUC. https://van.physics.illinois.edu/ask/listing/1462