Rounded layering transitions on the surface of ice

Understanding the wetting properties of premelting films requires knowledge of the film’s equation of state, which is not usually available. Here we calculate the disjoining pressure curve of premelting films, and perform a detailed thermodynamic characterization of premelting behavior on ice. Analysis of the density profiles reveals the signature of weak layering phenomena, from one to two and from two to three water molecular layers. However, disjoining pressure curves, which closely follow expectations from a renormalized mean field liquid state theory, show that there are no layering phase transitions in the thermodynamic sense along the sublimation line. Instead, we find that transitions at mean field level are rounded due to capillary wave fluctuations. We see signatures that true first order layering transitions could arise at low temperatures, for pressures between the metastable line of water/vapor coexistence and the sublimation line. The extrapolation of the disjoining pressure curve above water vapor saturation displays a true first order phase transition from a thin to a thick film consistent with experimental observations.