<img src="https://d5nxst8fruw4z.cloudfront.net/atrk.gif?account=iA1Pi1a8Dy00ym" style="display:none" height="1" width="1" alt="" />
Skip Navigation

Structure of Ice

Explains molecular makeup of ice

Atoms Practice
Estimated2 minsto complete
Practice Structure of Ice
This indicates how strong in your memory this concept is
Estimated2 minsto complete
Practice Now
Turn In
Structure of Ice

Ice is unique because water expands as it is frozen

Credit: User:Siqbal/Wikipedia
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SkatersOnRideaCanal.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Have you ever been ice skating?

Ice is an interesting and useful material.  It can be used to cool food and keep it fresh.  It can provide recreation, such as ice-skating.  Ice can do great damage when it freezes – roads can buckle, houses can be damaged, water pipes can burst.   All this happens because of a unique property of water and ice.  When water freezes, it expands in volume as ice is formed.

Structure of Ice

Liquid water is a fluid.  The hydrogen bonds in liquid water constantly break and reform as the water molecules tumble past one another.  As water cools, its molecular motion slows and the molecules move gradually closer to one another.  The density of any liquid increases as its temperature decreases.  For most liquids, this continues as the liquid freezes and the solid state is denser than the liquid state.  However, water behaves differently.  It actually reaches its highest density at about 4°C.

Density of Water and Ice

Temperature (°C)

Density (g/cm3)

100 (liquid)










0 (liquid)


0 (solid)


Between 4°C and 0°C, the density gradually decreases as the hydrogen bonds begin to form a network characterized by a generally hexagonal structure with open spaces in the middle of the hexagons (see Figure below).

Ice is unique because water expands as it is frozen

Credit: CK-12 Foundation - Christopher Auyeung
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

The structure of liquid water (left) consists of molecules connected by short-lived hydrogen bonds because water is a fluid. In ice (right), the hydrogen bonds become permanent, resulting in an interconnected hexagonally-shaped framework of molecules.[Figure2]

Ice is less dense than liquid water and so it floats.  Ponds or lakes begin to freeze at the surface, closer to the cold air.  A layer of ice forms, but does not sink as it would if water did not have this unique structure dictated by its shape, polarity, and hydrogen bonding.  If the ice were to sink as it froze, entire lakes would freeze solid.  Since the ice does not sink, liquid water remains under the ice all winter long.  This is important, as fish and other organisms are capable of surviving through winter.  Ice is one of only a very few solids that is less dense than its liquid form.


  • Ice is less dense than liquid water.
  • The intermolecular structure of ice has spaces that are not present in liquid water.


  1. For most liquids, what happens to density as the temperature decreases?
  2. How does the density of water change at temperatures above 4°C?
  3. How does the density of water change below 4°C?

Notes/Highlights Having trouble? Report an issue.

Color Highlighted Text Notes
Please to create your own Highlights / Notes
Show More

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: User:Siqbal/Wikipedia; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SkatersOnRideaCanal.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: CK-12 Foundation - Christopher Auyeung; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Explore More

Sign in to explore more, including practice questions and solutions for Structure of Ice.
Please wait...
Please wait...