Welcome to our second article on water. In this we will see that water is a most unusual substance, and on this depends the life of the planet.
For water is an astounding substance. While being easily the most common element on our planet, water behaves in a most unusual way, doing quite different things to what one would expect in comparison to other elements in nature.
This unusual and surprising behavior is the very basis for life in our world. If water behaved the way scientists would expect it to, when compared to other similar substances, then many strange things would happen in nature around us.
Ice would fall rock-like to the bottom of lakes and seas to stay there building up further ice around it, far beyond the melting warmth of the sun.
Every day the top of oceans would evaporate much more than they do, and then fall again as vast storms at days end. Our weather patterns would always be wild and chaotic.
If water was not amazingly capable of dissolving substances, it would not have spread nutrients for life all over the planet as well as within all living organisms.
Without water’s capacity to store and share information as different vibrating frequencies in an extraordinary manner, living cells would not be able to communicate with each other, forming the basis for the wisdom of our bodies and those of other creatures and plants we are surrounded by.
So lets look more closely water’s surprising response to temperature and discover some amazing facts and behaviors.
When compared with other similar chemical substances, physicists would expect water to freeze at –120 degrees celsius!
And the boiling point of water should be a cold –75 degrees celsius, according to its molecular weight.
However, as we know, it is a much higher 100 degrees celsius for boiling and 0 degrees celsius for freezing. (In fact, Mr Celcius chose water’s behavior as the basis for
his measurement system).
If it did behave like this then there would be virtually no liquid water on the earth! All water would be floating around as steam in the normal temperature range we live in.
Regarding warmth, water requires much more heat to evaporate than comparable substances, saving the complete top layers of oceans and moisture from land being sucked up every day to fall again as tempestuous storms every night.
Happily water does not behave like this and as a result we have a generally moist earth, bathed in our relatively calm and beautiful seas and lakes, surrounded by air filled with the microscopic droplets of water we call humidity.
And we have that soft sweet liquid we love to drink when it is fresh.
But what of the ice?
Water at 4 degrees celsius is at its greatest density, its most contracted state.
From that temperature, it expands as it gets warmer or colder. Unlike most elements, when it freezes water expands and becomes lighter! It floats as a solid on top of its own liquid warmer self!
This also means that water as a liquid is more dense than when solid. It is less able to be compressed when liquid than when ice! Other liquids become more solid when they are solid!
Hence the great power of ocean waves.
If water was like other liquids when frozen, it would fall down heavier into its own liquid state, into the colder depths. And then ice would build up on ice far away from the melting sympathies of the sun until the earth was a solid block of ice.
It is also interesting that it is in the colder areas of the seas that the greatest ecological life exists.
If ice was deep down below, there would not be the protective heat reflecting layer of white ice floating on the surface, keeping our oceans at a healthy cool temperature.
This strange capacity of water to expand as it freezes also has had an immense effect on our landscape over eons of time.
In areas of the earth where water freezes at night and thaws again in the morning, we find the toughest rocks splitting and being broken down.
Liquid wetness creeps into every crack and rocky crevice, expanding inexorably with great force as a wedge while it freezes through the dark cold night. Thawing the next day, and refreezing the next night continues this splitting effect until something gives.
In this way, with the help of wind or rain, whole mountains have been broken down, and rocky outcrops in deserts turned into sand.
If water was not both very common but also fundamentally strange and unusual, our planet would not carry life as we know it.
Some of our nearby planets are very different. Take Venus; air a deadly gas, liquid a corrosive acid and air pressure enough to squash you flat plus a temperature to cook you instantly. No plans in place to migrate to Venus!
So, the planet we are on is most unusual… because of water.
Iain Trousdell Co-Founder and Keynote Speaker Foundation for Water www.foundationforwater.org
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