July 18, 2013

The Secret Life of Water

It’s easy to look at bodies of water all around us and make assumptions. While we might think that a water molecule frozen in a Pacific glacier will never reach a backyard stream, we could be mistaken.

Traveling Water – Surface water, meaning water that is above the ground, doesn't stay put. But of course, you already knew this. If you've ever sat on the side of a babbling brook or watch the wave’s crash onto the sand, you know that water is always moving. Having said that, how far does it travel? In a 100-year period, one water molecule will spend on average just over a year and a half as ice, two weeks in lakes, rivers, and streams, 98 years in the ocean, and less than a week in the atmosphere. Knowing this, take another look at the water that is rushing past your feet as your walk along the surf. Said water hasn't just traveled thousands of miles in the open ocean, so imagine where else it has been and how far it still has to go.

Groundwater – We know that surface water is fast moving, but what about groundwater? If you get your water from a well, then you’re actually tapping into a groundwater system. If you have always pictured the aquifer as a fast-moving underground river, you couldn't be more mistaken. Groundwater couldn't be more opposite than surface water. So opposite in fact that it takes nearly an entire human lifetime for groundwater to travel one mile. Where above ground water is zipping from here to there, groundwater moves at a snail’s pace.

Temperature – It’s probably a good thing that surface water is constantly moving, especially because water regulates Earth’s temperature. Have you ever noticed that coastal towns are warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer compared to central regions? The reason for this is simple: You’re standing right next to a huge body of water that is doing its best to regulate temperature and make changes less drastic.

So, the next time you water your garden, think about the water you’re using. If you’re using rainwater, just imagine how far said rain molecules have traveled to land in your buckets. If you’re using well water, think about the slow-moving pool beneath your feet. 


Phil Goold is a retired landscaper of 30 years. He loves being outside more than anything else, except maybe pie. He enjoys connecting with other landscapers and gardeners because everyone brings something new and fun to the table. Connect with Phil on Twitter and Google+.

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