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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

God's greatest chemical compound: Water

Two hydrogen atoms bound to one atom of oxygen constitutes the most important chemical compound on this planet (perhaps in all the Universe). This transparent, odorless and tasteless liquid that we all take for granted is essential to all of the life on this earth, including our own. It is also one of the few substances on this planet to occur naturally as a solid (ice), liquid (water) and gas (steam). Have you ever paused for just a moment to consider how truly remarkable and important this simple compound is? Or has its abundance in our world numbed you into indifference and stolen your ability to truly appreciate what a miracle it is?

According to the American Museum of Natural History (http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/past-exhibitions/water-h2o-life/fast-facts), water covers about three quarters of the surface of this planet. In addition to this, some scientists believe that there is even more water locked within the minerals of earth's mantle. Nevertheless, we all know that the overwhelming majority of this precious resource appears here with varying amounts of salt dissolved in it.

Indeed, it has been estimated that only about three percent of this precious compound appears as fresh water. Approximately two-thirds of that amount is in the form of ice. Moreover, most of what is left of that amount is locked within the soil as part of the water table. Hence, all of the terrestrial life on this planet is sustained by less than one percent of the total water available on this planet! Now consider for just a moment with what reckless abandon we waste and abuse this precious resource - how unappreciative are we?

Consider too the marvel of the hydrologic cycle. We all know that water evaporates into the atmosphere from the oceans, lakes, ponds and rivers that cover the globe. Likewise, it has been estimated that one acre of broad-leaf woodland has the potential to release eight thousand gallons of water into the air in a single day - that's more water than an average sized inground residential swimming pool holds! When the atmosphere becomes saturated with this evaporated water, it falls back down to the earth in the form of rain, snow and hail. Likewise, it has been estimated that somewhere around ten thousand cubic miles of water is funneled back into the oceans each year via the earth's streams and rivers! And, once again, life could not survive on this planet without this cycle.

Most scientists now agree that life began on this planet in water some three and a half billion years ago. It has been estimated that about sixty percent of our own body weight is water! Although some of the life forms on this planet have adapted themselves to survive with small amounts of water, the fact remains that water is essential to all life forms on the planet. Indeed, it has been determined that the average human needs to take in (via eating and drinking) somewhere between three quarts to one gallon of water every day to sustain life. Nevertheless, it has also been estimated that a citizen of the United States uses about one hundred and fifty-one gallons of water per day (taking into account industry, agriculture, bathing, flushing toilets, drinking water, watering lawns, washing automobiles, etc.)!

Water also has a profound impact on the planet as a whole. Through erosion, water shapes the surface of the land. Deep beneath the surface, water provides the "grease" that allows the continents to drift across the planet. Water also regulates earth's climate. Its ability to absorb and hold heat is an important factor in making large portions of this planet habitable that would otherwise be cold and forbidding places to live (consider the impact of the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean). Take just a moment to consider what would happen to this planet if ice didn't float (and remember that most substances are much heavier in their solid form than they are in their liquid state). We humans employ water in agriculture to feed our growing population, and we use it to generate a large portion of the electricity that we use (consider the Tennessee Valley Authority).

Finally, it is interesting to note that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures have a great deal to say about water. Indeed, the Genesis account of creation is awash in water. We read: "The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters." (Genesis 1:2) Continuing: "Then God said, 'Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.'" (verse 6) Is this passage indicative of a rudimentary understanding of the hydrologic cycle mentioned above? "Then God said, 'Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.' And that is what happened. God called the dry ground "land" and the waters "seas." (verses 9-10) Continuing: "Then God said, 'Let the waters swarm with fish and other life.'" (verse 20) Isn't that interesting? Scripture assigns the beginning of animal life to the water - the same place of origin that science has assigned for it (Of course, to be fair, science tells us that plant life began there too).

The Scriptural preoccupation with water doesn't end there. We read that God destroyed the world with a flood of water, and that mankind survived annihilation by floating in an ark on its surface. We are informed that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were preoccupied with digging wells. We are told that God turned the water of the Nile River into blood, and that "He" parted the sea so that the Israelites could escape from the pursuing Egyptian army. We are informed that Moses got into serious trouble at a place called Meribah for not giving God credit for producing water to quench the thirst of the Israelites in the wilderness. David wrote that God "leads me beside peaceful streams." We read that Elijah was given power over rain, and that Elisha was able to part the waters of the Jordan River. We are told that Jonah was tossed into the sea by his shipmates to calm the storm and was swallowed by a great fish. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John, and he apparently recruited several of his disciples from among the ranks of the fishermen working around the Sea of Galilee. Later, we are told that he walked on water and commanded the waves to be still. The Gospel of John informs us that Christ's first miracle involved changing water into wine. Finally, like their Savior before them, Christians have always used water in some sort of baptismal ritual to formally introduce them into his Church.

Whether one interprets these stories literally or figuratively, it is apparent that God's connection to water has always been indelibly stamped within the consciousness of "His" followers. Nevertheless, irrespective of all of the Scriptural stories associated with this subject, I'm inclined to view water as one of God's greatest miracles. I see in something that is considered to be very ordinary and commonplace by most of us something that is truly extraordinary - something that speaks volumes about the Great Chemist behind the compound. What do you think?

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