Plus, did you know there are 16 known kinds of ice?
In many ways, why water behaves as it does is still a complete mystery. However, how that behaviour enables life as we know it to exist is something we do know about, and Jha goes into great depth in order to explain all the chemical, meteorological, and even astronomical processes which make water so intrinsic to our very existence.
There’s more than a hint of Bryson about The Water Book – which is by no means bad company to be in. He skips unpredictably around the globe, ticking off the various crucial roles that water plays. One minute we’re fighting freezing winds onboard a ship bound for Antarctica, the next we’re studying the relationship between oxygen and hydrogen atoms before, suddenly, we’re observing Hadley cells up in the atmosphere.
Jha’s final thoughts concern the logical question of whether, since water is so essential for life on this planet, searching for it throughout space is the key to finding extraterrestrial life. He ponders whether we are blinded by our own hydrocentric bias. Given the vastly different environmental conditions which exist on other planets, it’s not absurd to wonder whether chemicals such as methane or ammonia could act instead as solvents for life to evolve.
So, maybe water isn’t so special after all. Either way, this book provides a complete beginner’s guide to the responsibilities and oddities of this everyday substance.
THE WATER BOOK by Alok Jha; Headline Publishing; £20 (hardback)
This review was published in the September 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine