Sinking Water

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In this experiment, learners float colored ice cubes in hot and cold water. They compare the behavior of the melting ice cubes to understand how temperature is related to ocean currents and how temperature changes water density. The printable eight-page handout includes a series of inquiry-based questions to get learners thinking about how and why water temperature changes along with depth. Illustrated experiment directions and a worksheet help learners use the experiment results to gain a deeper understanding of buoyancy and density.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
4 to 24 hours

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • cold tap water
  • hot tap water (110° to 115°F)
  • ice cubes
  • food coloring
  • two one-liter beakers or clear Pyrex jars


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Oceans and Water
  • Physical Sciences
    • Heat and Thermodynamics
      • Heat and Temperature
    • States of Matter
      • Solids
      • Liquids
      • Changes of Phase
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Volume and Density


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, American Museum of Natural History, 2002