Mechanical Properties

Like any other crystalline solid, ice subject to stress undergoes elastic deformation, returning to its original shape when the stress ceases. However, if a shear stress or force is applied to a sample of ice for a long time, the sample will first deform elastically and will then continue to deform plastically, with a permanent alteration of shape. This plastic deformation, or creep, is of great importance to the study of glacier flow. It involves two processes: intracrystalline gliding, in which the layers within an ice crystal shear parallel to each other without destroying the continuity of the crystal lattice, and recrystallization, in which crystal boundaries change in size or shape depending on the orientation of the adjacent crystals and the stresses exerted on them. The motion of dislocations — that is, of defects or disorders in the crystal lattice—controls the speed of plastic deformation. Dislocations do not move under elastic deformation.

The strength of ice, which depends on many factors, is difficult to measure. If ice is stressed for a long time, it deforms by plastic flow and has no yield point (at which permanent deformation begins) or ultimate strength. For short-term experiments with conventional testing machines, typical strength values in bars are 38 for crushing, 14 for bending, 9 for tensile, and 7 for shear.


The heat of fusion (heat absorbed on melting of a solid) of water is 334 kilojoules per kilogram. The specific heat of ice at the freezing point is 2.04 kilojoules per kilogram per degree Celsius. The thermal conductivity at this temperature is 2.24 watts per metre kelvin.

Another property of importance to the study of glaciers is the lowering ofthe melting point due to hydrostatic pressure: 0.0074°C (0.0i3°F) per bar. Thus, for a glacier 300 metres (984 feet) thick, everywhere at the melting temperature, the ice at the base is 0.25°C (0.45°F) colder than at the surface.

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