The main thing that melts snow is the sun. Indeed, without the sun, the air itself would eventually turn to snow.

The problem is, the sun melts snow inefficiently. The sun emits radiation (a lot of which is visible light), which the snow simply reflects, do to being white. Indeed, snow reflects enough light to blind people.

Oil, on the other hand, is black, and absorbs light and radiation. Would spreading oil on top of the snow make it melt significantly faster?

  • Oil is black, Snow is White, so Oil absorbs convert radiation to heat better.
  • Oil conducts heat better than air, so it will conduct its heat to the snow well.
  • Oil is lighter than water, and also doesn't mix water, so it won't soak much into the snow, (which would prevent it from absorbing radiation).

Are these claims true, and are these effects significant?

Note: When the snow is almost melted, you can set the oil on fire. It won't melt the snow very much (it takes a lot of energy to melt snow), but it will clean up the oil.


closed as off-topic by CuriousOne, user36790, Kostya, Kyle Kanos, ACuriousMind Jan 27 '16 at 14:52

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    $\begingroup$ Oil is black? Used motor oil is black. I hope that's not what you're proposing to throw on the snow. Used motor oil is hazardous waste. $\endgroup$ – Solomon Slow Jan 26 '16 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ @jameslarge Okay, I added a note. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Jan 26 '16 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ If you spray used motor oil on snow, you are going to have much bigger problems than snow shoveling when the various environmental authorities find out. So, the answer is "yes", used motor oil will speed up snow melting, but it will also lead to large fines and/or jail time. It's much cheaper to pay a young man to shovel the snow for you. $\endgroup$ – David White Jan 26 '16 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ When the snow is melted, you cannot set the oil on fire. The oil will spread as a thin film and cover a LOT of area. When it is so spread out, you will not be able to burn substantial portions of it. In addition, the environmental regulatory agencies will STILL fine and/or jail you. DON'T DO IT! $\endgroup$ – David White Jan 27 '16 at 1:13
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the OP's interest in being fined for pollution is not a physics question. Neither are his political ambitions to secede. :-) $\endgroup$ – CuriousOne Jan 27 '16 at 1:31

Putting a dark material onto snow does increase the melting rate, and indeed soot from pollution is having exactly this effect. The mechanism is exactly as you suggest. Soot absorbs sunlight and heats up, and the heat is transferred to the snow by conduction and convection.

Using clean oil wouldn't work very well because oil does not absorb sunlight strongly, and as the comments have said it would be a damn fool idea.


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