Did you know that ice is a mineral?

Posted on April 2, 2011 by

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We are used thinking that a typical mineral is a stone, something that is hard to break, like quartz or granite. Despite this common misconception, minerals however, are not just heavy stones. They are simply naturally occurring substances with a defined chemical formula and crystal structure. Thus even ice can be legitimately considered as a mineral.  It is transparent and colorless, with a hexagonal molecular structure composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. The only argument against considering ice as a mineral is the fact that it is not stable at room temperature.

Now, many will ask “So what? What is so special about the fact that ice is a mineral?” Well, it is important because ice can be used as a mineral. More specifically, ice can actually be used as a building material.

It is a well-known fact that Inuit people have been building their igloos from snow and ice for centuries, but in modern society, it seems as though there is no longer any scope for ice as a practical and useful material. However, this is simply not true!

In the little Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi, which is located about 17 km from the town of Kiruna in northern Sweden, you can find a whole hotel built from snow and ice. Some 10 000 tons of ice and 30 000 tons of snow are used every year in order to build the hotel!

This is not the only example: Canada has its own ice hotel located on the shores of Lac-Saint-Joseph in Quebec; Norway has the Kirkenes snowhotel (located on the Norwegian – Russian border), the Ice Lodge in Bjorli and the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel in Alta, which is Europe’s northernmost ice hotel, located 250 km from North Cape. Even Romania built the first ice hotel in Eastern Europe in 2006.

So we come back to our main question: What is so special about ice? Why do people continue to build from ice, when we can extract more practical minerals?

The answer is obvious – it is more practical to build from ice in certain parts of the world where the climatic conditions allow it. To extract certain building materials can be sometimes very costly and transporting them to isolated locations can be impractical. It is easier to build from ice. This is not a new invention, simply the continuation of an Inuit tradition.

Another very important aspect to consider is the ecological perspective. It is much less harmful to nature to use a renewable resource such as water for building. We take water from a river, freeze it this year and then give it back the following year, when spring comes.

The final, but no less important reason is aesthetics. Ice is beautiful and enigmatic. It creates a special play of light, where we can see all possible colors, and a diamond-like shine.

Ice is therefore, a mineral which is useful, ecologically-friendly, fascinating and practical.

Ice also has other uses. It has been used, for example, to make musical instruments by Terje Isungset, a Norwegian musician and composer. According to Terje, his innovative ice-horn (which should always be kept in the freezer!) makes a primitive sound and should be enjoyed as part of a larger musical performance. Ice taken by Terje from a 2500 year old glacier in the north of Norway was used to craft the instrument., making it doubly unique

Terje believes that factory-made ice is “dead”. Even if manufactured ice has a perfect crystal structure, it does not produce a suitable sound that he could use in his music. That’s why he has to take all his ice-made instruments with him wherever he goes – they’re made from Norwegian ice, personally selected by Terje.

Ice can be a house, it can be a musical instrument and it can be just a beautiful winter decoration. More importantly – ice is life. We can use ice as water storage and we can melt it when we need water supply.

NASA found ice on the northern pole of the Mars in 2008. This groundbreaking discovery means that scientists can extract usable, even drinkable water from the ice. This in turn means that in the future it could be possible to live on the red planet.

Ice is a mineral, water and life! It is a very important element of our natural system and a very useful material for modern civilization.

Yuliya Zhuk

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Posted in: Music, Travel, Water