Some Remarkable Facts about Water
Water is one of the very few elements, compounds or mixtures that gets less dense when it takes on solid form. Everyone who’s ever dropped an ice cube into drink knows this everyday fact. It may not seem significant but take a moment and consider the ramifications of this most important property.
Most notably, this fact has allowed life, as we know it, to arise on the Earth. If the frozen form of water, ice, was heavier than the liquid form, it would sink to the bottom as it froze thus allowing more water to freeze solid. Eventually, entire sections of the ocean would freeze completely. As a result, the stabilizing effect that water exerts on the Earth’s climate would not exist and a vastly different type of life, if any at all, would have developed.
When it comes to naming a solvent, most people choose a reputedly powerful substance such as sulfuric or nitric acid. While these two compounds are among the strongest acids on the planet, they can only dissolve certain materials. Water, on the othe hand, due to it polar nature can dissolve or neutralize both the strongest acids andmost alkaline bases as well as dissolve a wide variety of other polar and non-polar substances. In short, though it is no alkharest it is the most universal solvent known.
There’s a Lot Less of It than You Think (Probably)
Ever since the space program brought us those stunning pictures of our home from outer space, the Earth has been colloquially known as “The Big Blue Marble.” As any grade schooler will tell you, almost three quarters of the surface of the Earth is covered by water. From this fact, one might surmise that water forms a significant if not majority portion of the Earth but this is simply not the case.
Perhaps an analogy will help. If the Earth were perfectly round and all the water converted to liquid form, it would rise 1.7 miles (2.7 kms) above the entire surface. An amazing number until you consider that the Earth has a diameter of just over 7900 miles (~13,000 kms). In short, even though there are 3.26 x 1020 gallons of water on the Earth, it makes up less than one quarter of one percent.
For the math challenged among you, take a look at the illustration above. The small bubble represents all of the water on the Earth including that in the oceans, frozen in the ice caps, trapped underground as well as any freshwater in lakes, rivers and the atmosphere.
Of all the water on the earth, only 4.5% is freshwater, that is, drinkable in its current form. Unfortunately, much of that water is contained in the atmosphere, locked in permanent ice caps or otherwise unavailable for consumption. These facts do not even include any fresh water that is so polluted as to be undrinkable.
While polluted and salt water can be made potable through filtration and desalinization, these processes generally require inordinate amounts of time and energy. There is certainly cause for hope in some of the newer water reclamation technologies being developed but the real answer to the ever increasing water shortage on planet Earth is for us to use it in a far more judicious manner.