Ice thickness

Developed by Andy Rundquist

This set of exercises guides the student in exploring how to model the thickness of ice on a lake based on actual temperature data for a given winter. Students will have to learn how to access the data, reformat the data, and use it in a calculation.
Subject Area Thermal & Statistical Physics
Level Beyond the First Year
Available Implementation Mathematica
Learning Objectives
Students will be able to * Obtain data from a public source (**Exercise 1**) * Derive the differential equation for heat flow through an ice sheet (**Exercise 2**) * Analytically derive the thickness of ice for a constant temperature difference (**Exercise 3**) * Learn how to use time series data in a numeric approach to integrating a differential equation (**Exercises 4 and 5**)
Time to Complete 60 min
1. Go to [climate data]( and access temperature data for a recent winter for a city in a wintry climate. Download the data as a CSV file. Read the csv file into your computing environment and plot the daily temperature as a function of time, indicating when it is below freezing. Then cut out any temperatures at the beginning that are above freezing (up until the point where there is a long portion of time below freezing). 2. Derive the differential equation for ice thickness, taking into account heat flow through the ice from the water beneath and assuming the water is at the freezing point. As the ice gets thicker the heat flow slows. Answer: $$\frac{dx(t)}{dt}=\frac{\Delta T(t) k}{\rho L x(t)}$$ where x is the thickness of the ice, \(\Delta T(t)\) is the time-dependent temperature difference across the ice, k is the thermal conductivity of the ice, \(\rho\) is the mass density of the water, and L is the heat of fusion for ice. 3. For a constant temperature difference of, say, 10 degrees Celsius, determine the thickness of ice after one month. Note that you can solve the differential equation in (2) analytically for this simplification, but you should also test your numeric differential equation solver to make sure you get the same answer. answer: roughly 0.5 meters. 4. Develop an interpolating function for the data in (1) to be used in your differential equation solver. Apply that function and plot the thickness of ice as a function of time. 5. Building in the appropriate conditional statements to make sure x > 0 at all times, change your code for (4) to go beyond the contiguous freezing temperatures to determine when the ice begins and when it ends.

Download Options

Share a Variation

Did you have to edit this material to fit your needs? Share your changes by Creating a Variation

Credits and Licensing

Andy Rundquist, "Ice thickness," Published in the PICUP Collection, October 2016.

The instructor materials are ©2016 Andy Rundquist.

The exercises are released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 license

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 license