By Alan Knight
What substance has no calories, virtually no organic nutrients, is odorless and tasteless, yet is absolutely essential to humans and most other life forms on planet Earth?
Mizu. Voda. Uisce. Mayim. Djour. Vand. Ta-neer. Vesi. Nero. Amanzi.
In other words, water.
Water is one of the primordial elements not just on Earth, but also in our solar system, throughout the Milky Way galaxy, and beyond, scientists have discovered. In fact, a study published last September stated that much of the water on Earth and elsewhere in our solar system more than likely predates the birth of our sun.
“The implications of our study are that interstellar water-ice remarkably survived the incredibly violent process of stellar birth to then be incorporated into planetary bodies,” study lead author Ilse Cleeves, an astronomy Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, told Space.com.
“If our sun’s formation was typical, interstellar ices, including water, likely survive and are a common ingredient during the formation of all extrasolar systems,” Dr. Cleeves added. “This is particularly exciting given the number of confirmed extrasolar planetary systems to date — that they, too, had access to abundant, life-fostering water during their formation.”
Much of the water found in the universe is produced as a by product of star formation. When stars are born, there’s a powerful force of gas and dust and that’s projected outward. When this outflow of material eventually impacts the surrounding gas, the shock waves that are created compress and heat the gas. Water is produced in this warm, dense gas. In fact, water ― predominately found in the form of water vapor and/or ice ― has been found in the atmospheres of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune and even the sun. Furthermore, it has also been found on several moons, including Earth’s; Jupiter’s Europa; Saturn’s Titan, Enceladus, and Dione; and on other “heavenly bodies” such as Ceres, which is the largest object in the asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and on many others such as comets and asteroids.
Earth: Our Water Planet
Here on our planetary terra firma, water covers 71% of the Earth’s surface. In fact, the ubiquity of water is one the primary reasons Earth differs from its celestial sisters in our solar system. Water is essential for nearly all known forms of life. On Earth, 96.5% of the planet’s water is found in seas and oceans, 1.7% in groundwater, 1.7% in glaciers and the ice caps of Antarctica and Greenland, a small fraction in other large water bodies, and 0.001% in the air as vapor, clouds (which are formed of solid and liquid water particles suspended in the air) and precipitation in the form of rain, snow, ice, dew, fog and hail.
Many of us remember the stanza from the famous poem, “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “… Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” He penned it correctly: Only 2.5% of the Earth’s water is freshwater, and 98.8% of that water is found in ice and groundwater. Furthermore, less than 0.3% of all freshwater is found in rivers, lakes, glaciers and the atmosphere, and an even smaller amount of the Earth’s freshwater (0.003%) is contained within biological bodies and manufactured products. Indeed, water is our planet’s most precious natural resource.
The collective mass of water found on, under, and over the surface of a planet (or moon or other celestial body) is its hydrosphere. On Earth, water dances continuously through the water cycle (also known as the hydrologic cycle) consisting of following transfer processes:
- Evaporation from oceans and other water bodies into the air and transpiration from land plants and animals into air.
- Condensation, the change of the physical state of matter from gaseous phase into liquid phase; it’s the reverse of evaporation.
- Precipitation, from water vapor condensing from the air and falling to earth or ocean.
- Transpiration (or evapotranspiration), the process of water movement through plants its evaporation from its above-ground structures, namely leaves, stems and flowers.
- Runoff from the land usually reaching the oceans.
This study of the perpetual movement, distribution, and quality of water is known as hydrology. Our environment is a closed system, not unlike a terrarium, which means it rarely loses or acquires extra matter. In fact, the very water that existed on Earth millions of years ago is still present today. Did you ever stop to think you may be sharing a quaff of aqua with a T. rex?
Under the Microscope
As a chemical compound, a molecule of water contains two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, hence its chemical name, H2O. Water performs very well as a polar solvent and is often referred to as a universal solvent. In fact, water dissolves more substances in greater quantities than any other common liquid. This makes it essential to a myriad of chemical, physical and biological processes. In fact, all of our cells’ primary components (proteins, DNA and polysaccharides) are dissolved in water and more importantly, derive their structure and their activity/function from their interactions with water.
Salts, sugars, acids, alkalis and some gases are called hydrophilic (water-loving), whereas those that are immiscible in water, namely fats and oils, are known as hydrophobic (water-fearing) substances.
Just as Earth is nearly 75% water, we humans, too, as well as most organisms, consist primarily of water. At birth, water accounts for approximately 80% of an infant’s body weight. By the time we reach adulthood, our bodies are comprised of 55 to nearly 80% water, depending upon gender, size and body type. Most of this it is stored in our muscles and brain. Inside us, water acts like oil to a machine. According to the Institute of Medicine, on average, we should consume at least 10 cups of water daily. The precise amount depends on our level of activity, the ambient temperature, humidity, and other factors. Some of this water is obtained from foods or beverages other than pure drinking water.
While a healthy person can drink about three gallons (48 cups) of water per day, imbibing too much water in a short period of time can lead to water intoxication. This occurs when water ― remember, it’s considered the universal solvent ― dilutes the sodium level in our bloodstream, which then creates an imbalance of water in the brain. This usually happens during extended periods of intense athletic activities.
Conversely, most soft drinks, coffee, and teas, while mostly water, also contain caffeine, which acts a mild diuretic. Alcohol is also a diuretic. By halting the production of the body’s anti-diuretic hormone, all of these beverages prevent water from traveling to necessary locations in our bodies By the time a person feels thirsty, his or her body has lost over one percent of its total water amount. In fact, today, with most people drinking beverages other than pure water, health officials state that nearly 75% of Americans are functioning in a chronic state of dehydration. Ditto with other industrialized countries.
Case in point, one of my wife’s friends is originally from the UK. I remember one time when my wife and I took her out dinner, the waiter had asked what beverages we’d like. While my wife and I requested water, our ex-pat Brit friend requested tea and wryly quipped, “I’m from Great Britain, we don’t drink water.”
“People just think that when they start to get a little weak or they have a headache, they need to eat something, but most often they need to drink [water],” explains Grace Webb, Assistant Director for Clinical Nutrition at New York Hospital.
“Water is necessary for the body to digest and absorb vitamins and nutrients,” she continues. “It’s also key to proper digestion; it detoxifies the liver and kidneys, and carries waste away. If your urine becomes darkly colored … we’re dehydrated. The urine should be light, straw colored.”
Over time, failure to drink enough water can contribute to a wide array of medical complications, from fatigue, joint pain, weight gain to headaches, ulcers, high blood pressure and even kidney disease.
Centuries ago, the sagacious Leonardo da Vinci was right on the mark when he declared, “Water is the driving force of all nature.”
I’m curious: How many of you just drank some water after reading this … I sure did!
8 Cool Tricks You Can Do With Water
In this first article in our series of water, I talked about the importance and widespread existence of water, both on Earth and throughout the universe. I discussed where water is found, and in particular, talked about its behavior and attributes on Earth. I then went into detail about the importance of water for life processes in general and the health of human beings in particular.
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Alan Knight is the owner of Tub King, Inc., and SeniorBathtub.com in Jacksonville, Florida. He has many years of experience in the antique and senior bathtub industries. His companies not only provide superior products, they are also award winners, receiving the “Best of Jacksonville Chamber Award” four years running. To contact Tub King directly, call (800)843-4231 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.