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Why does ice float?

You will need:

  • Ice cubes
  • 100mL Methylated spirits Warning: Flammable
  • 100mL Water
  • 2 Measuring jugs with gradations
  • Measuring scales, preferably sensitive



  1. Measure the weight of each liquid. Which one is lighter?
  2. Place an ice cube within the water. Using the gradations on the side of the jug, try to estimate how much if the ice cube is above water compared to below the water.
  3. Place an ice cube in the Methylated spirits. Describe what happened.
  4. Try different liquids to see their effect on the ice.
  5. Make a density column following our other experiment on this link.

    floating ice
    Will the ice float or sink?
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Why Does This Happen?

Each liquid has a different density.
This means that although the volume is the same, the mass of each liquid is different.

Density = Mass/ Volume.
It can be affected by temperature and atmospheric pressure
The higher the density, the more compact the substance.

The density of water in grams per cubic centimeter is 1.00, however the density of ice is only 0.9182. Ice floats on water as it is less dense, however as the densities are quite close approximately 11% of the ice volume shows above the water surface.

Floating ice displaces the liquid water around it. If floating ice melts, there would be no visible change in global sea levels. However, if ice sheets over Greenland or Antarctica melt there will be a rise in sea levels. Scientific predictions are quite varied, as the water volumes within land ice are difficult to model. This is an ongoing field of research.

Methylated spirits is predominantly ethanol, which has a density of 0.785. As ice has a greater density at 0.9182, it fell through the liquid to the bottom of the container.

Check out the different types of icebergs found in the world.

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Reference: Brady, J. E. & Holum, J. R. (1993). Chemistry. The Study of Matter and Its Changes.
John Wiley & Sons, New York

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