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Supercooled Water at Record-Low Temperatures Acts Like Two Liquids at Once

Scientists have reached a new low in the cooling of liquid water, hitting -45 degrees Celsius (-49 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s way below the usual freezing point, and shows we still have a lot to learn about the physics of this plentiful substance.

In two separate experiments, water was supercooled right down to 230 Kelvin and 227.7 Kelvin, which is -43.15°C (-45.67°F) and -45.45°C (-49.81°F), respectively.

At these kind of extreme temperatures, it’s almost as if water becomes two different types of liquid, the scientists say – fluctuating between two different states in the same way that we might deliberate over a decision. Read more

Growing Energy Demand, Growing Water Stress

The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2016 found that energy production currently accounts for 10 percent of the world’s total water withdrawals – most of which is used in power plant operations. If current trends continue, hydro and thermal power’s thirst for water will increase even more. This would result in even higher water withdrawals and water consumption (due to water that is withdrawn and lost to evaporation during the thermal power process).

The more the energy sector depends on water, the more it exposes itself to vulnerabilities. At the same time, climate change is bringing warmer temperatures, increased variability, and increased water scarcity in mid-latitude zones —all which negatively impact the electric power industry. The more the climate warms, the more the power sector will suffer: Experts predict that power production in European thermal plants could drop by 19 percent between 2031 and 2060 due to shut-downs impacted by climate change. Read more

The Water-Energy Connection

Almost all of the world’s energy generation depends on water in one way or another.

Hydropower and thermoelectric power make up 98 percent of the world’s electricity generation. These two most common forms of power are also the most water-intensive, which makes them extremely vulnerable to drought, competition over water resources and other water shortages.

Hydropower’s dependency on ample water resources is clear. Dams convert falling water—mechanical energy— into electrical energy. Without water, there is no energy source to convert. Such is the case during Kenya’s drought. Read more

No Water, No Power

Drought in Kenya and neighboring countries became so severe earlier this year that the government of Kenya declared a national disaster. Already, the effects have been devastating: Food production dropped, leaving more than 2.6 million people without access to sufficient food. Some villagers have lost 40 percent of their livestock.

Water stress looms over electricity generation.

Amidst the human tragedy of this drought, an unexpected actor faced shutdowns and economic losses due to water scarcity: the power sector. Almost 70 percent of Kenya’s electricity is generated by two water-dependent sources: hydropower and fossil fuels. According to Business Daily, the drought has caused Kenya’s reserve energy margin—the amount of energy needed to meet peak demands— to drop to 4.4 percent, far lower than the recommended 15 percent needed to minimize risk of blackouts. Read more

U.S. Cities Go to the Source to Protect Drinking Water

In 2002, a catastrophic wildfire that burned 138,000 acres of forest made Denver’s drinking water supply run black with ash and soil. Cleanup of infrastructure damage, debris and erosion cost more than $25 million, while the fire-ravaged landscape caused increased flooding that wreaked havoc on water infrastructure and roads for years.

Many communities in the U.S. West depend on such sources for drinking water. Photo by Kara DiFrancesco.

This catastrophe pushed Colorado’s biggest city to examine new ways to protect its drinking water, looking beyond the water utility and into the forested watersheds where the water supply originates. To lessen wildfire risks, Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) started a watershed investment program to improve management of source water forests, together dedicating a total of $32 million to forest restoration over five years. Starting in 2011, Denver Water has invested in forest restoration and improved forest management to reduce the risk of wildfires, and USFS shares costs and implements those restoration activities. Read more