The Amazing and Remarkable Properties of Water

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Water is the most precious natural resource that we have on this planet. It is an essential element that plays a major role in every aspect of our daily lives. For example, water is used for drinking, bathing, cooking, recreating, cleaning, manufacturing, and energy production (just to name a few). Without water, life as we know it would cease to exist. But just what is it about water that makes it so versatile, useful, essential, and unique?

Amount of Water on Earth

About 0.001% of all water on earth resides in the atmosphere as a vapor, about 1.762% of it exists frozen as glaciers and permanent snow, and about 98.237% of it is in liquid form. Water also finds its way into nearly every corner of the globe as well. It is stored in our rivers, lakes, and oceans as well as underneath our feet as groundwater. There is also water in every biological organism alive today, the food we eat, and the air that we breathe. The table below summarizes the locations and volumes of all of the water on earth:

Water source
Water volume, in cubic miles
Water volume, in cubic kilometers
Percent of Freshwater
Percentage of Total Water
Oceans, Seas, & Bays
321,000,000
1,338,000,000
---
96.5
Ice caps, Glaciers, & Permanent Snow
5,773,000
24,064,000
68.6
1.74
Ground water
5,614,000
23,400,000
---
1.7
Fresh
2,526,000
10,530,000
30.1
0.76
Saline
3,088,000
12,870,000
---
0.93
Soil Moisture
3,959
16,500
0.05
0.001
Ground Ice & Permafrost
71,970
300,000
0.86
0.022
Lakes
42,320
176,400
---
0.013
Fresh
21,830
91,000
0.26
0.007
Saline
20,490
85,400
---
0.007
Atmosphere
3,095
12,900
0.04
0.001
Swamp Water
2,752
11,470
0.03
0.0008
Rivers
509
2,120
0.006
0.0002
Biological Water
269
1,120
0.003
0.0001

Source: Igor Shiklomanov's chapter "World fresh water resources" in Peter H. Gleick (editor), 1993, Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World's Fresh Water Resources (Oxford University Press, New York). http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/earthwherewater.html

The Current State of Water

Water is one of those rare substances that exists in all three physical states at once on Earth. Water's high heat of vaporization (because of the hydrogen bonding between molecules) makes it very resistant to changing states, especially evaporation. This property also helps to ensure that water is in a liquid state at Earth's most common temperatures. It is also interesting to note that many other substances that have similar molecular masses and/or molecular structures, such as carbon monoxide and methane, are gasses are room temperature.

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Water is a Polar Molecule

Due to the composition of water, it is a polar molecule whose structure is shaped like a tetrahedron. The polarity of water is caused by the uneven distribution of the cloud of electrons that are covalently shared between the oxygen and hydrogen atoms. The most electron dense area of the molecule is near the where the oxygen atom resides. The result of this asymmetric electron cloud is that that molecule is bent at about 104.45°. This causes one side of it to have a slightly positive charge while the other side to have a slightly negative.

Water's polarity is the key that allows intermolecular hydrogen bonding to occur. Because of this chemical property, the molecules are attracted to each other and form a hydrogen bond when in close proximity. The relatively weak hydrogen bonds give water nearly all of the unique and amazing properties that it has.

Water is The Universal Solvent

Water can dissolve more substances in it than any other material known to man. Being polar gives water its ability to dissolve many things easily. This is extremely important because many of the minerals that our bodies need to survive are found naturally dissolved in water. Water is the most important medium by which minerals such as calcium and magnesium can enter the body. If water wasn't polar, it could not dissolve other substances and it would not be able to sustain life on earth as we know.

Pure water also has a pH of 7. This means that the amount of hydrogen (H+) and hydroxyl (OH-) ions are exactly balanced. This makes pure water ideal for neutralized many strong acids (pH < 7) and bases (pH > 7). Having a neutral (or nearly neutral in most cases) pH also contributes to the ability of water to dissolve other substances.

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Water Expands When it Freezes

What would the world be like if water didn't expand when it freezes? Well, I highly doubt that the world would even exist at all. Water is somewhat unique as it is one of the very few materials that increases in volume as it freezes. By expanding in volume by up to 9%, the density of water in it solid state is lower than it is in its liquid state. This gives ice the ability to float. This simple fact alone has significant implications.

The fact that ice is less dense than liquid water means that when the top of a lake freezes, it can actually insulate the rest of the water from freezing. This ice shield allows for life, and many chemical reactions, to continue to occur throughout the winter season.

Cohesion & Adhesion

Another amazing property of water is it's high surface tension. In fact, water's cohesion is the strongest among all of the known non-metallic liquids. Surface tension, or the inherent attraction between individual molecules of water due to hydrogen bonding, is a key property in allowing life to exist on our planet. Aside from allowing some insects to walk on water, water's natural property of cohesion allows it to defy gravity. How? Well, the surface tension is just strong enough to allow water to "pull" itself up through narrow tubes or even void spaces in soil.

It is this property that allows capillary action to occur in our groundwater. Since the void spaces in certain soils are so close together, water can naturally rise higher than the official water table in some fine grained soils. Capillary action is also the main way that plants "drink" water. Transpiration of water in plants can only occur when water is soaked up through the tiny tubes that exist in the plant's stem or trunk.

Water Has a Very High Specific Heat

Did you know that water has a strong ability to resist changes in temperatures? Water has the remarkable ability to absorb or release relatively large amounts heat energy without actually changing temperature very much. The specific heat of water is 4.186 joule/gram C° which is much higher than many of the other substances that we use everyday. This makes it the ideal substance to cool power plants, maintain homeostasis within our bodies, and protect the Earth from wild daily and seasonal temperature changes.

Physical Properties of Water at Atmospheric Pressure (US Units)

Temperature
Density
Specific Weight
Dynamic Viscosity
Kinematic Viscosity
Vapor Pressure
Vapor Pressure
°F
slugs/ft^3
lbf/ft^3
lbf-s/ft^2
ft^2/s
psia
mmHG
40
1.94
62.43
3.23E-05
1.66E-05
0.122
6.309
50
1.94
62.40
2.73E-05
1.41E-05
0.178
9.205
60
1.94
62.37
2.36E-05
1.22E-05
0.256
13.239
70
1.94
62.30
2.05E-05
1.06E-05
0.363
18.773
80
1.93
62.22
1.80E-05
9.30E-06
0.506
26.168
100
1.93
62.00
1.42E-05
7.39E-06
0.949
49.077
120
1.92
61.72
1.17E-05
6.09E-06
1.69
87.398
140
1.91
61.38
9.81E-06
5.14E-06
2.89
149.456
160
1.90
61.00
8.38E-06
4.42E-06
4.74
245.129
180
1.88
60.58
7.26E-06
3.85E-06
7.51
388.379
200
1.87
60.12
6.37E-06
3.41E-06
11.53
596.273
212
1.86
59.83
5.93E-06
3.19E-06
14.70
760.209

Final Thoughts

It is truly amazing to think about how water has so many unique and amazing properties. Just thinking about the fact that life can even exist here on earth because of its properties is mind boggling. If just one of the key characteristics of this elixir disappeared, life as we know it would cease to exist. Water is indeed the most important substance that exists in our world.

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Comments 7 comments

Pcunix profile image

Pcunix 4 years ago from SE MA

I read a very interesting article recently at ScienceDaily titled "Weird World of Water Gets a Little Weirder".

Check it out: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/11110...


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA

While water is everywhere, we seldom think much about it. I really enjoyed your article and learned some interesting facts about the importance of water and ice. Thanks for explaining so well the science behind some of water's properties.


CWanamaker profile image

CWanamaker 4 years ago from Arizona Author

Pcunix - That was a pretty interesting article. Thanks for sharing!


CWanamaker profile image

CWanamaker 4 years ago from Arizona Author

Stephanie Henkel - I'm glad that you enjoyed my hub. Water really is very strange and unique. Thanks for reading!


GetitScene profile image

GetitScene 4 years ago from The High Seas

Voted up. Really interesting stuff.


Koustubh 3 years ago

Great information


G Ivanova profile image

G Ivanova 23 months ago

This has got to be one of the coolest hubs. So informative and useful I love it!

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