Chapter Eighteen — The Bounding Main
A Short History of Nearly Everything – by Bill Bryson
Chapter 18 — The Bounding Main
- Water is everywhere. A potato is 80% water, a cow 74%, a bacterium 75%. A tomato, at 95%, is little BUT water. Even humans are 65% water, making us more liquid that solid by a margin of two to one.
- Water is formless and transparent, and yet we long to be around it. It has no taste and yet we love the taste of it. We will travel great distances and pay small fortunes to see it in sunshine.
- When water freezes, it becomes a tenth more voluminous than it was before. Because it expands, ice floats on water (an utterly bizarre property). If water lacked this one characteristic, ice would sink and lakes and oceans would freeze from the bottom up. This would lead to solid icy oceans, and they would probably stay that way. This situation would not nurture life.
- There are 320 million cubic miles of water on Earth and that is all we are ever going to get. The system is closed. Practically speaking, nothing can be added or subtracted. The water you drink has been around doing its job since the Earth was young. By 3.8 billion years ago, the oceans had achieved their present volumes.
- 97% of all the water on Earth is in the seas, the greater part of it in the Pacific, which covers half the planet and is bigger than all the landmasses put together. The Pacific Ocean holds 51.6% of all ocean water, the Atlantic has 23.6%, and the Indian Ocean has 21.2%.
- Of the 3% of Earth’s water that is fresh, most of it exists as ice sheets. Only 0.036% is found in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Only 0.001% exists in clouds or as vapor. Nearly 90% of the planet’s ice is in Antarctica, and most of the rest is in Greenland.
- At the South Pole, the ice is nearly two miles deep, and at the North Pole the ice is 15 feet deep. Antarctica alone has 6 million cubic miles of ice. This is enough water to raise the oceans by a height of 200 feet if it all melted.
- The Pacific is about 1.5 feet higher at is western edge than at its eastern edge. This is due to the centrifugal force created by the Earth’s spin.
- We have better maps of Mars than we do of our own ocean-beds.
- There are teeming colonies of large organisms living on and around deep-sea vents off the Galapagos Islands. There are tube worms over 10 feet long, clams a foot wide, shrimps and mussels in profusion, and wriggling spaghetti worms. They all owe their existence to vast colonies of bacteria that derive their energy and sustenance from hydrogen sulfides that pour out of deep-sea vents.
- There is enough salt in the oceans to bury every bit of land on the planet to a depth of 500 feet. Millions of gallons of fresh water evaporate from the oceans daily, leaving their salts behind.
- The great blue whale is so large that “its tongue weighs as much as an elephant, its heart is the size of an automobile, and some of its blood vessels are so wide that you could swim down them” (David Attenborough).
- There could be as many as 30 million species of animals living in the oceans.
- For every pound of shrimp harvested, about 4 pounds of fish and other marine creatures are destroyed.
Click here to return to the ASHONE index