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Promoting Public Awareness Of Wildlife Habitats Through Environmental Education

Let’s Celebrate Water

WaterDropPicThe recent weather in Orillia gave me the idea for this article. Water, whether in its solid, liquid, or gas form has been everywhere these days in quantities that are almost unbelievable. Just when we thought it couldn’t snow anymore (because where were we going to put it all?!), Mother Nature came back with a, “Well, figure it out.” And, of course we did. A special thanks to the clean-up crews who get up early and stay out late to make sure our drives to work are safe.

 

But let’s get back to water. This remarkable chemical made of three particles (two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen) is the reason that life on Earth is so diverse; it’s the reason we experience the weather we do; and it’s the reason we are alive today. Every single one of us, whether you actively drink water or not, requires it for basic functions every day.

 

Looking at the properties of water, it’s a pretty amazing combination of elements. When water freezes it forms ice (basic information, I know). But have you ever thought about what happens when water freezes? It hardens, expands, and then it floats! This last quality is what makes it unique and what makes it so important within nature: frozen water is actually less dense than its non-frozen counterpart. Floating ice on ponds and lakes provides liveable habitat for fish below, allowing them to survive throughout the winter. If ice was denser than water, water bodies would freeze from the top and ice blocks would sink as their density increased. Eventually, the entire water body would freeze, killing fish and other living creatures within it.

 

When all of our snow and ice finally melts in the spring, the vegetation will receive a huge rush of much needed liquid. Fortunately for the world’s vegetation, water is cohesive and adhesive. Cohesion means that water molecules will stick to each other; adhesion allows water molecules to stick to other things. General, I know, but hear me out. Most plants are vascular, meaning that they have special tubes within their trunks and stems for transporting water and nutrients (for the scientific folk, they are called the xylem and phloem, respectively).

 

Because the water molecules stick to each other, the plants don’t need to expend much energy pulling water from the soil. As water is expended from leaves and through small pores in stems, more water is pulled up through the xylem like a chain. Cohesion keeps the water chain moving and adhesion sticks it to the walls of the xylem tube. Now add in surface tension which works to try and flatten out water droplets, effectively pushing water up and against gravity. Together, cohesion, adhesion, and surface tension make it possible for water to reach the tops of trees as high as the 95 meter Sitka Spruce, Canada’s tallest tree, located in British Columbia.

 

Speaking of surface tension, this force is also the reason water forms droplets. The exterior water molecules are being pulled at (through cohesion) by the inner molecules and the bottom of the drop is experiencing weaker adhesion forces against the surface it is sitting on. The classic flattened spherical shape is the result of each droplet trying to cover the smallest surface area possible as each inner water molecule pulls evenly on all the others.

Surface tension is the reason some insects, like the water strider, are able to make use of the water’s surface and hunt its prey from here. The strider’s feet are spaced far enough apart that the surface of the water supports its weight. The water beneath its six legs is simply depressed rather than being broken, allowing the strider to move quickly across the surface without sinking.

 

Finally, last but certainly not least, is water’s high specific heat capacity. Specific heat capacity (of water), if you haven’t heard the term before, is the energy required to raise one gram of water by one degree Celsius. It takes 4.184 Joules of energy to achieve this. This may not seem like much but consider Lake Ontario, the smallest of the Great Lakes. With a volume of about 1, 639 cubic kilometers, the water has a total weight of about 1,639,000,000,000,000 kilograms. So to increase the entire lake’s temperature by one degree Celsius, it will take 6,857,576,000,000,000 Joules of energy – equivalent to the amount of energy used by 64, 089 Ontario homes in one year. And that’s enough math for this writer.

 

So why is this important? The energy input required to change the temperature of even the smallest Great Lake is immense which means that temperatures change slowly, allowing aquatic life to survive even when temperatures out of the water increase or decrease rapidly (I’m looking at you, -30 degree day). Worldwide, this property of water helps to regulate our global climate.

 

I’ve heard it time and time again that we take our fresh water for granted in Canada and we certainly are lucky to have so much of it. Now you can think of water in a whole new way and really appreciate all that it does for us.

 

SNOWSHOE EVENT: Join us for a Snowshoe Stroll on Sunday, January 19, 2014 for a FREE fun day of snowshoeing at SCOUTS VALLEY (Line 15 lot) 10am – 3pm.  Have snowshoes? Bring them along but no worries if you don’t, Kids for Turtles has many sizes of snowshoes. Light lunch provided.  Kids welcome.

 

Written by: Marette Sharp, a volunteer with Kids for Turtles. Kids for Turtles Environmental Education is an educational and outreach organization working to bring a better understanding of and stewardship to the environment around us.