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 Variables Affecting Water Colour at Beaches

We all enjoy a few hours (or days, or weeks) pegged out on the beach by tranquil waters as clear as crystal, but depending on where you are, you can’t always find such a location. The distribution of the world’s oceans is far from being a simple process, and there are many factors at work in determining the water colour, from murky grey to gleaming turquoise.
As it turns out, that greyish, apparently dirty colour is the result of what’s in the water, but it is far from being unclean. The darker colouration is actually caused by a combination of phytoplankton (algae), zooplankton (small ocean-wandering species such as jellyfish) and other sediments. In areas where this sediment is primarily comprised of lighter substances such as sand and silt, the sediment layer is more easily disturbed and churned up. This, in turn, can cause a greyish colouration. Where heavier deposits comprised generally of shell pieces and dead coral are present, waters tend to be clearer as the sediment layer is less easily disturbed.
The other thing you have to consider is the Earth’s rotation. As the Earth spins, the planet’s oceans move from west to east, creating a phenomenon known as upwelling along western-facing coasts. This has the result of replacing the warmer surface water with colder, sediment-rich water from the depths. As such, coastlines at the edge of large water bodies such as the Pacific Ocean tend to have murkier waters. In other areas, coral reefs and other structures, natural or otherwise, act as a barrier. This prevents the coastline from being affected by upwelling, again resulting in clearer waters.
So there you have it. While some coastlines are indeed murkier, often looking thoroughly dirty, there is no real reason not to enjoy them for all they’re worth. After all, it’s not filth, it’s just nature.

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.

How to Build Your Own Rainwater Collection System

survivalistboards.com

In the most mountainous regions of the UK, there can be more than 4 metres of rainfall every year, and the rest of the country isn’t far behind. We talk about rain as if it’s this horrid, irritating blight that keeps us all inside playing Scrabble with our disgusting families, but in reality it’s a vital, replenishing force that keeps our planets green, our soil moist and our ecosystem stable.

Beyond simply letting nature water your plants, or reenacting your favourite scenes from any romcom released in the last 20 years, there’s another practical use for rain – collect and storing it. You can buy water butts in most DIY shops, but why bother with that when you can build you own? It’s a surprisingly simple process, and the rewards are well worth the effort.

Firstly, you need to get a storage unit. This can be a plastic barrel, bin or another other large storage container, as long as it has a lid. You want to be looking at a minimum of 100 litres of storage, anything smaller is pointless, you’ll be emptying it too often. If you decide to source one second hand, you need to make sure it had something non-toxic in it before, and then clean it with hot, soapy water. Get as many as you think you’ll need.

The next step is to create an actual collection system. There are a few different ways to do this, the main ones are to either redirect one your existing gutter spouts, or mount a length of hosepipe and a funnel. In the former case, you’ll need to buy an angled spout fitting to your home gutter system, replace one of the other spouts, place a grate at the top (so leaves and other debris don’t end up in the collector) and attach it to the barrel, sealing it all off with caulk. Alternatively, you can use bungee chords to hoist up a length of hose with a funnel (and filter) on the end and it does the same job without you having to lose a spout.

buildapedia.com

The last two things are the spigot and the overflow. Buy a spigot and make a note of the value size, then drill a hole of the same circumference in the side of the container, near the bottom, but high enough to fit a watering can or bucket beneath (the container should stand on some bricks or breeze blocks as well). Line the hole with caulk and then fit the spigot. Drill another hole of the same size near the top, parallel to the spigot, and fit it with a hose adapter, this way if you want a second container to catch the overflow, you can easily fit 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. 

The Best Diving Spots: Russia and The Middle East

I wasn’t quite sure exactly how to categorise this one, as it encompasses the northern and western regions of Asia, but also spills into Europe, thanks to Russia. That pesky Russia. It creates an interesting contrast, though as Russia is a haven for cold water and ice diving, where the best spots in the Middle East are all, obviously, in far warmer, more coral-laden waters.

In either case, both of these adjoined chunks of land present some amazing, unsung opportunities for diving, and narrowing it down to 5 was tricky (Russia gets 2, because it’s stupidly big). Travelling to these regions presents challenges of its own, but if you have the patience and wherewithal, the rewards are huge. But not as huge as Russia. Bloody Russia.


Daymaniyat Islands – Oman


The Daymaniyat Islands are the first and only marine reserve in all of Oman. Boat traffic is heavily monitored, and the stretch plays host to a number of protected species. There are 9 islands in total, with a number of popular sites, with minor variables (hence why I didn’t earmark a specific one). During the summer there are big plankton blooms, which in turn attract big filter feeders like whale sharks. You’ll also see some pretty sizeable sea turtles, as there are an abundance of big crabs and crayfish for them to snack on.

Pericles Wreck – Qatar


Qatar is a veritable haven for diving, as many have recently discovered. The tiny nation is flanked on 3 sides by warm sea, brimming with coral and marine life in various forms. It’s particularly good for wreck diving, with a number of sunken oil rigs strewn along the coast, alongside other smaller ships. The Pericles is one of these, situated some 30km from Doha, in the Persian Gulf. It was lately a Greek built cargo liner, used by Japanese merchants, until it sunk in 83. It’s no oil rig, but it’s still massive, and hangs open for divers to fully explore. Barracuda congregate there is huge schools, likely hunting the angel fish, batfish and snapper that hang around inside.


The White Sea – Russia

Travelling to the White Sea’s only functioning PADI dive centre in the village of Nilmaguba is a challenge in and of itself, and this kind of diving is only really advisable if you’re at a more advanced level, but if you can handle it, you’re in for something truly incredible. The water is astoundingly clear beneath the ice, and brimming with soft coral and mollusks, many of which are totally unique to the area, but the main draw are the Beluga whales. You have to dive in a specific, enclosed area, built to help them expand their numbers, but you needn’t worry about any no-shows. The whales are remarkably friendly and playful, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone coming away from the experience who wasn’t utterly captivated by them.


Redmah Wall – Saudi Arabia


Actually getting into Saudi Arabia is a bit of a headache, you need a visa and a passport that’s good for a minimum of 6 months, and in order to dive you need a Saudi permit, in Arabic. It’s a headache, but the diving there is so good it makes it very much worth it, you won’t go just once. If you did have to pick only one spot though, it would almost certainly be Redmah Wall. This 150 metre drop is a soft coral paradise, littered with nudibranchs, hawkfish, whip coral, and feather and basket stars. The wall is lined with shelves and caverns where you can observe various crustaceans, as well as clownfish and the odd blue spotted ray. It’s like diving through a living rainbow.



Listvyanka – Russia


If you’re taking a diving trip to Russia, you shouldn’t ever pass up the chance to dive in Lake Baikal, the largest, deepest freshwater body in the world. There are several sites across the shore and from the islands, but Listvyanka is probably the best point to start from. The area of the lake you dive into depends on weather conditions, but you’ll be garuanteed to see amazing things, regardless of where exactly you drop in the crystal clear water. Visibility can be anything up to 40 metres, and the deep you get, the better it is. Baikal is a tectonic fissure, so expect massive rocky walls and overhangs. Marine life is sparse, but you’ll see plenty of sponges, you might happen up the odd omul, a native type of Arctic cisco, or a goby disguising itself on the lakebed. If you choose a site further north, you may also see a nerpa, the only freshwater seal in the world.

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 Science Behind Brine Pools

If you’ve never heard of a brine pool, do yourself a favour and search YouTube for some video footage of one before reading any further. The notion that a body of standing water can exist underwater takes some real adjusting to, and even if you understand perfectly well how it works, it’s hard not to be overcome by wonder every time you look at them.

A submersible vehicle approaches the edge of an underwater brine pool  –  Img source: newsyac.com
As the name suggests, they are pools of hypersaline water which is far denser than the surrounding seawater, and thus descends to the lower point of the seabed and pools there. Sizes range from tiny puddles to huge lakes. 
They are particularly common in the Gulf of Mexico. This is because, during the Jurassic, the Gulf was a shallow sea, and it dried out to form a thick layer (seriously thick, we’re talking 8km here). Once the Gulf opened back up again the salt layer was preserved, and deformed, causing it to morph into a dense brine, which pooled and bubbled over with methane. Interestingly, some have suggested that the aircraft and ship disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle are due to methane bubbling up from the sea bed.
The methane is also the basis for a lot of the life that builds up in the vicinity of these underwater lakes. Often, they are lined with hundreds, or even thousands of mussels, who are locked in a symbiotic relationship with bacteria through a process called chemosynthesis. Essentially, the bacteria are able to transfer the methane into carbon sugars, which provide the mussels with energy, and in return are given a home adjacent to all the nutrients they themselves derive from the methane during the conversion process.
Img source: nautilus2015.blogspot.co.uk
Animals can’t actually live in the pools themselves, as the intense salinity would ‘pickle’ them – well preserved, but with much of the carbon in their bodies eroded away. Typically, crustaceans will patrol the shoreline, eating whatever small organisms they can find between the mussels, and in turn larger deep sea fish will prey on them. 
What’s really amazing about the eco-system which brine pools support is that it’s almost completely independent of the sun. Even for other deep sea animals, the sun reigns supreme. First plankton nearer the surface photosynthesises, then it is consumed by larger organisms, and so on until you reach fish and whales. When these animals die, they sink, providing a basis for much of the deep sea eco-system, all the way back up to top predators again. Around brine pools, hydrothermal vents and other cold seeps, the base energy source is chemosynthetic, and works its way up from there.
How big is the largest brine lake? It’s impossible to say, we simply have not explored anywhere near enough of the ocean floor to know, but the smart money says it’s probably somewhere around the Gulf of Mexico. Recently, a 12ft deep, 100ft circumference pool was found in the area, and dubbed the ‘Jacuzzi of Despair’, somewhat due to the rather upsetting graveyard of dead crabs and isopods around the rim, all of them tragically unaware of the deadly nature of the brine. 

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. 

Using Water as a Preservative

Considering how we use water around the world as a cleaning agent, whether for our food, our clothes or ourselves, there is logic in wondering about its validity as a preservative. For the purposes of this article I will be avoiding talking about salt water as, while it is a known preservative, this is due to the salt content, not the water itself.
When it comes to the preservation of food, water isn’t really suited to the task. This is because bacteria loves water, and will flourish in wet environments. Certain foods, such as a freshly sliced apple, may benefit from submersion in water purely because it slows down the oxygenation process taking place within the fleshy interior on contact with the air, and will prevent it from drying out. While this may help to keep food in a more appealing state for a couple of days, to call it an effective preservative would be inaccurate.
So, that’s the question of water as a preservative thoroughly debunked, right? Well, not quite. Food is far from the only thing in need of preservation, and in certain situations, water has some interesting applications
Electrical components, such as cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders found on board aircraft are regularly preserved in water upon recovery if the aircraft itself has become submerged. It may seem illogical to place electronics into water, but this is done to combat the corrosive effect of the salt abundant in sea water. As the device dries out this salt forms in deposits on important circuitry, and can seriously and irreparably damage it. By keeping the device submerged this process is delayed, allowing more time to recover any important data.
Another benefit of using water for such applications is that the dissolved oxygen content will be much lower than the levels found in the air, and oxygenation is often a leading cause of deterioration.
For similar reasons, water is also used for the preservation of archaeological discoveries, particularly where delicate objects have been exposed to water or anaerobic environments for an extended period of time. Contact with the outside air would quickly cause these objects to dry out, crack and oxygenate, all of which will irreversibly damage the item.

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.

How do Ships and Boats Manage to Float Despite their Immense Weight?

If you were to pick up a bar of steel, hold it over the water’s edge and let go, what would happen? It would, of course, sink. Why then, despite being made of largely the same stuff, do massive ships, aircraft carriers and the like manage to sit elegantly atop the water without suffering the same fate?
Given the immense weight of these vessels, the fact that they don’t sink is incredible, and a testament to the application of scientific principles. The principles at play here were first theorised by the renowned Greek mathematician Archimedes over 2,000 years ago, and remain unchanged to this day.
The key to the success of these vessels is displacement. Think of it like this: when you lower yourself into a full bathtub, the water moves to accommodate you, and the water level rises as a result. This is displacement in its most basic form. The displaced water creates an upward force known as buoyancy, which helps to counteract the effect of gravity.
The reason that we still sink is because the force of gravity outweighs our buoyancy; we weigh more than the water displaced. But surely, as they weigh a considerable amount more than us, these massive ships would have the same problem?
This is where density comes into play. Ships are, undoubtedly, heavy. However, due to their immense surface area they are able to spread this weight out across a large body of water. Empty spaces and chambers filled with nothing but air help to reduce the overall weight of the vessel until the weight of the water displaced by its sheer size (buoyancy) exceeds the weight and density of the ship and, voila, it floats.

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.

The Science Behind the Baltic Sea

The Baltic Sea is the youngest sea on our planet, by a considerable margin. Most of the others formed millions of years ago, but the Baltic has only been around for somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 years. This was a result of ice mass retreating as the ice age started drawing to a close. 
It’s also one the largest brackish inland seas on the planet, and the only sea of its kind to result from glacial scouring, rather than tectonic activity. For this reason, it’s also decidedly shallow, averaging at about 55 metres deep. The way it’s fed – first by saltwater from the North East Atlantic and then by fresh water from rivers and fjords draining an area four times the size of the sea itself – creates a completely unique eco-system, with a delicate interdependency.
Some of resources provided by the Baltic Sea are fairly obvious, like cod and other pelagic fish, but others are less so. Thanks to the Baltic Sea, the local region is the richest source of amber on the planet, as a huge portion of the area was covered by forest about 44 million years ago, creating a massive deposit of the substance. Erosion across the shorelines gradually exposes more of it, and as a result, the Kaliningrad Oblast is responsible for 90% of the world’s amber trade.
Despite bordering the North Sea, the Baltic doesn’t actually mix with it, as the densities are completely different. In fact, the Baltic’s water is about as close to fresh as any seawater can be. You can actually drink Baltic seawater, it doesn’t taste very nice, so you wouldn’t want to do it unless you were in dire straits, but it won’t dehydrate you. 
The drainage of this freshwater creates very verdant, agriculturally suitable land, and about 20% of it is used as such. Another 17% is unused open land, and another 8% is wetland, while the rest is populated with, well, people. 85 million people live in the Baltic drainage basin, and about 17% of them live within 6 miles of the coast. The vast majority of the coastal Baltic population are Polish, but there are several major cities on the coast, including Saint Petersburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Riga, Helsinki, Gdansk, Kaliningrad and Malmo. 
This is thanks, in part, to the sea’s role as a major source of fishing trade, but that’s also part of the problem.
The Baltic Sea is now under major environmental threat due to the massive, disproportionate global demand for cod, which only intensifies as their numbers dwindle elsewhere in the world. The depletion of the cod has resulted in an increase in their natural prey – sprat. The sprat have thus caused the number of predatory zooplankton to fall, resulting in massive algal blooms, especially during the summer, when much of the Baltic is bathed in perpetual sunlight. This can change the chemical balance of the water, and actually poison some of the wildlife. 
On a similar basis, eutrophication is becoming a widespread, dangerous issue. Over fertilisation of the land results in excess nutrients seeping into the water, completely disrupting the marine eco-system. In the past 100 years alone, the nitrogen content of the sea has quintupled, and the phosphorus content has octupled. It’s gradually being addressed, but for the moment, it’s not uncommon to see huge swathes of the Baltic turn a very sickly green colour.

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. 

Hydroelectric Power: How Does it Work?

Often praised as a highly viable, effective source of renewable energy, hydroelectric power plants provided 70% of the world’s total supply of renewable energy in 2015, and continue to gain more prominence as environmental issues remain firmly at the forefront of public debate.
These plants and their associated dams can vary in size dramatically, ranging anywhere from micro plants which power a small number of homes, to massive installations like the awe-inspiring Hoover Dam. The Hoover Dam alone provides a yearly figure of 4.5 billion kilowatt hours of energy to nearly 8 million people in the US, but how exactly do these power plants create electricity from nothing but water? As it turns out, it’s fairly simple.
Img source: wvic.com
First, the dam raises the water level before the plant, creating a drop into shallower waters beyond. As water flows through the dam and over the drop, it pushes large turbines which, via a connected generator, convert the natural kinetic energy into electricity. It essentially works like an underwater windmill, simply substituting the wind for water flow. From there, the electricity is distributed as it would be from any other type of power plant.
The amount of power a hydroelectric dam is capable of generating depends on two major variables: the height of the drop created and the flow rate of the river itself. Both of these will influence how much water passes through the turbines at any given time, being directly proportional to the power created.
You can actually calculate the power output of any given dam fairly easily if you have access to the relevant figures. The formula required to do so is as follows:
Power (in kilowatts) = (Height of Dam) x (River Flow) x (Generator Efficiency) / 11.8
To convert this to the more commonly stated figure of kilowatt-hours, run the solution through the next equation:
Kilowatt-hours = (kilowatt figure) x (24 hours per day) x (365 days per year)
If you then divide the result by 3,000, as 3000 kilowatt-hours is the average energy consumption of one person in the US, you can get a rough idea of how many people the dam can actually serve.
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.

The Science Behind Iceland’s Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is one of the most famous attractions in Iceland. If anyone you know has visited the country, on holiday or for whatever reason, chances are they took the time to swim in the Blue Lagoon. The warmth and clarity of the water, combined with the amazing surrounding views make it the perfect combination of serene and spectacular.
You would think, given that Iceland is riddled with volcanic hot-springs, that the lagoon is a natural phenomenon, but that isn’t quite the case. The lagoon is manmade, but it effectively happened by accident. In 1976 the runoff from the geothermal power plant started forming a pool, and a few years later people started bathing it, owing to rumours that the water had healing properties. 
Going purely from that, it might sound like an unhealthy or even potentially dangerous activity, but it’s actually completely safe. The Svartsengi Station is one of 5 geothermal power plants in Iceland which use the abundance of volcanic energy on the island to generate electricity. Superheated water is vented from near a lava flow and then through turbines, generating 76.5 megawatts of energy. The water, meanwhile, is sent through a heat exchanger, generating a further 475 litres of hot water for a municipal heating system every second. That done, the water is fed into the lagoon.
No external, manmade chemicals ever come into contact with the water, it’s effectively just moved around. The water does, however, have a very high mineral concentration, which makes it impossible to recycle; it simply has to be reabsorbed into the local volcanic landscape. While it sits there though, it provides a warm, cleansing service to thousands upon thousands of tourists every year. 
The milky blue appearance of the water owes to the presence of silicate minerals, mixed in with sulphur, salt and various forms of algae, including coccid and filamentous blue-green, neither of which are found in comparable conditions anywhere else in the world. This natural cocktail has proven to be extremely dermatologically beneficial, especially for conditions like psoriasis. The silica mud is particularly good for this, but it is still not known exactly why. 
It’s been suggested that the mud stimulates the extraction of keratinocyte from the skin, which directly influences skin barrier quality, which is reduced by psoriasis. The algae in the water have also been found to inhibit the expression of certain proteins through UV radiation. This is just the tip of the iceberg though, and it will likely be decades or longer before we fully understand the complex effects brought on by bathing in the light blue water. 
For the past 22 years, a purpose built psoriasis clinic has been operating in the Blue Lagoon, and skincare products produced from the water and mud are also sold both locally and online. As far as the actual swimming area goes, the staff are militant about hygiene, making sure that all visitors shower before and after bathing, monitor the water, send off quality samples and post the most recent results on their website. 

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.