Three steps to saving water in the workplace

It’s an established fact that we use far more water than the earth is able to provide for us. Less than 1% of the world’s fresh water is available for human use (the majority being frozen, underground, or salt water), and yet each individual uses around 150 litres of water per day. With the earth’s population growing far quicker than is sustainable and global warming leading our rainfall to become increasingly erratic, it is everyone’s responsibility to cut water usage.

We spend around 109,980 hours of our lives at work, and therefore, this is where we fulfil most of our water usage. Indeed, industries and public institutions use over 25% of water used in most major cities. Today, we’re going to be discussing how to save water in your workplace. Continue reading “Three steps to saving water in the workplace”

Your throwaway coffee

You’ve enjoyed a lovely hot coffee from your local coffee shop, and you’re left with your empty paper cup. What do you do with it? If you said ‘place it in the recycling bin’, you would be incorrect. Believe it or not, your disposable coffee cup is not recyclable. That little recycling symbol on the side of your cup? Sneakily, it only refers to the corrugated cardboard cup holder. Continue reading “Your throwaway coffee”

The A-Z of Water: D & E

There’s no way around it, water can be a complex area to know. There’s lots of keywords and terms bandied about by experts, that even we find confusing on occasion! To this end, we will be bringing you the A-Z of water terms, bringing you the secret, technical, and quirky language connected to H20.

We helped you B-lieve in the power of language, by C-ing even more water words last week (we’re sorry, we have a pun problem). This week we’re bringing you our favourite D and E water words.

Dam: (Geography) Artificial barrier or obstruction which impounds or diverts water

Dap: (Language) To dip lightly or quickly into water
Dessication: (Geology) Loss of water from pore spaces of sediments
Dew: (Language) Tiny drops of water that form on cool surfaces overnight

Divining rod: (Geology) Forked branch or stick believed to indicate subterranean water

Doldrums: (Geography) A region of ocean near the equator

Dowser: (Geology) Person using a divining rod

Drawdown: (Hydrology) Lowering of the surface of a body of water by releasing water

Duct: (Geography) A tube or passage in a building or machine for air or liquid

Eagre: (Hydrology) A high, often dangerous, wave

Embankment: (Geography) Material raised above the natural surface of the land used to contain, divert, or store water

Englacial: (Geology) Located or occurring within a glacier

Eupotamic: (Biology) Thriving in both flowing and still fresh waters

Eutrophic: (Hydrology) Water that is rich in nutrients

Evapotranspiration: (Biology) Evaporation of liquid plus transpiration from plants

We hope you’ve enjoyed this dap into water words, and it hasn’t left you in the doldrums. Have we missed your favourite? Let us know what it is!

The A-Z of water: B & C

There’s no way around it, water can be a complex area to know. There’s lots of keywords and terms bandied about by experts, that even we find confusing on occasion! To this end, we will be bringing you the A-Z of water terms, bringing you the secret, technical, and quirky language connected to H20.

We got off to ‘A’ phenomenal start last week with the ‘A’s of water (see what we did there?!). This week it’s time to switch to plan B, so we can C how to talk water (we have so many alphabet puns to get through here).

Baseflow: (Geology) Streamflow coming from ground water seepage into a stream

Bathe: (Language) Wash with water

Bathometer: (Geology) An instrument used to measure the depth of water

Bathymetry: (Geology) The measurement of large bodies of water

Bedew: (Language) To wet with

Benthic : (Oceanography) The bottom of lakes or oceans

Benthos: (Biology) All plants/animals living on or associated with the bottom of a body of water

Besprinkle: (Language) Sprinkle all over with small drops

Bifurcate: (Geology) Dividing structure which splits the flow of water

Billabong: (Geology) A dead end channel extending from the main stream of a river

Billow: (Language) A large wave or swell of water

Blear: (Language) To dim with water or tears

Brackish: (Food) Having a salty taste

Calf: (Geology) A large floating chunk of ice

Canal: (Geography) Waterway

Conduit: (Geography) A channel for conveying water

Confluence: (Language) The act of flowing together

Contrail: (Language) A visible trail of streaks of condensed water

We hope you’ve enjoyed your besprinkling of water language this week. Which is your favourite water word? Let us know in the comments.

Hard water: Hard to deal with?

We all know the type of water that runs through our pipes, hard, soft, or somewhere in between. The real question is: what does it mean, and more importantly, does it matter? Drinking water in the UK is generally classified as ‘very hard’ (with a few exceptions in places such as Cornwall, Devon, and Wales), so in this blog, we’ll be focusing on hard water.

Surprisingly, hard water is water with high mineral content. Hard water is produced when the natural path of water is through limestone and chalk deposits. This gives us water than contains dissolved compounds, these tend to be calcium or magnesium compounds. That, in a nutshell, is what makes our water ‘hard’.

What does hard water do?

So, now we know what hard water is, but what does it do? The easiest way to spot hard water, is to try and lather soap in it. The dissolved calcium and magnesium ions in hard water make it more difficult to create a lather, instead forming soap scum. This means you’ll need more soap when doing the washing up or washing your hair, and it may leave that slimy soap layer around your plug holes. You know the one.

Another sure-fire sign of hard water is the limescale it creates. For those amongst us lucky enough to have never dealt with limescale, limescale is a chalky white substance that forms in your kettle, boiler, and pipes. It is left there when hard water evaporates, leaving behind calcium carbonate (a.k.a. limescale) deposits. This can clog up your plumbing and restrict the flow of water. Limescale costs millions by clogging up industrial machines every year.

Hard water and our bodies

Less studied is the effect that hard water has on our bodies. Now, it has been linked to all sorts of phenomena, with some camps swearing it causes eczema and acne (these links have not been proven). Here’s what we do know, hard water can make shampoo tougher to lather and rinse, meaning your hair can be a little duller than you might like. Studies have also linked hard water to the irritation of psoriasis in infants.

Give us the good news

We’ve given hard water some hard flak here (do excuse the pun), but what’s the good news? Well, most people prefer the taste of hard water, agreeing that soft water can taste a little salty due to the increased sodium levels in soft water.
Calcium and magnesium are part of our dietary requirements, and hard water can be a great source of both, saving you mega bucks on supplements and health drinks. Some studies have even correlated hard water and lower cardiovascular disease mortality. Pour us a glass already!

To conclude

Your hard water lesson for today is complete! What do you think, is hard water a benefit or an issue? Let us know in the comment section below!

The A-Z of water: A

There’s no way around it, water can be a complex area to know. There’s lots of keywords and terms bandied about by experts, that even we find confusing on occasion! To this end, we will be bringing you the A-Z of water terms, bringing you the secret, technical, and quirky language connected to H20.

In the words of the great Julie Andrews, ‘Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start’, today, we’ll be covering the A words!

Accretion  (Hydrology) The process of accumulation by flowing water

Adfluvial: (Natural science) Migrating between lakes and rivers or streams

Aedile: (History) Elected official of Ancient Rome who supervised the water supply

Aerate: (Chemical) To supply or charge a liquid or body of water with gas

Alluvial: (Hydrology) Process/materials association with transportation or deposition by running water

Alluvion: (Hydrology) The flow of water against a shore or bank

Altum Mare: (History) A term used in old English law referring to the high or deep sea

Anabranch: (Geology) A diverging branch of a river, which then re-enters the main stream

Aneroid: (Chemical) Not using liquid

Anhydrous: (Chemical) Without water

Aquaduct: (Construction) Pipe/channel that transports water from a remote source

Aquanaut: (Hydrology) A person trained to live in underwater installations

Aquifier: (Geology) Soil or rock that stores/ transmits water

Aquifuse: (Geology) Formation that can’t store/transmit water

Arroyo: (Geology) A water carved channel or gully in a dry country

Asperse: (Language) To sprinkle

Attenuation: (Hydrology) The diversion or slowing of the flow of water

There you have it, our A’s of water. Which is your favourite water A word? We’re loving ‘alluvion’!

The health risks of chlorinated pools

When you combine water with sunlight and open air, life tends to  happen. Now, that’s an amazing thing, but far from ideal if you want to use a body of standing water for anything sanitary. For decades, there’s been a pretty clear cut solution to this – chlorine.
While some are salted, most swimming pools are chlorinated. Once chlorine solution is added to water, it breaks down into hypochlorous acid and hypochlorite ions, which attack the lipids in bacterial cell walls. This oxidises the cells and renders them inert. It’s a remarkably effective process, but it makes the water toxic.
If you’ve ever swallowed a mouthful of pool water, you’ll know that it’s a thoroughly unpleasant experience, accompanied by a lot of coughing and gagging. That’s not actually anything to do with the chlorine, though. Even in a heavily chlorinated pool, the rate is about 2 parts per million, so even if you drank the whole pool, you wouldn’t get chlorine poisoning. What would poison you, would be all the nasty bacteria that chlorine can’t kill.
We have to examine the health risks of swimming in a chlorinated pool on a regular basis, as many people are currently doing, either to deal with the summer heat or because watching the Olympics has made them feel particularly out of shape. So, is there any danger of ill-health as a result of all this splashing around?
It’s still a debated subject, but to suggest that there’s no risk would be very naïve. One Belgian study, conducted in 2009, found that teens who very regularly swam in chlorinated pools were at higher risk from asthma and other allergies. In particular, the risk of hayfever doubled. Another study found, that when chlorine combines with urine, it was develop an irritant called trichloramine, which could well cause damage to the cellular walls which protect the lungs. It’s been theorised that the presence of this irritant could be putting children at greater risk of asthma.
Indoor pools have their own inherent issues, due to the fact that they are an enclosed space. Chloramines release gas into the air, and if it gets trapped in such a space, people will inevitably breathe it in. The build-up of chloramines in the air can be accelerated by the surface of the water being broken, and that’s kind of a given at a busy pool. All indoor pools are required to have some kind of ventilation system, but their effectiveness can vary dramatically. Inhale enough and you could be at risk of respiratory irritation, same as if you swallowed the water.
Fundamentally, most of the issues caused by chlorinated water are more due to the sanitation of the pool in question. If a lot of people are peeing in it, or doing anything else similarly disgusting, the health risk of being in or even near that water obviously rises. Equally, if the pool isn’t cleaned regularly or excess chlorine is pumped in to account for the unsanitary water, that’s also bad news.
The bottom line is this – if you’re going to swim regularly, do some serious research on how well maintained the pool is, and keep an eye on it when you’re there. Olympic or athletic swimming pools tend to be a better bet, simply because there’s more money involved. If you have children, it’s almost better to (if you can afford to) get your own above ground pool and use that; public recreational pools are often filthy during the busy summer months. In any case, chlorine is an excellent disinfectant, you needn’t worry about that, it’s just the people who use the pools you need to be careful of.

What’s in a wave?

Imagine looking out at sea,  waiting for that moment, a split second where instinct kicks in and says ‘GO’, tunnel vision on the patch of blue that’s gargling into adolescence and then catching it as it grows into adulthood.  You can’t tame it, with instinct and your surfboard you’re looking to own it at the expense of it possibly engulfing you; you do this with instinct and your surfboard.

It seems that good surfers have a keen eye for spotting where and when the perfect wave will break. The surfer uses their instinct to see the future of the landscape, but what is it that creates that perfect wave? 

The surfer’s perspective
Sat out upon the rolling sea, from the surfer’s perspective, the landscape at that point is an endless blue littered with the froth created by the wind chopping up the surface of water – these are called white-caps.
The whitecaps can form crests giving the wind more surface area to work with, creating a peak. Those small peaks start moving away from the wind, expending a bit of its energy by turning its choppiness into a nice rounded wave, which is called a swell. 
At this point it seems pretty weak and unassuming, as all that energy is underwater. This energy becomes apparent when the waves get closer to the shore and starts making contact with the land underneath. As the wave begins encroaching upon the land the wave’s energy is forced upward above the water surface, the front of the wave slows before the back of the wave causing to break; here we have the rideable wave.
The shape of the land beneath the water has a say in how the wave turns out; if the land is steep the wave will crash creating a barrel wave, if the slope of the land is more gradual then the wave will break slowly forming a ‘crumbling’ wave. 
 Barrel wave                                                                                        Crumbling wave
Img source (right):
The physics of the wave
The waves make their way onto the shore in rows; sometimes the ones behind can catch up with the wave in front and add together creating a super wave. This is simply constructive interference.
If you picture the wave from the side you can see it as a series of orbital waves. This motion is a flow of energy from peak to the trough and back round again, making what is basically a large circle. When it comes into contact with the land this circular motion is forced upwards, essentially squishing it and disrupting the circular flow of the water, which causes the wave to break.
We know what creates the ideal wave and now we have the technology to actually make an artificial one. Professional surfer, Kelly Slater, rode an artificial wave in 2015. After years of research it was discovered that the best way to simulate barrel waves in the ocean was to use the wind (pneumatics). This was the wave that Kelly Slater surfed. 
By simulating ocean swells we can replicate an experience that is closely comparable to ocean surfing. Engineers have designed hundreds of wave pools for water parks, but the technology incorporated to make surfing waves today is a quantum leap in the evolution of surf pool technology. 
In the right conditions the water flowing back to the sea can form a rip current. This is the term for the water that’s moving from the shore back to the sea; the current can drag swimmers into the open water at a speed that’s too difficult to swim against. 
The weather can also change the intensity of the wave. For instance strong winds and pressure from a hurricane can create a series of waves that are formed in deep water, which intensify as they approach land.
The land at the bottom of the water can also massively affect the wave; Tsunamis for instance, are due to the land under the water shifting – different to tides which are created on the surface by wind and the magnetic force from the moon and sun. Tsunamis are caused by the energy beneath the surface; a volcanic eruption, submarine landslide or an earthquake can cause this huge surge of energy underwater that eventually makes its way onto the surface as it comes closer to the shore. 
Whilst the physics perspective is equally as stunning as the surfer’s, encouraging a safer perspective on the waves, nothing jars the surfer’s instinct; that wave is theirs for the taking and admittedly, it’s infectious… Let’s go surfing. 

Seabins – Clearing the waste of the ocean

Oceanic waste is a huge problem, and it’s growing by the year. Despite all the warnings, the rate of global plastic production continues to rise, and you only need to visit a popular beach to see the extent of the problem. Fish and seabirds alike are frequently found dead, with plastic in their digestive systems, and the ocean is blighted by floating islands of the stuff, centuries away from even beginning to decompose.

The primary approach to solving the problem is obvious, but daunting – significantly downsize plastic production and upscale recycling. The latter is already happening, but nowhere near enough to counteract the gargantuan scale of plastic production, and more to the point, the scope for reusing many types of consumer plastic is actually pretty narrow. 
Even if, by some miracle, we were able to stem the tide of plastic production and discarding to the point where it balances things out again, there would still be millions upon millions of metric tons of plastic still out on the ocean, and no, I’m not exaggerating. Beach clearing and trawling will only get you so far when there’s just so much of it, so one idea is to create a kind of device which can be placed in the water and just left to get on with the task at hand.
Enter the ‘Seabin’, an ingenious little solution invented by two Aussie surfers – Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski – and it’s currently in the final research phase. At a glance, it just looks like a bin with a yellow rim and a sleek chrome finish, but there’s a lot more than meets the eye. They are fitted to pontoons, lowered until the rim is just slightly beneath the surface and then a suction engine whirs to life, drawing waste inside until the bag is full. 
The trash can then be sorted and recycled. Because the bin sits so close to the surface, fish aren’t in any danger of being mistakenly sucked in, as extensive tests have proven. The pump is solar powered, and has been tested in several countries already, with many marine authorities across the world saying that they also want to try it out. The team are looking at making them available in 17 countries from 2017 onwards.
If these wonderful little bins could be distributed in a more widespread manner, they could provide an effective solution to the issue, at least inland where they can easily be accessed and emptied on a regular basis. The open ocean is another issue entirely, but there’s no reason why the technology couldn’t be refitted to work on a larger scale, with fleets of bins cast out, and then collected at the end of the day by large ships.
Of course, active solutions can’t work all by themselves, and the introduction of technology like this has to be mirrored by the reductions in consumption I was talking about before. The Seabins can act as a barrier between the trash and getting out onto the open ocean, but even if they were on literally every beach, marina and pontoon in the world, trash would still find its way out to sea. We need companies to reduce their plastic footprint, or all the research and development in the world simply won’t be enough. The Olympics are evidence enough of that.


Microbial fuel cells – The future of clean water?

Perhaps the biggest issue with water treatment plants is the amount of energy they use. On average, it takes 1.5 kilowatt-hours to remove even a kilogram of contaminant from polluted water. If you look at that in terms of water treatment on a national or international scale, it accounts for a huge chunk of energy demand. 
The solution is to make water treatment a self-sustaining process, and for the first time it looks like we might have found a way to do that. The name of the game is biotechnology; we already use engineered biological processes for food production, medicine and more recently fuel. We already know that biological processes can be manipulated to produce energy, so what if they could form a self-powering treatment system.
That’s exactly what Boston-based company Cambrian Innovation have done. In partnership with the US Army, they have developed ‘BioVolt’, a wastewater treatment system which generates the energy needed to power itself, with no electrical input necessary. The microbes themselves are electrically active, and they catalyse a fuel cell process which treats wastewater and generates electricity all at once. What’s more, a large facility isn’t needed to house such a system; it can be scaled down the point where you can carry it around in a portable container.
Img source:
So already this sounds pretty amazing, but there’s more. The BioVolt system is now being regarded as a blueprint for even more advanced developments in the near future. The active microbe strains in the BioVolt system are ‘Geobacter’ and ‘Shewanella’, both of them essentially consume pure energy, coaxed from rocks and metals. It stands to reason, all bacteria deal with the electrons present in sugars and other minerals, these ones just cut out the middle man, and in this way they can be grown directly on electrodes. 
The applications of this are widespread and exciting, already a larger pilot system for water treatment is being built in Tijuana, and this one will also be able to remove pharmaceutical waste from the water.
In either case, systems like these have the potential to clear tens of thousands of litres of contaminated water every day, and act as a kind of equivalent/counterpart to solar and wind energy. Moreover, any kind of biological system which requires energy to function could be considered for the BioVolt treatment, as microbes which consume pure energy could, in theory, carry on forever. 

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.