Water is the chemical substance with chemical formula H2O: one molecule of water has two hydrogen atoms covalently bonded to a single oxygen atom.
Water appears in nature in all three common states of matter and may take many different forms on Earth:
water vapour and clouds in the sky; seawater and icebergs in the polar oceans; glaciers and rivers in the mountains; and the liquid in aquifers in the ground.
At high temperatures and pressures, such as in the interior of giant planets, it is argued that water exists as ionic water in which the molecules break down into a soup of hydrogen and oxygen ions, and at even higher pressures as superionic water in which the oxygen crystallises but the hydrogen ions float around freely within the oxygen lattice.
The major chemical and physical properties of water are:
- water is a tasteless, odourless liquid at standard temperature and pressure. The colour of water and ice is, intrinsically, a very slight blue hue, although water appears colourless in small quantities. Ice also appears colourless, and water vapour is essentially invisible as a gas.
- water is transparent, and thus aquatic plants can live within the water because sunlight can reach them. Only strong UV light is slightly absorbed.
- Since the water molecule is not linear and the oxygen atom has a higher electronegativity than hydrogen atoms, it carries a slight negative charge, whereas the hydrogen atoms are slightly positive. As a result, water is a polar molecule with an electrical dipole moment. Water also can form an unusually large number of intermolecular hydrogen bonds (four) for a molecule of its size. These factors lead to strong attractive forces between molecules of water, giving rise to water's high surface tension and capillary forces. The capillary action refers to the tendency of water to move up a narrow tube against the force of gravity. This property is relied upon by all vascular plants, such as trees.
- Water is a good solvent and is often referred to as the universal solvent. Substances that dissolve in water, e.g., salts, sugars, acids, alkalis, and some gases – especially oxygen, carbon dioxide (carbonation) are known as hydrophilic (water-loving) substances, while those that do not mix well with water (e.g., fats and oils), are known as hydrophobic (water-fearing) substances.
- All the major components in cells (proteins, DNA and polysaccharides) are also dissolved in water.
- Pure water has a low electrical conductivity, but this increases significantly with the dissolution of a small amount of ionic material such as sodium chloride.
- The boiling point of water (and all other liquids) is dependent on the barometric pressure. For example, on the top of Mt. Everest water boils at 68 degrees Celsius, compared to 100 degrees Celsius at sea level. Conversely, water deep in the ocean near geothermal vents can reach temperatures of hundreds of degrees and remain liquid.
- water has the second highest molar specific heat capacity of any known substance, after ammonia, as well as a high heat of vaporisation (40.65 kJ·mol-1), both of which are a result of the extensive hydrogen bonding between its molecules. These two unusual properties allow water to moderate Earth's climate by buffering large fluctuations in temperature.
- The maximum density of water occurs at 3.98 degrees Celsius. It has the anomalous property of becoming less dense, not more, when it is cooled down to its solid form, ice. It expands to occupy 9 percent greater volume in this solid state, which accounts for the fact of ice floating on liquid water.