Why Do Bubbles Form In A Glass Of Water That’s Left Out?

Table of Contents (click to expand)

Tap water contains atmospheric gases, such as nitrogen and oxygen, dissolved in it. As the glass filled with water sits out for a few hours, its temperature rises slightly (water gets warmer), which causes the dissolved gases in it to come out of the water and form bubbles along the inside of the glass.

Fill a glass with water (at or below room temperature) and leave it undisturbed for a few hours (you can do this using tap water). You will eventually notice that tiny bubbles begin to appear along the side of the glass (on the inside).

Why does this happen?

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Solubility Of Gases In Water

The water that comes from taps passes through pipes before reaching large storage tanks. Therefore, the water in the pipes is under higher pressure than normal and is also cooler.

These two conditions are ideal for dissolving certain gases that are abundant in our atmosphere, such as nitrogen and oxygen.

Gases Are More Soluble In Water At Colder Temperatures

Gases are generally more soluble in water at a lower temperature. In other words, the solubility of gases in water decreases as the water temperature rises.

The graph below should help to visualize how the solubility of gases varies with changing temperature.

Solubility of Gases vs Temperature co2
The variation of solubility of carbon dioxide in water with increasing temperature

The downward trend of gases’ solubility with increasing temperature is quite similar to how vapor pressure increases with temperature. You see, more gas molecules are dissolved in water when it’s cold. However, when water starts getting warmer (i.e., the temperature rises), the kinetic energy of gas molecules also increases.

This allows those molecules to move more freely and break the intermolecular bonds that hold them together, thus escaping from the solution. That’s why the solubility of gases decreases as temperature rises.

Danger To Aquatic Life Due To Changing Water Temperatures

The temperature dependence of gases’ solubility in water directly impacts the lives of aquatic organisms. As you see, aquatic organisms like fish need oxygen for survival, and they get it from the water they live in by absorbing the dissolved oxygen in the water through their gills. As oxygen is more soluble in colder waters, the temperature mustn’t rise above a certain limit.

Power plant near ocean lake
Waste products released by power plants increase the temperature of the water, thereby endangering marine life (Photo Credit: Flickr)

But that is precisely what is happening these days, largely because of human activity. Power plants, for example, discharge huge amounts of hot water into large bodies of water, which then raise the water temperature and drastically affect aquatic life, which is a very undesirable result of such temperature dependence on gas solubility.

Also Read: What Are The Bubbles Made Of When Water Boils?

The Solubility Of Gases In Water Increases With Increasing Pressure

Although liquids and solids exhibit practically no solubility change with a changing pressure of water, gases do. It has been observed that gases are more soluble in water at higher pressures. Carbonated drinks are excellent examples of this phenomenon.

Henry’s Law

The effects of changing the pressure of water on the solubility of gases can be explained by one of the gas laws known as Henry’s law. It states that “the amount of dissolved gas is proportional to its partial pressure in the gas phase.”

The simplest way to explain this dependence is that as pressure increases, gas molecules are forced into the solution to relieve the applied pressure. The following image should help to visualize this better:

Pressure solubility gas effect oxygen atmosphere when pressure is increased more gas molecules are soluble at higher pressure

Also Read: What Is Henry’s Law?

Why Bubbles Form In A Glass Full Of Water Overnight

Due to the two physical phenomena described above, tap water becomes a good candidate, if not ideal, for holding dissolved atmospheric gases. However, when this water is poured into a glass and left at room temperature for a few hours, the atmospheric pressure begins to drop as its temperature begins to rise.

Tiny bubbles form in a glass of water overnight
Tiny bubbles form in a glass of water overnight (Photo Credit: Pixabay)

As a result, the dissolved gases in the water escape from the solution and form bubbles in the rough areas inside the glass. As the temperature does not change so quickly, it takes a few hours for the bubbles to appear on the glass.

Also Read: Science Behind The Shape Of Bubbles And Why They Pop

References (click to expand)
  1. Solubility. Florida State University
  2. Why does the solubility of gases usually increase as ... - Antoine. Frostburg State University
  3. Laws of Gas Transport - Hyperphysics. Georgia State University
About the Author

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spearheads the content and editorial wing of ScienceABC and manages its official Youtube channel. He’s a Harry Potter fan and tries, in vain, to use spells and charms (Accio! [insert object name]) in real life to get things done. He totally gets why JRR Tolkien would create, from scratch, a language spoken by elves, and tries to bring the same passion in everything he does. A big admirer of Richard Feynman and Nikola Tesla, he obsesses over how thoroughly science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.