Water is so ubiquitous in our lives that it is easy to take for granted. The average American uses ninety gallons of water a day; nearly every liquid we encounter is mostly water—milk, for example, is 87 percent water. Clouds and ice—water in other forms—affect our climate. Water is the most abundant substance on Earth, and the third-most abundant molecule in the universe. In this lavishly illustrated volume, science writer Jack Challoner tells the story of water, from its origins in the birth of stars to its importance in the living world.
Water: A Visual and Scientific History is the latest from noted science writer Jack Challoner. He is the author of more than forty books on science and technology, including The Cell: A Visual Tour of the Building Block of Life, which was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Biology Book Prize 2016, and The Atom: A Visual Tour (MIT Press).
Water is perhaps the most studied compound in the universe—although mysteries about it remain—and Challoner describes how thinkers from ancient times have approached the subject. He offers a detailed and fascinating look at the structure and behavior of water molecules, explores the physics of water—explaining, among other things, why ice is slippery—and examines the chemistry of water. He investigates photosynthesis and water’s role in evolutionary history, and discusses water and weather, reviewing topics that range from snowflake science to climate change. Finally, he considers the possibility of water beyond our own hydrosphere—on other planets, on the Moon, in interstellar space.
“In his gem-like book, Water, Jack Challoner explores this humble, essential, astonishing liquid through multiple facets—from history to physics to space exploration—and allows every one of them to shine with real fascination.” –Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Poison Squad and The Poisoner’s Handbook
“Jack Challoner’s account of water is beautiful, scientific, up-to-date, and easily readable, and it takes off from Philip Ball’s biography of water.” –Anders Nilsson, Professor in Chemical Physics, Stockholm University, and Professor in Photon Science, Stanford University
Fact You May Not Know about WATER:
- Water does not adhere to all materials as well as it does to glass and to sand.
- Molecules that are nonpolar—which do not have areas of partial positive and negative charge—do not mix well with water.
- Water’s ability to hold so many substances in solution or suspension—so that they can react together—is vital in the reactions that make life possible.
- The average American uses 90 gallons of water every day—mostly for washing and cooking, and to flush away waste.
- Milk, for example, is 87 percent water, with fats, proteins and sugars making up the rest. Water is “embedded” in every product we buy—nearly 2,000 gallons go into producing every pound of beef, and between 10,000 and 20,000 gallons to make a car. Water plays a central role in our climate: clouds distribute heat around the world, oceans are a major sink of carbon dioxide, and huge volumes of ice at the poles mitigate against fluctuations in temperature.
- In 2011, two teams of astronomers discovered a water- rich region around a black hole at the center of a distant galaxy, called APM 08279+5255—in this case by studying radiation that was produced about 1.6 billion years after the Big Bang. he amount of water vapor there, once condensed, would fill Earth’s oceans more than 100 trillion times over.4 This is the biggest reservoir of water so far detected, and one of the oldest.
- The water of long period comets has the highest D/H ratio of any objects in the Solar System—up to 500 parts per million.
- Fresh (non-salty) water makes up only 2.5 percent of Earth’s sup-ply, and more than two-thirds of that fresh water is locked away in glaciers and ice sheets—and most of the rest is underground.
- Every day across the world, about 300 trillion gallons’ worth of water is carried into the air, after evaporating from oceans, seas, bays, rivers, streams, puddles, leaves, your skin and a host of other locations. And, of course, the same amount of water falls, as precipitation. That amount of water would fill 450 million Olympic-size swimming pools.
- Oceans cover close to 70 percent of Earth’s surface, so they are the source of the great majority of water that evaporates into the air.
- On average, a water molecule will remain in the ocean for around 3,000 years.
- During winter in the northern hemisphere, around 15 percent of the area of the world’s oceans (and therefore more than 10 per-cent of Earth’s surface) is covered in sea ice.
- Around 121,000 cubic miles’ worth of rain falls each year, mostly on the oceans.
- Small raindrops (just over 1/16 inch) are spherical in free flight, not teardrop-shaped as they are often depicted in cartoons or illustrations.
- Evidence of the earliest purpose-built water wells dates back to around 10,000 years before the present.
- World Health Organization/UNICEF have jointly reported country, regional and global estimates of progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) since 1990. According to their 2019 figures
- 1 in 3 people, or 2.2 billion people, around the world lack safe drinking water.
- Over half of the global population, or 4.2 billion people, lack safe sanitation.
- Almost half the world’s schools do not have hand washing facilities with soap and water available to students.
- 2 out of 5 people, or 3 billion people, around the world lack basic hand washing facilities at home.
- 207 million people spent over 30 minutes per round trip to collect water from a source.
- Globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with feces
- Some 297,000 children under five die annually from diarrheal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene or unsafe drinking water.
- In its 125th anniversary edition, the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s magazine included the structure of water among 125 “big questions that face scientific inquiry over the next quarter-century.”
- At 212°F, the vapor pressure of water is equal to the standard atmospheric pressure of 14.7 pounds per square inch, or 1 atmosphere.