Microcalorimetric studies of DNA duplexes and their component single strands showed that association enthalpies of unfolded complementary strands into completely folded duplexes increase linearly with temperature and do not depend on salt concentration, i.e. duplex formation results in a constant heat capacity decrement, identical for CG and AT pairs. Although duplex thermostability increases with CG content, the enthalpic and entropic contributions of an AT pair to duplex formation exceed that of a CG pair when compared at the same temperature. The reduced contribution of AT pairs to duplex stabilization comes not from their lower enthalpy, as previously supposed, but from their larger entropy contribution. This larger enthalpy and particularly the greater entropy results from water fixed by the AT pair in the minor groove. As the increased entropy of an AT pair exceeds that of melting ice, the water molecule fixed by this pair must affect those of its neighbors. Water in the minor groove is, thus, orchestrated by the arrangement of AT groups, i.e. is context dependent. In contrast, water hydrating exposed nonpolar surfaces of bases is responsible for the heat capacity increment on dissociation and, therefore, for the temperature dependence of all thermodynamic characteristics of the double helix.