The Circle of H2O

What is the water cycle? When we waste water are we really losing it? Why is conservation so important? Join Lauren, Joe and Jonathan for the second part of their series on water.

Male Speaker 1: Brought to you by Toyota. Let's go places. Welcome to Forward Thinking.

Jonathan: Welcome, everyone, to Forward Thinking. I am your host extraordinaire, Jonathan Strickland, and I am joined by my cohosts extraordinaire -

Joe: Joe McCormick.

Lauren: And Lauren Vogelbaum.

Jonathan: And today we wanted to talk a little bit more about water, right?

Joe: Yeah, so, when I was a kid, I remember hearing about water scarcity awareness. At my school, every now and then, somebody would come in and tell us something really scary, like, "The hot dogs you're eating are going to give you cancer," or -

Jonathan: Wow, what kind of high school did you go to?

Joe: No, this was elementary school.

Jonathan: Oh, pardon me.

Lauren: This explains a lot about you, Joe.

Jonathan: Learning through terror.

Joe: Yeah, I was very terrified of hot dogs for a while, but they were so delicious.

Lauren: Fair point, but yeah.

Jonathan: Getting back to water, though.

Joe: We heard there was a problem with water, that there was a scarcity issue, how do you get water? And I remember getting this impression, when I was a kid, that the water was going somewhere.

Lauren: Like going away, like leaving?

Joe: Right, like we're running out of water in the same way that, say, we're running out of coal.

Jonathan: So right, like, there's one giant water tank somewhere, and that level is going down, and when it's out, it's gone.

Joe: Exactly. But of course, that's not true at all. We're not running out of water the way we're running out of coal, but water scarcity is a huge issue, so what is the deal?

Jonathan: Ah, so, we have to understand things like regionalization, we have to understand how much water is accessible at any given time, how much of that water is usable, because just because you can access it doesn't mean you can actually use it. For instance we mentioned, in an earlier podcast, that more than 97 percent of the water on earth, and there's a lot of it, is salt water, so that's not -

Joe: You can't drink it; you can't use it in agriculture.

Jonathan: Yeah, you would have to process it first in order to use it, and of course that requires energy output, so if it takes more energy to make fresh water from salt water than it would to get fresh water through some other means, then it doesn't make sense to use desalination, right? But really the issue with water scarcity is multifaceted. Joe, you mentioned in the script that you wrote for Forward Thinking the video series that a lot of the fresh water that exists out of that less than three percent, a lot of that is not even accessible to us because of where it is.

Joe: That's true. A lot of it is locked up in ice caps or in glaciers. A lot of it is under the ground in places we can't access, or it's in tree bark and other people's flesh.

Jonathan: Right, so unless you're a sparkly vampire, you're out of luck.

Joe: Exactly. I mean, water is everywhere, but there's only so much that we can get to and use in a way that's safe and helpful to the things we want to use it for.

Lauren: And once we have used it it's a huge cost process to get it back to a usability point again.

Jonathan: Right. In other words, that scarcity thing, that leaving the faucet on for too long, it's not that that water is going away, it's that it's going to a place where it's going to require processing before we could ever use it safely again, so that means that it's an energy issue.

Joe: Right. You could think about it kind of like laundry. When you wear a shirt or a pair of underwear, you don't exhaust it. It's not that you can never use it again.

Jonathan: You haven't seen how I wear a shirt.

Joe: But you've got to run it through a washing machine and a dryer and the fold it or hang it up before you can use it again.

Jonathan: Right, right. So it requires energy before you can use it, at least in a socially acceptable way. Some people I know go a long time between washes.

Lauren: I've never met anyone like that at Dragon Con or etc.

Joe: There's also a local scarcity issue, right? The world isn't going to run out of water. There's a closed system, and we can talk about that in a minute, but there are truly local water scarcity issues, and water isn't leaving the planet, but in one particular place, it might suddenly run dry.

Jonathan: Sure, yeah. You might have a natural disaster that causes a certain area of the planet to have less access to fresh water than it did before, or just climate change over time can cause that to happen.

Joe: Or simply over irrigation. If you just take too much water out of the aquifers around you and you drain them dry, suddenly then you've got a big local agriculture problem.

Jonathan: Sure, yeah. So this is, again, we're not saying that the water is leaving. It's still on earth, it's just no longer accessible in that particular area, and you were saying it's a closed system. That's a good point. The water isn't leaving earth, at least not in any great quantities.

Lauren: Well, wait, so if it's a closed system, how did it get here in the first place?

Jonathan: Well, it turns out there's a giant faucet on the side of Mount Everest.

Lauren: Okay.

Jonathan: No, that's totally a lie.

Joe: Well, that's actually a good question, and we don't know for sure the answer, but I was reading something interesting that apparently now a lot of scientists think that much of Earth's water came from space.

Jonathan: So, aliens.

Joe: No, not aliens with their big hoses. No, they're saying from asteroid impacts.

Jonathan: Okay. All right, so asteroids, which I would assume have, some asteroids have ice on them, collide with the Earth and that ice ends up forming a lot of the water that's here on the planet.

Joe: Right. In 2010, we surveyed the asteroid 24 Themis.

Jonathan: One of my favorites.

Joe: Yeah, it's one of the best. And it was discovered to have a layer of frost on the outside, as water, and so that confirmed. It also was found to have organic compounds, like carbon based compounds, that some people believe could have given the building blocks that seeded life on earth and so, we don't know that of course. That's just a possibility.

Jonathan: It's a hypothesis.

Lauren: Okay, but so this was all before life started on Earth. This was billions upon billions of years ago.

Joe: This was about four billion years ago, they think that this could have happened.

Jonathan: That's quite a long time ago.

Lauren: A minute, yeah, sure.

Jonathan: So that water, however it got to Earth, whether it was through an asteroid impact or some other means, and again, we don't know for sure, but it's one of the hypotheses that scientists are thinking about. That water has been here on the planet since then, and that water has not gone anywhere. It has gone through different phases, but the water that we have now is the same water that was here on the planet four billion years ago.

Lauren: It just keeps getting recycled through the clouds and through rain and through rivers, etc. etc. And people, and velociraptors.

Jonathan: That's right, folks. That healthy glass of water that you're drinking so that you can get up to the eight glasses per day, or however many it's supposed to be at this point, that very well may have, at some point, passed through the system of a dinosaur.

Joe: Almost certainly did, at least some molecules in there.

Jonathan: You can tell there's a slightly gamey taste. No, no.

Joe: It's megalodon blood.

Lauren: Yes. Megalodon is now -

Jonathan: You guys have this obsession with giant sharks.

Lauren: They're giant sharks.

Jonathan: Okay, fair enough.

Lauren: No, but we're all supposed to drink about at least a half a gallon of water a day.

Jonathan: All right, so, half a gallon of water a day, keeping in mind that that water has been here on earth for billions of years. First of all, when you really sit here and think about that, that's just amazing. That's just kind of cool to me, the idea that there's stuff that we encounter every day that has been here for billions of years, that our lives depend upon this, and it's easy to just kind of take it for granted, but this water, if only it really could hold significance. Like, if the stuff it came into contact actually stayed with it somehow.

Lauren: Imbued it with some kind of megalodon power.

Joe: If you got megalodon powers from -

Lauren: Sign me up. I would drink way closer to my daily allotment of water instead of, say, coffee, if it was imbued with megalodon power.

Jonathan: Yeah, I honestly do not believe any of that is at all possible, which is -

Joe: Really? Really, you don't?

Jonathan: Do you want to go down this road? Because we can talk about titrating things down over and over again until there's no discernable chemical left, but I really don't want to go into that.

Lauren: Not even in the incredible future?

Jonathan: Not even in the incredible future.

Lauren: Okay, but what is the future of water? It's a pretty basic -

Jonathan: Well, one of the futures of water is the idea that if we ever decide to get off this rock, if we ever decide to actually try and have either inter planetary or inter stellar travel, then we have to find ways of using water in a very efficient manner, and being able to recycle water incredibly efficiently, particularly for a very long journey, because you're not getting more water once you're out there, unless you're able to find a source like another asteroid or even maybe a planet that actually has its own water supplies. So the future of water might involve mining asteroids for water.

Joe: That's not so far-fetched, actually. Well, there's already a company called Planetary Resources that has announced plans to send up interceptors and mine precious metals and water from asteroids.

Jonathan: Which makes sense; again, if you want to talk about any sort of colony on another planet or on a moon, then we can't just pack up water from earth and send it out. For one thing -

Joe: It's so expensive.

Jonathan: It's really expensive.

Lauren: Yeah, it's $10,000.00 a pound to put things in space and if we need half a gallon a day, water weighs, what, like 8.3 pounds a gallon or something like that?

Jonathan: Yeah, it gets pretty expensive pretty quickly.

Joe: 10,000 pounds a pint, or dollars a pint.

Jonathan: It gets very expensive, even more expensive than going out and buying bottled water.

Joe: Oh, the fancy kind.

Jonathan: Guys, don't buy bottled water. But yeah, it's an issue where you also don't want to take the drinkable water on earth and sacrifice it so that you can build a colony somewhere else, so mining asteroids is definitely one of those things that we should look into.

Joe: Well, water in space is essentially going to be crucial. We're talking about water scarcity issues on planet Earth, the water planet. The fact that four in ten people on the water planet are affected by water scarcity issues, think how big of a deal this is going to become once you're away from the water planet.

Lauren: In the vacuum of space, yeah.

Jonathan: Where ten out of ten people will be affected by water scarcity issues.

Joe: Exactly.

Jonathan: By design.

Joe: Well you think about the International Space Station. What do they do about water? Well, obviously they accept some really expensive water shipments from Earth, but they've got to take really good care of the water they have. They have extremely advanced recycling systems that keep the water. They can't keep it all. They're always going to lose small amounts of it over time and they have to get it replenished, but they do their absolute technological best to retain whatever water they can and what that means is, just like we come back from a run and get a tall glass of megalodon blood, they sit up there on the International Space Station drinking their urine, the vapor from their breath.

Jonathan: Yes. Now granted, all of this stuff has been processed. They're not just drinking their urine.

Lauren: Right, and a little bit better than in, say, Waterworld.

Jonathan: Right, yeah, but it is going through a recycling process, but yes, they have to recapture the water that they are expending either through breathing or urination or whatever, and then, or even sweat and that kind of stuff. It's all stuff that has to be captured and recycled in such a way to make it usable again.

Joe: Technology like this essentially has to be really good if we're seriously thinking about long term space travel, and like you mentioned, of course mining water from asteroids is going to be a big deal, and that's actually more important than just getting the drinking water, the water we need for hydration and stuff like that. If we're really expanding, we need water for all kinds of things other than just drinking, right? You can - If you can extract water from an asteroid, you could potentially manufacture rocket fuel in space, because it's hydrogen and oxygen. You could make your liquid hydrogen propulsion.

Jonathan: Yeah, and also clearly you would need water for things, if we ever developed technology advanced enough to do something like terraforming, water would be a key component.

Lauren: Kind of critical, yeah.

Jonathan: Yeah, so obviously there's going to be, space may very well be where the water from Earth came from originally, like outside of the actual planet's creation. Space may very well be where we look to get water in the future, especially for when we're traveling out there and saying hello to distant neighbors, not that I've received any phone calls or anything. Not recently.

Joe: No, the communicate telepathically.

Jonathan: Well anyway, it's really a neat thing to think about and yeah, I encourage you all to sit back, relax, and enjoy a tall glass megalodon juice, like my co-hosts have in front of them, and if you have any particular topics about the future that you find really exciting, something that you think we should address, I highly recommend you let us know. We have the Forward Thinking website up and running, it's You can find us on Twitter, you can find us on Facebook, and you can find us on Google Plus, and we really want this to be a conversation so guys, let us know what you're excited about and what you want to know more about. What is it about the future that really has you energetic and ready to go and you've got to know more about it? Because that's the kind of stuff that excites us. So let us know, and we will talk to you again really soon.

Male Speaker 1: For more on this topic and the future of technology, visit Brought to you by Toyota. Let's go places.

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Duration: 15 minutes

Topics in this Podcast: resources, Water treatment, water, water cycle