Water: Top 10 Questions

April 2015

Thanks to Dr. Jan Boll, professor of biological and agricultural engineering, University of Idaho; and Dr. Sarah Godsey, assistant professor, department of geosciences, Idaho State University for the answers.

1: What is water made out of?

Water is made out of oxygen and hydrogen atoms that are put together in a really interesting way. They are put together so that they are a polar molecule. Imagine that the oxygen is your head and the hydrogen atoms are your shoulders. This way, they are a little off balance and that is really important for water because it makes a charged molecule. As a result, water has all of these unique properties that help to make life on Earth possible. (From Brianna at Basin Elementary School in Idaho City)

2: Where does water come from?

Water goes through a cycle called the hydrologic cycle, or water cycle. Water falls from the clouds as mostly rain or snow. Then, it hits the Earth's surface and moves to different places, eventually evaporating back up to the clouds. So, there really is no one place water comes from because it keeps cycling around and around. (From Alea at Kamiah Elementary School in Kamiah)

3: Why does water have no color?

It is true that water has no color if you look through a glass because light goes through it. However, if you look at deeper water systems like the ocean or a swimming pool, there is coloration to the water that comes from dissolved particles. The color we see is actually everything that does not reflect back to our eyes. So, it all depends on the kind of particles in the water as to what color we may see. (From Cameron at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

4: How is the water we drink safe?

It depends on where the water is coming from. Typically, the water coming into our homes has been treated by the city. The city has a water department and they are responsible for making sure that the water that comes through the tap is safe. Most cities have a report that you can find that tells you exactly what they have found in the water. That doesn't mean that there is nothing in the water we drink, but that if there is, it is below any level of concern for the citizens. If you have well water at home, it is important to check it and make sure it is safe to drink. When we look at water, we try to make sure it's as safe as can be from where it falls or originates. That way, we don't have to spend a lot of money cleaning up water. (From Kendall at Adams Elementary School in Boise)

5: Do we drink water that was on Earth millions of years ago?

You can actually calculate the likelihood that you are drinking a molecule of water that had previously been drunk by someone like Abraham Lincoln. The chance is really high because there are just so many water molecules in a particular glass of water. So, yes, we are drinking water molecules that have been cycling around and around in the hydrologic cycle for a really long time. (From Adrianna at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

6: Why does my faucet water stain my sink brown?

It is pretty common that the combination of water and oxygen can allow the metal parts of our sinks to rust. The rust often creates that brown color that we see. (From Paige at Adams Elementary School in Boise)

7: How does water evaporate from the ground up to the sky?

Water molecules are always in motion and when water is warmer, it will have a lot of motion. Water itself is a saturated system, meaning there is no air or little air in it. If the air around water is really dry, then there are fewer molecules of water in the air. There will be a gradient between the water and the air and the water molecules on the surface of the water will jump into the vapor phase. This happens because there is energy in the system. (From Braden at Kamiah Elementary School in Kamiah)

8: How much of the world's water is polluted?

The majority of Earth is made up of oceans, and we don't have good testing to determine pollution of those oceans. We are mostly concerned with testing water that is fresh water or ground water. We don't have an answer for the entire world, but we can make a guess. There are waters that have chemical constituents that we are concerned with for beneficial uses. For example, the water we use to drink. Most of that water is not polluted beyond our ability to clean it. When we look at water that fish live in and other life forms, we have some concerns. In areas where there is a lot of human activity, there is concern over the pollution of water. (From Katie at Basin Elementary School in Idaho City)

9: Is there water under the Earth's crust?

There is water beneath the surface of the Earth. A lot of the water that was beneath the surface of the Earth is now at the surface of the Earth because it has come to the surface through volcanic eruptions. The amount of water beneath our feet can have an impact on what happens during an earthquake. If there is an area with a lot of water or a little bit of water, it can affect the shaking. If there is a volcanic eruption, the water can affect the type of eruption that occurs. (From Elijah at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

10: Is ground water always clean?

Ground water is not always clean. The deep, deep ground water is typically clean. When we drill wells, we test to make sure it's clean. The shallow ground water that is only a few feet below the surface, however, can be influenced by anything that happens on the surface. Farming, lawn care, and many other things influence the water that is near or on the surface. In order to call it polluted, it has to go above a certain concentration, so we have to be careful and understand that. (From Gavin at Adams Elementary School in Boise)

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