The importance of water
If we are talking in the bounds of our natural laws, water is important for life.
It is why we’re always looking for water on other planets and moons when we feel the need to fling space probes into the Solar System to take pictures.
It is like the very first step, if you have water there is at least a possibility of life even if the possibility is some single celled organism.
Water is a life source, it is a habitat. Not only that it forms clouds, it has the ability to wear down stone, it can destroy homes and uproot trees. It can move fast or lie placid. It rises in the air and hardens into ice. It’s pretty damn impressive.
The Water Cycle
I know, it’s science lessons all over again but let’s be honest how many of you remember this stuff after you left school?
The Sun’s heat is the driving force of the water cycle. The heat makes some of the water evaporate as vapour.
These vapours continue to raise up into the atmosphere on the air currents.
Once it gets up to where the air is cooler, it condenses into clouds which are aggregates of minute water droplets.
These clouds roll across the sky, around the planet on the air currents. As the particles coalesce they can become large enough to sustain themselves as they fall. This is precipitation and it has two common forms: rain and snow.
The difference between how these two are formed is that with snow it is formed when tiny ice crystals in the atmosphere collide and coalesce to become clouds. When enough of the ice crystals stick together they can get heavy enough to fall as snow.
Of course there are other forms of precipitation such as sleet, hail, drizzle etc.
Let’s continue with snow for a moment. Snow fall can accumulate such as on mountain peaks and in the ice caps. These areas can remain at temperatures low enough that the snow and ice does not melt and can stay frozen for thousands of years.
Most precipitation actually falls back to earth returning to the ocean or falling onto land. If the water runs over ground it is called surface runoff.
However some can seep into the ground this is known as infiltration. This groundwater can return to the surface through openings in the surface such as through springs. Some of this water is taken up by the roots of plants and is then released (evapotranspiration) through the leaves.
So just by starting at the oceans, the water forms clouds, it forms the ice caps of the mountains, it falls as rain or snow, it runs into rivers and streams, it seeps into the ground to nourish the plants….
When you build your world knowing this information can give you ideas on how you lay the terrain. How your characters see this cycle if you decide to make them unaware of the science.
Would this information be useful for a sci-fi story where your characters are trying to terra-form a dead world?
Okay so let’s move to our ocean (it is one body of water however it is split into 5 named oceans). The ocean makes up 71% of our planet’s surface. Yet around 90% of the underwater world has not yet been explored. These deep dark places support life.
When you think about the ocean as a habitat there are things to consider such as pressure, the deeper you go the more pressure there is.
To give you some idea of depth – the deepest part of the ocean is estimated at around 36,200 feet. The record deep-dive by a human is 1,000 ft and most don’t go beyond 150 ft.
Now think about temperature, the ocean absorbs heat from the Sun however that heat remains mostly at the surface levels. The deeper you go the colder the water. Not to mention the darker, those sun rays can’t penetrate that deep.
Below 200 metres there is just a very tiny amount of light and below 1,000 metres there is none – this is sometimes referred to as the midnight zone.
And yet even down deep there is life. Some creatures can survive those conditions, can thrive in those conditions.
Now let’s think about the middle of the ocean, not at the surface but not at the bottom – in the middle where there is just water for miles around – no plants, not visible terrain just endless water.
So how would a creature that found itself here know their way whether it is breeding groups or feeding areas?
Maybe that is a strange question but it can give you something to think about if you created a species that lived in the oceans of a world you built – so how would they manage it?
- How would that species be adapted to live in that habitat at all?
- Would they be mammals like whales that breach the surface to breathe?
- Would they be like crabs and lobsters, moving along the floor and living in rocky shelters?
- Would they live in the midnight zone and struggle if entering the light?
- Are their bodies adapted to the stronger pressures?
- Would going too high up towards the surface actually kill them?
These locations can be interesting to create just for themselves or if you chose to have a water-dwelling species.
Water water everywhere
As well as oceans we have rivers, streams, canals, lakes, springs, geysers, freshwater, ponds….. each one has a different benefit, a different challenge to the flora and fauna that live there.
Each one can create a specific atmosphere – the raging churning river that has swelled and burst its banks, washing away anything in its path to the calm, still peaceful lake that offers up a mirror perfect reflection of the sky.
So when you are creating your world, give some thought into the water system.
Also, if you haven’t seen it I do recommend watching David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series, the footage shown is breath-taking and for writers, it can spark so many ideas. Well it did for me 🙂
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I think with the World building series I will (try) to write it on alternating weeks. So the next one will be in two weeks time 🙂
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