Water by Any Other Name...

On stunning sunny days when work can been accomplished al fresco, a good old-fashioned book on paper is far superior to any Kindle or e-book you could read on your laptop. No matter how many times you press the key with the blue-sun icon on it, the laptop screen just can’t compete with Old King Sol. So I spent a few sunny days last week on my back-deck desk with Michael Allaby’s fabulous Encyclopedia of Weather and Climate (a Christmas gift from my husband) and a broad-brimmed hat to create a swath of shade across the bright-white pages. As I scanned each entry (A through O in this first volume), I felt as if I were on a treasure hunt discovering sparkling gems and nuggets of gold on each page. I marked dozens of cloud-specific entries and many others that caught my fancy.

Have you ever heard of juvenile water? This is water that forms by physical and chemical processes in the magma below the earth’s crust. Juvenile water has never been in the atmosphere or near the surface of the earth; it has not, in other words, fallen to earth as precipitation and made its way through the ground water into a magma chamber. Juvenile water is released into the atmosphere during volcanic eruptions. Less poetically but more clearly, juvenile water is also called magmatic water. Michael Allaby estimates that there are about 2 billion cubic feet of juvenile water in a 4-cubic-mile layer of magma. Huh?

I tried to visualize this volume of magma and water, but I fell short at just one cubic foot (which, unfortunately, I can’t translate for you into any household item such as a cardboard wine box, computer monitor, or stack of bibles). Thanks to my son and his calculator, we figured out that there are 147+ billion cubic feet in a cubic mile. This made numbers bigger and matters worse. A few more calculations, and we arrived at a manageable number: one third This the ratio of juvenile water to magma in Allaby’s scenario. Hmmmm….two billion sounds more impressive than one third. This is a case where the language is more fun than the numbers, especially if you think anthropomorphically. Just imagine juvenile delinquent water.

How about meteoric water? This is the scientific name for water that falls from the sky as precipitation. That would include drizzle, rain, freezing rain, hail, graupel, sleet, snow, ice pellets. Meteoric, meteorite, and meteorology are all from the same Greek root word—meteor, or high in the air. Meta=above, eorus=to lift. By the way, precipitation, Allaby writes, is derived from the Latin praecipitatio, meaning “I fall headlong.”

Doesn’t all precipitation fall from the sky, you ask? No, in fact. Dew, white dew, frost, hoar frost, rime, glaze frost, and dozens of types of fog form when warm, moist air moves over a cold surface or cold air moves over a warm surface. Moisture condenses and appears on the surface of the ground, plants, roadways, car windshields, and other objects. Precipitation that falls in wispy veils from a cloud but evaporates before it reaches the ground is called virga or fallstreaks.

Connate water? That’s the water trapped when sediments were deposited and remains trapped inside sedimentary rocks. The roots of the word connate can be traced to the Latin con=with and nasci=to be born. Outside geological and hydrological contexts, connate means to be born or originated together, to be congenitally or firmly united, akin, or congenial.

Now, think of juvenile water—young water, inexperienced in the ways of the world, making a meteoric rise to fame as part of an explosive volcanic eruption, Think of the young and restless threesomes of hydrogen and oxygen flowing out with the magma over the mountain slopes, flowing over the sedimentary rocks in the landscape, over the connate water—the ancient water trapped in pores, vesicles, and interstices created when the world was young.