The Making of a Water Wonderland

By Defant, Marc J. | The World and I, December 2002 | Go to article overview

The Making of a Water Wonderland

Defant, Marc J., The World and I

Conceived in space, born from molten rock or flying in as snowballs, and shielded from solar winds by a great magnetic umbrella, the ubiquitous liquid filling our planet's basins and coursing through our veins has a story to tell us.

Water is probably the most important compound on Earth. Eighty percent of all life on Earth lives in the oceans. Water is the ice of glaciers, the potable liquid filling underground aquifers across the globe, and the stuff of rivers, lakes, and oceans. The precious fluid has carved Earth's caves and weathered its land features. Water gives us a cloudy day, a foggy night, and a winter landscape blanketed in white. Three- quarters of Earth's surface is covered by water, but only 2.5 percent of it is fresh and only a small fraction of that is available for human use. (Much of the fresh water exists as ice in Antarctica and Greenland.Even more of it is underground in aquifers.)

Water, making up between 50 and 70 percent of our bodily weight, is an essential medium of all body fluids. Even our teeth have a 5 percent water content. The approximately 6 billion people on Earth carry a total of about 300 billion pounds of water within them as they walk upon the land. That's enough to fill 27 Lake Michigans. And these figures don't even consider the other life-forms on land which, like us, are predominantly water. Water is a requisite for all life and, fortunately, Earth is a water wonderland. How did it come to be so?

Water and the solar system

A startling fact about our universe is its virtual absence of water. It is made up of 75 percent hydrogen, 24 percent helium, and about 1 percent of the rest of the elements, one of which is the oxygen that combines with hydrogen to make water. Earth is unique in its large collection of liquid water. To gain an understanding of how Earth became a repository for so much liquid water requires a brief review of our solar system's history.

Our solar system is thought to have originated from a cloud, called a solar nebula, consisting primarily of hydrogen and helium produced during the Big Bang. Elsewhere, dying stars would have produced oxygen and other heavier elements, and all must have been injected into the solar nebula through a supernova, the explosive death of a large star. Once in the solar nebula, oxygen, craving electrons, would have combined with hydrogen, its preferred electron source. Thus began our water.

Computer models show that a slightly rotating solar nebula would collapse inward from gravitational forces into a disklike structure, with most of the mass concentrated in the center. In fact, the Sun makes up 99.9 percent of the mass of our solar system. As the solar nebula coalesced to form the Sun, hydrogen atoms were stripped of their electrons, exposing naked protons. When these fused into helium nuclei, the released nuclear energies lit up the heavens.

At the same time, the Sun would have thrown off an immense flux of charged particles, an electrified solar wind. It would have swept lighter elements and molecules, including water, away from the newly forming planets nearest the Sun (that is, the terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars).

The blue planet

Conditions for today's seasons and lunar tides are thought to have been established during the early formation of the solar system roughly 4.5 billion years ago, when a Mars-sized object probably struck a glancing blow to a barren, partially molten Earth. That impact likely produced not only the tilt of Earth's axis and the capture of the Moon but the melting of both the impactor and Earth. In the process, computer simulations show, Earth would have captured water, other vaporlike compounds, and the impacting object's iron-rich core.

Earth is like an onion, with progressively less dense layers from the interior outward. These layers range from the dense core's iron and nickel to the mantle's lighter minerals, the lightest minerals forming the crust, and finally the liquid and gaseous oceans of the hydrosphere and atmosphere. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Making of a Water Wonderland


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.