NAGT > Teaching Resources > Teaching Activities > Pressure-melting of ice: demonstration

Pressure-melting of ice: demonstration

William Locke
Earth Sciences, Montana State University
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

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This page first made public: Dec 12, 2013

Pressure-melting of ice, which is responsible for many aspects of glacier-bed process, is demonstrable in a standard class period at effectively no cost of time or $.



Although this can be used at all college levels, I find it most appropriate for my junior majors (geology/physical geography) course in geomorphology and/or seniot course in glacial geology.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered:

They must understand the temperature distribution within a glacier, including sources (geothermal, frictional) and sinks (conduction upward, melt) of heat in a glacier

How the activity is situated in the course:

It is a classroom demo that "runs" while I am discussing processes at the glacier bed in the context of temperature and pressure.

National or State Education Standards addressed by this activity?:

Darned if I know!


Content/concepts goals for this activity:

They key concept is that the glacier bed is maintained at the pressure melting point (PMP) while local melt (in high pressure regions) and refreezing (in low pressure regions) takes place. This in turn shapes the glacier bed.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:

This activity deals with temperature gradients, isothermal changes of state, and the counter-intuitive idea that squeezing ice drives it toward melting. I include hypothesis testing as a companion activity ("What will happen?")

Other skills goals for this activity:


Description of the activity/assignment

In the previous class I have developed the idea of a range of vertical temperature profiles in a glacier or ice sheet. Most of this are constrained to PMP a the bed. I suspend a weight on an ice cube by a thin (32-ga) wire, and ask what will happen. While the wire "cuts into the ice", I discuss the concept of pressure-melt and its relationship to melting, freezing, regelation ice, plucking, and abrasion. After about 20 minutes I display the ice cube apparently unscarred by the passage through it of the wire, thus demonstrating pressure melting ahead of the wire and regelation behind it.

Determining whether students have met the goals

I have never evaluated it (gulp).

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Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Subject: Physics, Geoscience:Geology:Geomorphology:Landforms/Processes:Glacial/Periglacial
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity
Grade Level: College Upper (15-16)
Ready for Use: Ready to Use
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Geomorphology
Topics: Chemistry/Physics/Mathematics, Hydrosphere/Cryosphere:Snow and Ice

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