Category: Water

Arctic Ocean is getting more acidic: what does it mean?
Arctic Ocean is getting more acidic: what does it mean?

The Arctic Ocean is not only getting warmer but even more acidic. An international research team for Nature Climate Change found a rapid rise in acidification in the western Arctic Ocean.
Why? What could be the consequences? Let’s try to understand this phenomenon.

In this study, researchers from all over the world analyzed ocean acidification of the Arctic Ocean and compared the results with the historical data from 1990 to 2010. In only 15 years acidified waters have expanded north about 300 nautical miles from Alaska to just below the North Pole and not just on the sea surface: the depth of acidified waters was found to have increased, from approximately 325 feet to over 800 feet (or from 100 to 250 meters).

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Why is water acidifying?

Acidification is becoming a big problem all over the world, due to climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is growing and it is absorbed by seawater where chemical reactions occur that reduce seawater pH, carbonate ion concentration, and saturation states of biologically important calcium carbonate minerals. One fourth of the carbon dioxide floating in the atmosphere is absorbed by water. These chemical reactions are termed “ocean acidification” or “OA” for short.

What are the consequences?

Ocean Acidification is a potential threat to shellfish, the marine ecosystem and the fishing industry.

Calcium carbonate minerals are the building blocks for the skeletons and shells of many marine organisms. In areas where most life now congregates in the ocean, the seawater is supersaturated with respect to calcium carbonate minerals. This means there are abundant building blocks for calcifying organisms to build their skeletons and shells. However, continued ocean acidification is causing many parts of the ocean to become undersaturated with these minerals, which is likely to affect the ability of some organisms to produce and maintain their shells.

 

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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 3 times the size of France
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 3 times the size of France

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world. This mass of garbage is located between Hawaii and California and it’s three times bigger than France. The Ocean Cleanup Foundation have conducted the most extensive analysis ever of this area: the GPGP covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers.

The GPGP, also known as Pacific Trash Vortex, is like an island, floating on the ocean’s surface. It’s almost entirely made of plastic that weigh an estimated 80,000 tonnes. This is incredible! A total of 1.8 trillion plastic pieces were estimated to be floating in the patch – a plastic count that is equivalent to 250 pieces of debris for every human in the world.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made of little pieces and bigger pieces of plastic, easier to remove. The experts fear that the deterioration of the bigger pieces into microplastics, the result of sun exposure, waves, marine life and temperature changes, will worsen the problem. Animals confuse the plastic for food, putting at risk their overall behavior, health and existence.
But there are health and economic implications for humans as well: once plastic enters the marine food web, there is a possibility that it will contaminate the human food chain.
This is something that we need to avoid.

Ice jewels in Japan
Ice jewels in Japan

In the coldest months of the year on the Isle of Hokkaido, in Japan, ice forms the most beautiful diamond jewels. They’re cristal clear and the look just like the most precious diamond.
Pieces of ice shine like diamonds during the day and glow like amber at sunset. Why do form here? Well, these ice chunks spit out by the river accumulate on the beach, tumbled by ocean waves. Here they’re known as “Tokachi river ice“, jewelry ice or jewel ice, and they appear only here, and only during the coldest winter months.
These beautiful ice sculptures form with the water of the river and then are pushed by the sea waves on the beach, a movement that gives them a rounded shape.

They are so clear for two resasons. The first one is because it’s ice made of unsalted water:  this gives them a particular transparency, not possible with salty water. The second one is because this particular ice forms during a long period of time.

10 interesting things on the water
10 interesting things on the water

Finding water could lead to finding life.

One element  that all living things on Earth have in common is their need for water. Every living thing from the smallest virus to the largest elephant needs water to survive, wherever they live. Life on Earth is possible because of water. Astrobiologists,who are scientists searching for life on other planets, think that the key to finding life on other planets is the presence of water.

Earth’s water is mostly in the oceans.

The oceans, which cover 71% of  Earth’s surface, contain 96.5% of all the water on Earth. Only 0.001% of all water is in the atmosphere and if all that water  fell at the same time all over the world as rain, the whole planet would get about 1 inch of it.

Freshwater is frozen!

Freshwater is water with just a small amount of salts in it and only 3.5% of all the water on Earth is fresh. 68% of all freshwater is frozen in glaciers and ice, 30% is in groundwater and the rest in lakes, rivers and streams.

The concentration of salt in oceans is variable.

There is more or less 1 cup of salt ( sodium chloride – table salt!) in a gallon of ocean water, but the amount of salt in different oceans is not the same. The Atlantic ocean is saltier than the Pacific. On Earth the saltiest water can be found in Antarctica in a small lake called Don Juan Pond.

What goes on in a drop of water?

There is a lot of life in a single drop of ocean water. There could be millions of bacteria and viruses, fish eggs, little worms and baby polyps.

Comets may have brought water to Earth.

Originally there was some water within the rocky material that formed Earth, but probably not enough to fill all the oceans on our blue planet. It’s possible that comets, which are made from icy water, brought water when they fell on Earth. Maybe not all the water we see today has come from outer space in comets, but quite a lot could have.

What if ice sank?

Solid objects usually sink when put in water. This is because their atoms are very close together and so they are dense or very concentrated. When water becomes ice its molecules arrange themselves in rings with empty spaces in the middle. So ice is actually not as dense as water and so it floats! This fact is very important. If solid ice sank it would freeze the water around it. Floating ice lets the liquid stay liquid. Our oceans are not completely frozen mostly because ice floats.

Water makes up a large part of our bodies.

When a baby is born its body is 78% water, this proportion changes as we grow older and an adult’s body is made up of 55 to 60% water. Water plays an important part in our body’s functions. There’s a lot of water in our blood which brings nutrients to all the cells in our body, and takes away waste products. It also helps regulate our body temperature, think of sweat. In our brain and spinal cord it acts as a shock absorber. We really can’t do without  it.

Water goes upwards in plants.

How come a drop of water  is rounded and doesn’t flatten out? This is because water molecules tend to stick together and to other surfaces. This characteristic is typical of water and not many other liquids can do this. This fact explains how water can travel upwards from a plant’s roots to its leaves. Inside a plant there are thin tubes called xylem  where water molecules move upwards by sticking to each other and to the walls of the tubes. The water vapor coming out of the leaves keeps the water flowing upwards.

The three states of water are easy to see, very uncommon!

We can see water in its three states all the time, in clouds as water vapor, its gas form, in rivers and lakes as liquid water and in ice and snow in its solid form. This is unusual because, while all other substances can be solid, liquid or gas, many of them change state only at very extreme temperatures. We don’t see liquid gold or solid oxygen because their melting and freezing points are at temperatures which would kill us.