Is Ice More Slippery in Indiana Than Other Places?

Is Ice More Slippery in Indiana?

That might seem like a ridiculous allegation, at first, but the answer might be “perhaps.”

But, before we can answer why, first we must determine why ice is slippery in the first place.

Why ice is slippery might seem as elementary as “why is water wet?” But, it’s an important question for lawyers who engage in premises liability law with multiple clients injured on ice each winter.

Surprisingly, the science on the issue is amazingly complex and there was no clear consensus among the experts as to why people slip and fall when walking upon ice until recently.

Scientists assumed for decades that ice was slippery due to a thin layer of water melting by pressure whenever a step was made upon the ice. “Pressure melting” was the assumption that the pressure of our feet makes the top layer of ice melt into water. However, scientific testing was difficult to achieve at such a microscopic level involving humans and scientists eventually were able to conclude that people weren’t nearly heavy enough to melt ice by stepping on it.

"I think everybody agrees that this cannot possibly be, " said Mischa Bonn, director of the molecular spectroscopy department at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (Germany). "The pressures would need to be so extreme, you can't even achieve it by putting an elephant on high heels."

A similar, but different, theory alleged that “friction” movement by humans created a thin layer of ice upon the surface of the ice, thus causing it to be slippery.

But, this was easily disproven as anybody who has worn a pair of ice skates on an ice rink will tell you – they tend to slip before moving their feet.

Additionally, anybody who has spilled water on their kitchen floor can tell you the water is slippery – but not as “slippery” as ice.

"The water-layer theory doesn't make much sense," said Daniel Bonn, a physicist at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. "If you spill some water on your kitchen floor, it becomes slippery but not very slippery ... Just a layer of water will not do it."

So, the science moved on. Why is ice slippery?

This led to the “loose molecules” theory.

A paper was presented on May 9, 2018 by Mischa and Daniel Bonn (brothers in real life) to The Journal of Chemical Physics, which attempted to answer the question once and for all. The “loose molecules” theory started with a description of ice below the surface: it has a very orderly, neat crystal structure with each water molecule in the ice being attached to three others. But, on the surface, water molecules can only attach to two other molecules.

This creates massive surface instability as the water molecules detach and reattach to other water molecules at a rapid rate whenever they move. But, these reattaching molecules are not the same thing as a thin layer of water: in fact, the rapid detachment and reattachment makesthe water molecules mimic a gas rather than a liquid according to the Bonn brothers.

Even more fascinating is the fact that the “slipperiness” increases as the temperature of the ice approaches the melting point near 32 degrees. This is due to the movement being more frequent at warmer temperatures (molecules move more as they are heated up). In fact, scientists have determined that ice in the Antarctic in 40 below degree temperatures do not have “loose molecules” moving more freely, so the ice is not as slippery as ice near the melting point outside.

The bottom line is this: be careful out there when walking in icy conditions, especially when walking when the temperature approaches 32 degrees (the freezing point). And the simple truth is that Indiana weather creates a lot of ice, but mostly near the freezing temperatures, and does not have freezing temperatures like that in Antarctica where ice loses its slippery nature due to the extreme cold.

If you do fall, you need an experienced lawyer like Attorney Jeff JJ Shaw. He has over 30+ years of experience in handling personal injury cases of all kinds, especially in handling slip and fall cases on ice and icy parking lots and sidewalks in Indiana.

Call or Text Shaw Law at (260) 777-7777.

We Get You Back on Your Feet.