20 Things You Didn't Know About... Water

The water under the oceans, how your own hair can burn you, and more

By Rebecca Coffey
Oct 20, 2010 12:00 AMMay 21, 2019 6:02 PM
Water energy diagram
Image: iStockphoto


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  1. Water is everywhere—there are 332,500,000 cubic miles of it on the earth’s surface. But less than 1 percent of it is fresh and accessible, even when you include bottled water.

  2. And “fresh” can be a relative term. Before 2009, federal regulators did not require water bottlers to remove E. coli.

  3. Actually, E. coli doesn’t sound so bad. In 1999 the Natural Resources Defense Council found that one brand of spring water came from a well in an industrial parking lot near a hazardous waste dump.

  4. Cheers! The new Water Recovery System on the International Space Station recycles 93 percent of astronauts’ perspiration and urine, turning it back into drinking water.

  5. Kurdish villages in northern Iraq are using a portable version of the NASA system to purify water from streams and rivers, courtesy of the relief group Concern for Kids.

  6. Ice is a lattice of tetra­hedrally bonded molecules that contain a lot of empty space. That’s why it floats.

  7. Even after ice melts, some of those tetrahedrons almost always remain, like tiny ice cubes 100 molecules wide. So every glass of water, no matter what its temperature, comes on the rocks.

  8. You can make your own water by mixing hydrogen and oxygen in a container and adding a spark. Unfortunately, that is the formula that helped destroy the Hindenburg. 

  9. Scientists have a less explosive recipe for extracting energy from hydrogen and oxygen. Strip away electrons from some hydrogen molecules, add oxygen molecules with too many electrons, and bingo! You get an electric current. That’s what happens in a fuel cell.

  10. Good gardeners know not to water plants during the day. Droplets clinging to the leaves can act as little magnifying glasses, focusing sunlight and causing the plants to burn.

  11. Hair on your skin can hold water droplets too. A hairy leg may get sunburned more quickly than a shaved one.

  12. Vicious cycle: Water in the stratosphere contributes to the current warming of the earth’s atmosphere. That in turn may increase the severity of tropical cyclones, which throw more water into the stratosphere. That’s the theory, anyway.

  13. The slower rate of warming in the past decade might be due to a 10 percent drop in stratospheric water. Cause: unknown.

  14. Although many doctors tell patients to drink eight glasses of water a day, there is no scientific evidence to support this advice.

  15. The misinformation might have come from a 1945 report recommending that Americans consume about “1 milliliter of water for each calorie of food,” which amounts to 8 or 10 cups a day. But the report added that much of that water comes from food—a nuance many people apparently missed.

  16. Call waterholics anonymous: Drinking significantly more water than is needed can cause “water intoxication” and lead to fatal cerebral and pulmonary edema. Amateur marathon runners have died this way.

  17. Scientists at Oregon State University have identified vast reservoirs of water beneath the ocean floor. In fact, there may be more water under the oceans than in them.

  18. Without water, ocean crust would not sink back into the earth’s mantle. There would be no plate tectonics, and our planet would probably be a lot like Venus: hellish and inert.

  19. At the other end of the wetness scale, planet GJ 1214b, which orbits a red dwarf star, may be almost entirely water.

  20. Recent evidence suggests that when the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago, comets had liquid cores. If so, life may have started in a comet.

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