What is water

Water is a transparent fluid which forms the world's streams, lakes, oceans and rain, and is the major constituent of the fluids of living things. As a chemical compound, a water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms that are connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at standard ambient temperature and pressure, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice; and gaseous state, steam (water vapor).

Water covers 71% of the Earth's surface. It is vital for all known forms of life. On Earth, 96.5% of the planet's water is found in seas and oceans, 1.7% in groundwater, 1.7% in glaciers and the ice caps of Antarctica and Greenland, a small fraction in other large water bodies, and 0.001% in the air as vapor, clouds (formed of solid and liquid water particles suspended in air), and precipitation. Only 2.5% of the Earth's water is freshwater, and 98.8% of that water is in ice and groundwater. Less than 0.3% of all freshwater is in rivers, lakes, and the atmosphere, and an even smaller amount of the Earth's freshwater (0.003%) is contained within biological bodies and manufactured products.

Water on Earth moves continually through the water cycle of evaporation and transpiration (evapotranspiration), condensation, precipitation, and runoff, usually reaching the sea. Evaporation and transpiration contribute to the precipitation over land. Water used in the production of a good or service is known as virtual water.

Safe drinking water is essential to humans and other lifeforms even though it provides no calories or organic nutrients. Access to safe drinking water has improved over the last decades in almost every part of the world, but approximately one billion people still lack access to safe water and over 2.5 billion lack access to adequate sanitation. There is a clear correlation between access to safe water and gross domestic product per capita. However, some observers have estimated that by 2025 more than half of the world population will be facing water-based vulnerability. A report, issued in November 2009, suggests that by 2030, in some developing regions of the world, water demand will exceed supply by 50%. Water plays an important role in the world economy, as it functions as a solvent for a wide variety of chemical substances and facilitates industrial cooling and transportation. Approximately 70% of the fresh water used by humans goes to agriculture. (source: Wikipedia)

Chemical and physical properties

Water is the chemical substance with chemical formula H2O: one molecule of water has two hydrogen atoms covalently bonded to a single oxygen atom.

Water appears in nature in all three common states of matter (solid, liquid, and gas) and may take many different forms on Earth: water vapor and clouds in the sky, seawater in the oceans, icebergs in the polar oceans, glaciers in the mountains, fresh and salt water lakes, rivers, and aquifers in the ground.

The major chemical and physical properties of water are:
Water is a liquid at standard temperature and pressure. It is tasteless and odorless. The intrinsic colour of water and ice is a very slight blue hue, although both appear colorless in small quantities. Water vapour is essentially invisible as a gas. Water is transparent in the visible electromagnetic spectrum. Thus aquatic plants can live in water because sunlight can reach them. Infrared light is strongly absorbed by the hydrogen-oxygen or OH bonds.

Since the water molecule is not linear and the oxygen atom has a higher electronegativity than hydrogen atoms, the oxygen atom carries a slight negative charge, whereas the hydrogen atoms are slightly positive. As a result, water is a polar molecule with an electrical dipole moment. Water also can form an unusually large number of intermolecular hydrogen bonds (four) for a molecule of its size. These factors lead to strong attractive forces between molecules of water, giving rise to water's high surface tension and capillary forces. The capillary action refers to the tendency of water to move up a narrow tube against the force of gravity. This property is relied upon by all vascular plants, such as trees.

Water is a good polar solvent and is often referred to as the universal solvent. Substances that dissolve in water, e.g., salts, sugars, acids, alkalis, and some gases – especially oxygen and carbon dioxide (carbonation) – are known as hydrophilic (water-loving) substances, while those that are immiscible with water (e.g., fats and oils), are known as hydrophobic (water-fearing) substances.
All of the components in cells (proteins, DNA and polysaccharides) are dissolved in water, deriving their structure and activity from their interactions with the water. Pure water has a low electrical conductivity, but this increases with the dissolution of a small amount of ionic material such as sodium chloride. The boiling point of water (and all other liquids) is dependent on the barometric pressure. For example, on the top of Mount Everest water boils at 68 °C (154 °F), compared to 100 °C (212 °F) at sea level at a similar latitude (since latitude modifies atmospheric pressure slightly). Conversely, water deep in the ocean near geothermal vents can reach temperatures of hundreds of degrees and remain liquid.

The density of liquid water is 1,000 kg/m3 at 4 °C. Ice has a density of 917 kg/m3. The maximum density of water occurs at 3.98 °C (39.16 °F). Most known pure substances become more dense as they cool, however water has the anomalous property of becoming less dense when it is cooled to its solid form, ice. During cooling water becomes more dense until reaching 3.98 °C. Below this temperature, the open structure of ice is gradually formed in the low temperature water; the random orientations of the water molecules in the liquid are maintained by the thermal motion, and below 3.98 °C there is not enough thermal energy to maintain this randomness.

As water is cooled there are two competing effects: 
1) decreasing volume, and 2) increase overall volume of the liquid as the molecules begin to orient into the organized structure of ice. Between 3.98 °C and 0 °C, the second effect will cancel the first effect so the net effect is an increase of volume with decreasing temperature. Water expands to occupy a 9% greater volume as ice, which accounts for the fact that ice floats on liquid water, as in icebergs.

Water is miscible with many liquids, such as ethanol, in all proportions, forming a single homogeneous liquid. On the other hand, water and most oils are immiscible, usually forming layers with the least dense liquid as the top layer, and the most dense layer at the bottom.
Water forms an azeotrope with many other solvents.
Water can be split by electrolysis into hydrogen and oxygen. The energy required to split water into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis or any other means is greater than the energy that can be collected when the hydrogen and oxygen recombine.
As an oxide of hydrogen, water is formed when hydrogen or hydrogen-containing compounds burn or react with oxygen or oxygen-containing compounds. Water is not a fuel, it is an end-product of the combustion of hydrogen.
Elements which are more electropositive than hydrogen such as lithium, sodium, calcium, potassium and caesium displace hydrogen from water, forming hydroxides. Being a flammable gas, the hydrogen given off is dangerous and the reaction of water with the more electropositive of these elements may be violently explosive.

Effects on life

From a biological standpoint, water has many distinct properties that are critical for the proliferation of life that set it apart from other substances. It carries out this role by allowing organic compounds to react in ways that ultimately allow replication. All known forms of life depend on water. Water is vital both as a solvent in which many of the body's solutes dissolve and as an essential part of many metabolic processes within the body. Metabolism is the sum total of anabolism and catabolism. In anabolism, water is removed from molecules (through energy requiring enzymatic chemical reactions) in order to grow larger molecules (e.g. starches, triglycerides and proteins for storage of fuels and information). In catabolism, water is used to break bonds in order to generate smaller molecules (e.g. glucose, fatty acids and amino acids to be used for fuels for energy use or other purposes). Without water, these particular metabolic processes could not exist.
Water is fundamental to photosynthesis and respiration. Photosynthetic cells use the sun's energy to split off water's hydrogen from oxygen. Hydrogen is combined with CO2 (absorbed from air or water) to form glucose and release oxygen. All living cells use such fuels and oxidize the hydrogen and carbon to capture the sun's energy and reform water and CO2 in the process (cellular respiration).

Water is also central to acid-base neutrality and enzyme function. An acid, a hydrogen ion (H+, that is, a proton) donor, can be neutralized by a base, a proton acceptor such as a hydroxide ion (OH−) to form water. Water is considered to be neutral, with a pH (the negative log of the hydrogen ion concentration) of 7. Acids have pH values less than 7 while bases have values greater than 7.

Water cycle

The water cycle (known scientifically as the hydrologic cycle) refers to the continuous exchange of water within the hydrosphere, between the atmosphere, soil water, surface water, groundwater, and plants.

Water moves perpetually through each of these regions in the water cycle consisting of following transfer processes:

  • evaporation from oceans and other water bodies into the air and transpiration from land plants and animals into air.
  • precipitation, from water vapor condensing from the air and falling to earth or ocean.
  • runoff from the land usually reaching the sea.

Most water vapor over the oceans returns to the oceans, but winds carry water vapor over land at the same rate as runoff into the sea. Precipitation has several forms: most commonly rain, snow, and hail, with some contribution from fog and dew. Dew is small drops of water that are condensed when a high density of water vapor meets a cool surface. Dew usually forms in the morning when the temperature is the lowest, just before sunrise and when the temperature of the earth's surface starts to increase. Condensed water in the air may also refract sunlight to produce rainbows.

Water runoff often collects over watersheds flowing into rivers. A mathematical model used to simulate river or stream flow and calculate water quality parameters is a hydrological transport model. Some water is diverted to irrigation for agriculture. Rivers and seas offer opportunity for travel and commerce. Through erosion, runoff shapes the environment creating river valleys and deltas which provide rich soil and level ground for the establishment of population centers. A flood occurs when an area of land, usually low-lying, is covered with water. It is when a river overflows its banks or flood comes from the sea. A drought is an extended period of months or years when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply. This occurs when a region receives consistently below average precipitation.