Skip to Content
OpenStax Logo
Biology 2e

2.2 Water

Biology 2e2.2 Water
  1. Preface
  2. The Chemistry of Life
    1. 1 The Study of Life
      1. Introduction
      2. 1.1 The Science of Biology
      3. 1.2 Themes and Concepts of Biology
      4. Key Terms
      5. Chapter Summary
      6. Visual Connection Questions
      7. Review Questions
      8. Critical Thinking Questions
    2. 2 The Chemical Foundation of Life
      1. Introduction
      2. 2.1 Atoms, Isotopes, Ions, and Molecules: The Building Blocks
      3. 2.2 Water
      4. 2.3 Carbon
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
    3. 3 Biological Macromolecules
      1. Introduction
      2. 3.1 Synthesis of Biological Macromolecules
      3. 3.2 Carbohydrates
      4. 3.3 Lipids
      5. 3.4 Proteins
      6. 3.5 Nucleic Acids
      7. Key Terms
      8. Chapter Summary
      9. Visual Connection Questions
      10. Review Questions
      11. Critical Thinking Questions
  3. The Cell
    1. 4 Cell Structure
      1. Introduction
      2. 4.1 Studying Cells
      3. 4.2 Prokaryotic Cells
      4. 4.3 Eukaryotic Cells
      5. 4.4 The Endomembrane System and Proteins
      6. 4.5 The Cytoskeleton
      7. 4.6 Connections between Cells and Cellular Activities
      8. Key Terms
      9. Chapter Summary
      10. Visual Connection Questions
      11. Review Questions
      12. Critical Thinking Questions
    2. 5 Structure and Function of Plasma Membranes
      1. Introduction
      2. 5.1 Components and Structure
      3. 5.2 Passive Transport
      4. 5.3 Active Transport
      5. 5.4 Bulk Transport
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    3. 6 Metabolism
      1. Introduction
      2. 6.1 Energy and Metabolism
      3. 6.2 Potential, Kinetic, Free, and Activation Energy
      4. 6.3 The Laws of Thermodynamics
      5. 6.4 ATP: Adenosine Triphosphate
      6. 6.5 Enzymes
      7. Key Terms
      8. Chapter Summary
      9. Visual Connection Questions
      10. Review Questions
      11. Critical Thinking Questions
    4. 7 Cellular Respiration
      1. Introduction
      2. 7.1 Energy in Living Systems
      3. 7.2 Glycolysis
      4. 7.3 Oxidation of Pyruvate and the Citric Acid Cycle
      5. 7.4 Oxidative Phosphorylation
      6. 7.5 Metabolism without Oxygen
      7. 7.6 Connections of Carbohydrate, Protein, and Lipid Metabolic Pathways
      8. 7.7 Regulation of Cellular Respiration
      9. Key Terms
      10. Chapter Summary
      11. Visual Connection Questions
      12. Review Questions
      13. Critical Thinking Questions
    5. 8 Photosynthesis
      1. Introduction
      2. 8.1 Overview of Photosynthesis
      3. 8.2 The Light-Dependent Reactions of Photosynthesis
      4. 8.3 Using Light Energy to Make Organic Molecules
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
    6. 9 Cell Communication
      1. Introduction
      2. 9.1 Signaling Molecules and Cellular Receptors
      3. 9.2 Propagation of the Signal
      4. 9.3 Response to the Signal
      5. 9.4 Signaling in Single-Celled Organisms
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    7. 10 Cell Reproduction
      1. Introduction
      2. 10.1 Cell Division
      3. 10.2 The Cell Cycle
      4. 10.3 Control of the Cell Cycle
      5. 10.4 Cancer and the Cell Cycle
      6. 10.5 Prokaryotic Cell Division
      7. Key Terms
      8. Chapter Summary
      9. Visual Connection Questions
      10. Review Questions
      11. Critical Thinking Questions
  4. Genetics
    1. 11 Meiosis and Sexual Reproduction
      1. Introduction
      2. 11.1 The Process of Meiosis
      3. 11.2 Sexual Reproduction
      4. Key Terms
      5. Chapter Summary
      6. Visual Connection Questions
      7. Review Questions
      8. Critical Thinking Questions
    2. 12 Mendel's Experiments and Heredity
      1. Introduction
      2. 12.1 Mendel’s Experiments and the Laws of Probability
      3. 12.2 Characteristics and Traits
      4. 12.3 Laws of Inheritance
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
    3. 13 Modern Understandings of Inheritance
      1. Introduction
      2. 13.1 Chromosomal Theory and Genetic Linkage
      3. 13.2 Chromosomal Basis of Inherited Disorders
      4. Key Terms
      5. Chapter Summary
      6. Visual Connection Questions
      7. Review Questions
      8. Critical Thinking Questions
    4. 14 DNA Structure and Function
      1. Introduction
      2. 14.1 Historical Basis of Modern Understanding
      3. 14.2 DNA Structure and Sequencing
      4. 14.3 Basics of DNA Replication
      5. 14.4 DNA Replication in Prokaryotes
      6. 14.5 DNA Replication in Eukaryotes
      7. 14.6 DNA Repair
      8. Key Terms
      9. Chapter Summary
      10. Visual Connection Questions
      11. Review Questions
      12. Critical Thinking Questions
    5. 15 Genes and Proteins
      1. Introduction
      2. 15.1 The Genetic Code
      3. 15.2 Prokaryotic Transcription
      4. 15.3 Eukaryotic Transcription
      5. 15.4 RNA Processing in Eukaryotes
      6. 15.5 Ribosomes and Protein Synthesis
      7. Key Terms
      8. Chapter Summary
      9. Visual Connection Questions
      10. Review Questions
      11. Critical Thinking Questions
    6. 16 Gene Expression
      1. Introduction
      2. 16.1 Regulation of Gene Expression
      3. 16.2 Prokaryotic Gene Regulation
      4. 16.3 Eukaryotic Epigenetic Gene Regulation
      5. 16.4 Eukaryotic Transcription Gene Regulation
      6. 16.5 Eukaryotic Post-transcriptional Gene Regulation
      7. 16.6 Eukaryotic Translational and Post-translational Gene Regulation
      8. 16.7 Cancer and Gene Regulation
      9. Key Terms
      10. Chapter Summary
      11. Visual Connection Questions
      12. Review Questions
      13. Critical Thinking Questions
    7. 17 Biotechnology and Genomics
      1. Introduction
      2. 17.1 Biotechnology
      3. 17.2 Mapping Genomes
      4. 17.3 Whole-Genome Sequencing
      5. 17.4 Applying Genomics
      6. 17.5 Genomics and Proteomics
      7. Key Terms
      8. Chapter Summary
      9. Visual Connection Questions
      10. Review Questions
      11. Critical Thinking Questions
  5. Evolutionary Processes
    1. 18 Evolution and the Origin of Species
      1. Introduction
      2. 18.1 Understanding Evolution
      3. 18.2 Formation of New Species
      4. 18.3 Reconnection and Speciation Rates
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
    2. 19 The Evolution of Populations
      1. Introduction
      2. 19.1 Population Evolution
      3. 19.2 Population Genetics
      4. 19.3 Adaptive Evolution
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
    3. 20 Phylogenies and the History of Life
      1. Introduction
      2. 20.1 Organizing Life on Earth
      3. 20.2 Determining Evolutionary Relationships
      4. 20.3 Perspectives on the Phylogenetic Tree
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
  6. Biological Diversity
    1. 21 Viruses
      1. Introduction
      2. 21.1 Viral Evolution, Morphology, and Classification
      3. 21.2 Virus Infections and Hosts
      4. 21.3 Prevention and Treatment of Viral Infections
      5. 21.4 Other Acellular Entities: Prions and Viroids
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    2. 22 Prokaryotes: Bacteria and Archaea
      1. Introduction
      2. 22.1 Prokaryotic Diversity
      3. 22.2 Structure of Prokaryotes: Bacteria and Archaea
      4. 22.3 Prokaryotic Metabolism
      5. 22.4 Bacterial Diseases in Humans
      6. 22.5 Beneficial Prokaryotes
      7. Key Terms
      8. Chapter Summary
      9. Visual Connection Questions
      10. Review Questions
      11. Critical Thinking Questions
    3. 23 Protists
      1. Introduction
      2. 23.1 Eukaryotic Origins
      3. 23.2 Characteristics of Protists
      4. 23.3 Groups of Protists
      5. 23.4 Ecology of Protists
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    4. 24 Fungi
      1. Introduction
      2. 24.1 Characteristics of Fungi
      3. 24.2 Classifications of Fungi
      4. 24.3 Ecology of Fungi
      5. 24.4 Fungal Parasites and Pathogens
      6. 24.5 Importance of Fungi in Human Life
      7. Key Terms
      8. Chapter Summary
      9. Visual Connection Questions
      10. Review Questions
      11. Critical Thinking Questions
    5. 25 Seedless Plants
      1. Introduction
      2. 25.1 Early Plant Life
      3. 25.2 Green Algae: Precursors of Land Plants
      4. 25.3 Bryophytes
      5. 25.4 Seedless Vascular Plants
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    6. 26 Seed Plants
      1. Introduction
      2. 26.1 Evolution of Seed Plants
      3. 26.2 Gymnosperms
      4. 26.3 Angiosperms
      5. 26.4 The Role of Seed Plants
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    7. 27 Introduction to Animal Diversity
      1. Introduction
      2. 27.1 Features of the Animal Kingdom
      3. 27.2 Features Used to Classify Animals
      4. 27.3 Animal Phylogeny
      5. 27.4 The Evolutionary History of the Animal Kingdom
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    8. 28 Invertebrates
      1. Introduction
      2. 28.1 Phylum Porifera
      3. 28.2 Phylum Cnidaria
      4. 28.3 Superphylum Lophotrochozoa: Flatworms, Rotifers, and Nemerteans
      5. 28.4 Superphylum Lophotrochozoa: Molluscs and Annelids
      6. 28.5 Superphylum Ecdysozoa: Nematodes and Tardigrades
      7. 28.6 Superphylum Ecdysozoa: Arthropods
      8. 28.7 Superphylum Deuterostomia
      9. Key Terms
      10. Chapter Summary
      11. Visual Connection Questions
      12. Review Questions
      13. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. 29 Vertebrates
      1. Introduction
      2. 29.1 Chordates
      3. 29.2 Fishes
      4. 29.3 Amphibians
      5. 29.4 Reptiles
      6. 29.5 Birds
      7. 29.6 Mammals
      8. 29.7 The Evolution of Primates
      9. Key Terms
      10. Chapter Summary
      11. Visual Connection Questions
      12. Review Questions
      13. Critical Thinking Questions
  7. Plant Structure and Function
    1. 30 Plant Form and Physiology
      1. Introduction
      2. 30.1 The Plant Body
      3. 30.2 Stems
      4. 30.3 Roots
      5. 30.4 Leaves
      6. 30.5 Transport of Water and Solutes in Plants
      7. 30.6 Plant Sensory Systems and Responses
      8. Key Terms
      9. Chapter Summary
      10. Visual Connection Questions
      11. Review Questions
      12. Critical Thinking Questions
    2. 31 Soil and Plant Nutrition
      1. Introduction
      2. 31.1 Nutritional Requirements of Plants
      3. 31.2 The Soil
      4. 31.3 Nutritional Adaptations of Plants
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
    3. 32 Plant Reproduction
      1. Introduction
      2. 32.1 Reproductive Development and Structure
      3. 32.2 Pollination and Fertilization
      4. 32.3 Asexual Reproduction
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
  8. Animal Structure and Function
    1. 33 The Animal Body: Basic Form and Function
      1. Introduction
      2. 33.1 Animal Form and Function
      3. 33.2 Animal Primary Tissues
      4. 33.3 Homeostasis
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
    2. 34 Animal Nutrition and the Digestive System
      1. Introduction
      2. 34.1 Digestive Systems
      3. 34.2 Nutrition and Energy Production
      4. 34.3 Digestive System Processes
      5. 34.4 Digestive System Regulation
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    3. 35 The Nervous System
      1. Introduction
      2. 35.1 Neurons and Glial Cells
      3. 35.2 How Neurons Communicate
      4. 35.3 The Central Nervous System
      5. 35.4 The Peripheral Nervous System
      6. 35.5 Nervous System Disorders
      7. Key Terms
      8. Chapter Summary
      9. Visual Connection Questions
      10. Review Questions
      11. Critical Thinking Questions
    4. 36 Sensory Systems
      1. Introduction
      2. 36.1 Sensory Processes
      3. 36.2 Somatosensation
      4. 36.3 Taste and Smell
      5. 36.4 Hearing and Vestibular Sensation
      6. 36.5 Vision
      7. Key Terms
      8. Chapter Summary
      9. Visual Connection Questions
      10. Review Questions
      11. Critical Thinking Questions
    5. 37 The Endocrine System
      1. Introduction
      2. 37.1 Types of Hormones
      3. 37.2 How Hormones Work
      4. 37.3 Regulation of Body Processes
      5. 37.4 Regulation of Hormone Production
      6. 37.5 Endocrine Glands
      7. Key Terms
      8. Chapter Summary
      9. Visual Connection Questions
      10. Review Questions
      11. Critical Thinking Questions
    6. 38 The Musculoskeletal System
      1. Introduction
      2. 38.1 Types of Skeletal Systems
      3. 38.2 Bone
      4. 38.3 Joints and Skeletal Movement
      5. 38.4 Muscle Contraction and Locomotion
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    7. 39 The Respiratory System
      1. Introduction
      2. 39.1 Systems of Gas Exchange
      3. 39.2 Gas Exchange across Respiratory Surfaces
      4. 39.3 Breathing
      5. 39.4 Transport of Gases in Human Bodily Fluids
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    8. 40 The Circulatory System
      1. Introduction
      2. 40.1 Overview of the Circulatory System
      3. 40.2 Components of the Blood
      4. 40.3 Mammalian Heart and Blood Vessels
      5. 40.4 Blood Flow and Blood Pressure Regulation
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. 41 Osmotic Regulation and Excretion
      1. Introduction
      2. 41.1 Osmoregulation and Osmotic Balance
      3. 41.2 The Kidneys and Osmoregulatory Organs
      4. 41.3 Excretion Systems
      5. 41.4 Nitrogenous Wastes
      6. 41.5 Hormonal Control of Osmoregulatory Functions
      7. Key Terms
      8. Chapter Summary
      9. Visual Connection Questions
      10. Review Questions
      11. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. 42 The Immune System
      1. Introduction
      2. 42.1 Innate Immune Response
      3. 42.2 Adaptive Immune Response
      4. 42.3 Antibodies
      5. 42.4 Disruptions in the Immune System
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. 43 Animal Reproduction and Development
      1. Introduction
      2. 43.1 Reproduction Methods
      3. 43.2 Fertilization
      4. 43.3 Human Reproductive Anatomy and Gametogenesis
      5. 43.4 Hormonal Control of Human Reproduction
      6. 43.5 Human Pregnancy and Birth
      7. 43.6 Fertilization and Early Embryonic Development
      8. 43.7 Organogenesis and Vertebrate Formation
      9. Key Terms
      10. Chapter Summary
      11. Visual Connection Questions
      12. Review Questions
      13. Critical Thinking Questions
  9. Ecology
    1. 44 Ecology and the Biosphere
      1. Introduction
      2. 44.1 The Scope of Ecology
      3. 44.2 Biogeography
      4. 44.3 Terrestrial Biomes
      5. 44.4 Aquatic Biomes
      6. 44.5 Climate and the Effects of Global Climate Change
      7. Key Terms
      8. Chapter Summary
      9. Visual Connection Questions
      10. Review Questions
      11. Critical Thinking Questions
    2. 45 Population and Community Ecology
      1. Introduction
      2. 45.1 Population Demography
      3. 45.2 Life Histories and Natural Selection
      4. 45.3 Environmental Limits to Population Growth
      5. 45.4 Population Dynamics and Regulation
      6. 45.5 Human Population Growth
      7. 45.6 Community Ecology
      8. 45.7 Behavioral Biology: Proximate and Ultimate Causes of Behavior
      9. Key Terms
      10. Chapter Summary
      11. Visual Connection Questions
      12. Review Questions
      13. Critical Thinking Questions
    3. 46 Ecosystems
      1. Introduction
      2. 46.1 Ecology of Ecosystems
      3. 46.2 Energy Flow through Ecosystems
      4. 46.3 Biogeochemical Cycles
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
    4. 47 Conservation Biology and Biodiversity
      1. Introduction
      2. 47.1 The Biodiversity Crisis
      3. 47.2 The Importance of Biodiversity to Human Life
      4. 47.3 Threats to Biodiversity
      5. 47.4 Preserving Biodiversity
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
  10. A | The Periodic Table of Elements
  11. B | Geological Time
  12. C | Measurements and the Metric System
  13. Index
By the end of this section, you will be able to do the following:
  • Describe the properties of water that are critical to maintaining life
  • Explain why water is an excellent solvent
  • Provide examples of water’s cohesive and adhesive properties
  • Discuss the role of acids, bases, and buffers in homeostasis

Why do scientists spend time looking for water on other planets? Why is water so important? It is because water is essential to life as we know it. Water is one of the more abundant molecules and the one most critical to life on Earth. Water comprises approximately 60–70 percent of the human body. Without it, life as we know it simply would not exist.

The polarity of the water molecule and its resulting hydrogen bonding make water a unique substance with special properties that are intimately tied to the processes of life. Life originally evolved in a watery environment, and most of an organism’s cellular chemistry and metabolism occur inside the watery contents of the cell’s cytoplasm. Special properties of water are its high heat capacity and heat of vaporization, its ability to dissolve polar molecules, its cohesive and adhesive properties, and its dissociation into ions that leads to generating pH. Understanding these characteristics of water helps to elucidate its importance in maintaining life.

Water’s Polarity

One of water’s important properties is that it is composed of polar molecules: the hydrogen and oxygen within water molecules (H2O) form polar covalent bonds. While there is no net charge to a water molecule, water's polarity creates a slightly positive charge on hydrogen and a slightly negative charge on oxygen, contributing to water’s properties of attraction. Water generates charges because oxygen is more electronegative than hydrogen, making it more likely that a shared electron would be near the oxygen nucleus than the hydrogen nucleus, thus generating the partial negative charge near the oxygen.

As a result of water’s polarity, each water molecule attracts other water molecules because of the opposite charges between water molecules, forming hydrogen bonds. Water also attracts or is attracted to other polar molecules and ions. We call a polar substance that interacts readily with or dissolves in water hydrophilic (hydro- = “water”; -philic = “loving”). In contrast, nonpolar molecules such as oils and fats do not interact well with water, as Figure 2.13 shows. A good example of this is vinegar and oil salad dressing (an acidic water solution). We call such nonpolar compounds hydrophobic (hydro- = “water”; -phobic = “fearing”).

Image shows oil droplets floating in water. The oil droplets act like prisms that bend the light into all the colors of the rainbow.
Figure 2.13 Oil and water do not mix. As this macro image of oil and water shows, oil does not dissolve in water but forms droplets instead. This is because it is a nonpolar compound. (credit: Gautam Dogra).

Water’s States: Gas, Liquid, and Solid

The formation of hydrogen bonds is an important quality of the liquid water that is crucial to life as we know it. As water molecules make hydrogen bonds with each other, water takes on some unique chemical characteristics compared to other liquids and, since living things have a high water content, understanding these chemical features is key to understanding life. In liquid water, hydrogen bonds constantly form and break as the water molecules slide past each other. The water molecules' motion (kinetic energy) causes the bonds to break due to the heat contained in the system. When the heat rises as water boils, the water molecules' higher kinetic energy causes the hydrogen bonds to break completely and allows water molecules to escape into the air as gas (steam or water vapor). Alternatively, when water temperature reduces and water freezes, the water molecules form a crystalline structure maintained by hydrogen bonding (there is not enough energy to break the hydrogen bonds) that makes ice less dense than liquid water, a phenomenon that we do not see when other liquids solidify.

Water’s lower density in its solid form is due to the way hydrogen bonds orient as they freeze: the water molecules push farther apart compared to liquid water. With most other liquids, solidification when the temperature drops includes lowering kinetic energy between molecules, allowing them to pack even more tightly than in liquid form and giving the solid a greater density than the liquid.

The lower density of ice, as Figure 2.14 depicts, an anomaly causes it to float at the surface of liquid water, such as in an iceberg or ice cubes in a glass of water. In lakes and ponds, ice will form on the water's surface creating an insulating barrier that protects the animals and plant life in the pond from freezing. Without this insulating ice layer, plants and animals living in the pond would freeze in the solid block of ice and could not survive. The expansion of ice relative to liquid water causes the detrimental effect of freezing on living organisms. The ice crystals that form upon freezing rupture the delicate membranes essential for living cells to function, irreversibly damaging them. Cells can only survive freezing if another liquid like glycerol temporarily replaces the water in them.

Ice floes float on ocean water near a mountain range that rises out of the water.  The molecular structure shows the molecules are arranged in a hexagon, and are bonded to other hexagonal arrangements with a good deal of space between them.
Figure 2.14 Hydrogen bonding makes ice less dense than liquid water. The (a) lattice structure of ice makes it less dense than the liquid water's freely flowing molecules, enabling it to (b) float on water. (credit a: modification of work by Jane Whitney, image created using Visual Molecular Dynamics (VMD) software1; credit b: modification of work by Carlos Ponte)

Link to Learning

Click here to see a 3-D animation of an ice lattice structure. (Image credit: Jane Whitney. Image created using Visual Molecular Dynamics VMD software.2)

Water’s High Heat Capacity

Water’s high heat capacity is a property that hydrogen bonding among water molecules causes. Water has the highest specific heat capacity of any liquids. We define specific heat as the amount of heat one gram of a substance must absorb or lose to change its temperature by one degree Celsius. For water, this amount is one calorie. It therefore takes water a long time to heat and a long time to cool. In fact, water's specific heat capacity is about five times more than that of sand. This explains why the land cools faster than the sea. Due to its high heat capacity, warm blooded animals use water to more evenly disperse heat in their bodies: it acts in a similar manner to a car’s cooling system, transporting heat from warm places to cool places, causing the body to maintain a more even temperature.

Water’s Heat of Vaporization

Water also has a high heat of vaporization, the amount of energy required to change one gram of a liquid substance to a gas. A considerable amount of heat energy (586 cal) is required to accomplish this change in water. This process occurs on the water's surface. As liquid water heats up, hydrogen bonding makes it difficult to separate the liquid water molecules from each other, which is required for it to enter its gaseous phase (steam). As a result, water acts as a heat sink or heat reservoir and requires much more heat to boil than does a liquid such as ethanol (grain alcohol), whose hydrogen bonding with other ethanol molecules is weaker than water’s hydrogen bonding. Eventually, as water reaches its boiling point of 100° Celsius (212° Fahrenheit), the heat is able to break the hydrogen bonds between the water molecules, and the kinetic energy (motion) between the water molecules allows them to escape from the liquid as a gas. Even when below its boiling point, water’s individual molecules acquire enough energy from other water molecules such that some surface water molecules can escape and vaporize: we call this process evaporation.

The fact that hydrogen bonds need to be broken for water to evaporate means that bonds use a substantial amount of energy in the process. As the water evaporates, energy is taken up by the process, cooling the environment where the evaporation is taking place. In many living organisms, including in humans, the evaporation of sweat, which is 90 percent water, allows the organism to cool so that it can maintain homeostasis of body temperature.

Water’s Solvent Properties

Since water is a polar molecule with slightly positive and slightly negative charges, ions and polar molecules can readily dissolve in it. Therefore, we refer to water as a solvent, a substance capable of dissolving other polar molecules and ionic compounds. The charges associated with these molecules will form hydrogen bonds with water, surrounding the particle with water molecules. We refer to this as a sphere of hydration, or a hydration shell, as Figure 2.15 illustrates and serves to keep the particles separated or dispersed in the water.

When we add ionic compounds to water, the individual ions react with the water molecules' polar regions and their ionic bonds are disrupted in the process of dissociation. Dissociation occurs when atoms or groups of atoms break off from molecules and form ions. Consider table salt (NaCl, or sodium chloride): when we add NaCl crystals to water, the NaCl molecules dissociate into Na+ and Cl ions, and spheres of hydration form around the ions, as Figure 2.15 illustrates. The partially negative charge of the water molecule’s oxygen surrounds the positively charged sodium ion. The hydrogen's partially positive charge on the water molecule surrounds the negatively charged chloride ion.

When sodium chloride dissolves in water, the positively charged sodium ions interact with the oxygen of water, and the negatively charged chlorine ions interact with the hydrogen of water.
Figure 2.15 When we mix table salt (NaCl) in water, it forms spheres of hydration around the ions.

Water’s Cohesive and Adhesive Properties

Have you ever filled a glass of water to the very top and then slowly added a few more drops? Before it overflows, the water forms a dome-like shape above the rim of the glass. This water can stay above the glass because of the property of cohesion. In cohesion, water molecules are attracted to each other (because of hydrogen bonding), keeping the molecules together at the liquid-gas (water-air) interface, although there is no more room in the glass.

Cohesion allows for surface tension, the capacity of a substance to withstand rupturing when placed under tension or stress. This is also why water forms droplets when on a dry surface rather than flattening by gravity. When we place a small scrap of paper onto a water droplet, the paper floats on top even though paper is denser (heavier) than the water. Cohesion and surface tension keep the water molecules' hydrogen bonds intact and support the item floating on the top. It’s even possible to “float” a needle on top of a glass of water if you place it gently without breaking the surface tension, as Figure 2.16 shows.

A photograph shows a needle floating at the surface of a glass of water.  Though the needle floats, it appears to be slightly sinking below the surface.
Figure 2.16 A needle's weight pulls the surface downward. At the same time, the surface tension pulls it up, suspending it on the water's surface preventing it from sinking. Notice the indentation in the water around the needle. (credit: Cory Zanker)

These cohesive forces are related to water’s property of adhesion, or the attraction between water molecules and other molecules. This attraction is sometimes stronger than water’s cohesive forces, especially when the water is exposed to charged surfaces such as those on the inside of thin glass tubes known as capillary tubes. We observe adhesion when water “climbs” up the tube placed in a glass of water: notice that the water appears to be higher on the tube's sides than in the middle. This is because the water molecules are attracted to the capillary's charged glass walls more than they are to each other and therefore adhere to it. We call this type of adhesion capillary action, as Figure 2.17 illustrates.

A thin hollow tube sits in a beaker of water. The water level inside the tube is higher than the water level in the beaker due to capillary action.
Figure 2.17 The adhesive forces exerted by the glass' internal surface exceeding the cohesive forces between the water molecules themselves causes capillary action in a glass tube. (credit: modification of work by Pearson-Scott Foresman, donated to the Wikimedia Foundation)

Why are cohesive and adhesive forces important for life? Cohesive and adhesive forces are important for transporting water from the roots to the leaves in plants. These forces create a “pull” on the water column. This pull results from the tendency of water molecules evaporating on the plant's surface to stay connected to water molecules below them, and so they are pulled along. Plants use this natural phenomenon to help transport water from their roots to their leaves. Without these properties of water, plants would be unable to receive the water and the dissolved minerals they require. In another example, insects such as the water strider, as Figure 2.18 shows, use the water's surface tension to stay afloat on the water's surface layer and even mate there.

Photo shows an insect with long, thin legs standing on the surface of water.
Figure 2.18 Water’s cohesive and adhesive properties allow this water strider (Gerris sp.) to stay afloat. (credit: Tim Vickers)

pH, Buffers, Acids, and Bases

The pH of a solution indicates its acidity or alkalinity.

H 2 O ( I ) H + ( aq ) + O H - ( aq ) H 2 O ( I ) H + ( aq ) + O H - ( aq )

You may have used litmus or pH paper, filter paper treated with a natural water-soluble dye for use as a pH indicator, tests how much acid (acidity) or base (alkalinity) exists in a solution. You might have even used some to test whether the water in a swimming pool is properly treated. In both cases, the pH test measures hydrogen ions' concentration in a given solution.

Hydrogen ions spontaneously generate in pure water by the dissociation (ionization) of a small percentage of water molecules into equal numbers of hydrogen (H+) ions and hydroxide (OH-) ions. While the hydroxide ions are kept in solution by their hydrogen bonding with other water molecules, the hydrogen ions, consisting of naked protons, immediately attract to un-ionized water molecules, forming hydronium ions (H3O+). Still, by convention, scientists refer to hydrogen ions and their concentration as if they were free in this state in liquid water.

The concentration of hydrogen ions dissociating from pure water is 1 × 10-7 moles H+ ions per liter of water. Moles (mol) are a way to express the amount of a substance (which can be atoms, molecules, ions, etc.). One mole represents the atomic weight of a substance, expressed in grams, which equals the amount of the substance containing as many units as there are atoms in 12 grams of 12C. Mathematically, one mole is equal to 6.02 × 1023 particles of the substance. Therefore, 1 mole of water is equal to 6.02 × 1023 water molecules. We calculate the pH as the negative of the base 10 logarithm of this concentration. The log10 of 1 × 10-7 is -7.0, and the negative of this number (indicated by the “p” of “pH”) yields a pH of 7.0, which is also a neutral pH. The pH inside of human cells and blood are examples of two body areas where near-neutral pH is maintained.

Non-neutral pH readings result from dissolving acids or bases in water. Using the negative logarithm to generate positive integers, high concentrations of hydrogen ions yield a low pH number; whereas, low levels of hydrogen ions result in a high pH. An acid is a substance that increases hydrogen ions' (H+) concentration in a solution, usually by having one of its hydrogen atoms dissociate. A base provides either hydroxide ions (OH) or other negatively charged ions that combine with hydrogen ions, reducing their concentration in the solution and thereby raising the pH. In cases where the base releases hydroxide ions, these ions bind to free hydrogen ions, generating new water molecules.

The stronger the acid, the more readily it donates H+. For example, hydrochloric acid (HCl) completely dissociates into hydrogen and chloride ions and is highly acidic; whereas the acids in tomato juice or vinegar do not completely dissociate and are weak acids. Conversely, strong bases are those substances that readily donate OHor take up hydrogen ions. Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and many household cleaners are highly alkaline and give up OH rapidly when we place them in water, thereby raising the pH. An example of a weak basic solution is seawater, which has a pH near 8.0 This is close enough to a neutral pH that marine organisms have adapted in order to live and thrive in a saline environment.

The pH scale is, as we previously mentioned, an inverse logarithm and ranges from 0 to 14 (Figure 2.19). Anything below 7.0 (ranging from 0.0 to 6.9) is acidic, and anything above 7.0 (from 7.1 to 14.0) is alkaline. Extremes in pH in either direction from 7.0 are usually inhospitable to life. The pH inside cells (6.8) and the pH in the blood (7.4) are both very close to neutral. However, the environment in the stomach is highly acidic, with a pH of 1 to 2. As a result, how do stomach cells survive in such an acidic environment? How do they homeostatically maintain the near neutral pH inside them? The answer is that they cannot do it and are constantly dying. The stomach constantly produces new cells to replace dead ones, which stomach acids digest. Scientists estimate that the human body completely replaces the stomach lining every seven to ten days.

The lower case p upper case H scale, which ranges from zero to 14, sits next to a bar with the colors of the rainbow. The p H of common substances are given. These include gastric acid with a p H around one, lemon juice with a p H around two, orange juice with a p H around three, tomato juice with a p H around four, black coffee with a p H around five, urine with a p H around six, distilled water with a p H around seven, sea water with a p H around eight, baking soda with a p H around nine, milk of magnesia with a p H around ten, ammonia solution with a p H around 11, soapy water with a p H around 12, and bleach with a p H around 13.
Figure 2.19 The pH scale measures hydrogen ions' (H+) concentration in a solution. (credit: modification of work by Edward Stevens)

Link to Learning

Watch this video for a straightforward explanation of pH and its logarithmic scale.

How can organisms whose bodies require a near-neutral pH ingest acidic and basic substances (a human drinking orange juice, for example) and survive? Buffers are the key. Buffers readily absorb excess H+ or OH, keeping the body's pH carefully maintained in the narrow range required for survival. Maintaining a constant blood pH is critical to a person’s well-being. The buffer maintaining the pH of human blood involves carbonic acid (H2CO3), bicarbonate ion (HCO3), and carbon dioxide (CO2). When bicarbonate ions combine with free hydrogen ions and become carbonic acid, it removes hydrogen ions and moderates pH changes. Similarly, as Figure 2.20 shows, excess carbonic acid can convert to carbon dioxide gas which we exhale through the lungs. This prevents too many free hydrogen ions from building up in the blood and dangerously reducing the blood’s pH. Likewise, if too much OH enters into the system, carbonic acid will combine with it to create bicarbonate, lowering the pH. Without this buffer system, the body’s pH would fluctuate enough to put survival in jeopardy.

An upper case H subscript 2 baseline upper case O molecule can combine with an upper case C upper case O subscript 2 baseline molecule to form H subscript 2 baseline C O subscript 3 baseline, or carbonic acid. A proton may dissociate from H subscript 2 baseline C O subscript 3 baseline, forming bicarbonate, or H C O subscript 3 baseline superscript negative, in the process. The reaction is reversible so that if acid is added protons combined with bicarbonate to form carbonic acid.
Figure 2.20 This diagram shows the body’s buffering of blood pH levels. The blue arrows show the process of raising pH as more CO2 is made. The purple arrows indicate the reverse process: the lowering of pH as more bicarbonate is created.

Other examples of buffers are antacids that some people use to combat excess stomach acid. Many of these over-the-counter medications work in the same way as blood buffers, usually with at least one ion capable of absorbing hydrogen and moderating pH, bringing relief to those who suffer “heartburn” after eating. Water's unique properties that contribute to this capacity to balance pH—as well as water’s other characteristics—are essential to sustaining life on Earth.

Link to Learning

To learn more about water, visit the U.S. Geological Survey Water Science for Schools All About Water! website.

Footnotes

  • 1 W. Humphrey W., A. Dalke, and K. Schulten, “VMD—Visual Molecular Dynamics,” Journal of Molecular Graphics 14 (1996): 33-38.
  • 2 W. Humphrey W., A. Dalke, and K. Schulten, “VMD—Visual Molecular Dynamics,” Journal of Molecular Graphics 14 (1996): 33-38.
Citation/Attribution

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book is Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/biology-2e/pages/1-introduction
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/biology-2e/pages/1-introduction
Citation information

© Mar 28, 2018 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 license. The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.