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Water - Its Properties and Role in the Environment

• Role in early history and science
• Unique chemistry
• Hydrologic cycle - redistribution, climate effects
• Ocean circulation - basic wind & thermohaline
Chemically unique

Exists in all three phases at atmospheric temperatures & pressures

(high melting and boiling points compared to molecules of similar
size It is the only substance that does this!
Chemically and Physically unique

• High heat capacity (4.2 J/g/K). It stores a lot of heat energy which
makes it a good medium for spreading the planet’s heat
• High heat of fusion (solid to liquid ~ 335 J/g/K) and vaporization
(liquid to gas ~ 2400 J/g/K) so more effectively transfers heat when
changing phase in atmosphere/ocean
Physically Unique

•Water is physically
unique because it is less
dense as a solid (ice) than
as a liquid.
•The maximum density of
liquid water occurs at 4ºC
Chemically and

• High surface tension so it forms drops & helps make good cell
• Dissolve other compounds very easily and so can transport
chemicals (e.g., NaCl, nutrients)
• Mediates or facilitates most chemical reactions in living systems
(e.g., takes water to photosynthesize) - neutral pH
Covalent and Ionic Bonds
Hydrogen Bonds - 10 x stronger than normal
intermolecular (van der Waals)
Distribution of water
Percent of
Water volume, in
Water source total
cubic miles
Oceans 317,000,000 97.24%
Icecaps, Glaciers 7,000,000 2.14%
Ground water 2,000,000 0.61%
Fresh-water lakes 30,000 0.009%
Inland seas 25,000 0.008%
Soil moisture 16,000 0.005%
Atmosphere 3,100 0.001%
Rivers 300 0.0001%

Total water
326,000,000 100%
Hydrologic Cycle (in 103 km3)
Quantitative Hydrological Cycle
Period of Renewal
Water of Hydrosphere Period of renewal
World Ocean 2500 years
Ground water 1400 years
Polar ice 9700 years
Mountain glaciers 1600 years
Ground ice of the permafrost zone 10000 years
Lakes 17 years
Bogs 5 years
Soil moisture 1 years
Channel network 16 days
Atmospheric moisture 8 days
Biological water several hours
Freshwater Resources

Rivers Groundwater

Volume 300 200000

(cubic miles)
Residence Time 16 days 1400 yrs

Flux 7000 140

(cubic miles / year)
Atmospheric circulation
Equatorial Hadley Cells

To see the animated version go to
Rain shadow
Effects of global warming on water cycle

Global warming Speeds up global

(temperature increase) water cycle

More extreme weather events

• Droughts
• Storms
• Floods
Projected Changes in Annual Precipitation for the 2050s

The projected change is compared to the present day with a ~1% increase per year in equivalent CO2
Source: The Met Office. Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research
Global Precipitation Trends
(% per decade) 1900 - 1994

Green • = increasing, Brown • = decreasing Source: Watson 2001

U.S. Precipitation Trends: 1901 to 1998

Green • = increasing, Brown • = decreasing

All stations/trends displayed regardless of statistical significance
Source: National Climatic Data Center/NESDIS/NOAA
Extreme Precipitation Events in the U.S.

Source: Karl, 1996.