Water’s High Specific Heat

Related Posts:

specific heat
Photo by julie aagaard on Pexels.com

Water’s High Specific Heat (Campbell Biology)

The ability of water to stabilize temperature stems from its relatively high specific heat. The specific heat of a substance is defined as the amount of heat that must be absorbed or lost for 1 g of that substance to change its temperature by 1°C. We already know water’s specific heat because we have defined a calorie as the amount of heat that causes 1 g of water to change its temperature by 1°C. Therefore, the specific heat of water is 1 calorie per gram and per degree Celsius, abbreviated as 1 cal/(g #°C). Compared with most other substances, water has an unusually high specific heat. For example, ethyl alcohol, the type of alcohol in alcoholic beverages, has a specific heat of 0.6 cal/(g #°C); that is, only 0.6 cal is required to raise the temperature of 1 g of ethyl alcohol by 1°C.

Because of the high specific heat of water relative to other materials, water will change its temperature less than other liquids when it absorbs or loses a given amount of heat. The reason you can burn your fingers by touching the side of an iron pot on the stove when the water in the pot is still lukewarm is that the specific heat of water is ten times greater than that of iron. In other words, the same amount of heat will raise the temperature of 1 g of the iron much faster than it will raise the temperature of 1 g of the water. Specific heat can be thought of as a measure of how well a substance resists changing its temperature when it absorbs or releases heat. Water resists changing its temperature; when it does change its temperature, it absorbs or loses a relatively large quantity of heat for each degree of change.

We can trace water’s high specific heat, like many of its other properties, to hydrogen bonding. Heat must be absorbed in order to break hydrogen bonds; by the same token, heat is released when hydrogen bonds form. A calorie of heat causes a relatively small change in the temperature of water because much of the heat is used to disrupt hydrogen bonds before the water molecules can begin moving faster. And when the temperature of water drops slightly, many additional hydrogen bonds form, releasing a considerable amount of energy in the form of heat.

What is the relevance of water’s high specific heat to life on Earth? A large body of water can absorb and store a huge amount of heat from the sun in the daytime and during summer while warming up only a few degrees. At night and during winter, the gradually cooling water can warm the air. This capability of water serves to moderate air temperatures in coastal areas (Figure 3.5). The high specific heat of water also tends to stabilize ocean temperatures, creating a favorable environment for marine life. Thus, because of its high specific heat, the water that covers most of Earth keeps temperature fluctuations on land and in water within limits that permit life. Also, because organisms are made primarily of water, they are better able to resist changes in their own temperature than if they were made of a liquid with a lower specific heat.


Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology. Pearson Education. Kindle Edition. https://www.pearson.com/us/higher-education/series/Campbell-Biology-Series/2244849.html

Related Research

Research Article: 16 kDa Heat Shock Protein from Heat-Inactivated Mycobacterium tuberculosis Is a Homodimer – Suitability for Diagnostic Applications with Specific Llama VHH Monoclonals

Date Published: May 30, 2013 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Saurabh K. Srivastava, Vincent J. B. Ruigrok, Natalie J. Thompson, Anke K. Trilling, Albert J. R. Heck, Cees van Rijn, Jules Beekwilder, Maarten A. Jongsma, Joyoti Basu. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0064040 Abstract: The 16 kDa heat shock protein (HSP) is an immuno-dominant antigen, used in diagnosis of infectious … Continue reading

Research Article: Instantaneous Metabolic Cost of Walking: Joint-Space Dynamic Model with Subject-Specific Heat Rate

Date Published: December 28, 2016 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Dustyn Roberts, Howard Hillstrom, Joo H. Kim, Diana M. Thomas. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0168070 Abstract: A subject-specific model of instantaneous cost of transport (ICOT) is introduced from the joint-space formulation of metabolic energy expenditure using the laws of thermodynamics and the principles of multibody system dynamics. Work … Continue reading

Research Article: Boechera Species Exhibit Species-Specific Responses to Combined Heat and High Light Stress

Date Published: June 1, 2015 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Genna Gallas, Elizabeth R. Waters, Jin-Song Zhang. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0129041 Abstract: As sessile organisms, plants must be able to complete their life cycle in place and therefore tolerance to abiotic stress has had a major role in shaping biogeographical patterns. However, much of what we know … Continue reading

Research Article: Non-Specific Protein Modifications by a Phytochemical Induce Heat Shock Response for Self-Defense

Date Published: March 11, 2013 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Kohta Ohnishi, Shinya Ohkura, Erina Nakahata, Akari Ishisaka, Yoshichika Kawai, Junji Terao, Taiki Mori, Takeshi Ishii, Tsutomu Nakayama, Noriyuki Kioka, Shinya Matsumoto, Yasutaka Ikeda, Minoru Akiyama, Kazuhiro Irie, Akira Murakami, Pratul K. Agarwal. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0058641 Abstract: Accumulated evidence shows that some phytochemicals provide beneficial effects for … Continue reading

Research Article: A Broad Set of Different Llama Antibodies Specific for a 16 kDa Heat Shock Protein of Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Date Published: October 26, 2011 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Anke K. Trilling, Hans de Ronde, Linda Noteboom, Adèle van Houwelingen, Margriet Roelse, Saurabh K. Srivastava, Willem Haasnoot, Maarten A. Jongsma, Arend Kolk, Han Zuilhof, Jules Beekwilder, T. Mark Doherty. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0026754 Abstract: Recombinant antibodies are powerful tools in engineering of novel diagnostics. Due to the … Continue reading

Research Article: Water Supply and Health

Date Published: November 9, 2010 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Paul R. Hunter, Alan M. MacDonald, Richard C. Carter Abstract: As one article in a four-part PLoS Medicine series on water and sanitation, Paul Hunter and colleagues argue that much more effort is needed to improve access to safe and sustainable water supplies. Partial … Continue reading

Research Article: Water temperature drives phytoplankton blooms in coastal waters

Date Published: April 5, 2019 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Thomas Trombetta, Francesca Vidussi, Sébastien Mas, David Parin, Monique Simier, Behzad Mostajir, Adrianna Ianora. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0214933 Abstract: Phytoplankton blooms are an important, widespread phenomenon in open oceans, coastal waters and freshwaters, supporting food webs and essential ecosystem services. Blooms are even more important in exploited … Continue reading