[Image: Illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; courtesy of the USGS].
In Charles Fishman’s compelling exploration of water on Earth, The Big Thirst, there is a shocking statement that, despite the apparent inexhaustibility of the oceans, “the total water on the surface of Earth (the oceans, the ice caps, the atmospheric water) makes up 0.025 percent of the mass of the planet—25/10,000ths of the stuff of Earth. If the Earth were the size of a Honda Odyssey minivan,” he clarifies, “the amount of water on the planet would be in a single, half-liter bottle of Poland Spring in one of the van’s thirteen cup holders.”
This is rather remarkably communicated by an illustration from the USGS, reproduced above, showing “the size of a sphere that would contain all of Earth’s water in comparison to the size of the Earth.” That’s not a lot of water.
Only vaguely related, meanwhile, there is an additional description in Fishman’s book worth repeating here.
[Image: The Orion nebula, photographed by Hubble].
In something called the Orion Molecular Cloud, truly vast amounts of water are being produced. How much? Incredibly, Fishman explains, “the cloud is making sixty Earth waters every twenty-four hours”—or, in simpler terms, “there is enough water being formed sufficient to fill all of Earth’s oceans every twenty-four minutes.” This is occurring, however, in an area “420 times the size of our solar system.”
Anyway, Fishman’s book is pretty fascinating, in particular his chapter, called “Dolphins in the Desert,” on the water reuse and filtration infrastructure installed over the past 10-15 years in Las Vegas.