Continent Studies: Antarctica – Experiments in the Snow


If you read yesterday’s post you will know that we created an Antarctica Research Lab, in which the girls had a lot of fun doing some free play experimentation:


As much fun as they had, free play wasn’t the only thing I had in mind for our laboratory.  Oh no, when snow falls one must make the most of it.  Especially when one is studying Antarctica and it rarely snows where one lives!  So, although completely unplanned we actually had a day jam packed full of experimenting with snow.  Most of the experiments were done during the first day, as the snow was melting fast.  However, I did keep a couple of experiments for the second day, along with discussion based upon the first day of experimentation.

All the experiments were geared towards my younger two children, with the goal of introducing the scientific method to them in a simple way.

  • Is the temperature higher or lower inside when compared with outside?

What did they think would happen?

Both A6 and B3 postulated that it would be colder outside than in, because it was snowing outside where as we had the central heating on inside.

What did we do?

We measured the temperature inside using a thermometer, and then measured it outside using the same thermometer.

What happened?

Inside Temperature: 17 degrees Celsius

Outside Temperature: 0 degrees Celsius

Ribbet collageexp1

Why did this happen?

We surmised that our predictions were correct and were likely down to the fact that indoors was centrally heated which upped its temperature.

  • Which one weighs more – a bowl full of snow or a bowl full of water?

What did they think might happen?

A6 thought the water would be heavier whilst B3 thought the snow would weigh more.  Neither were able to explain their predictions.

What did we do?

We gathered some snow into a bowl and some water into a bowl of exactly the same dimensions.  The bowls were filled to the top:


What happened?

The scales showed that the bowl full of water weighed more than the bowl full of snow:

Ribbet collageexp2

Why did this happen?

The water weighed more than the snow because the water molecules are packed tighter in water than in snow.  This makes water denser than snow, with more water molecules taking up the same amount of space, hence making it heavier.

  • Does water take up more space as crystalised water (snow) or as liquid water (melted snow)?

What did they think might happen?

B3 thought that the melted snow would take up less room than the non melted snow, where as A6 thought that melted snow would take up more room than non melted snow.

What did we do?

We filled a conical flask with snow and the children made a prediction as to the level of water once the snow had melted:

Ribbet collageexp3

What happened?

The snow melted into water and took up less room than it had as snow:

Ribbet collageexp4

Why did this happen?

Snow contains less densely packed water molecules than water.  When it melts it becomes water and the molecules become more tightly packed together and therefore take up less room than when they are in snow.

  • Will snow melt quicker indoors or outdoors?

What did they think would happen?

Both said they thought it would melt quicker indoors because it is hotter indoors than outdoors.

What did we do?

We filled two test tubes with snow and placed one outside and one inside and checked on them a few hours later.

What happened?

The snow in the test tube inside melted much quicker than the snow in the test tube placed outside.  In fact, by the end of the day the snow in the one outside was still not fully melted:


Why did it happen?

The snow melted inside because the temperature inside was 17 degrees Celsius higher than outside.

  • Will the addition of salt cause the snow to melt faster or slower?

What did they think would happen?

They both thought the addition of salt would make the snow melt quicker but they didn’t know why.

What did we do?

The girls filled up two large test tubes with snow.  Salt was added to one of them and both were labeled.

What happened?

The snow melted faster in the test tube which contained the snow:

Ribbet collagesaltyexp

Why did this happen?

The salt lowers the freezing point of water.  This means much lower temperatures are required for the water to freeze or remain frozen.

  • If boiling caramelised sugar is poured onto snow, will the snow melt or will the sugar syrup harden?

What do they think might happen?

Both girls thought the caramelised sugar would melt the snow.

What did happen?

The caramelised sugar did not melt the snow, but hardened and cooled almost immediately:


Why did this happen?

I’m not entirely certain.  I googled it but to no avail.  I’m guessing the setting temperature for boiling maple syrup is higher than the melting temperature of snow…..but really I’m scraping the sartorial barrel of my mind for the reason this happens.

And just for fun we added sugar and vanilla essence to a bowl of snow and made our very own ice-cream (which was a huge hit!):

Ribbet collagesnowicecream

This was a fun way to introduce the scientific method in a gentle and easy to understand format.  We will be doing one more experiment geared towards our learning on Antarctica – How do the Antarctica animals survive such cold temperatures?  I’ll post on that next week.