Water On The Brain

Ever see one of those cartoons where you see a parched, disheveled man crawling through the desert and hallucinating an oasis? That’s about how I feel amid our severe drought. I find myself thinking a lot about water these days.

One of the things I think about is the hydrologic cycle that we were taught about in school. Water never really disappears from our planet. It changes phases among solid-liquid-vapor. It evaporates and condenses. Water sometimes gets contaminated and so on, but the total amount remains pretty much the same whether it exists as dew, raindrops, groundwater, or accumulating in oceans, lakes and rivers. (A few water molecules do escape our atmosphere into outer space, but the amount is so tiny it can be disregarded in terms of global water supply.)

This means that here in Southern California we are not really suffering a water shortage. It’s more accurate to describe our drought as a geographic logistics mess. Something is causing the hydrologic cycle not to distribute our fair share of the earth’s water supply our way. I don’t know how to fix the problem, unfortunately.

Besides thinking a lot about water, I can’t help but read every article I come across that has “water” in the headline. One article I read recently deals with an issue I’d never thought about before – and I bet none of you have either. Why do puddles stop spreading?

We’ve all spilled water or some other liquid accidentally and then watched in dismay as the puddle spreads while we go to retrieve something to wipe it up. Eventually the puddle reaches its maximum then stops. Scientists never understood why it doesn’t keep spreading.

Until now. Brainiacs at MIT figured out it has to do with physics at the submicroscopic nanoscale. Please don’t ask me to explain. Their research is said to have important ramifications for a variety of practical applications, including carbon sequestration and the design of microchips. I’ll take their word for it.

I’ll share with you one more article about water, this one from the New York Times. This, too, taught me something I hadn’t known before, and it deals with something we are all familiar with.

When we wash dishes in hot water, I had always assumed it was to kill germs. But that’s not true. The water temperature we typically use to wash dishes – between 110 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit – is uncomfortably hot to our touch but not hot enough to kills germs. The EPA requires commercial food establishments to wash dishes in water at least 110 degrees, but the guideline is based on the amount of heat needed to remove organic matter and dissolve animal fats from the dishes, not to kill the germs associated with the gunk.

According to the New York Times article, a previous academic study found that even lower temperatures do kill certain types of bacteria. So dishwashing in hot water is a good idea all the way around.

So much for my water on the brain. Now let’s hope for some water on the top of my head in the form of much-needed rainfall.