ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE: A World of Water

12 Minutes

Water is one of the most abundant compounds found in nature. In its pure form, it is odorless, tasteless, and yet, consists of two common reactive elements. The chemical formula for water is H2O, which means that two hydrogen atoms are attached to a single oxygen atom. Very few molecules are smaller or lighter. Some of its properties allow it to easily cycle through the phases of solid, liquid, and vapor on this planet. Water is unique in that it can also exist simultaneously in all three phases at the same temperature. We all should be aware of the role that water plays in our environment, its ability, ways to purify it, and its unique chemical properties. Life on this planet would not be possible without water.

SYNOPSIS

Water is one of the most abundant compounds found in nature. In its pure form, it is odorless, tasteless, and yet, consists of two common reactive elements. The chemical formula for water is H2O, which means that two hydrogen atoms are attached to a single oxygen atom. Very few molecules are smaller or lighter. Some of its properties allow it to easily cycle through the phases of solid, liquid, and vapor on this planet. Water is unique in that it can also exist simultaneously in all three phases at the same temperature. We all should be aware of the role that water plays in our environment, its ability, ways to purify it, and its unique chemical properties. Life on this planet would not be possible without water.

Water is essential for life. Earth’s inhabitants cannot live without it. Over 70 percent of the Earth is covered with water—an estimated 326 million trillion gallons. The oceans hold most of the Earth’s water, but water is also present in the polar ice caps and glaciers, aquifers and wells, and lakes and rivers. Only 3 percent of the world’s water supply is fresh water, and 77 percent of that is frozen.

Water is a molecule with one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms, bonded together by shared electrons. It is a V-Shaped polar molecule, meaning it is positively charged near the hydrogen atoms and negatively charged near the oxygen atom. This polarity makes water molecules naturally attracted to each other where they form hydrogen bonds. It is helpful to think of water molecules acting as little magnets, with forces that hold them together. Each hydrogen bond is very weak, but there are a tremendous number of them. They constantly break and re-form as the water molecules are in constant collisions with each other.

The Earth’s water is always in motion and commonly changes states between solid, liquid, and gas. Some water floats in the air as clouds and water vapor. The natural water cycle, also called the hydrologic cycle, is the continuous movement of water on, above, and below the Earth’s surface. This cycle is powered by solar energy. The water cycle involves water evaporating or turning into a gas, rising up into the atmosphere, cooling and condensing into drops of water or ice crystals that we see as clouds, and falling back to Earth as rain, snow or hail before evaporating again and continuing the cycle.

VOCABULARY

Anemometer: A meteorological instrument used to measure wind speed.
Climate: A pattern of weather in a region as measured over a long period of time.
Cloud: A mass of tiny water droplets floating in the atmosphere that we can see from the ground.
Condensation: The process by which a gas or vapor changes to a liquid.
Depression: An area of low atmospheric pressure that is surrounded by clouds and precipitation.
Dew: Drops of water that comes from water vapor condensing on objects near the ground.
Evaporation: The process by which a liquid changes to a gas or vapor.
Flash flood: A flash flood is a flood that happens quickly (just a few hours), usually due to heavy rain.
Fog: A cloud that is low to the ground and makes it hard to see.
Front: The boundary between low and high air pressure systems where precipitation occurs.
Hail: A type of precipitation in the form of lumps of ice. It is formed in the updrafts of large thunderstorms.
Humidity: A measurement of the amount of water vapor in the air.
Hurricane: A tropical cyclone that formed in the North Atlantic Ocean and brings heavy rain and high wind.
Ice storm: An ice storm occurs when rain falls on objects and then freezes.
Meteorology: The study of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Phase change: The process by which a substance transforms from solid to liquid or liquid to gas, as well as in the reverse direction.
Precipitation: Occurs when the condensation of water vapor causes it to fall to the Earth’s surface in many forms including rain, sleet, snow, and hail.
Rain: Precipitation that falls to the ground in the form of liquid droplets.
Snow: Frozen precipitation that falls to the ground when water vapor is turned into ice.
Storm surge: A rise in the sea level at the coastline due to a huge storm such as a hurricane.
Sublimation: A phase of water directly from ice to water vapor without melting.
Thunderstorm: A storm that produces thunder and lighting. It usually also generates high winds and rain.
Transpiration: A process by which plants give-off water through their leaves.
Tropical cyclone: A large rotating storm with high speed winds that forms over warm waters in the ocean.
Water cycle: The process that occurs in the atmosphere by which water undergoes phase changes.
Water vapor: The gas phase of water.

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CURRICULUM UNITS

  • ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE
  • EARTH SCIENCE

CAREER POSSIBILITIES

  •  ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENTIST
  •  HYDROLOGIST

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