A Visual and Scientific History of Water from Noted Science Writer Jack Challoner

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).

Cover art for Jack Challoner’s Water

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.
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