Solutions of Gases in Liquids (OpenStax Chemistry 2e)
As for any solution, the solubility of a gas in a liquid is affected by the intermolecular attractive forces between solute and solvent species. Unlike solid and liquid solutes, however, there is no solute-solute intermolecular attraction to overcome when a gaseous solute dissolves in a liquid solvent since the atoms or molecules comprising a gas are far separated and experience negligible interactions. Consequently, solute-solvent interactions are the sole energetic factor affecting solubility. For example, the water solubility of oxygen is approximately three times greater than that of helium (there are greater dispersion forces between water and the larger oxygen molecules) but 100 times less than the solubility of chloromethane, CHCl3 (polar chloromethane molecules experience dipole–dipole attraction to polar water molecules). Likewise note the solubility of oxygen in hexane, C6H14, is approximately 20 times greater than it is in water because greater dispersion forces exist between oxygen and the larger hexane molecules.
Temperature is another factor affecting solubility, with gas solubility typically decreasing as temperature increases (Figure 1). This inverse relation between temperature and dissolved gas concentration is responsible for one of the major impacts of thermal pollution in natural waters.
When the temperature of a river, lake, or stream is raised, the solubility of oxygen in the water is decreased. Decreased levels of dissolved oxygen may have serious consequences for the health of the water’s ecosystems and, in severe cases, can result in large-scale fish kills (Figure 2).
The solubility of a gaseous solute is also affected by the partial pressure of solute in the gas to which the solution is exposed. Gas solubility increases as the pressure of the gas increases. Carbonated beverages provide a nice illustration of this relationship. The carbonation process involves exposing the beverage to a relatively high pressure of carbon dioxide gas and then sealing the beverage container, thus saturating the beverage with CO2 at this pressure. When the beverage container is opened, a familiar hiss is heard as the carbon dioxide gas pressure is released, and some of the dissolved carbon dioxide is typically seen leaving solution in the form of small bubbles (Figure 3). At this point, the beverage is supersaturated with carbon dioxide and, with time, the dissolved carbon dioxide concentration will decrease to its equilibrium value and the beverage will become “flat.”
For many gaseous solutes, the relation between solubility, Cg, and partial pressure, Pg, is a proportional one:
where k is a proportionality constant that depends on the identities of the gaseous solute and solvent, and on the solution temperature. This is a mathematical statement of Henry’s law: The quantity of an ideal gas that dissolves in a definite volume of liquid is directly proportional to the pressure of the gas.
Deviations from Henry’s law are observed when a chemical reaction takes place between the gaseous solute and the solvent. Thus, for example, the solubility of ammonia in water increases more rapidly with increasing pressure than predicted by the law because ammonia, being a base, reacts to some extent with water to form ammonium ions and hydroxide ions.
Gases can form supersaturated solutions. If a solution of a gas in a liquid is prepared either at low temperature or under pressure (or both), then as the solution warms or as the gas pressure is reduced, the solution may become supersaturated. In 1986, more than 1700 people in Cameroon were killed when a cloud of gas, almost certainly carbon dioxide, bubbled from Lake Nyos (Figure 4), a deep lake in a volcanic crater. The water at the bottom of Lake Nyos is saturated with carbon dioxide by volcanic activity beneath the lake. It is believed that the lake underwent a turnover due to gradual heating from below the lake, and the warmer, less-dense water saturated with carbon dioxide reached the surface. Consequently, tremendous quantities of dissolved CO2 were released, and the colorless gas, which is denser than air, flowed down the valley below the lake and suffocated humans and animals living in the valley.
Flowers, P., Theopold, K., Langley, R., & Robinson, W. R. (2019, February 14). Chemistry 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/books/chemistry-2e
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