The Around the World Journey of a Molecule of Rain Water

Mt-Tuam-Waterfall-2-IMG_85261-1024x682 The rain is pounding relentlessly this November morning. The sound of thousands of drops on the yurt roof is overwhelming, blocking out everything else. Clouds whip past the windows, ghosts disappearing amongst the swaying trees. Tall, pencil straight, Douglas Fir huddle together supporting one that is leaning precariously, roots fighting to hold strong in rocky ground. Tall Cedar limbs flap, green root bound bird wings. The yurt is cocooned in varying shades of white-grey, the breathtaking view of the Salish Sea hidden from view. Even the sound of the stream roaring by the window is blocked by the rain.

The unnamed seasonal stream that runs a few feet from the yurt studio awakened again with the return of fall rains two weeks ago. The origin of the stream, a murky pond filled with cattail and skunk cabbage, is an easy walk up the hill. From mid-October to early May the stream cascades past the yurt on its way down Mount Tuam to the Ecological Reserve below. Along the way it passes through second-growth forests, meanders around ancient boulders covered in thick green moss, disappears under roadways, and uncovers ancient roots as it plunges hundreds of metres downwards. Frogs, toads, salamanders, birds of all kinds, deer, raccoon, squirrels, mink, feral cats and hundreds of plant species and insects rely on it. During the spring there are usually small pools of water trapped in deep depressions carved out by the force of the winter waterway. By summer the stream is dry but a faint dampness can be felt if you touch the stream bed.

This summer the stream dried completely as we experienced an unusual dry spell, weeks with not a hint or drop of rain. The forest floor became crisp underfoot, plants died, old trees, young trees, started to turn various shades of brown. Forest fires became a very real worry and concern. Neighbours wells threatened to run dry and gardens went unwatered. Living on a mountain with very few escape routes is a bit scary in the middle of a total fire ban with no rain in the forecast. When it finally did begin to rain it took days of constant rain before the stream began to slowly trickle again.

The cycle of water is amazing. Water recirculates not only from fresh water sources but also the salty ocean….eventually all water returns back to the sea.

The water cycle transfers our water supply between reservoirs: the oceans, land and atmosphere. The oceans hold 97% of the entire Earth's water supply. It is estimated that 77% of all rain falls in oceans. All of the water in our lakes, rivers, streams and in the ground are equivalent to only 1% of the water in the world…this 1% includes all of our rain and snow - worldwide.

Molecules of water vapour condense into liquid as they rises in the atmosphere which then returns to earth as rain. These water molecules can rise miles into the atmosphere and travel far across the world. Depending on the wind they can travel as far as 6,000 miles east or west and 600 miles north or south. A molecule of evaporated water spends a week to 10 days in the atmosphere before it returns as rain.

A molecule of water from our stream could travel as far east as Istanbul before it descended to the Earth again as rain. It could then travel from there another 6,000 miles three times before returning to the Mount Tuam stream. For it to make the 24,906 mile journey around the Earth it could take anywhere from 28 to 40 days or thousands of years if it became snow and landed on a mountain where it may not evaporate for thousands of years!

The average time a water molecule spends in reservoirs depends on the type of reservoir. For instance a water molecule can spend anywhere from 20,000 years in Antarctica, 3,200 years in the ocean, 10,000 years in deep ground water to 20-100 years in a glacier, 50-100 years in a lake to 2 to 6 months as snow or just 9 days in the atmosphere.

Rain contains pollutants. Whatever we are putting into our lakes, rivers, oceans and land eventually find their way into our water supplies. Radioactive iodine was found in rain water world-wide after a nuclear disaster, caused by major earthquake, in 2011. Roundup, the best-selling weed killer, has been found in rain samples. Acid rain caused by factories, power plants and vehicles travels thousands of miles. Whatever we are releasing into the atmosphere will find its way into the rain, into our water supplies and food supplies. This contaminated rain falls onto our gardens, is used by animals we consume, falls onto our skin, onto our children, into our swimming lakes, our fishing streams, into the oceans.

As I watch the torrential rain falling outside my window I wonder how far has it travelled. Has it come from places where there are no pollution laws or have they come from once pristine glaciers or from radioactive seas? If we stopped polluting the atmosphere today how long would it take before the Earth had clean rain again?

The rain itself reflects our lack of understanding and awareness of how deeply each and everyone is interconnected with the Earth, the elements, and every one of her living creatures.