Explain thermal expansion of water?

1 Answer
Feb 6, 2018

Like all materials, an increase in temperature (average non-translational kinetic energy of the particles) will cause them to increase the average distance between particles.


Particles have temporary forces between them due to mutual coulombic repulsion of the electron ‘clouds’ that surround them. As temperature rises the oscillation of the mass (effectively the nucleus) in the system becomes more violent hence occupy a larger effective volume.

So far, so normal, but water is unusual as a liquid because of the polarity (and relatively small size) of the molecule. This means the forces between particles can also include hydrogen bonding (still weak, temporary but a bond with both attractive and repulsive effects.) This means that water’s expansivity is unusually variable with temperature and reaches a minimum not at the freezing point, but at #4^@#C where it is most dense.

This provides some more detail on the data, but the anomalous effects in water are better explained here.

It truly is the weirdest fluid - but the one essential ingredient for life as far as we know.