General Question

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

If most or all forms of life continued on this planet infinitely, would we ever run out of water?

Asked by ANef_is_Enuf (25475points) January 18th, 2011

If living things continued to flourish far enough into the future, could the planet ultimately be completely depleted of water?

Maybe this is a stupid question, but… why or why not?

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28 Answers

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

No, because water is never eliminated. It always comes back. It evaporates, condensates, and precipitates, or it comes back in a different form, like ice.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I’m not sure if it’s sleep deprivation or if I am just exceptionally dense today.

I understand that our water is essentially constantly being recycled, but if new water isn’t being created, couldn’t we ultimately run out? Over a long enough span of time?
Or, is it actually being created and I’ve missed something vital?

marinelife's avatar

We eliminate a lot of what we drink.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

That’s an excellent question. If we continue at add human population, just as an example, more and more of the free water will be tied up in the live creatures, so we would reduce the available water. But given the size of the supplies in the oceans, I think other factors would max out before the water supply became an issue.

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

Even if we do run out of fresh water, they can desalinate ocean water to make it suitable for human consumption.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe right, of course this is hypothetical. It have to imagine that it would take an extreme length of time to even consider it being likely to happen, if ever. I just can’t help but think that over the course of history, humans and other animals have been forced to relocate specifically because their water source has been eliminated. I can’t help but wonder if over a long enough span of time, and assuming that nothing else stunts the growth of living things, if we really could potentially deplete the planet of all water supplies. I can’t believe that it would actually work that way. Of course food sources would be the first to suffer, and population would slowly decrease, thus decreasing the demand for water in general. Just, hypothetically, if we survived and thrived through all of that – we would run out of water. I think.

@Aesthetic_Mess yes, of course. I’m including the oceans in my question, more or less. Literally – all of the water on the planet. Over a long enough span of time.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie That’s what made it such an excellent question. It’s completely outside the box. Eliminating all other factors, we’d have to determine the total amout of Hydrogen and Oxygen molecules available on earth and then we could figure the total carrying capacity of earth in terms of just potential available water. That’s some funky thinking.:)

josie's avatar

Populations of living things will grow or shrink depending on availability of food and water. If water gets scarce, living things will die until the ratio of life to water improves. Then the living things will come back. Etc., etc.

LostInParadise's avatar

For organisms other than humans, the amount of fresh water has always been a limiting factor and there is in nature a water cycle. Last year National Geographic devoted an issue of its magazine to the matter of clean water. It is becoming a serious problem in many places.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@josie yes, I believe you’re absolutely correct. However, just for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that natural cycle of life and death is eliminated. Life thrives infinitely, regardless of the conditions.
My question is: Could we potentially consume all of the water on the planet if we were able to live long enough, barring all other potential factors that would create some sort of population control? Or would the recycling process of the water on our planet also be infinite?

We’ll say that whether the population of all life on the planet remains steady – or increases – is up to you. Whichever scenario is more appealing.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

There has to be a finite amount of H, O, and the other molecules unless we could find a away to produce more from other molecules. Plus H and O are basic building blocks for other substances, such as protein, etc so the available supply would be tied up in other forms of life. We might have to off a relative for a glass of water.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe can you imagine the chaos? Water starved, semi-immortal zombies, killing each other in the name of chemistry. This scenario seemed much less absurd in my head. lol.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Wasn’t one of the science fiction movies or TV series based on aliens coming to Earth just to take our water because they used up all of the water on their planet?

LuckyGuy's avatar

I figure when the creatures, die the water that makes up their bodies evaporates and goes back into the system. No actual water molecules are lost.
A couple of years ago someone calculated how much the water table would rise if all the living animals somehow walked, crawled, slithered or whatever back to the sea. I think the answer was only a few millimeters.
Of course we could poison the water supplies chemically and make them unusable but that is a different question.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@worriedguy really? That’s incredible!

cazzie's avatar

I think we talked about this before. Water could be later become a form that wouldn’t sustain us OR The most likely way we’d lose the water on the planet is if something happened to our atmosphere and it was damaged to such a degree that the water would actually be lost to solar radiation.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@worriedguy But if we discovered the secret to immortality and nothing died, wouldn’t we eventually run out of the molecules to sustain all of us on the planet?

cazzie's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe if we discovered the secret to immortality, we’d be able to travel among the stars and gather what ever we needed. Lightyears anyone? (not for me thanks)

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@cazzie Pop up to Mars for a quick cup of H and O?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

So… essentially… if things continue to die and reproduce, we would have water forever.

However, if that cycle was stunted and we had a steady, unchanging, immortal population of life – we could potentially use up the water supply?
Or only if there was an additional, external force, like solar radiation?
What would likely be the bare minimum set of circumstances to make total depletion of the Earth’s water supply possible?

cazzie's avatar

This is such a good question for my father in law, if he was feeling himself. But I’ll put you onto a website of an organisation he’s worked with for years, but has retired from now. It’s the Stockholm International Water Institute.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie Yes, it was a fun question. He was talking animals only. Not plants.
@Adirondackwannabe Apparently we would have to increase the population of everything many times more than we have today to make a dent in the water supply due to body storage.

I think I read in Scientific American that phosphorous is the element we’ll run out of first.

YoBob's avatar

The issue is not water, but potable water.

Water is abundant on this planet and since it is a closed system it gets recycled via. the water cycle. The problem is that some water is easier to make suitable for drinking than others. Water directly from an aquifer, for example, really doesn’t require much to be suitable for human consumption. Water from the ocean, however, takes quite a bit more energy to purify.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

Who’s to say life would be based on water? There are theories of silicon based life,which may or may not require water.I have witnessed life exist soley on Twinkies….a sea of Twinkies, if you will XD

mattbrowne's avatar

Life would run out of available phosphorus first.

flutherother's avatar

Water is not going to run out as it has no where to go its just that so much of it is in the wrong place and not where it is needed. Thank God for the rain.

Scooby's avatar

Water essentially came to this planet from asteroid storms over millennia, this may in the future occur again, if there is any significant shift in planet activity throughout our solar system.. Just a thought. :-/
Particularly between Mars & Jupiter…

cazzie's avatar

correcting @flutherother Thank the watercycle for the rain… another way to look at it.

Strangely enough, there is a helium shortage too. Go figure. (this rates at off topic, completely because our helium on earth comes from natural gas and it’s a syphoned off bi-product and not essential for our sustenance, but still…interesting) Go Algeria! :o)

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