What’s the difference between ice and snow? Aren’t they both frozen water?


What’s the difference between ice and snow? Aren’t they both frozen water?

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They are both ice, but we distinguish snow from ice because ice tends to be hard, contiguous sheets, but snow tends to be individual ice crystals that pile up to make a softer, fluffier mass.

So while they’re both made of frozen water, snow is a crystal structure with regular shapes whereas ice forms as sheets of solid chunks.

The main difference is that one is “fluffy” and the other is not. Snow contains a lot of finely distributed air inside. So there are a lot of small hollow chambers between (often needle like) tiny ice crystals.This is the reason for all its properties, i.e. snow:

– acts like a sponge for water; after some time the snow melts or the water freezes into the chambers.
– can be compressed, pushing some air out.
– is thus in general much softer, and lighter, than ice.
– insulates reasonably against heat loss, igloos can keep you alive quite well; like Styrofoam, but with frozen water instead of plastics.
– is white, as light is reflected and refracted around thousands of times whenever it enters/leaves a little chamber; the light therefore is not absorbed, hence no color or darkening, but also does not just pass straight through like with glass or pure ice.

And it can still keep its shape because all the icy branched needles (think of snowflakes, or 1/6th of them) are spiky enough to hook into each other, giving stability.

Snow is made up of lots of tiny low density ice crystals called snowflakes. These are formed in the atmosphere by cooling down air to under the dew point at freezing temperatures. Ice is single large compact crystals. These crystals are usually formed by cooling down water to bellow freezing. So the big difference is basically the size and density of the crystals.

It is possible to make ice from snow. Obviously if you melt it and then freeze it, but you can also compress the snow so that the crystals start binding to each other from the pressure. This means that if you get a lot of snowfall then the bottom snow might turn to ice, this often happens in glaciers. Or if you drive vehicles over the snow it can turn to ice over time.

Ice crystal formed by individual water molecules that are suspended in a gas or fluid coming in contact with and freezing to a super structure make snowflakes (larger).

Ice formed from a bunch of liquid water molecules pooled together, not aerosolized or evaporated or dissolved into a gas or fluid, makes ice.

Basically it’s density before and after.