Earth was born into poverty. A scorched ball of molten rock and fumes, upon its conception it resembled the inside of an industrial steel furnace. As it cooled down, it struggled to make something out of itself. It was trying to find its own identity in the universe of other balls of fire out there, and it was desperate for one thing: water.
Despite all the things that we know about the universe, we are actually still not entirely sure how Earth came to have so much water on its surface. What is for sure is that our home certainly didn’t start as “the blue planet”. There were no oceans, no rivers or lakes for a very long time after our formation. In fact, there was probably not even a single molecule of liquid water on the entire planet. Any traces of it were immediately vaporised in the inferno, chased high up into the atmosphere where they hid quietly amongst the noxious fumes still emerging from deep within the furnace.
Soon after coming into its own orbit, the infant earth had no idea what was coming next. Barely fresh from its violent birth, it’s glowing skin was about to be disfigured by millions of endless collisions with asteroids bombarding it from every direction. The deep scars that they left shaped the juvenile planet on the outside, while the magma constantly emerging from its insides continued sculpting its surface, adding to its tortuous childhood. Even more heat was released, generated by friction as the various moving parts of the planet constantly churned, competing with each other as they all tried to find their final position. Everything was unstable, trying to find its place, its salvation.
This was no place for a delicate molecule such as water. It was hell. Any pieces of space ice accidentally caught up in Earth’s gravity pull would soon descend into their death as they quickly vaporized even before hitting the surface. Their water molecules would then be torn apart by cosmic radiation into oxygen and hydrogen. The planet was too angry to even hold on to its own water, emerging from its flesh. Upon atomization, some of the hydrogen molecules would even escape into space. We were bleeding hydrogen.
Eventually the atmosphere got thicker, heavier. And as it did, it put a lid over our planet much like a pressure cooker. For the first time ever, tiny droplets of condensation began to form. And then the rain started. A rain that is believed to have lasted centuries. Imagine that. The torrent began to fill into the planet’s brutal scars: its collision craters, crevices, volcanos. We eventually got oceans.
Most scientists believe that most of this water actually came from Earth itself: much of it stored in our hot, boiling atmosphere, some of it brought in by ice meteors. All it needed in order to become liquid was a lower temperature, and a heavier atmosphere. It needed a climate change, the opposite of the one we are causing today. The vast oceans that cover two-thirds of this planet owe their existence to a climate change that happened billions of years ago, before life even began. Humans are now reversing this process by pushing more and more water back into the Earth’s atmosphere. As we heat the planet and clouds get thicker and angrier, Earth’s primordial storms will begin again. Moisture-fed hurricanes of a size we’ve never seen will ravage through land. Acidified oceans will eat through coral reefs like acid corrodes metal. Earth will become unfriendly to life again, as it goes through a mid-life crisis. It will begin to question itself, and its decisions. Did I give rise to the wrong life forms? Can I wipe this picture clean and start over?
George is a chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , join his mailing list, or read his books:
4 thoughts on “The Story of Water”
I’ve also wondered what mistake may have been made by Nature, but when I look around, I see heaven, and a handful of greedy bastards trying to destroy it.
WE create fantasy to live in reality then destroy reality to live a fantasy.