14.4: Solutions of Gases in Water

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⚙️ Learning Objectives

• Explain how temperature and pressure affect the solubility of gases.

In the previous section, we saw that ionic solids will dissolve in water because of ion–dipole forces that allow the water molecules to separate the ions and disperse them through the solution. More generally, solutions form when the solute and solvent are able to create intermolecular attractions that are of similar strength to the types of attractions that were present in the pure solute and solvent. This is another manifestation of "like dissolves like". The chemical structures of the solute and solvent dictate the types of forces possible and, consequently, are important factors in determining solubility.

For example, under similar conditions, the water solubility of oxygen is approximately three times greater than that of helium, even though both are nonpolar species. However, the water solubility of oxygen is still 100 times less than the solubility of the polar trichloromethane, CHCl3. Considering the role of the solvent’s chemical structure, note that the solubility of oxygen in the nonpolar liquid hydrocarbon hexane, C6H14, is approximately 20 times greater than it is in water.

Other factors also affect the solubility of a given substance in a given solvent. Temperature is one such factor, with gas solubility typically decreasing as temperature increases (Figure $$\PageIndex{1}$$). This is one of the major impacts resulting from the thermal pollution of natural bodies of water.

When the temperature of a river, lake, or stream is raised abnormally high, usually due to the discharge of hot water from some industrial process, the solubility of oxygen in the water is decreased. Decreased levels of dissolved oxygen often have serious consequences for the health of the water’s ecosystems and, in severe cases, can result in large-scale fish kills (Figure $$\PageIndex{2}$$).

The solubility of a gaseous solute is also affected by the partial pressure of the gas to which the solution is exposed. Gas solubility increases as the pressure of the gas increases. Essentially the greater pressure "pushes" more gaseous solute into the solution. This relationship between solubility and pressure is expressed as Henry's law. 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 $$\PageIndex{3}$$). 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.”

Case Study: Decompression Sickness (“The Bends”)

Decompression sickness (DCS), or “the bends,” is an effect of the increased pressure of the air inhaled by scuba divers when swimming underwater at considerable depths. In addition to the pressure exerted by the atmosphere, divers are subjected to additional pressure due to the water above them, experiencing an increase of approximately 1 atm for each 10 m of depth. Therefore, the air inhaled by a diver while submerged contains gases at the corresponding higher ambient pressure, and the concentrations of the gases dissolved in the diver’s blood are proportionally higher per Henry’s law.

As the diver ascends to the surface of the water, the ambient pressure decreases and the dissolved gases becomes less soluble. If the ascent is too rapid, the gases escaping from the diver’s blood may form bubbles that can cause a variety of symptoms ranging from rashes and joint pain to paralysis and death. To avoid DCS, divers must ascend from depths at relatively slow speeds (10 or 20 m/min) or otherwise make several decompression stops, pausing for several minutes at given depths during the ascent. When these preventative measures are unsuccessful, divers with DCS are often provided hyperbaric oxygen therapy in pressurized vessels called decompression (or recompression) chambers (Figure $$\PageIndex{4}$$).

Deviations from Henry’s law are observed when a chemical reaction takes place between the gaseous solute and the solvent, removing the gaseous solute from the solution. Thus, for example, the solubility of ammonia in water does not increase as rapidly with increasing pressure as 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.

This page is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Wikipedia, Paul Flowers (University of North Carolina - Pembroke), Klaus Theopold (University of Delaware) and Richard Langley (Stephen F. Austin State University) with contributing authors; Marisa Alviar-Agnew, Henry Agnew, Lance S. Lund (Anoka-Ramsey Community College), and Vicki MacMurdo (Anoka-Ramsey Community College)Original source: https://openstax.org/details/books/chemistry-2e.

14.4: Solutions of Gases in Water is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.