Chemistry

Water

Water in solid, liquid and gaseous formsWater in solid, liquid and gaseous forms Water has the chemical formula H2O. It contains two chemical elements—hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O)—with each atom of oxygen bonded to two hydrogen atoms. Water occurs in nature in all three states of matter. As a solid (ice), it makes up, for example, hail, icebergs and glaciers. As liquid water it occurs as raindrops, sea water and fresh water. As a gas, it is water vapour, an invisible component of the air. All known forms of life depend on water. All living things are made up mostly of water: our own bodies are 70% water. Water is fundamental to the way photosynthesis works in plants and plays a vital role in digestion and breathing in animals. It also acts as a solvent for essential nutrients.

Properties of water

Pure water has neither taste nor smell. It is transparent and colourless. Water can dissolve a large variety of chemical substances. The boiling point of water, as with all liquids, depends on the surrounding pressure. On the summit of Mt Everest, for example, where air pressure is low, water boils at 68°C (154°F), compared to 100°C (212°F) at sea level. Water deep in the oceans, where pressure is extremely high, can reach temperatures of hundreds of degrees near hydrothermal vents and yet still remain liquid.

An iceberg off the coast of GreenlandAn iceberg off the coast of GreenlandAs it freezes, water expands (about 9%), whereas most other substances shrink. So water occupies a greater volume as both a solid and a gas (about 1700 times) than in its liquid state. Because water expands as it freezes, it becomes less dense, not more. This explains why ice cubes—and massive icebergs—float in liquid water



Pond skaterPond skater

Hydrogen bonds

Water is one of the commonest compounds on Earth, and the only one found naturally in solid, liquid and gaseous forms.

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