Abundant Vital Quenching and Wondrous – WIF WATER

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The Many

Marvelous Mysteries

of Water

Water is, by far, the most abundant natural resource on Earth, as around 72% of the planet’s surface is covered with it. It’s also the driving factor behind the origins of life, as we do not yet know of a life form that’s not water-based. The same cannot be said for anything else. We know of organisms that don’t require light, oxygen, warmth, or even the Earth’s atmosphere to survive – as many microbes can stay alive in space, too – though every one of them absolutely requires water to function.

Humans and animals alike love to frolic in it, when it’s warm enough.

While the reasons for all that may be obvious to most – it makes sense that life evolved around the most abundant resource in the environment – it doesn’t have anything to do with the Earth or the environment at all. Water is – in itself – one of the weirdest substances to ever exist, with mysterious properties that aren’t just unheard of on Earth, but anywhere in the universe. Right from its highly-debated structure to the baffling Mpemba effect, it’s exactly these unexplained properties that give water its unique position as the single biggest factor behind all life we know of today, and why finding life based on any other substance anywhere else in the universe is more unlikely than we think.

8. Water’s Inexplicably-High Surface Tension

One of water’s most unique – and mind-boggling – properties is its surface tension. While nothing unusual in itself, as every liquid has some surface pull that keeps its molecules together in that state, water’s surface tension is much higher than any other liquid we know of. This unique property has some far-reaching consequences for the evolution of life on Earth. For an example, it’s how blood – over 80% of which is made up of water – can overcome the force of gravity and circulate around the body.

As for why this is, you guessed it: we’re not sure. Scientists previously believed that it’s because of the uniquely strong hydrogen bonds found in the water molecules, though if a recent study is to be believed, that’s not the case, and water is actually even weirder than that. Apparently, its surface tension isn’t even static, and could change according to how water is feeling that day.

As the study found, it’s the stickiest just when its surface is formed – like the exact time a water droplet falls down. Surprisingly, it takes unusually long for it to come down to its original value, too, something the researchers didn’t understand. What they did clear up, however, is that it has nothing to do with the hydrogen bonds, or anything else we know of.

7. We Don’t Know Why Water Expands On Cooling, Or Vice Versa

That things expand when they’re heated up and shrink in size on cooling is one of the fundamental rules of nature. We can see it in play all around us, and a lot of our infrastructure takes this rule into account. Almost every building has expansion joints, allowing it to breathe in or out depending on the season. Rules, however, do not apply to water, as it remains the only known substance that expands on cooling and vice versa, and we still don’t know why.

It’s not even difficult to verify this. Just take some ice in a container, note its general volume and wait for it to warm up and liquify. It would always take up less space than its solid form, which also happens to be one of water’s weirdest properties. Science has been trying to answer it for a while, though the potential answers – much like everything else about water – make the whole thing even more mysterious.

According to recent research, there is a perfectly good explanation for this unique property: liquid water doesn’t really expand when it’s cooled, but actually oscillates between two distinct states of liquid matter. If you cool it down below 0 degrees Celsius, it may seem to be expanding, but if you lower it even further, you’d start to notice that it’s contracting, too. Keep taking it closer to its freezing point – which is around -60 Celsius for pure water – and at one point it would seem to be expanding and contracting with almost the same frequency.

While that does seem to explain exactly how and what happens to water when it’s cooled – in the way that it clarifies that the real process is even weirder than we imagined – it still doesn’t touch on the ‘why’. It may have to do with the inherently weird structure of water molecules and how they interact with each other, but then it’s not like we’re sure about how that works, either.

6. No One Can Agree On Its Structure

Most of us would probably not believe it, but water – perhaps the most studied natural material in history – incites some pretty strong opinions in the scientific community, for the simple reason that there’s still a lot of debate around how exactly it’s structured. A lot of its weird properties could be explained if we just knew how the hydrogen and oxygen bonds in water interact with each other. Surprisingly, though, even with our modern research techniques, we still have no idea.

While traditional wisdom previously suggested that despite its weirdness, the structure of water is still a natural tetrahedron, one recent study found that the shape is actually a more loosely bonded collection of closed rings and chains, which is actually what gives water its weird properties. It’s still not a widely accepted opinion yet, though, as other researchers say that the results aren’t due to looser bonding at all, but because of the water molecule’s ability to rearrange itself in entirely new shapes. Whatever may be the case, it’d be a while before we could even understand the structure of water, let alone the plethora of its other mysteries.

5. The Mpemba Effect

While there’s no doubt that water possesses many abilities that may as well be magic to the scientists studying them, a lot of them have been recent realizations. It’s only thanks to recent experiments that we’ve come to understand the full extent of water’s weirdness, as for the majority of history, it was the simplest substance we know of. One of its properties, however, has baffled keen thinkers and amateur scientists alike for centuries – possibly even millenia. Water, contrary to all common logic, freezes at a faster rate when it’s hot. Again, it’s unlike anything else we know of, and has been verifiably observed since at least the ancient Greek times.

Also known as the Mpemba Effect, after an African physics student who wrote the first peer-reviewed paper describing the phenomenon, it’s by far the most enduring of water’s mysteries. Many experiments have confirmed it throughout the years, though we’re still no closer to figuring out why it happens.

4. The Mystery Of The Cambrian Explosion

Our understanding of the evolution of life on Earth is pretty linear; that simple, single-celled organisms gradually gave way to more complex animals, leading up to all the diversity of life we see around us today. However, that is not the case at all. Complex life is a rather recent, and likely accidental, development. For an overwhelming period of our history – about 2.5 billion years – life existed as simple, largely immobile creatures, most of whom didn’t even need oxygen to survive. It may as well have been an alien landscape altogether, filled with animals (if we can even call them that) that have little to no resemblance to the mostly water and oxygen-based life forms of today.

Then about 540 million years ago, the variety and complexity of life suddenly exploded in the oceans, and to this day we have no idea what triggered it. The Cambrian Explosion, as it’s called, was the single most important event in our pre-evolutionary history, as well as the oldest mystery of the oceans. Some researchers think that it was triggered by the rise of oxygen levels in the atmosphere, or the accidental evolution of vision, or something else really. They’re not sure, but almost all of them agree that the importance of the Cambrian Explosion cannot be overstated. It was the beginning of complex life as we know it, and gave way to almost every life form in the world today, from the simplest of microbes to the entirety of human civilization, and everything in between.

In the end, it could be a God-thing.

3. Where Did All Of Earth’s Water Even Come From?

As we’ve well established by now, there would have been no life on Earth without water. Thanks to its unique and weird properties, water may just be the answer to ‘why us?’, as almost no other substance found in nature behaves like it. Moreover, it’s also rather convenient to have the one substance required to kickstart life to even show up on Earth, completing the unique set of highly-improbable factors that eventually gave birth to life. It begs the question; where did all the water on Earth even come from?

If that sounds like a simple question to answer by something obvious like ‘clouds, duh’ or ‘trees, or something’, it’s really not. As it happens, we still don’t know exactly what brought water to Earth in the first place. Some claim that it came on the back of a comet in the form of ice, though given how the Earth didn’t have an atmosphere around that time, all of that water would have evaporated into the open universe. Another theory says that hot vapors escaping from cracks in the Earth’s surface gave way to the first clouds, setting the cycle of evaporation, cloud formation and rains in motion for the first time. Though again, it’s still just a theory.

2. Water Shouldn’t Even Be A Liquid

If you take a look at the elements that make up water on the periodic table – provided you know how to read the periodic table – you’ll notice something peculiar. They exist right next to gases like hydrogen sulphide and hydrogen selenide; ‘gases’ being the key word. If water were to behave like other chemicals with similar properties, it would not be a liquid at all, especially at Earth temperatures. Water is supposed to freeze somewhere around -100 Celsius and evaporate at around -80 Celsius, as is the case with other gases of its family.

As it’s clear by now, water doesn’t adhere to expectations, which is why it’s the only substance we know of that can exist in all the three states at temperatures hospitable for human life. It can stay liquid at a surprisingly low temperature, too, provided that it’s free of any impurities.

1. The Weird Properties Of Water Make Life On Earth Possible

Reading through the absolutely rebellious chemical nature of water may give you the impression that it’s abnormal. After all, these properties are not found in any natural substance, and we even have a hard time replicating them in the lab if we want to. That’s pretty accurate, though these mysterious properties don’t make water alien. In fact, they explain why water has fit in so well with the life-giving ecosystem of the planet, and is perhaps the most Earthly thing there is.

If water didn’t have a higher surface tension than other liquids, it would be impossible for it to stick to and circulate among plant roots. Its ability to expand when frozen allowed water bodies during ancient ice ages to freeze from top down, allowing life below the surface – which was all life at one point – to survive and adapt for when it was over. If it adhered to laws of liquids, water would start turning into ice from the bottom, ensuring that any signs of primitive life died down long before they could adapt and evolve.


Abundant Vital Quenching and Wondrous

WIF WATER

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 80

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Please note that I wrote this book  in the mid-1980’s (before updating it). 

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 80

…Sam proclaims, “H20___ out-of-the-faucet ___ shower-taking ___ sprinkle-on-your-garden ___ garden-variety ___ drink-it-down ___ WATER!!!!

water-digital-artwork

Water Nuclear Bomb by Dimitar Krstevski

The Space Family McKinney continues to explore the “NEWFOUNDLANDER”.

In one such alleged crewman quarters, Sampson, going on the assumption that no harm could come out of testing switches or push-buttons in the privacy of one’s own room, decides to do just that. There is a lighted checkerboard panel on a wall, right next where one would sit and well — not work, so this would be the time to experiment.

He chooses two such buttons to push, one colored black-hole-blue, and the other galaxy-green. Seconds later, there happens a fanciful flickering light in combination with a whimsical whoosh; a small opening opens to reveal a sippy cup type container filled with some sort of liquid.

Celeste watches her husband’s foray into technical tryouts, shrugging as he removes the vessel from the alien cube, “It’s your hand dear.” The opening closes as soon as the sippy and its clear fluid is removed.

Evidently the liquid is meant to be consumed, yet this is no time to be reckless even though thirst and hunger are high on the list in the unenviable sport of survival. So instead of two gulps and hope for the best, Sam uses the same versatile sampling device he used to analyze the air, in order to break down the elemental composition of the benign smelling liquid.

When the handheld monitor turns green he proclaims, “H20___ out-of-the-faucet ___ shower-taking ___ sprinkle-on-your-garden ___ garden-variety ___ drink-it-down ___ WATER!!!!”

“What do they add to it to make it smell so inviting; there must be more to it,” armed with the crave-driven sagacity of a pregnant lady.

“Purified water, magnesium sulfate, potassium chloride and a negligible amount of sodium minerals,” he specifies. “The nutrition label reads: CRISP, FRESH TASTE, FILTERED THROUGH a STATE-OF-THE-ART PURIFICATION SYSTEM AND ENHANCED WITH MINERALS FOR a PURE, FRESH TASTE THAT CAN’T BE BEAT.”

“You made that up, you can’t read gobbledigook{Newfoundlian}.”

gobbledigook{bottoms up you chicken},,” translates to bottoms up. He lifts the liquescence to his tentative lips? bravely?, partaking in the alien brew. It is on the warm side, though the container remains at the ambient room temperature of 820 F, as long as it doesn’t burn on the way down.

gobbledigook{Try some} {try some},” he submits it to Celeste for her assessment.

“Not bad, but lay off speaking in gobbledigook {Newfoundlian} . I can’t read your lips.”


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 80


page 75

We Are Running Low on More Than Patience – WIF Shortages

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Unexpected Things

the World is

Running Low On

We’re typically pretty terrible to our world. We tear through resources like a hungry kid devouring a bag of M&Ms. It’s bad enough when we do it knowingly, like with oil shortages that tend to – no pun intended – fuel wars. We’ve helped multiple animal species trudge ahead toward extinction, because that patch of forest would make a great place for a Cheesecake Factory, condors be damned.

But there are some resources that we take for granted, and keep using even when places around the world are running low on supplies. Things like…

10. Helium

helium

Helium makes our balloons float up, and can reduce even the mighty voice of Morgan Freeman to a ridiculous high-pitched squeak. We use this lighter-than air gas so indiscriminately that it’s hard to believe that the world is facing a helium shortage. The universe has a huge supply of Helium, but here on Earth the supply is quickly nearing its limits.

Helium is extracted from the ground, where it’s created from uranium and thorium decay. That’s right, the gas you just inhaled into your lungs because it’s funny is a byproduct of radioactive decay. The decay process of Uranium is incredibly slow – the Helium stockpile we’ve almost exhausted has taken the Earth’s entire lifespan to form.

The problem is so bad that two years ago, US Congress signed the snappily named “Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act.” This Act aims to keep the shortage of Helium in check so it can continue breaking new ground in medicine. What, did you think it’s only good for making your voice sound funny?

9. Coffee

coffee

Your morning cup o’ joe may soon cost even more than Starbucks rates thanks to droughts and diseases plaguing Brazillian and Central American coffee beans. The impending coffee shortage has been looming over our heads since last year, when Brazil experienced a season of extreme drought and Central America saw an outbreak of the devastating “leaf rust” disease.

Luckily, a surplus from previous years carried suppliers through the tough season, but the demand is still exceeding the supply and rising prices reflect that.

And things may only get worse. Areas that produce a huge chunk of your coffee are continuing to experience erratic rainfall and record high temperatures, and if the climate change continues at the same rate, anywhere between 70% and 99.7% of our Arabica coffee – that’s the “good” stuff – might be gone by 2080. Less popular beans aren’t in quite as much danger, but they’re affected too. Better stock up now.

8. Chocolate

chocolate

Another beloved every-day treat that’s experiencing ups and downs is chocolate, and you can chalk this one up to climate change as well. In 2014, global cocoa harvests plummeted thanks to dry spells and an assortment of diseases and pests that wipe out an annual average of 30-40% of the world’s cocoa production.

The thing is, even as the world’s chocolate supply dries up the demand is huge and still rising. Chocolate isn’t just a sweet treat that makes you fat, it’s also now thought to have health benefits, like strengthening your heart. This is especially true for dark chocolate, which needs the most cocoa to make.

For now, this doesn’t mean we’re running out of chocolate, but the shortages are leading to increased chocolate prices from major chocolate companies like Hershey. That means that one day in the future, chocolate might be an expensive luxury, so you’d better savor every bit of that dark chocolate bar you bought because you’re crossing your fingers it’s legitimately “healthy.”

7. Medicine

medicine

While the previous shortages were caused by lack of resources, the shortages of medicine can be blamed instead on human nature. The global pharmaceutical industry is worth over $300 billion, a third of which is owned by just 10 giant companies who drive prices up, and smaller companies out of business. A disconnected industry means lack of communication among manufacturers, pharmacists, and physicians. As a result, medicine is in short supply all over the world. The problem got so bad in Venezuela that the government has introduced a fingerprinting requirement at pharmacies to essentially ration out medicine.

In the US, antibiotics are feeling the brunt of the shortage, which spells trouble for anyone who needs these medicines to treat pathogens resistant to other treatments. Between 2001 and 2013, 148 different kinds of antibiotics experienced shortages. The FDA is doing its best “within its legal authority” to keep doctors informed so you don’t get a prescription for something that, say, no longer exists.

The US is also taking a hint from Canada by imposing mandatory reporting of shortages by pharmaceuticals. This won’t stop the shortages, but it will at least alert doctors and prompt them to offer alternate treatments.

6. Lethal Injection Drugs

lethalinjection

Texas isn’t shy about using the death penalty, putting 524 inmates to death since 1976, so it’s almost kind of poetic that the state is running out of the lethal injection drug. As of this spring, Texas only had enough penobarbital for two more executions, and was scrambling to get more for the four scheduled deaths in April.

The problem isn’t with the drug, but with the pharmarcists: one by one, leading pharmacists like Akron and Roche, and pharmacist associations like the IACP and APhA are adopting policies to stop providing lethal injection drugs.

Texas isn’t the only state affected by the issue, and without a steady supply, states are being forced to get more creative in their method of execution. Utah is bringing back the firing squad, while Oklahoma is turning to Nitrogen gas as an alternative. Meanwhile, Nebraska is going down the route the pharmaceuticals were probably hoping for, and considering completely eliminating the death penalty.

5. Blood

blood

Up until the 1990s, the Chinese blood market was thriving and largely unregulated. Without the government’s intervention, donating blood meant subjecting yourself to poor bloodletting practices, often performed without clean needles. Thanks to this, China was facing a potential HIV epidemic.

With over 800,000 Chinese testing positive for HIV by 1997, the government finally intervened and cracked down on the sale of blood. The new regulations put down stricter policies for donating blood, and outlawed the sale of blood altogether. But the new rules also led to a different kind of problem: a blood shortage so bad it’s been dramatically labeled a “blood famine.”

To encourage people to donate blood instead of selling it illegally, many hospitals now require patients (or their friends or relatives) to have donated blood in the past. On the flip side, Chinese law limits blood donations to twice a year, and only if you’re even eligible to do so. This means that if you’re in need of blood transfusions but aren’t eligible to donate blood, you’re in trouble. The policy has led to the rise of a blood black market. Called “blood heads,” some people donate blood then offer the proof of donation to those who need it – for a price, of course.

4. Doctors / Surgeons

doctors

The United States is experiencing a doctor shortage, and you may already be feeling it if you live in the more rural areas of the US. A report written by the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that by 2025 the US will be short 50,000 to 90,000 physicians.

If you think you can rely on WebMD self-diagnosis, you’d better be ready to operate on yourself, too, because the shortage covers just about every kind of doctor from your family physician or dentist, to surgeons and oncologists.

The shortage is being caused by a number of factors, including a growing population, and increasing rates of certain health problems like cancer. Training future doctors is also a problem due to a congressional cap on residency programs – although the government is working on increasing the number of residency slots by 15,000 over the next five years.

3. Bricks

bricks

About five years ago as the world was facing an economic crisis, the United Kingdom housing market collapsed. This lead to a huge surplus of unsold bricks – about 1.2 billion, to be exact – and the eventual shutting down of brick factories across the country. To put it simply: the UK is running low on bricks.

British builders currently have to delay productions by nearly four months as they wait to get their hands on the kiln-fired clay bricks that they need to build new houses. Some have turned to imported bricks, which is only exacerbating the housing problem by adding cost and delays to production.

This shortage comes at a time when the British government has promised to build over 500,000 new homes per year in an effort to bring down sky-rocketing house prices. It’s proving difficult to build houses without house-building materials, and as a couple little pigs taught us, straw and sticks just won’t do the trick.

2. Water

water

How can we be running out of something that covers over 71% of the earth? When you consider that 96% of the earth’s water is of the salt variety, it’s not too surprising that we’re drowning in water but still have nothing to drink. As you’ve probably figured out from the chocolate and coffee shortage, dry spells are also getting increasingly common – drying up the tiny percentage of freshwater supply we have. Just take a look at what’s happening in California right now.

And the Golden State isn’t alone. According to the Government Accountability Office, even if we have “average” conditions in the next decade practically every state in the US will experience local, regional, or even statewide water shortages.

This isn’t a problem limited to the US, either. The UN says that water shortages are already affecting every single continent, and nearly 1.2 billion people around the world don’t have access to water. Another 1.6 billion – that’s a quarter of the world’s population – live in places too poor to afford water supply systems. By 2025, about two thirds of the world may be living with little to no water.

1. High Quality Bourbon

bourbon

If the last entry made you want to reach for some good old bourbon, you’re out of luck.

Straight Bourbon takes about two to four years to mature. Good bourbon takes closer to 20. That involves a whole lot of foresight on behalf of distilleries, and unfortunately, 20 years ago bourbon just wasn’t very popular. According to the president of the Kentucky Distillers Association, “In the ’70s and ’80s bourbon was your father’s drink, or worse, your grandfather’s drink.” Fearing a shortage, most of the best bourbon was bought up by people who could afford it, ironically causing that shortage.

Suddenly in recent years, bourbon became cool to drink again, thanks at least in part to shows like Mad Men. Demand for whiskey and bourbon has increased almost 70% in the last decade, making the best of the spirit pretty scarce.

Don’t worry though – you can still get plenty of the younger, cheaper stuff, and distilleries are constantly coming up with ways to speed up the process from years to days. But if you want the really good stuff, you’d better have deep pockets, or maybe a time machine.


Running Low on More Than Patience

WIF Shortages

Over The Moon

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