Water, Water Everywhere! -The Secret Facts

November 4, 2008

Water – the most common substance on the planet but something of which we seem to have less and less each year. Find out some facts about water and enjoy the stunning microphotography of images of the substance that you may not have seen the like of before.

It is not only in modern times that we have recognized the need for water – or indeed the threat from it. In Ancient Greece, Hippocrates the father of medicine, warned people to boil water before drinking it.

As the pyramids were being built in Egypt those who lived along the Nile treated their water by using a siphoning system. The water would be placed in huge jars which would allow the sediment and mud from the river to settle at the bottom. Beautiful, fresh water would be the siphoned out of the top.

Although we have a blue planet with around seventy five of it covered by water, a seemingly paltry three percent can be used to drink. People can live without food, if they have to, for more than a month. However, it is impossible to live for much more than a week without any water.

Such is the importance of water that the bodies and senses become attuned to its proximity and its goodness. An elephant can smell water about four kilometers away. If you put a teaspoon of salt in your dog’s water bowl, it will smell the difference and not take the water. Even humans prefer cold water to warm for differences other than pure taste. Warm water is much more likely to have harmful bacteria in it than cold.

In the Middle Ages people used a lot less water than today. The average person then would use about five gallons a day. Nowadays, in the developed world the average usage is between eighty and a hundred gallons a day. The term “eavesdropper” was coined way back when. The eaves of a house would allow water to drip off the roof without touching the rest of the structure. Someone could hide underneath the eaves and not get wet. The water falling from the roof was called eavesdrop. Of course, being under the eaves meant someone would be right up close to the house, and so able to listen in to what was going on inside. Hence the term “eavesdropper”!

Of course, we are generally cleaner than people were in the Middle Ages but that does not explain why we use so much more water than they did. However, when you take in to account that a modern toilet flushes away more than two gallons of water each time it is flushed and that a quick shower uses about twenty five, it all adds up. There may be a time in the not too distant future when people will look back on our time as one of unspeakable “luxury” in terms of water wastage. Some already do.

If you are a practicing Catholic and are tempted to take and drink some holy water from a shrine of a church, reconsider now! Although the water may have curative powers in a strictly religious sense it is also a breeding ground for plenty of harmful germs. Quite often it is still for long periods and, in churches, many hundreds of people may already have dipped their fingers in it.

There are a number of easy ways to save water without doing a great deal. One of those is to turn off the faucet while you are brushing your teeth. After all, the water is simply going down the plug hole while you brush, so why do it? A typical bathroom faucet can let about two gallons of water every minute flow away. Try putting in the plug while you brush – you may be surprised at the water you are inadvertently wasting!

The same is true of toilets. Each time you flush that is a couple of gallons down the drain. One simple and safe rule is this! If it’s brown, it goes down. If it’s yellow, it’s mellow. Simply putting down the lid after you have urinated and not flushing it until after a number of consecutive uses can save a huge amount of water. It goes against the grain for many but in the future you may well expect to be charged extra for this waste.

Deforestation of the planet will cause us massive problems in the future as we depend not only for oxygen on our plant life but also for a large part of the water cycle. For example, an average beech tree will evaporate about seventy gallons of water each day. Think of a large tract of forest cut down and imagine how much water that takes out of the atmosphere. Think of deforestation and lack of replenishment of trees and even a fairly young person can do the math! Scary!

Including the tires it takes about forty thousand gallons of water to manufacture a new car. That’s forty thousand gallons of water wasted before the motor vehicle even begins to emit its toxic fumes which further harm the environment.

Planet earth has only a limited amount of water. That water keeps on going round and round in what is known as “The Water Cycle”. If you are drinking a glass of water while you read this, then know that the water in your glass is millions of years older than you effectively! The cycle is quite complicated but can be boiled down in to five words: evaporation, transpiration, condensation, precipitation and collection.

Evaporation is all to do with the sun. It heats up the water in the oceans (or lakes or rivers – and body of water in fact). The water turns in to vapor or steam. It leaves the body of water and goes in to air in a gaseous state. Water can exist as a gas, a liquid and a solid. Can you think of anything else that can?

When the water vapor in the air becomes cooler, then it changes back in to liquid and forms clouds. This is what is known as condensation. If you pour a glass of water on a hot day and watch it you will see water form on the outside as the glass. The glass doesn’t have any holes – it came from the air around the glass. This is because the glass is much colder than the air around it and when water vapor in the air touches the glass it reverts to its solid state!

Precipitation happens when so much water has condensed in the air that it is too heavy to be held up any longer. The clouds get heavy and water falls on to the earth. It can fall as rain, sleet, snow or hail depending on temperature and prevailing conditions at the time. So, although most people think of precipitation as rain, it is a little more than that!

The water that falls back to earth does not have much choice where it is going to end up. It can fall on oceans or rivers or on dry land. When it ends up on the land it soaks in to the earth and becomes the “ground water” that is used for plants to grow and animals to drink. Otherwise, it will run over the soil and collect in to the oceans and other bodies of water. Then the cycle starts all over again!

Water may be the most common substance found on earth but what we have now is only what we will ever have – and not a drop more! If you were to meet a water molecule and it could talk, it would tell you an interesting history. Even if the molecule only told you about the last one hundred years it would tell you that it spent ninety eight of those in the oceans. It will have spent around only twenty months as ice and about two weeks in lakes and rivers. As for free-wheeling around in the atmosphere, your average water molecule spends only a few days there every one hundred years.

One trillion tones of water are evaporated by the sun every single day. However, even though this sounds like a huge amount only three percent of water is available to drink. There is a “water crisis” already in the world, which you will hear a lot more about in the future. Mass consumption, pollution and overpopulation are shrinking the amount of water available per person and as such will be a source of conflict in the years to come. What we take for granted now may be something we must ration in the future.


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