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The science of water

 
 

Here I present a series of insightful facts exploring just how extraordinary water is. No liquid behaves quite as oddly as it exhibits a raft of unusual behaviours, many of which are essential for life as we know it. 

photographic coral reefs with uv light

- Water is the only element which is naturally found in all 3 states. Ice (solid) in the polar regions, Vapour (gas) in the air and liquid on the ground. Actually water is the only molecular substance to exist on Earth in all 3 states, without human influence or outside of the laboratory.

- The biochemical reactions that sustain life need a fluid in order to operate. In a liquid, molecules can dissolve and chemical reactions occur. And because a liquid is always in flux, it effectively conveys vital substances like metabolites and nutrients from one place to another, whether it's around a cell, an organism, an ecosystem, or a planet. Getting molecules where they need to go is difficult within a solid and all too easy within a gas-vapor-based life would go all to pieces.

- Water freezes at 32° Fahrenheit (F) and boils at 212°F (at sea level, but 186.4° at 14,000 feet).

- Water is unusual in that the solid form, ice, is less dense than the liquid form, which is why ice floats. Water is called the "universal solvent" because it dissolves more substances than any other liquid.

- Picturing water as a liquid that can form complex molecular structures could explain many of its unusual properties.

- Water is most dense at 4 °C.

- Water has an exceptionally high specific heat capacity: it takes a lot of heat energy to raise water's temperature by a given amount.

- Specific heat capacity is at a minimum at 35 °C but increases as the temperature falls or rises, whereas the heat capacity of most other liquids rises continuously with temperature.

- Water is particularly difficult to compress.

- Water's compressibility drops with increasing temperature until it reaches a minimum at 46 °C, whereas in most liquids, the compressibility rises continuously with temperature.

- The speed of sound in water increases with temperature up to 74 °C, after which it starts to fall again.

- Water molecules diffuse more easily, not less easily, at higher pressures

- Unlike many liquids, water becomes less viscous, not more viscous, at higher pressures.

- Picturing water as a liquid that can form complex molecular structures could explain many of its unusual properties.

- Increasing the pressure increases the amount by which water expands on heating.

- Properties such as viscosity, boiling point and melting point are significantly different in "heavy" water - made from the heavier hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium - compared with their equivalents in normal water.
- Unlike most other liquids... when water molecules freeze, water expands and becomes less dense. Most other frozen liquids are denser than their melted selves and thus sink. If it sank, ice, being unable to melt because of the insulating layer of water above it, would slowly fill up lakes and oceans in cold climates, making sea life in those parts of the world a challenging prospect.

- While other substances form liquids, precious few do so under the conditions of temperature and pressure that prevail on our planet's surface. In fact, next to mercury and liquid ammonia, water is our only naturally occurring inorganic liquid, the only one not arising from organic growth.

- At sea level, water boils at 212°F, but thousands of feet down in the ocean, the pressure can keep water liquid at over 650°F as in deep ocean hydrothermal vent.

- Everything is soluble in water to some degree. Even gold is somewhat soluble in seawater.


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