James Pinsky: The water cycle of life

James Pinsky

When I turned 43, I felt, well, old.

I’m not though, and that’s not based solely on the fact I enjoy eating Gummy Bears like a toddler (Hush Amanda Chester). No, age really is just a number, and as far as numbers go, 43 certainly isn’t quite a bonfire on a birthday cake. Now, throw a birthday party for our good friend water, and we better invite the fire department (maybe more than one) because that cake won’t have 43 candles. It will have 4.6 billion, and that’s being modest.

Yes. Our water, at least half of it anyway, at 4.6 billion years is probably older than our planet and even our own sun, according to researchers who published their findings in a September 2014 issue of Science Magazine. You have to admit, for being 4.6 billion years old, water doesn’t taste stale. I mean, if I leave a bottle of soda open just one day, well – yuck. Not water. The all-natural, zero-calorie, liquid refreshment even has a better shelf life than Twinkies.

So, how did water make it 4.6 billion years when even the best of us fall to pieces at the infantile age of 70? The secret to water aging better than Betty White is quite simple, Mother Nature recycles and she has done so for the entire 4.6 billion years.

This recycling process, known commonly as the water cycle, is defined by the U.S. Geological Survey, a description of the existence and movement of water on, in, and above the Earth with the Earth’s water always in movement and always changing states, from liquid to vapor to ice and back again.

To be even more technical, the water cycle is also called the hydrologic cycle, and has eight unique stages, according to The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a nonprofit consortium of more than 100 North American member colleges and universities focused on research and training in the atmospheric and related Earth system sciences.

Those eight stages are:

• Evaporation: the changing of water from a liquid to a gas.

• Condensation: the changing of water from a gas to a liquid.

• Sublimation: the changing of water from a solid to a gas.

• Precipitation: the process by which water molecules condense to form drops heavy enough to fall to the Earth’s surface.

• Transpiration: the process by which moisture is carried through plants from roots to leaves, where it changes to vapor and is released to the atmosphere.

• Surface runoff: the flowing of water over the land from higher to lower ground.

• Infiltration: the process of water filling the porous spaces of soil.

• Percolation: groundwater moving in the saturated zone below the Earth’s surface.

Why should we care about the water cycle?

By being aware of and understanding our water cycle, it reminds us that everything and everyone is connected on this planet. As such, the things we do, good or bad, have a lasting impact upon our water quality not just locally but globally, and not just today but possibly for billions of years. If we pollute our soils, the water we contaminate goes into our air, travels and can end up on or in our ice, our oceans, lakes, rivers and stream, and … you get my point.

The Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District is dedicated to helping us have clean, safe and renewable water. After all, one of the goals of the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District is to make sure our water lasts another 4.6 billion years. Just don’t ask us to blow out the candles on that cake.

James Pinsky is the education and information coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District. Contact him at 540-465-2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.