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Skating on thin water.

There's nothing really simple about skating smoothly across a sheet of ice.

One standard explanation of why skates slide so easily on ice holds that the pressure produced by a skate's sharp blade forces a little of the ice to melt, creating a thin, slippery film of water on which the skate actually glides. But this answer doesn't hold up under close scrutiny. Samuel C. Colbeck of the U.S. Army's Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory The Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) is a United States Army Corps of Engineers research facility headquartered in Hanover, New Hampshire, specializing in scientific and engineering research regarding cold regions of the world.  in Hanover, N.H., reviews some of the arguments against pressure melting as the cause of the low friction encountered in ice skating ice skating, gliding along an ice surface on keellike runners known as ice skates. Skating as a Sport

Skating, besides being an important form of winter recreation and the essential skill in the game of ice hockey (see hockey, ice) has developed
 and snow skiing in the October American Journal of Physics The American Journal of Physics is a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the American Association of Physics Teachers devoted to the educational and cultural aspects of physics. It is notable for its entertaining and accessible style. .

Colbeck argues that the pressure needed to reach the melting temperature Melting temperature may refer to:
  • Melting temperature, the temperature at which a substance changes from solid to liquid state.
  • DNA melting temperature, the temperature at which a DNA double helix dissociates into single strands.
 of ice would more likely cause the ice to crack and fragment. Even if melting did occur, only an exceedingly thin film of water would be present. "Pure liquid water cannot coexist co·ex·ist  
intr.v. co·ex·ist·ed, co·ex·ist·ing, co·ex·ists
1. To exist together, at the same time, or in the same place.

 with ice much below -20oC at any pressure," he adds, "and friction does not increase suddenly in that range." Skating and skiing are still possible below this temperature.

Heating caused by the friction of a skate moving rapidly across the ice represents an alternative mechanism for the formation of a water film to facilitate skating. "This mechanism generates heat at the interface where it is needed, by the shear of the thin water film," Colbeck notes.
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Title Annotation:new research on role of surface melting in ice skating
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Oct 21, 1995
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