Wednesday, May 16, 2012

All the Water on Planet Earth

If you read through Buddhism's  Pali Canon, every now and then you come across quaint metaphors using the ocean as a symbol of vastness. I remember statements about how the oceans' vastness make it invulnerable to poisoning. I get the idea: a bucketful of toxins thrown in the ocean will soon disperse and leave behine no discernible harm.

More than 2000 years later such metaphors seem outdated. Vastness belongs to space itself.

Today we understand that our precious little planet's oceans are finite. They have proven themselves vulnerable to humankind's disregard. We are managing to pollute the oceans.

Just how finite is illustrated quite powerfully by this image that appeared on the NASA website.

All the Water on Planet Earth 
Illustration Credit & CopyrightJack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Howard Perlman, USGS
Explanation: How much of planet Earth is made of water? Very little, actually. Although oceans of water cover about 70 percent of Earth's surface, these oceans are shallow compared to the Earth's radius. The above illustration shows what would happen if all of the water on or near the surface of the Earth were bunched up into a ball. The radius of this ball would be only about 700 kilometers, less than half the radius of theEarth's Moon, but slightly larger than Saturn's moon Rhea which, like many moons in our outer Solar System, is mostly water ice. How even this much water came to be on the Earth and whether any significant amount is trapped far beneath Earth's surface remain topics of research.

Nuclear power plants come to my mind as spectacularly bad things to build. I heard that debris from the Fukushima tsunami disaster has drifted across the Pacific. Most of it sank to the bottom of the ocean. But quite a lot of debris is now making its way to our shorelines here on the West Coast. There is concern I guess that drums of toxic waste might land here and release their contents as they pound against rocks in the surf.

So, I'll remember to say thank you to water each time I encounter it today. The stuff is as precious as life itself.

1 comment:

Katherine said...

This has been very moving. I know we have a great deal of rubbish in our seas... but to see the volume of water so clearly and visually stated is a real eye-opener.

I'm going back and reading some of your posts that I missed over the years.