The many incarnations of water

Being crazy for all things water, I went to the Winter Swimming Championships 2008 at Tooting Bec Lido this weekend. While I missed the actual races due to volunteer work commitments, I still managed to catch some bizarre swimming performances (beer bellied Russians dancing Swanlake in tutus!) and was even allowed into the holy halls of the unheated pool myself! Fortunately, the Finnish team had donated a sauna and a hot tub to the lido, so hypothermia was prevented. Having recently watched an Open University feature about the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo in which the politics-making side of the river is emphasized, I wondered what else I could find out about water this week and turned to the ever-bountiful World Wide Web.

The initial search revealed the obligatory Wikipedia entry, a string of leisure activity and swimming lesson offers, as well as advisory websites of water governing bodies. Interestingly, Wikipedia makes a distinction between water as a chemical substance and water’s chemical and molecular properties. This way, there are two pages about the ‘element’. Further articles on water include: a page with ‘supplementary chemical data for water’, water as a classical element, an obstacle in horse races, an area of water-themed astronomical constellations, territorial waters, a river in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, drinking water, giving birth (amniotic fluid), a programming language, and lots of films, TV series and music.

After reading through some both Wikipedia and non-Wikipedia articles on water, I picked up a few random bits of information I had never consciously thought about, for instance, that water is the only substance we find in our environment in all three states – as solid, liquid and vapour. So when you see an iceberg floating in the water beneath some clouds in the sky, you’ll remember this! ;)

The main Wikipedia article sports a small meteorology section under the Types of Water heading which tells you expressions for the different types of water falling from the sky (and what categories those – literally – fall into). I did not know that fog and clouds were called ‘levitating particles’, that the study of clouds nephology (apparently it even includes the study of cloud formations on other planets) and that ‘ascending particles’ also feature in meteorologists’ vocabulary! There was not much information on how water behaves at different scales, so next I concentrated on what water does, rather what we humans do with water. This way I came across a number of articles on water’s own leisure activities such as climbing, stone crafting and starring in action movies. Some of the strange (and affordable acting) talents of water fascinate humans so much that they devote an entire genre of youtube to the substance, a popular sub-genre being supercooling. Until I get my own water-movie together I shall spend more time mastering a true water-challenge, namely that of the oximoronically titled butterfly stroke. No wonder it’s so hard to master…

Postscript: I also found a BBC programme online about the Oceans, which was very eye-openining. It was also very eye-opening about the mutability of rubber duck functions

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