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This question is related to specific heat, and I thought I understood it but I've managed to confuse myself. My initial reasoning was that since in both cases, the pipe is the same, the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature will depend on the specific heat only, and since air has a lower specific heat, it will be more effective. After I started thinking about it more, I thought that the specific heat of the pipe is actually what is important in determining how much energy will be needed to raise its temperature. In this case, the amount of energy needed to unfreeze the pipe should remain constant, and since the specific heat of water is higher, it is more effective at passing on higher amounts of energy than air. Are either of these reasons correct or am I really misunderstanding something? I appreciate any help or illumination you can offer! Thanks!

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Specific heat relates to the heat capacity; how much temperature change you get for a specific mass and energy once the heat has finished ‘moving’.

But you also have to consider how fast the heat is moving.

For melting a frozen pipe with a fluid you also need to consider the heat resistivity of the fluid which is the inverse of heat conductivity. Some fluids like air are good heat insulators - much more so than water. The resistivity will limit the rate at which energy can be transferred to the mass.

Since water has a much lower resistivity than air ($\sim 1.7\ \mathrm{m\cdot K/W}$ vs $\sim 50\ \mathrm{m\cdot K/W}$) you can expect a heat transfer rate into the cold pipe about 25 times faster. This all assumes the air and water are at the same temperature.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! This is a very helpful explanation that gave me some more topics to explore. I really appreciate your help. $\endgroup$ – Bret May 16 '15 at 1:50

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