Hard Water in the UK – How Much of an Issue Is It?

Water hardness is one of those terms you hear fairly regularly, but might not necessarily know what it means. Essentially, as water falls as rain, it runs over rocks, picking up various mineral deposits as it flows. Where there’s a lot of naturally occurring calcium and magnesium, hard water forms, which means areas with a lot of chalk and limestone.

Tests carried out across the UK have revealed that the ‘M4 corridor’ has a consistently high frequency for hard water, including Bristol, Bath, Reading, Swindon and London. Hard water is also especially commonly found in the Home Counties, like Kent, Surry and Hertfordshire. 
What’s the big deal? Well, unfortunately hard water isn’t a phenomenon only of relevance to scientists; it’s easy to tell if you’ve got it in your home taps. Hard water tends to taste worse, and causes a much heavier build-up of scale, scum and the tendency to break taps and piping if it’s left unchecked. 
Img source: globiesfeed.com
There are differences in the level of water hardness, and it’s typically measured in terms of calcium carbonate (CaCo3), with soft being under 150mg/l, hard being between 150 and 300mg/l and finally very hard being over 300mg/l. The British Drinking Water Inspectorate has reported that drinking water in England is generally very hard. This is all down to the abundance of limestone and chalk in the British landscape. London, for instance, gets its drinking water from the Thames and the Lea, both fed by limestone springs and chalk aquifers. 
Coastal areas tend to have softer water, especially in Wales, but also in Devon and Cornwall. Some metropolitan areas built their own reservoirs in the 1700s to have a more local supply (Manchester, most prominently), which had the added side effect of making the water softer, as it didn’t come into contact with any limestone. 
If you don’t actually live in Manchester, or any of the softer regions, it’s not a death sentence; there are ways of dealing with the hardness of your water supply. You can outfit your house with full home filtration systems, which attach to the piping system just before the water reaches the house, or you can fit specific filters to your showers and taps. If you can’t manage this, don’t worry, hard water doesn’t present a health risk, it’s just not the best for the plumbing, so make sure you clean your system out as often as you can.  


Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

The Top 5 Largest Waterfalls in the World (Volume)

How do you measure a waterfall?  There are 3 different values you can use: height, width or volume. Isolate waterfalls by these parameters, and you’ll find yourself looking at 3 very different pictures. A tall waterfall might mist away before it reaches the ground, a wide one might only ever drop off by a few metres, and one which moves a substantial volume of water might not even look like a waterfall to the layman.

There is probably some amazing feat of mathematics which could take an average between the 3 values, but I’m nowhere near as good with numbers as I am with words, so I figured it would make more sense to split this into 3 different lists – the 5 tallest, the 5 widest and the 5 most voluminous. Let’s start with the latter.
5 – Vermillion Falls – Canada
Img source: rexposed.com
The measurement of waterfall volume is an inexact science, and there are many which are said to move more water than Vermillion, or Niagara, but cannot be accurately confirmed as such. For the purposes of this list, we’re sticking to the confirmed, catalogued ones. Located in the Peace River in Alberta, Vermilion only drops by 5 to 6 metres, but it’s almost 2,000 metres wide, and it’s very, very powerful. It is by far the most rapid section of the Peace River, shifting 1,812 cubic metres of water per second, on average.
4 – Niagara Falls – Canada
Img source: visitniagaracanada.com
A far more well-known waterfall, Niagara is actually made of 3 separate falls – the Horseshoe, the American and the Bridal Veil. Together, they make up the highest flow rate of any waterfall on the planet, dumping 2,407 cubic metres of water over the 51 metre drop every second. They span the border between America and Canada, and helping to drain Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. They were formed when the last ice age ended and a huge glacial network began to recede.
3 – Khone Falls – Laos
Img source: allpointseast.com
The Mekong River traces the border between Laos and Cambodia; it’s the 12th longest river on the planet, carrying a huge amount of water down from the Tibetan plateau all the way out to the South China Sea. Nowhere is the river’s power more evident than at the massive Khone Falls. The highest reach is only 21 metres, but the most rapid portion of the falls is 9.7 kilometres long, and prevents the Mekong from being fully navigable. Due to the width and steepness of the cascades, the Khone Falls have an average discharge of 11,610 cubic metres per second.
2 – Boyoma Falls – Democratic Republic of Congo
Img source: srune.com
The Lualaba River is the greatest headstream for the Congo, responsible for a huge portion of its record breaking power. It starts at an elevation of 1,400 metres above sea level, on the Katanga Plateau, and what goes up, must come down, violently so. The Boyoma Falls represent the steepest single descent made by the river before it becomes the Congo, a 100km stretch of 7 cataracts, which drop a total of 61 metres. With an average flow rate of 17,000 cubic metres per second, it’s a treacherous stretch of water. Despite this, the locals still fish there, running wooden struts through holes in the stone to secure baskets.
1 – Inga Falls – Democratic Republic of Congo
Img source: pinterest.com
Unsurprisingly, the most powerful waterfall on the planet is a part of the most powerful river on the planet. Long stretches of the Congo are sedate, and teeming with life, but some 40km out from the port town of Matadi, that changes. Inga is part of a much larger network of rapids called the Livingstone Falls, but it’s by far the most powerful, dropping by 96 metres over 15km. Within that relatively short stretch, it moves an average of 42,466 cubic metres per second, but it’s previously been recorded with a volume of 70,793cms. Inga is also, unsurprisingly, the site of 2 hydroelectric dams, Inga I and Inga II, with the suggestion that there might soon be two more built.

Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

Amazing Places That Were Sculpted by Water

There are many different types of erosion, and all of them are at the behest of the climate and other local environmental conditions. It’s a chaotic, uncertain process, and the types of erosion caused by water are particularly unpredictable, and can yield some bizarre natural artwork when the right conditional cocktail is mixed. All over the planet there are examples of this, some famous, some virtually unheard of, but all striking to behold.
The Moeraki Boulders – New Zealand
Because of the salt, coastal erosion usually results in very smooth, ordered looking rock formations, depending on what type of stone you’re talking about. This is particularly true of the Moeraki Boulders, but their shape and distribution is so unusual that it completely sets them apart. These big, smooth boulders almost resemble footballs that have been buried in the sand, sitting either in clusters or by themselves across the Otago coast. It’s still debated why they are shaped this way, but it’s thought that they were original formed from the mudstone which cemented the coastal structure during the Palaeocene epoch, slowly brought back to the surface by coastal erosion. A few have cracked open, revealing a core of calcites, quartz and dolomite.
The Stone Forest – China

This haunting forest in the Yunnan Province is the source of an ancient legend, which suggested that it had been the birthplace of a beautiful girl who, after being forbidden from marrying her lover, used a stone to create the labyrinth of tall rocky structures that give it its name. In reality, the strange towers, which almost resemble petrified trees, formed around 270 million years ago when a shallow sea stood there. Sandstone deposits were overlaid with limestone, and as uplift occurred exposure to running water (and wind) moulded the stone into narrow shafts.


The Wave – Arizona
Perhaps it’s just the way my memory works, but this eye-pleasingly neat, ordered rock formation, nestled in the Colorado Plateau always reminds me of Dr Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! I would almost think that it was the source of inspiration for those funny, lined hills which feature in the book, were it not for the fact that Seuss probably never set foot in Colorado. During the Jurassic age, sandstone formed across this area and water runoff from above gradually cut the stone into the line formation we see now, with the aid wind erosion, which is still grinding away at it to this day.
Skaftafell – Iceland

This sizeable preservation area covering 4,807 square kilometres across Iceland’s southeast Öræfasveit region boasts a range of intriguing geological features. Particularly, there are a number of sheer rock walls which have the same kind of cutaway look as Giant’s Causeway or Fingal’s Cave, but in this instance, rivers and glaciers have as much to do with it as volcanic activity. It almost looks as if the rock has been scratched away by some hulked, clawed hand as the centuries have gone by, making way for waterfalls and winding river flows.

Salar de Uyuni – Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat on the planet, sitting 3653 metres above sea level in the Bolivian Andes. Once a prehistoric lake, the eventual drying left several different salt pans behind, and caused a series of weird little islands of overwhelmingly bright pure salt. The colouration of the mineral lakes is also particularly striking, a kind of light, sapphire blue which almost looks artificial. The flats hold around 70% of the world’s lithium reserves, so if you get super depressed any time soon, you know where to head.

The Twelve Apostles – Australia

It’s not uncommon to see limestone stacks lining the coast, and some are pretty big, but the Twelve Apostles, which line the Gibson Steps coast in Victoria, are properly big and properly awesome. They have an odd, misshapen structure, some are fatter at the bottom, others are narrower, and you can clearly make out all the sedimentary layers going down to where they meet with the sea. Many of them used to be archways, which have now collapsed, and one went down as recently as 2005. There are actually only 8 apostles left now.

The Caves of Crystals – Mexico

This utterly insane mess of bladed crystals will look familiar to fans of Dark Souls, as some have theorised that it may have even been the inspiration for the infamous Crystal Caves which feature in the game. This massive crystal garden formed beneath the surface of Naica in the Chihuahua region of Mexico. It is a result of magma flows heating up groundwater which was then saturated with sulphide ions. This water then blended with cooler surface water, causing a diffusion reaction which created hydrated sulphates, which then slowly crystalized. The whole process took about half a million years, but the result is quite incredible. You can’t even go inside without special equipment, owing to the sometimes extreme heat and humidity, which can range from 90%-99%. Think about that next time you’re awake on a muggy night. Actually don’t. 

Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

The 5 Most Dangerous Rivers in the World

If the ocean is the heart of the planet, then rivers are the veins. These majestic natural highways play a large role in supporting life on land. In fact, without them, the world would be a very different place. However, lurking beneath their outer beauty these rivers hide raw power, vicious predators and more things that may make you reluctant to even dip a toe in. Our waterways should be enjoyed, that’s true, but not without a dose of caution if you’re travelling to any of the areas on this list.

5. The Orinoco River
This South American river runs for approximately 1330 miles, cutting through the rainforests of Venezuela and Columbia. The danger here is caused primarily by strong currents, frequent waterfalls and fast rapids, all aided along by the Orinoco’s 200 tributaries. This harsh combination makes the river extremely difficult to navigate, even for experienced sailors. Couple this threat with the devastating floods and coastal upwelling that strike the area regularly, and you certainly have a river worthy of trepidation.
4. The Congo River
The Congo River in Western Central Africa is considered to be the deepest in the world, and with a length of almost 3000 miles it is also the second most voluminous river on the planet. The route here starts calm enough, but slowly builds up in speed and strength until you reach a stretch known as the “Gates of Hell”. This 75-mile canyon boasts some of the roughest, most unpredictable rapids you will find anywhere, and is more than capable of causing some serious damage to an unprepared explorer.
3. The Yenisei River
Plotting its course through China and Mongolia, the Yenisei River’s seemingly calm waters hold a deadly secret. The danger here, unlike the other entries on this list, is not really posed by the river itself, but rather what we have done to it. The river is rife with contaminants provided by a weapons-grade plutonium factory, with radioactive and toxic pollutants embedding themselves in the river bed, banks, flood plains and islands along its 2100 mile length. Decades worth of waste has caused significant spikes in radiation, which has been linked to increases in cases of leukaemia, breast cancer and birth defects.
2. The Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest in all of North America with a length of nearly 2340 miles. Its volume, however, is far from consistent. This had led to unpredictable currents that can seemingly change in a heartbeat as you pass over hidden gorges, shallow ridges and deep pools. The sheer power of the Mississippi River makes these currents extremely dangerous, capable of worrying just about any vessel. If you do make it through the tides and currents, then you have the wildlife to deal with. A healthy population of bull sharks, large pike and various other predators make for a rich ecosystem, but a dangerous one.
1. The Amazon River
As the second longest and certainly the largest river in the world, the ever-famous Amazon River holds some impressive power below its surface. The currents are so strong that bridging the river is, in many parts, impossible. The river isn’t the only thing in the Amazon to take size to new extremes, however, as the local wildlife seems to have followed suit. You can expect to encounter catfish of up to 200 pounds in weight, large, aggressive bull shark populations and gargantuan Anacondas that would give Indiana Jones a heart-attack on sight, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The waters are literally full of aquatic life that could bring your adventures to an abrupt end so, needless to say, it’s not the best place for skinny-dipping.

Sam Bonson
Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.

Where is the Purest Water in the World?

Water purity isn’t a fixed value, it depends heavily on what you’re planning to use it for. Obviously tap water and most bottled water goes through some form of purification process before it ever reaches us, ditto for bathwater, but natural water can actually be incredibly pure from the outset. Water trapped in glaciers is often incredibly pure, because it’s stored so deep that no contaminants from the ground or the air have been able to reach it. You would think, then, that said ice is the purest natural water source on the planet, and yet.
A few different places reputedly have sources of spring water which is, somehow, even purer. A study by the University of North Texas, the University of Magallanes and the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity of the University of Chile (and breathe) in 2015 found that the cleanest water on the planet may well be in Chile. 
The Ukika River – Img source: anasaziracing.blogspot.co.uk
Across 10 days, they took samples from natural waterways near Puerto Williams in Chilean Patagonia, and found that despite their equipment being capable of detecting chemical compounds in water as accurately as 2 parts per million, they still didn’t pick anything up. Further analysis in a lab confirmed the water’s purity. The actual sources of the water included the Bronzes River, the Ukika River and the Bass River, all of which are part of the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, which could now end up being one of the most important water sources on the planet.
Only 0.003% of all the water in the planet is thought to be unpolluted, but Cape Horn is not the only site. In 2011, a geochemist named William Shotyk published the results of tests he’d been running in his groundwater observatory in Elmvale, Ontario. Examining water from the artesian wells he constructed, he found that the water contained less lead than the cleanest layers of the arctic ice shelf, 5 times less at least. Said ice water has been trapped in the shelf for over 8,000 years, just to lend some further perspective.
In this case, Shotyk claims that the water’s purity owes to the fact that the ground the rainwater moves through to reach Elmvale is rich in iron oxide and aluminium oxide, both of which will pull contaminants out, a job also done by tree roots and the bacteria which grow on them. 
This is a fairly consistent rule of thumb, certain conditions in the surrounding eco-system can result in remarkably pure water, and more pure than anything you’d get in a bottle. Other instances of this have been recorded in China, Western Australia and Upstate New York. While the supply of pure natural water may be dwindling, finding out more about the mechanisms behind it can help us learn how to preserve it. 

Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

 

Tips for Saving Water During a Hosepipe Ban


Hosepipe bans are almost commonplace as a water saving measure during the summer now, and at much as it makes perfect sense, it can be a bit of a pain. You don’t necessarily realise how much water you use outdoors in summer until you need to limit it. 
There are so many different water saving products on the market now though that it’s almost overwhelming, and impossible to ignore. Of course, knowing what’s worth investing in and what’s a waste of money is another matter, and there are plenty of other techniques you can employ to save water without actually needing to buy anything. Here are a few of the most effective things you can do to save water.
Get a Water Butt, or Several
This is absolutely essential, even if your garden is miniscule. For the uninitiated, water butts are designed to collect rainwater in large drums, using a drainage system to keep from overflowing. Said rainwater can then be drawn from a spigot at the bottom and used to water plants, wash the car, or pretty much anything else that doesn’t involve you drinking it, or washing yourself with it. They’re remarkably easy to maintain and cheap to buy, there’s just no excuse not to have at least one.
Replace Worn Washers on Drippy Taps
Amazingly, if any of the taps in or outside of your house are leaking, you could be wasting up to a bath-full of water inside of a fortnight. Buying a few cheap washers and replacing the old ones could save you both waste water and money, and it’s a good habit to get into regardless.
Save Water from Indoors for Outdoor Uses
Any time you use water indoors, have something in the sink to catch it, and then you can use it later for watering plants. If you’re washing up, rinsing your hands, vegetables or anything else, there’s no reason to let that water just flow meaninglessly down the drain, there’s nothing wrong with it. You can do the same with bath or shower water, a bit of soap isn’t going to do your plants any harm.
Water Your Plants in the Early Morning or Late Evening
On particularly hot days a lot of water can be lost through evaporation, so watering the plants during the day can be a bit of an exercise in futility. Instead, water them either early or later, when the heat isn’t extreme enough to syphon the water off into the air.
Let Your Lawn Grow Longer
 
Grass can go longer without water than you might expect, but if you cut it extremely short it takes up less and browns much more quickly. It might look a bit more untidy, but if you leave the grass a bit longer, you won’t need to water it anywhere near as often.
Don’t Overwater the Plants
Overwatering is one of the worst things you can do for plant life. Serious overwatering can actually drown plants, but doing it even a little bit too often can cause the roots to grow at a shallower depth. If that happens and then you’re forced to cut back, they will start to dry out that much sooner.

Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

The Water Cycle Explained

The fundamental role of the water cycle applies to almost all the water on the planet – evaporation, condensation, precipitation and infiltration. It’s this 4 step process which allows water to carry nutrients from the oceans, seas, lakes and rivers to the land, and then back again. In the simplest terms, the water heats, changes from a liquid to a gas, cools again and returns to liquid form as rain or snow. 
There’s far more to it than that though, each step in the process obeys different rules and fulfils different needs depending on the geography, time of year, and many other contributory factors. For this reason, the easiest way to understand the water cycle in detail is to look at each major step one by one.
Evaporation
This is almost a kind of natural distillation process, caused by a transfer of solar energy into water, causing it to lose density until it changes into a gas, leaving most of the salt and other excess baggage behind. In warmer countries with a lot of coast and standing water, this can result in higher humidity, especially if there’s also a great deal of vegetation. Transpiration from plant life also plays a role in this process, and the two together are known as evapotranspiration.
Condensation
Warm air rises, but the temperature cools at higher altitudes, causing the moisture in the air to thicken again and condense back into liquid. The effect of this is very different depending on when and where it’s happening. It can form into clouds, fog, mist or dew, and certain temperature parameters can change the air pressure, or release energy rapidly. In some cases, this can lead to thunderstorms and hurricanes. If a wind shear catches lower air in the right way, it can set it spinning, and if it’s then caught in a thunderstorm the funnel tilts, drawing up cool, moist air from below. When that happens, a tornado forms.
Precipitation
Once water returns to a liquid state, what went up must come back down again. This largely happens in the form of rain, but it can also be snow, sleet or hail. The density and velocity of the rain is also at the mercy of temperature and air pressure. In hotter areas, dry seasons will be followed by monsoon seasons where all the water taken up during the months of extreme heat comes hammering back down again. Certain types of rain and snowfall are more common in mountainous regions, due to more frequent changes in air density, but 78% of all global precipitation happens over the ocean. There’s another factor – deposition. When it’s very, very cold, water vapour will change to ice without the direct need for precipitation. You’ll have seen it during the winter; coatings of frost on leaves, windows and elsewhere. Some water never actually reaches the ground, instead being intercepted by flora and remaining in the leaves until it evaporates again.
Infiltration
Once the water has reached the ground, provided it made landfall in the first place, gravity takes its place in the process. Being that water is less dense than soil, it is dragged into the earth, or down mountain ranges as runoff (or avalanches) and ultimately goes underground and becomes either soil moisture or groundwater. A few different things can happen at this point, it can either be taken up by roots to nourish plants, flow beneath the ground back to rivers or lakes, or percolate even deeper, ultimately arriving back at the seas and oceans. This process also leads to vast underground wells, springs and caves. Particularly in the latter case, groundwater can erode limestone and create vast ‘karst’ landscapes made up of gaping caverns and sinkholes. In Ireland, this process has led to the formation of turloughs, lakes which completely vanish and reappear at intervals, with water sinking into a swallowhole only to emerge in a spring elsewhere. 

Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.