What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

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What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby squall_line » Wed Jul 02, 2014 7:40 pm UTC

Vanishing Water

What would happen if all the bodies of water on Earth magically disappeared?

—Joanna Xu

I'm glad he addressed the "Glass Half Full" part of this scenario right off the bat, because it was the first thing in my head.

Also, this made me smile:

Image

I wonder if the ground will be friends with it?

Although, now that I re-read that particular passage about the whale and petunias, I wonder if I missed the whale reference entirely. Anyone else?

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby trhart » Wed Jul 02, 2014 7:56 pm UTC

Nothing quite beats a reference to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I wonder though: what qualifies as a body of water? Also, can I get in on these magic water powers?

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby slinches » Wed Jul 02, 2014 8:13 pm UTC

I think Randall's estimation for the time for everyone to die is a bit pessimistic. There's probably enough bottled water around in more developed countries that a substantial portion of the population could survive for a few weeks. That may be long enough for a few people to devise condensers and still systems to provide enough water for themselves (also, potentially by extracting the remaining water from everyone else). Of course, the natural course of action thereafter is to move underground and build large condenser systems to extract whatever water is remaining in the air, thus creating live-ably humid environments where communities can re-develop. Eventually, these isolated communities would need to communicate and trade with each other necessitating the invention of a suit that traps moisture so that a minimal amount of water is lost to the excessively arid atmosphere as people travel across the surface. Once all that settles out, new religions would be established around the, now immensely important, water cycle and a (likely monarchical) government would form. Although, I'm not exactly sure where the sandworms would come from.

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jul 02, 2014 8:20 pm UTC

slinches wrote:extract whatever water is remaining in the air
I think this is where you went wrong. There's certainly stored water supplies to keep some people alive for some time, but without the oceans and lakes there would be very very very very very little water in the air.

Like. None.

Clearly we need more sandworms.
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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby chris857 » Wed Jul 02, 2014 8:34 pm UTC

And Randall clearly missed the brief but glorious rise of the Netherlands empire before everyone died of thirst.

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby slinches » Wed Jul 02, 2014 8:36 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:There's certainly stored water supplies to keep some people alive for some time, but without the oceans and lakes there would be very very very very very little water in the air.

Like. None.

I wasn't exactly going for scientific accuracy, but it would take some time for all of the water vapor in the atmosphere to be absorbed/condensed. And there's still quite a large amount of fresh water in the ice caps that would be released as the planet warms.

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jul 02, 2014 8:39 pm UTC

Truthfully, I wager it wouldn't. Think about how large the oceans are, and think about how hungry for moisture all that new surface area is going to be. I imagine there would be unimaginably crazy dust storms in the first few days as an entire atmo worth of water vapor is sucked into the bedrock.
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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby alanbbent » Wed Jul 02, 2014 8:48 pm UTC

To be sure, what would really happen depends on the definition of "all the bodies of water on Earth." I have a few barrels of water at my house. If they don't disappear, then I'll actually be okay for quite some time.

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby slinches » Wed Jul 02, 2014 8:54 pm UTC

Why wouldn't that bedrock all be fully saturated? The question was what would happen if all of the bodies of water disappeared and I assumed that the water contained in the surface below would not count as part of the body of water itself.

Of course that may be a terrible assumption, but who knows how the magical instantaneous removal of all bodies of water would work?

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Earthling on Mars » Wed Jul 02, 2014 9:06 pm UTC

alanbbent wrote:To be sure, what would really happen depends on the definition of "all the bodies of water on Earth."

That is a good question. Is a puddle in the road a body of water? What about a swimming pool? A marshy spot a few yards across? Ice caps? Rivers? If rivers don't disappear, they could keep folks alive for a little while.

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jul 02, 2014 9:19 pm UTC

slinches wrote:Why wouldn't that bedrock all be fully saturated? The question was what would happen if all of the bodies of water disappeared and I assumed that the water contained in the surface below would not count as part of the body of water itself.

Of course that may be a terrible assumption, but who knows how the magical instantaneous removal of all bodies of water would work?

The way I'm envisioning this is to imagine the oceans/lakes as a really really large buffer of water, the exposed rock surface as a smaller buffer of water, and the atmosphere as another buffer of water. I have no idea how they compare, but feel pretty comfortable assuming the ocean is the largest buffer. Water rains from atmo, is absorbed by landmasses and channeled to lakes/oceans, where it evaporates back into atmo. Remove lakes/oceans, you just shift water into the landmass, moreso because removing the oceans increases the exposed rock surface (by quite a lot... like... a lot a lot), and you're not restoring that water back to atmo.

So sure, underground reservoirs probably stick around a bit longer, but probably not too much longer since they're in no small part able to subsist because of hydrodynamic pressure. Remove that, and you probably get a lot of outwatering, although I admittedly have no idea how long that would take, and don't really envision it being particularly rapid.
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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby FCN » Wed Jul 02, 2014 10:01 pm UTC

Interesting that Randall predicts an acceleration of global warming if the seas disappeared. I would've expected it to cause cooling, since there would be a large drop in atmospheric water vapor, which accounts for a large fraction of the greenhouse effect.
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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jul 02, 2014 10:07 pm UTC

FCN wrote:Interesting that Randall predicts an acceleration of global warming if the seas disappeared. I would've expected it to cause cooling, since there would be a large drop in atmospheric water vapor, which accounts for a large fraction of the greenhouse effect.
Don't forget how dramatic the loss of reflective clouds is going to be. But yeah, he claims it'll be because of the excessive CO2 outgassing, but I'm not sure about that. The oceans are a huge CO2 sink, so removing all the H2O might in and of itself cause a CO2 spike, but I'd have imagined that all the plants dessicating isn't going to result in CO2 being released since they aren't going to decompose.
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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby schapel » Wed Jul 02, 2014 10:50 pm UTC

The impact on global warming in the what-if scenario would be complex. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would increase, but the amount of water vapor (another important greenhouse gas) would decrease. Ice would decrease, decreasing the albedo of the polar regions, but oceans would also disappear, I think increasing the albedo of the tropical regions. Clouds would disappear, decreasing the albedo of the earth but also allowing more heat to escape to space. And of course all weather patterns would completely change in a very short period of time. I don't think it would be an easy matter to determine if the net effect of all this would be warming or cooling.

On the other hand, our current scenario of increasing carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, which leads to increased temperatures and increased water vapor, leads to further warming because all of three of these gases are greenhouse gases. Even AGW skeptics agree to that much.

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Eternal Density » Thu Jul 03, 2014 7:37 am UTC

I need to know what "not quite a coincidence' means!
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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Plasma_Wolf » Thu Jul 03, 2014 8:10 am UTC

To deal with Randall's "complaint" about the lack of questions that lead to happy things, I have now submitted the question "What if I got a puppy?"

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby The Moomin » Thu Jul 03, 2014 8:21 am UTC

Plasma_Wolf wrote:To deal with Randall's "complaint" about the lack of questions that lead to happy things, I have now submitted the question "What if I got a puppy?"


I suspect it would get thirsty and drink all the bodies of water on the planet.
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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby mojacardave » Thu Jul 03, 2014 8:25 am UTC

Plasma_Wolf wrote:To deal with Randall's "complaint" about the lack of questions that lead to happy things, I have now submitted the question "What if I got a puppy?"


You and about 1000 other people I have no doubt. It was perhaps the most predictable response to this What-If. I'd be interested to find out what the ratio between "What if I got a puppy?" queries and "What if saw a really good movie?" queries is though. I'm guessing massively more puppies.

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Autolykos » Thu Jul 03, 2014 9:07 am UTC

Eternal Density wrote:I need to know what "not quite a coincidence' means!
What he's probably hinting at is that a ships terminal velocity when sinking and its top speed are mostly determined by the viscosity of water and the ship's shape, so these should be similar values. Sure, engine power might matter as well, but a "reasonably sized" engine should generate a force in the same order of magnitude as the ship's weight.

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Plasma_Wolf » Thu Jul 03, 2014 10:39 am UTC

mojacardave wrote:
Plasma_Wolf wrote:To deal with Randall's "complaint" about the lack of questions that lead to happy things, I have now submitted the question "What if I got a puppy?"


You and about 1000 other people I have no doubt. It was perhaps the most predictable response to this What-If. I'd be interested to find out what the ratio between "What if I got a puppy?" queries and "What if saw a really good movie?" queries is though. I'm guessing massively more puppies.


It may be predictable, but I hope it will also lead to Randall actually answering the questions in the most hilarious manner possible.

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Klear » Thu Jul 03, 2014 11:40 am UTC

mojacardave wrote:
Plasma_Wolf wrote:To deal with Randall's "complaint" about the lack of questions that lead to happy things, I have now submitted the question "What if I got a puppy?"


You and about 1000 other people I have no doubt. It was perhaps the most predictable response to this What-If. I'd be interested to find out what the ratio between "What if I got a puppy?" queries and "What if saw a really good movie?" queries is though. I'm guessing massively more puppies.


What if I adopted a puppy for every email asking about seeing a really good movie?

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby danbert8 » Thu Jul 03, 2014 1:01 pm UTC

So if we are assuming just surface water disappears, those of us who rely on well water from aquifers should be fine for quite a bit. Sure most of the Earth's salt water will be gone, but we couldn't drink that anyway. Less than 1% of the earth's fresh water supply is at the surface. The majority is locked up in frozen form, and around 30% is underground (according to the USGS, but apparently I'm not allowed to post links...). The air might be ridiculously dry, but people at least will survive in a dry environment as long as they have water to drink.

Of course if we assume the water underground disappears we are really in deep... A lot of the world's landmass would collapse in short order if the water pressure supporting the ground suddenly disappeared. Talk about sink holes!

Also as far as the assumption that trees would dry out and fires would rampage releasing all the CO2 to cause global warming... I guess people would continue being idiots and be responsible for around 70% of forest fires. But as far as natural causes of forest fires, lightning seems to be the primary cause. With little atmospheric moisture, thunderstorms would probably go away in pretty short order and eliminate most of the natural threat for forest ignition. I guess there are still volcanoes...

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby ahammel » Thu Jul 03, 2014 2:18 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
FCN wrote:Interesting that Randall predicts an acceleration of global warming if the seas disappeared. I would've expected it to cause cooling, since there would be a large drop in atmospheric water vapor, which accounts for a large fraction of the greenhouse effect.
Don't forget how dramatic the loss of reflective clouds is going to be. But yeah, he claims it'll be because of the excessive CO2 outgassing, but I'm not sure about that. The oceans are a huge CO2 sink, so removing all the H2O might in and of itself cause a CO2 spike, but I'd have imagined that all the plants dessicating isn't going to result in CO2 being released since they aren't going to decompose.

No, but they are going to catch fire, which is much the same thing.
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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby hoogabooga1 » Thu Jul 03, 2014 2:34 pm UTC

If that really is third time for this whale, you cannot hold Joanna responsible. It is Arthur's fault.

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby KarenRei » Thu Jul 03, 2014 5:15 pm UTC

(singing) "Strooooooongly disagreeeeeeee with Raaaaaandall!!!!!"

1. There's water in the atmosphere. Nobody would reasonably call atmospheric water vapor and clouds "a body of water"
2. There's water in soil. Nobody would reasonably call soil "a body of water". The seabed in particular will be a vast reserve of water.
3. The vast amounts of ice on Earth are essentially 100% water, and are not anything people would reasonably call "a body of water"
4. There's water in rock fractures, all the way down to the mantle. Much of it is in a state of exchange with the surface on reasonable timeframes. The total amount of water in the Earth's crust not in the oceans and other "bodies of water" is much larger than the amount of water in them.
5. There's water in many different types of minerals in their own right, which can dessicate, thus releasing their water into the atmosphere.
6. The act of plants and animals "drying out", as proposed by Randall, would put water back in the atmosphere.
7. The act of objects burning, as proposed by Randall, would put water back in the atmosphere (most of the hydrogen in organic matter, once burned, becomes H2O).

The removal of Earth's bodies of water would in no way create a waterless earth. Earth's water cycle would keep going.

There would be some changes, mind you. After a few weeks, the atmosphere will dry out to a new equlibrium by raining (thus forming small bodies of water). Without the oceans, just having to get it from soil, ice sublimation, etc you're looking at an average closer to 20% of its current levels, and it will remain low until enough deep water manages to cycle back to the surface. That wouldn't make it rainless, the rainiest parts of earth like in the ICTZ and places with strong rainshadow effects will still continue to get rain even in an atmosphere averaging 20% of its previous value, but overall the planet will be much drier. It will also be colder, as water vapor is Earth's dominant greenhouse gas. Basically, everyone not in the tropics will be having a Very Bad Time. It will be a year of mass extinctions, not just for sea life. A large portion of the human population will die due to crop failures and loss of sea food.

But it will not be "The End". Areas will remain with plant life, especially grasses, supporting grazers. Small freshwater bodies will form. Humans will remain with dozens of ways to acquire water.

With time, underground water will cycle more and more back to the surface. New, smaller oceans will form, and many lakes and rivers will be restored nearly to their previous status. They'll be very different, however, only filled with life that can survive periods without bodies of water or which humans managed to keep alive. Earth will bear witness to a rapid period of evolutionary reshuffling and respeciation.
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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby shardavarius » Thu Jul 03, 2014 5:30 pm UTC

Water is really heavy. Really, really, heavy. Plate tectonics is kept in a state of semi-equilibrium by the current physical properties of the Earth. Forgetting everything except magically vanishing oceans, wouldn't this scenario result in a massive global re-equalization of plate and mantle pressures? The scale of the heretofore unimaginable earthquakes and the atmospheric disruption and darkening of global simultaneous vulcanism seem like they would be much more disastrous consequences than a disruption of the water cycle.

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby havsabas » Thu Jul 03, 2014 6:07 pm UTC

"Sufficiently advanced form of paper as to be indistinguishable from magic." Matias Duarte - Google I/O 2014

"Sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology." what if? - Vanishing Water

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby SDK » Thu Jul 03, 2014 8:14 pm UTC

ahammel wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:
FCN wrote:Interesting that Randall predicts an acceleration of global warming if the seas disappeared. I would've expected it to cause cooling, since there would be a large drop in atmospheric water vapor, which accounts for a large fraction of the greenhouse effect.
Don't forget how dramatic the loss of reflective clouds is going to be. But yeah, he claims it'll be because of the excessive CO2 outgassing, but I'm not sure about that. The oceans are a huge CO2 sink, so removing all the H2O might in and of itself cause a CO2 spike, but I'd have imagined that all the plants dessicating isn't going to result in CO2 being released since they aren't going to decompose.

No, but they are going to catch fire, which is much the same thing.

How will they catch fire without any lightning?
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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Flumble » Thu Jul 03, 2014 10:21 pm UTC

Scotland will have a sunny and warm day!

Though, as pointed out by Chris, it'll be conquered by the Netherlands before the Scots can enjoy it.
And guess which 16.8 million people get to usurp the ice caps.

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Musaran » Fri Jul 04, 2014 1:19 am UTC

I think the disappeared water pressure would cause :

  • Massive release of methane trapped in deep sediments.
  • Gigantic (ex)coastal landslides.
    Which in turn would awaken island-volcanoes.
  • Widespread earthquakes and volcanoes as crust and mantle re-balance.
  • Fast (geological scale) rising of ocean floors.

A lot of green houses gases, but also a lot of dust rising albedo.


Also, I agree with KarenRei that there would still be significant water left.

It depends how far "body of water" goes.

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby xtrakeencdragon » Fri Jul 04, 2014 1:21 am UTC

Randall skipped '5' in numbering the notes.

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Klear » Fri Jul 04, 2014 1:26 am UTC

xtrakeencdragon wrote:Randall skipped '5' in numbering the notes.


5 is inside note #6, and produces a cute tiny text that still doesn't fit into the frame. So yeah, he skipped it, but it's still there...

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Avenar » Fri Jul 04, 2014 2:49 am UTC

So far i've heard a lot of arguments for and against the "waterless earth". I still think the prediction holds up fairly well, even with the residue water.

Regardless, i can't help but wonder: What does the sudden loss of all that water do for the planets spin? What about our path around the sun? I'm assuming we'd be lighter by quite a bit, but a lot of the kinetic energy would be lost as well, so that might put us in a status quo on that front. But we would still have our current speed, which means that if we deviate in any significant amount from our previous weight, we'd either crash into the sun, or leave our path and slowly exit the solar system. Perhaps crash into some other planet on the way.

At least that's what i'm thinking. I haven't done the numbers, as The Great Drawer of Stick Figures usually do for us.

Any chance to address that side of the idea?

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby HES » Fri Jul 04, 2014 9:43 am UTC

Klear wrote:5 is inside note #6, and produces a cute tiny text that still doesn't fit into the frame.

It would have made more sense to put #6 within #5, though.
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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby PM 2Ring » Fri Jul 04, 2014 1:03 pm UTC

I guess this thread could do with a link to the USGS page of the Earth's water resources.

It has some nice graphics (spoilered here for size) and a table with more details.
Spoiler:
Image
Image


But it does not mention the water in the Earth's mantle...

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Trickster » Fri Jul 04, 2014 1:19 pm UTC

Can someone explain "that kid in the Zephyr"? I can only find one matching relevance online and it doesn't make a lot of sense from the Bayesian perspective (it isn't enough to have generated that quote from Randall).

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby bilkie » Fri Jul 04, 2014 4:24 pm UTC

There would be magic! Which would mean that another high level wizard could cast a 'create water' spell. And everything would be ok. (Except for the extinction of all aquatic life.) Can 'raise dead' be used on animals?

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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby Millumi » Fri Jul 04, 2014 8:10 pm UTC

If someone got a genie, do you think they would ask one of these 'what if' questions before making the wish?
XD

I got a feeling that there is assumption that the asker has a genie in these due to the last comment in this what-if scenario. "Unless Joanna ruins everything."
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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby firesoul31 » Fri Jul 04, 2014 8:16 pm UTC

Trickster wrote:Can someone explain "that kid in the Zephyr"? I can only find one matching relevance online and it doesn't make a lot of sense from the Bayesian perspective (it isn't enough to have generated that quote from Randall).


As far as I can tell, it's from the children's book The Wreck of the Zephyr in which a kid is stranded on an island with people who can fly boats; the kid is somewhat of taught this skill, and sneaks away from the island on a boat. He tries to show off this skill to his old village when he gets back, but the wind dies down and he crashes and is badly injured.
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Re: What-If 0103: "Vanishing Water"

Postby rmsgrey » Sat Jul 05, 2014 12:38 pm UTC

bilkie wrote:There would be magic! Which would mean that another high level wizard could cast a 'create water' spell. And everything would be ok. (Except for the extinction of all aquatic life.) Can 'raise dead' be used on animals?


Only those which have souls...

Avenar wrote:Regardless, i can't help but wonder: What does the sudden loss of all that water do for the planets spin? What about our path around the sun? I'm assuming we'd be lighter by quite a bit, but a lot of the kinetic energy would be lost as well, so that might put us in a status quo on that front. But we would still have our current speed, which means that if we deviate in any significant amount from our previous weight, we'd either crash into the sun, or leave our path and slowly exit the solar system. Perhaps crash into some other planet on the way.


Unless there's a sudden transfer of momentum from the water just before it vanishes, the bits that remain will still have their share of the original angular momentum. The slight expansion from the loss of all that water weight will slow things slightly, but all the oceans combined don't make a significant fraction of the Earth's total mass, so the spin won't be significantly affected.

As for the Earth's orbit, the Earth's mass is sufficiently small compared to the Sun that we can treat the Sun as stationary (or as a binary system with Jupiter) meaning that if you replaced the Earth (and Moon) with a frozen pea with the same instantaneous velocity, it would follow the same path (to very high precision). Ultimately, yeah, it would change Earth's orbit, but only indirectly - the change in Earth's mass will change the orbits of the other planets very slightly, which, in turn, will change Earth's orbit very, very, very slightly. If you could run an exact copy of the universe except for suddenly dehydrating Earth, then there would eventually be a visible difference in Earth's orbit - but it's possible that the difference will be as much due to human activity as to the change in the Earth's mass.


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