Water from Heaven

Water from Heaven: The Story of Water from the Big Bang to the Rise of Civilization, and Beyond

Robert Kandel
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/kand12244
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    Water from Heaven
    Book Description:

    From where -- and what -- does water come? How did it become the key to life in the universe? Water from Heaven presents a state-of-the-art portrait of the science of water, recounting how the oxygen needed to form H2O originated in the nuclear reactions in the interiors of stars, asking whether microcomets may be replenishing our world's oceans, and explaining how the Moon and planets set ice-age rhythms by way of slight variations in Earth's orbit and rotation. The book then takes the measure of water today in all its states, solid and gaseous as well as liquid.

    How do the famous El Niño and La Niña events in the Pacific affect our weather? What clues can water provide scientists in search of evidence of climate changes of the past, and how does it complicate their predictions of future global warming? Finally, Water from Heaven deals with the role of water in the rise and fall of civilizations. As nations grapple over watershed rights and pollution controls, water is poised to supplant oil as the most contested natural resource of the new century. The vast majority of water "used" today is devoted to large-scale agriculture and though water is a renewable resource, it is not an infinite one. Already many parts of the world are running up against the limits of what is readily available.

    Water from Heaven is, in short, the full story of water and all its remarkable properties. It spans from water's beginnings during the formation of stars, all the way through the origin of the solar system, the evolution of life on Earth, the rise of civilization, and what will happen in the future. Dealing with the physical, chemical, biological, and political importance of water, this book transforms our understanding of our most precious, and abused, resource. Robert Kandel shows that water presents us with a series of crucial questions and pivotal choices that will change the way you look at your next glass of water.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50775-2
    Subjects: General Science, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. PROLOGUE
    (pp. 1-8)

    Water—for most of North America, water; wasser, voda in the north and east of Europe; eau, agua, acqua, hydro, maya in western Europe, Quebec, and around the Mediterranean and Latin America: whatever you call it, water has always been an important part of our world, whether landscape, seascape, or sky. In Genesis (1:1–3), water and wind exist before light. In the Hebrew, the word ruakh denotes the wind as well as the spirit,¹ the breath of God on the waters before He lets there be light and separates day from night. And on the second day of the...

  6. PART I Water in the Universe from the Big Bang to the Appearance of Man
    • CHAPTER 1 BEGINNINGS
      (pp. 11-18)

      Where—or what—does water come from? Lavoisier and Cavendish knew how to make hydrogen from water at the end of the eighteenth century; but according to the formula H₂O that Gay-Lussac first wrote down in 1805, water is a molecular edifice made up of the elements hydrogen and oxygen. We know that these elements exist elsewhere in the universe, and hydrogen is by far the most abundant element in the Sun and stars, indeed nearly everywhere. As for oxygen, if we count its abundance as expressed in number of atoms (rather than in mass), it is the third most...

    • CHAPTER 2 THE CHURNING OF THE EARTH
      (pp. 19-38)

      Are we alone in the universe? Today, our planet Earth, with atmosphere, clouds, and oceans, surrounding a mostly solid mass made of heavy elements, appears to be the sole abode of life among the planets orbiting our Sun. On dry and frigid Mars, we can discern some vestiges of a gentler climate, of a liquid age when water flowed on the planet’s surface. A few peculiar meteorites, fragments from Mars found on Earth, harbor features that some researchers have identified as fossil Martian bacteria. Others disagree, and the question is not settled.¹ Could some such microbes still survive in hibernation...

    • CHAPTER 3 ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION OF LIFE
      (pp. 39-54)

      At the turn of the century (around 1900), the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius¹ hypothesized that life spreads throughout the universe in the form of spores, drifting from one planetary system to another, driven by the radiation pressure forces of starlight. On Earth, spores are extremely hardy forms taken by bacteria, fungi, ferns, and mosses, allowing them to survive under conditions completely hostile to life as they await better times and climes to revive and multiply. Arrhenius imagined that sporelike forms of life could survive for very long periods under the harsh conditions of interstellar space, providing the seeds of life...

    • CHAPTER 4 CATASTROPHES
      (pp. 55-65)

      We humans like to think of ourselves as being on the top rung of the ladder of evolution. For those who take the Bible story literally, God created man in his image, the crown of all that He had created in His six days of labor; perhaps a bit longer, since Psalm 90:4 sings “a thousand years are but a day in Thine eyes.” Even many freethinkers, neither believers in the doctrine of Creation according to Genesis, nor disciples of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin¹ or of Arthur Oncken Lovejoy and his “great chain of being,” still view homo sapiens as...

    • CHAPTER 5 ICE, MOON, AND PLANETS
      (pp. 66-82)

      Cosmic catastrophes, whatever they may be—nearby supernova explosions, solar “hurricanes,” or comet impacts—won’t stop the world going round. The Earth spins at over 1,000 miles per hour at the equator, 700 mph at latitude 45°N of Minneapolis. Should the Earth’s rotation suddenly come to halt, everything not tied down to solid ground—atmosphere, oceans, cows, cats and dogs—would be whipped away, as described vividly by H. G. Wells.¹ In 1950, self-taught Egyptologist Immanuel Velikovsky told a lively tale about how biblical miracles could be explained by the birth and expulsion of a massive body from the planet...

  7. PART II Water in Today’s World
    • CHAPTER 6 WATER AND ENERGY CYCLES
      (pp. 85-100)

      On our planet, today both warm and icy, the oceans contain some 1.37 billion cubic kilometers (324 million cu. mi.) of salty liquid water, over 96 percent of the total amount of Earth’s water (see table 6.1).¹ Much of the remaining 3.7 percent—that’s still 29 million cu. km—lies frozen in the ice caps of Antarctica and Greenland, floating in the ice pack, icebergs, and scattered sea ice of the polar oceans or inching downward in mountain glaciers. The shares of frozen and liquid water change with time, and when the last ice age came to an end between...

    • CHAPTER 7 WINDS, WAVES, AND CURRENTS
      (pp. 101-123)

      Water circulates incessantly between heaven and Earth, or rather between ocean, air, and land. From tropical sea surfaces warmed by abundant sunshine, water evaporates, and the wind carries the water in the gaseous state toward the equator. The warm humid air rises, and as it rises it cools, and once the temperature falls below the dew point, the water vapor condenses. Where the winds converge and strong convection lifts air upward, towers of cumulonimbus clouds rise to altitudes of 15 km (49,000 ft.) or higher, marking what is often called the “meteorological equator.” The water comes back down in the...

    • CHAPTER 8 WATER’S DEEP MEMORIES
      (pp. 124-134)

      Few scientists give credence to the idea that water has memory, if by that is understood memory at the scale of a single or a few H₂O molecules.¹ However, the great masses of water on Earth do undoubtedly have memory in the sense that they retain the mark of past environments. Ice contains most of the fresh water on our planet (table 6.1). As many as a million years of changing atmospheric composition and climate are recorded in the accumulations of snow changed to ice, and some 420,000 years of these “archives” have been deciphered.² Even a very small ice...

    • CHAPTER 9 CLOUDS, RAIN, AND ANGRY SKIES
      (pp. 135-154)

      Water falls from the sky, but heaven’s water is continually replenished by the cycle of evaporation and condensation. Covering more than 60 percent of the surface of our planet, clouds form by condensation. Water vapor, the invisible gaseous form of water, present in the air in variable amounts, becomes visible only when it changes to the liquid or solid state, in fog or clouds. Some clouds form at relatively low levels, at temperatures above the freezing point (0°C), but for others forming at very high altitudes, temperatures can drop below -40°C or even -70°C (-94°F). Look at the sky and...

    • CHAPTER 10 EARTH’S WATER, BETWEEN SKY AND SEA
      (pp. 155-186)

      Water falls from the skies, and all open-air creatures large and small depend on its fleeting or prolonged passage over the land. Source and stuff of all life on our planet, water evaporates from the sea to return to the sea. But the water cycle does not follow a single track, and its many ramifications involve byways, bottlenecks, detours, and dead ends. Of the rain falling on land, two-thirds return rapidly to the atmosphere, evaporating in a matter of hours directly from soil and leaf surfaces, more slowly over days or weeks from rivers and lakes (table 6.1 and fig....

  8. PART III Water in Human History, Past and Future
    • CHAPTER 11 WATER AND MAN’S RISE TO CIVILIZATION
      (pp. 189-219)

      Everyone talks about the balance of nature, but hasn’t it been overrated? Think of all the upsets over the last few million years since our ancestors distinguished themselves from chimpanzees (or vice versa), long before hominids had any significant impact on the environment! Our ancestor Cro-Magnon Man (and Woman!), like other plant and animal species, had either to migrate or to adapt to the repeated advances and retreats of the ice caps and of sea level. Conditions comparable to those that we enjoy today, with extended ice caps limited to Antarctica and Greenland, reigned during perhaps twenty different intervals over...

    • CHAPTER 12 PROBLEMS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
      (pp. 220-238)

      What new millennium? True, the third millennium of the Christian calendar, adopted as the civil calendar in most countries, has begun.¹ And we are perhaps well into the eleventh millennium since the “agricultural revolution,” when humankind began to change the landscape. About 15,000 years have gone by since the melting of the ice—in fact, not all, but only two-thirds of the ice. The Industrial Revolution began much less than 1,000 years ago, the sanitation and hygiene revolution only about a century ago. Among the most dramatic transformations of the last half century, the population “explosion” cannot but leave its...

    • CHAPTER 13 BUTTERFLIES AND HUMANS IN A WARMING GREENHOUSE
      (pp. 239-251)

      Some self-styled ecologists regret that we humans are no longer just one species of mammal among many others, carrying on our existence in a cozy well-defined ecological niche in the midst of the splendid balance of nature. But there never was such a golden age of equilibrium, and we know today that all nature is change. We know also that our acts as humans have consequences that escape our control, and that our artificial creations of today become new phenomena of nature that in part determine what tomorrow will bring. The newcomers who plowed the dry lands of the southern...

    • CHAPTER 14 BACK TO THE ICE AGE
      (pp. 252-258)

      Can the present interglacial time be legitimately distinguished from preceding interglacial intervals of the Pleistocene? Geologists often call this the Holocene, the “completely new” epoch. It was in 1839 that English geologist Charles Lyell coined this term and others from the Greek to designate different ages of the Quaternary period: Pleistocene—the most recent, Pliocene—more recent, Miocene—less recent, and Eocene—the dawn of the recent. Lyell’s completely new epoch now is part of our recent past, and in fact, the major distinction between the present Holocene and previous interglacial intervals—the most recent of which was 120,000 years...

    • CHAPTER 15 CONCLUSION THE END OF THE STORY?
      (pp. 259-262)

      Since at least three billion years, liquid water has existed on our planet, making possible the evolution of all forms of life. The Sun has grown brighter over the same period, but the oceans have never boiled. Surrounding our never completely frozen Earth, the atmosphere’s powerful greenhouse kept the oceans liquid when the Sun was weak. As the Sun grew brighter, gradual weakening of the Earth’s atmospheric greenhouse ensured the stability of climate and favorable conditions for the development of life. Ice sometimes covered enormous areas, but the ice always receded, sometimes disappearing almost completely from the planet’s surface. Sea...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 263-288)
  10. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 289-298)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 299-312)