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Part 3 – Water’s Extraordinary Behavior

This is a continuation of the last email about the very unusual behavior of water, and how this extraordinary substance gives living nature a chance of occurring!

Last email we talked about water and its relationship to warmth and cold, to temperature. We noted that without water being surprisingly different to what physicists and chemists would have predicted, our world would be vastly different.

The point is that, when thought about in this way, water breaks the rules and behaves in surprisingly different ways to what would be expected.

So, another interesting point regarding temperature and water is that our planetary and local weather patterns depend on the fact that water needs about twice as long as one would expect to absorb or give off heat.

All of our weather is driven by rising heat and falling coldness, creating the differing pressure zones we are familiar with when we are told the next days’ weather forecast.

The oceans and ice caps in particular keep this process stable and under control, by releasing or building up warmth more slowly than would have predicted from the chemical makeup of water.

The fact that the seas are slower to change temperature than the land is the simple basis of most of our major weather patterns.

This is a vast and complicated dance from season to season and hemisphere to hemisphere as the earth rolls around the sun.

Without this slowness of water in giving up or taking in warmth, our weather patterns would far more chaotic and extreme than we are beginning to see in recent decades.

Also water’s buoyancy is very special capacity, based on its extreme density and is absolutely necessary for us to be alive.

We know from Archimedes, the Greek mathematician who lived 2300 years ago, that anything solid placed in water has its weight reduced by the weight of the displaced volume of water.

This is why heavy metal ships float. As long as the water that the hollow ship displaces weighs more than the ship, then the ship will float.

For the same reason, added to the buoyancy of its blubber, a whale weighs actually about the same as a sparrow, when the whale is resting right under water!

With regard to our own body it is interesting to note the following about our ability to think:

In our heads the brain is separated and positioned by about one centimeter of watery cranial fluid all around it, inside our hard bony skull.

Because of this, our brain is effectively floating as if under water! The brain displaces a volume of water its own size, reducing its own weight by the weight of water its own size.

This means that a 400 gm brain actually weighs about 20 gm when floating inside our heads. The wonderful result of this is that the nerves coming into the brain are not squashed down by this 400 gm of weight.

If this small amount of surrounding water did not make our brain float lightly inside the bowl of our head, we would drop to the floor paralyzed and die.

Another wonderful fact of water is that it is a universal solvent, being one of the best solvents we have, with 84 out of the known 103 elements on this planet being dissolved by it.

Water carries enriching minerals and nutrients while it travels over the earth, leaving organic richness where ever it goes. Our richest plains are flood plains. But this is also true of small valleys and mineral springs, created by water.

When drunk by living organisms, water carries many of these nutrients into our physical bodies, as well as spreading eaten food throughout the cells.

And then, amazingly to my mind, the water somehow communicates in us what to do with the nutrients!

Therefore water’s extreme capacity to dissolve and transport large amounts of minerals is essential for the maintenance of life in all organisms all over the world.

And sadly, it also means water, unselfishly so to speak, carries polluting chemicals everywhere as well.

We are about 70% water and this water in us behaves in mysterious ways that we are only beginning to understand.

A final unusual characteristic of water to mention here, is that water has a much higher surface and internal tension than comparable substances.

Water hangs onto itself so to speak, its molecules grip together more than other liquid substances. Perhaps we have seen insects walking on the surface of ponds? They can do this because of the high surface tension.

We can also see that water rises up on the inside of our glasses. This is called a meniscus.

So what comes from this capacity of water to hold onto itself so strongly?

Only the smallest of plants could survive if water did not have these characteristics. Because of the internal tension of water it can drag itself upwards through tall trees without breaking off in its upwards flow.

This upwards flow is caused by the water flowing out of the leaves into the air, pulling more water up as it does so.

Its nice to know that something so strange and powerful is the most common element in our world.

And that nature and we (as part of it!) depend utterly on water in ways that go far beyond just needing to drink it.


Iain Trousdell Co-Founder and Keynote Speaker Foundation for Water

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