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The Dry Earth
May 13, 2012 2:11 PM   Subscribe

The Earth has less water than you might think. [via]
posted by cashman (68 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I blame Evian for being naive.
posted by jonmc at 2:15 PM on May 13, 2012


Evian gniebrof naive em alb I!

...I don't think this palindrome is going to work.
posted by Earthtopus at 2:17 PM on May 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


Call me weird, but I think 946,000,000,000,000 gallons of water is a lot of water.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 2:32 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think 946,000,000,000,000 gallons of water is a lot of water.

Nah, Earth's water is just a negligible amount of all of the matter in the universe. And most of the universe isn't even matter. So yeah, we should really try to conserve water better.
posted by aubilenon at 2:35 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's deceptive. The Earth's water is a thin shell of a large sphere. Take the total volume of arable land (go down about 30-40 feet to be conservative) and it would make an even smaller sphere. All it really illustrates is that most of what's important to us is on the surface of the Earth, or at most a few miles down.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:37 PM on May 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


It's even bigger in grams.
posted by wobh at 2:37 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, duh. The water is only on (or very slightly under) the surface.

The real question is: How many licks does it take to get to the chewy centre?
posted by Sys Rq at 2:38 PM on May 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


How many licks does it take to get to the chewy centre?

A one! A two! A owwwww mantle!
posted by fishmasta at 2:43 PM on May 13, 2012 [17 favorites]


I blame the subterranean Mole People for drinking it all.
posted by howfar at 2:46 PM on May 13, 2012


The real question is, how much bourbon is there?
posted by Splunge at 2:59 PM on May 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


One of the world fairs had a giant globe (20-30 ft, or so in diameter) that was supposed to be depth accurate. The actual relief of any but the tallest mountains was barely more depth than paint. Our perceptions are very localized.
posted by sammyo at 2:59 PM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


It, like most problems we'll face in the 21st century and beyond, is a question of energy.

Had we effectively unlimited clean energy, then all that salt water is readily de-salinized and then easily delivered to any and all thirsty mouths. Lacking that energy, it becomes a question of geography and politics. The same is true of food and other resources we depend on: getting it to the people that need it is governed by economic and political forces which are stupid, shortsighted, and harmful. But these largely exist because underneath, the limitation of energy causes us as people to make dumb choices, because we can't easily grow food or gather clean water on one side of the globe and deliver it to people on the other side without a massive energy cost.
posted by hincandenza at 3:01 PM on May 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


There's a huge amount of volume in a sphere. And 860 miles across is roughly half the size of the Moon. And we all know how much cheese that is.
posted by crunchland at 3:04 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's another picture that shows the volume of water and the volume of the atmosphere, also amazingly smaller than you'd think.
posted by sneebler at 3:05 PM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Precisely, hincandenza, the amount of water is simply one of the parameters of the problem of power distribution, in both sense of the word "power".
posted by howfar at 3:06 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It, like most problems we'll face in the 21st century and beyond, is a question of energy.
It is going to take a lot of energy to get all that water into space so it can form a tiny sphere.

Then we have to get far away from Earth it to take a picture of the sphere in orbit around Earth, which is itself not trivial.
posted by !Jim at 3:06 PM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder what a picture with a ball for the crust of the Earth would look like?
posted by Zalzidrax at 3:06 PM on May 13, 2012


How about a ball of all the people? and a ball of all the bugs? and a ball of all the rainforests... I find it very enlightening to have things reduced to a lot of balls.
posted by The otter lady at 3:10 PM on May 13, 2012 [22 favorites]


Honestly, I think this is kind of silly. Yes, small things are considerably smaller than very large things. Imagine how little water we'd have if we put the Sun next to the ball of water! Oh no!

I thought going into this that water covered about 70% of the Earth's surface (well, honestly I thought it was 2/3, but close enough for all the difference it makes.) I was expecting this to be about a challenge to that popular notion, but instead it's just a demonstration that the surface of the Earth is tiny relative to its volume, which is blindingly obvious.
posted by !Jim at 3:11 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find it very enlightening to have things reduced to a lot of balls.

Well this is certainly that.
posted by howfar at 3:13 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


They should show the volume of all the human beings in the world as another sphere.

Actually, they might as well have done. You wouldn't even be able to see it.
posted by iotic at 3:14 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


... and a ball of all the balls.

And a ball of all the balls of balls. And a ball of all the balls that don't include themselves. Oh shi—
posted by rlk at 3:20 PM on May 13, 2012


Can this be done for the estimated amount of oil that we've A) consumed to date and B) expect to have remaining in relatively easy access?
posted by odinsdream at 3:22 PM on May 13, 2012


and much of that is sitting in suburban Costco warehouses in Kirkland ™ water bottles.
posted by special-k at 3:24 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


We have about a zit's worth of oil.
posted by hal9k at 3:27 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


How about a ball of all the people?

OK.
posted by Evilspork at 3:29 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


...I don't think this palindrome is going to work.

Naive sex at noon taxes evian.
posted by michaelh at 3:32 PM on May 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


Okay, see this hemorrhoid? That's all the HFCS manufactured in the last decade. Positioned over St. Louis? Not coincidental.
posted by hal9k at 3:33 PM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Earth has more water than air or bacon. Perspective is everything.
posted by elmaddog at 3:37 PM on May 13, 2012


These globes are proof that the powers that be are lying to us! There is no water shortage. Look! Greenland still has its icecap! This is supposed to be a waterless world. That proves to me that the inside of the planet is FILLED with water; it bubbles up at Greenland, whereupon it temporarily freezes. This fossil water stuff is a lie! We have all the water that we'll ever need, so go ahead and build that 24/7 water fountain Tribute To Liberace. It's okay!
posted by frodisaur at 3:47 PM on May 13, 2012


The real question is, how much bourbon is there?

You know that argument that says we should care about water pollution because the human body is 60% water? You can replace "the human body" with "bourbon" and it still works.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:53 PM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: things reduced to a lot of balls
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:29 PM on May 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you want to make something sound big, you describe it in terms of area or length. If you want to make something sound small, you describe it in terms of volume. So, when someone tells you how many times all the X's would stretch from the earth to the moon and back, they're almost always trying to make X sound very abundant. In contrast, when someone tells you the dimensions of a swimming pool that would hold all the X's, they're usually trying to make X sound scarce.

This is the visual equivalent of that trick. We see the earth's crust stretched over a huge sphere of other stuff (as in reality), but we see the water forming a 100%-water sphere, with nothing else inside it (unlike reality). As a result, the water looks woefully inadequate to give the earth what it needs.
posted by John Cohen at 4:33 PM on May 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


Yes, that illustration is kinda wacky. The "ball of water" is 860 miles in diameter, yet the deepest part of the ocean is "only" 6.7 miles deep.

Lake Tahoe alone has a volume of 36 cubic miles. If you dumped Lake Tahoe out, it would cover the entire state of California to a depth of more than a foot.

And Lake Tahoe is only the 26th largest lake by volume. DUDE.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:56 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can replace "the human body" with "bourbon" and it still works.

I'm halfway there!
posted by Sys Rq at 4:57 PM on May 13, 2012 [17 favorites]


That's OK, they tell me that I wear my stillsuit like a native.

(is this why TBS was looping Dune all Saturday? Man, that's one talky mess...)
posted by djrock3k at 5:02 PM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


There may be a better way to gather fresh water than desalination.
posted by A dead Quaker at 5:13 PM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


That was about what I expected, especially since I'd seen that picture before.
Imagine how little water we'd have if we put the Sun next to the ball of water! Oh no!
Yeah, it would totally evaporate!
posted by delmoi at 5:26 PM on May 13, 2012


Before the human race becomes extinct, we should gather all that water into an enormous bucket to prank the next intelligent species. They'll be all "Oh, life is so dry on our desert planet. Hey, what's behind this door here?" KASPLOSH!!! Ha!
posted by orme at 5:43 PM on May 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


I dunno about that water windmill, Quaker. It can produce "up to" 1000 liters/day (in ideal conditions, which given that it works by condensation presumably means hot and humid) which the creator says is enough water for a village of "up to" 3000 people. That's not so realistic, though -- it's only 1/3 liters per person per day. Last I heard, standard water consumption requirements for people tend to be about 4 liters minimum per person per day for all purposes.

So more realistically, we're talking about 250 people per turbine at subsistence levels of consumption. Given that this thing is targeted at remote areas in arid climates in the developing world where existing water infrastructure is either absent or inadequate, one has to ask whether a village of of 250 people could afford one of these technological marvels, along with its required water purification system. I have my doubts.

I could maybe see it being viable in places such as remote military bases, oil rigs, and mining operations where there is little water but plenty of money and self-sufficiency is important. That's not going to solve any major water crises, though.

Interesting bit of kit, but I'm not sure if it's the solution.
posted by Scientist at 5:47 PM on May 13, 2012


I blame the subterranean Mole People for drinking it all.

I just have to say, apropos of almost nothing, that as a caver, I absolutely adore that movie.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:19 PM on May 13, 2012


Of course the sphere of water looks minuscule from space; mock up some images of what that would look like from the ground and it'd be fucking terrifying. Remember how scary that Japanese tsunami footage was? That was just the ocean taking a deep breath, imagine if it stood up
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:20 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


And we don't have much gold either!
posted by vidur at 6:28 PM on May 13, 2012


Curse you delmoi! You stole my evaporation joke.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:53 PM on May 13, 2012


You're right I always thought the earth was filled with water. Thanks for correcting me on that.
posted by carfilhiot at 6:57 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I heard someone on BookTV say that if you took every human on earth and stacked them up like cordwood that they would fill just 1 cubic mile.

I have no graphic.
posted by Bonzai at 7:05 PM on May 13, 2012


All we need to do is reduce human population to one billion. There. I've solved every environmental problem. One of these new multi resistant bacteria strains might do the trick. Or maybe Pakistan will finally drop the big one. There is still hope out there, people.
posted by mrhappy at 8:44 PM on May 13, 2012


I heard someone on BookTV say that if you took every human on earth and stacked them up like cordwood that they would fill just 1 cubic mile.

I have no graphic.


Which is amusing because that image in my brain is VERY graphic.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:06 PM on May 13, 2012


All we need to do is reduce human population to one billion. There. I've solved every environmental problem. One of these new multi resistant bacteria strains might do the trick. Or maybe Pakistan will finally drop the big one. There is still hope out there, people.

Can we count on you to do the murdering, mrhappy?
posted by michaelh at 10:06 PM on May 13, 2012


Interesting bit of kit, but I'm not sure if it's the solution.

Yup, agreed, I'm not sure it's going anywhere unless the costs go way down, but it's an interesting thing to keep an eye on.

Actually, it's one example of using wind turbines to do something more sophisticated than just providing base load power to a grid. It sounds like people are also trying to figure out ways to store wind-generated power, and I'm hoping some of those pan out.
posted by A dead Quaker at 10:31 PM on May 13, 2012


orme: "Before the human race becomes extinct, we should gather all that water into an enormous bucket to prank the next intelligent species. They'll be all "Oh, life is so dry on our desert planet. Hey, what's behind this door here?" KASPLOSH!!! Ha!"

But how would you design the doorknob without knowing the shape of the next intelligent species? It's always something, isn't it?
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 11:06 PM on May 13, 2012


But we live in S2 essentially, not in ℝ3! The scarcity of water cannot be related to the radius of the earth. In other words, if the earth, the oceans, and the people all shrunk by 50%, water would somehow be less scarce!

Hurrah for good causes, but we don't need math abuse to make a point.
posted by cotterpin at 11:22 PM on May 13, 2012


Bonzai: "I heard someone on BookTV say that if you took every human on earth and stacked them up like cordwood that they would fill just 1 cubic mile DIE. "
posted by Splunge at 6:20 AM on May 14, 2012


Somehow in the midst of all this self congratulation it seems that most people actually did miss the point, which is that water is not as abundant as we think on a global scale. Yes, compared to the scales we usually think in there is a lot. This is a problem, because there are six billion of us, and we do not affect the earth on the scales we usually think in. We have a much larger effect. Scroll down on this page to the chart showing water stress, and look at just how much red there is. All those areas are using water faster than replacement. And the orange are using it at replacement. So continue to say "har har, volume versus area" if you like, but you're actually missing the point.
posted by Nothing at 6:33 AM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, we're not missing the point at all. Charts speak the language of math, and if that math is flawed, it matters. It means that the argument is flawed. The underlying problem is independent of this.

Actually, the fact that the underlying problem is real kind of makes it worse. I look at the picture in the fpp, and I know I'm being mislead. Why mislead when real figures are on your side?

Sucking all the water off the surface of the earth and making a sphere out of it tells me nothing at all about scarcity of water, because the size of the oceans are asymptotically dwarfed by the size of the planet.

I suspect most people will feel like something is wrong with the picture, because it seems to be saying that water is actually really scarce on the surface of the earth. When the planet surface is 70% water, that's a hard sell. And yet, pressure of the water supply, on aquifers, and access to fresh clean water is the real issue and that is something people can understand. Fresh water is relatively rare on the earth's surface. And here volume does matter, the volume of fresh water consumed by humanity compared to the volume replenished by nature. So why turn the oceans into a sphere of water and compare it to the size of the earth? It's making the problem hard to grasp, and it's mathematical gibberish anyway!
posted by cotterpin at 7:18 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


That water ball is about half the size of the moon, which means my next FPP is going to be about how the Earth has less moon than you might think.
posted by cirrostratus at 7:42 AM on May 14, 2012


So continue to say "har har, volume versus area" if you like, but you're actually missing the point.

No, this graphic misses the point. That's the point of criticising it. There is no shortage of water, there is a shortage of useable water in certain areas. This is not a problem of underlying resource scarcity, even with a global population of 7 billion people. The problem is one of how we choose to use and distribute both water and the technologies and resources that give access to water. It's a political problem, and this graphic misses the essence of it by a country mile.

This is a bit like showing me a ball representing the volume of pens in my house next to a ball representing the volume of my house and complaining that I've "missed the point" when I complain that this does nothing to tell me why I can't find a pen. The problem is systemic.
posted by howfar at 8:18 AM on May 14, 2012


... has there been a Last Call at the Oasis thread yet? Or is this it?

I heard an interview with Jessica Yu this weekend. Fascinating. Here is a decent text interview. Another.

I would throw out a bunch of links, but JGI. Your first result will be Elle magazine.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:53 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


How about a ball of all the people?

I actually worked this out a few years ago for, er, reasons that have nothing to to with any sort of Glorious Master Plan.

7 billion people in the world, with an average mass of 65kg (guesstimate based on knocking a few % off the UK and US averages) and an average density of 1g/cm3. This gives you a total volume of (7billion x 65,000cm3=) 455,000,000m3, which in turn gives you a sphere with radius ( cuberoot(455,000,000 / ((4/3) * pi)) =) 477.13m.

So if you mushed all of humanity into a soft, yielding and pleasantly warm sphere, our entire species would end up something like 950m across.

On these images, you can just about see Great Britain. A line drawn from the southernmost tip to the northernmost is roughly 950km. So our sphere of humanity is about 1000th of the length of the UK, much less than a single pixel in that image.
posted by metaBugs at 11:14 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


One doesn't consume water, one rents it ...

then you have to get the fish to wash it (oops, we've eaten all the fish ...)
posted by fistynuts at 3:29 PM on May 14, 2012


Fresh water is relatively rare on the earth's surface. And here volume does matter

Did you miss the (relatively) tiny sphere representing fresh water? I agree that without it the chart would be pretty meaningless. (And it would be better if that fresh water was broken down by water locked up in ice versus available for use.) But showing the total volume of water, and the total volume of fresh water, on a global scale, is not at all meaningless or mathematically suspect.
posted by Nothing at 7:19 AM on May 15, 2012


And given energy constraints, there very much is a shortage of fresh water. Most major cities are using water faster than replacement. It is not only a political problem.
posted by Nothing at 7:21 AM on May 15, 2012


showing the total volume of water, and the total volume of fresh water, on a global scale, is not at all meaningless or mathematically suspect.

But it doesn't do that for any common meaning of the world "global". When people say, "this is a global problem" in political discourse, I'll wager none of them ever mean to refer to the effect of the problem 100 miles underground.

Most major cities are using water faster than replacement. It is not only a political problem.

Massive localised overconsumption in a time of scarcity for huge numbers. Sounds like the very essence of a political problem. As I said above, the real problem is not just how you distribute and use water, but how you distribute and use power. We can't just close our eyes and wish for less people, we need to start working out how we're going to accommodate the people we've got, and likely several billion more. That's politics, and it ain't going to be fun or pretty.
posted by howfar at 9:10 AM on May 15, 2012


All I am saying is that we do not think of resources on anywhere near the scale we consume them, and this visualization is looking at that. And if you take the point as the relatively tiny amount of fresh water, then it is actually biased in the opposite direction from what most people here are saying, because people generally vastly overestimate size of a smaller volume compared to a larger one.

I did not say it was not a political problem, I said it was not an entirely political problem. We cannot wish for fewer people, nor for more water. There is a political and a resource problem in many parts of the world.
posted by Nothing at 9:32 AM on May 15, 2012


'Last Call at the Oasis': Why Time Is Running Out to Save Our Drinking Water. A new film provides a much-needed wake-up call for Americans: Our false sense of water abundance may be our great undoing.
posted by homunculus at 2:45 PM on May 15, 2012


Yeah, it would totally evaporate!

Oh no!

*ahem*
Somehow in the midst of all this self congratulation it seems that most people actually did miss the point, which is that water is not as abundant as we think on a global scale. Yes, compared to the scales we usually think in there is a lot. This is a problem, because there are six billion of us, and we do not affect the earth on the scales we usually think in. We have a much larger effect. Scroll down on this page to the chart showing water stress, and look at just how much red there is. All those areas are using water faster than replacement. And the orange are using it at replacement. So continue to say "har har, volume versus area" if you like, but you're actually missing the point.
If you're going to make charts and use math to argue a point, I'm sorry, but I am going to demand that your math is correct and your chart is meaningful. It is true that water shortages are becoming a major problem and are going to get much, much worse. What's not true is that this chart demonstrates that in any meaningful way.
posted by !Jim at 6:23 PM on May 15, 2012


Well, I'll bow out on this. But I maintain that the math is fine and the chart does demonstrate something useful.
posted by Nothing at 4:29 AM on May 16, 2012


And here's all the Water on Europa.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 8:34 AM on May 24, 2012


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