Earth without water

No, Earth Would NOT Look Like This Without Water

The Earth would NOT look like this without water. Please stop sharing this nonsense.

The widely circulating images that depict Earth without water often exaggerate the elevations of the planet’s surface. These images show a much more rugged and mountainous landscape than the Earth’s actual topography. This is because these images are typically created using elevation data that has been scaled up to make the features more visible.

It covers over 70% of our planet’s surface and is vital in sustaining plant and animal life. Despite its importance, there has been a growing misconception that the Earth would look radically different without water.

In reality, the Earth’s topography is much smoother and more gradual than depicted in these images. While the planet does have significant mountain ranges such as the Himalayas and the Andes, and there are deep ocean trenches, these are relatively small compared to the overall size of the Earth.

Here are the numbers: the Earth has a diameter of about 12,735 kilometers (on average). The highest point on Earth is the top of Mount Everest, at 8,848 meters (29,029 feet). The deepest point on Earth is the Mariana Trench, at about 11 km (6.8 miles) deep. Make the calculations and you can see, that the Earth definitely would NOT look like as shown in the image below without water:

Earth gravitational field
No, the Earth without water would not look like this. The widely shared image above actually shows Earth’s gravitational field, and the variations in this geoid height are a thousand times exaggerated.

The image above actually shows Earth’s gravitational field, and the variations in this geoid height are a thousand times exaggerated (“Earth potato”). In reality, the Earth’s shape is very close to a sphere (for more details, see the reference paper).

This image was produced with MATLAB, and the original title is “MATLAB script for 3D visualizing geodata on a rotating globe”. MATLAB (matrix laboratory) is a multi-paradigm numerical computing environment and fourth-generation programming language.

You can see the original paper titled “MATLAB script for 3D visualizing geodata on a rotating globe” by clicking here.

The Earth does not look like a potato, it is round because of the hydrostatic equilibrium.

Below is another widely shared but also equally wrong image depicting Earth without water. In fact, the elevations are widely exaggerated. Earth’s oceans aren’t a thousand miles deep! The average depth of the Earth’s oceans is 14,000 feet (4,267 meters), and the deepest point is at 36,069.55 feet ± 131.234 feet (10,994 meters ± 40 meters).

Earth without water
The Earth would NOT look like this without water, too. Another widely shared but wrong image.

Here’s how Earth without water would look

This is actually what the Earth without water would look like:

Earth without water - All Earth's water, liquid freshwater, and water in lakes and rivers.
All Earth’s water, liquid freshwater, and water in lakes and rivers. Spheres showing: 1. All the water on Earth (sphere over the western U.S., 860 miles or 1,384.04 km in diameter) 2. Fresh liquid water in the ground, lakes, swamps, and rivers (sphere over Kentucky, 169.5 miles or 272.78 km in diameter), and 3. Freshwater lakes and rivers (sphere over Georgia, 34.9 miles or 56.17 km in diameter). Credit: Howard Perlman, USGS; globe illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (©); Adam Nieman. Source: The U.S. Geological Survey website

The image above shows blue spheres representing relative amounts of Earth’s water in comparison to the size of the Earth. Are you surprised that these water spheres look so small? They are only small compared to the size of the Earth.

The largest sphere, symbolizing all water on, within, and above Earth, would hold approximately 332,500,000 cubic miles (1,386,000,000 cubic kilometers) of water and measure around 860 miles (about 1,385 kilometers) across.

A smaller sphere positioned over Kentucky depicts the planet’s liquid freshwater found in underground aquifers, swamps, rivers, and lakes. This sphere’s volume is roughly 2,551,000 cubic miles (10,633,450 cubic kilometers), with a diameter of approximately 169.5 miles (272.8 kilometers). Although this encompasses all freshwater necessary for daily life, a significant portion remains beneath the surface, inaccessible to us.

Notice the tiny water bubble hovering over Atlanta, Georgia? It signifies the freshwater available in all the world’s lakes and rivers, the primary sources of water for people and ecosystems. This bubble would contain about 22,339 cubic miles (93,113 cubic kilometers) of water, stretching around 34.9 miles (56.2 kilometers) wide. While Lake Michigan may appear larger, envisioning a bubble nearly 35 miles tall puts it into perspective, especially when considering Lake Michigan’s average depth is under 300 feet (91 meters).

If we were to disregard these water spheres, we’d gain insight into Earth’s appearance sans water. Despite the oceans’ vastness, they are relatively shallow compared to the Earth’s overall diameter. Yet, the Earth’s surface is not as smooth as a billiard ball.

M. Özgür Nevres

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