Water (chemical formula H2O) is an inorganic, transparent, tasteless, odorless, and nearly colorless chemical substance, which is the main constituent of Earth’s hydrosphere and the fluids of all known living organisms (in which it acts as a solvent[1]). It is vital for all known forms of life, even though it provides no calories or organic nutrients. Its chemical formula H2O, indicates that each of its molecules contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms, connected by covalent bonds. The hydrogen atoms are attached to the oxygen atom at an angle of 104.45°.[2] “Water” is the name of the liquid state of H2O at standard conditions for temperature and pressure.

A globule of liquid water, and the concave depression and rebound in water caused by something dropping through the water surface

A block of solid water (ice)

Clouds in Earth’s atmosphere condense from gaseous water vapor.

A number of natural states of water exist. It forms precipitation in the form of rain and aerosols in the form of fog. Clouds consist of suspended droplets of water and ice, its solid state. When finely divided, crystalline ice may precipitate in the form of snow. The gaseous state of water is steam or water vapor.

Water covers approximately 70.9% of the Earth’s surface, mostly in seas and oceans.Small portions of water occur as groundwater (1.7%), in the glaciers and the ice caps of Antarctica and Greenland (1.7%), and in the air as vapor, clouds (consisting of ice and liquid water suspended in air), and precipitation (0.001%).Water moves continually through the water cycle of evaporation, transpiration (evapotranspiration), condensation, precipitation, and runoff, usually reaching the sea.

Water plays an important role in the world economy. Approximately 70% of the freshwater used by humans goes to agriculture.[6] Fishing in salt and fresh water bodies is a major source of food for many parts of the world. Much of the long-distance trade of commodities (such as oil, natural gas, and manufactured products) is transported by boats through seas, rivers, lakes, and canals. Large quantities of water, ice, and steam are used for cooling and heating, in industry and homes. Water is an excellent solvent for a wide variety of substances both mineral and organic; as such it is widely used in industrial processes, and in cooking and washing. Water, ice and snow are also central to many sports and other forms of entertainment, such as swimming, pleasure boating, boat racing, surfing, sport fishing, diving, ice skating and skiing.

Chemical and physical properties

Water (H2O) is a polar inorganic compound that is at room temperature a tasteless and odorless liquid, nearly colorless with a hint of blue. This simplest hydrogen chalcogenide is by far the most studied chemical compound and is described as the “universal solvent” for its ability to dissolve many substances.[8][9] This allows it to be the “solvent of life”:[10] indeed, water as found in nature almost always includes various dissolved substances, and special steps are required to obtain chemically pure water. Water is the only common substance to exist as a solid, liquid, and gas in normal terrestrial conditions


Along with oxidane, water is one of the two official names for the chemical compound H
2O;it is also the liquid phase of H
2O.The other two common states of matter of water are the solid phase, ice, and the gaseous phase, water vapor or steam. The addition or removal of heat can cause phase transitions: freezing (water to ice), melting (ice to water), vaporization (water to vapor), condensation (vapor to water), sublimation (ice to vapor) and deposition (vapor to ice)


Water differs from most liquids in that it becomes less dense as it freezes.In 1 atm pressure, it reaches its maximum density of 1,000 kg/m3 (62.43 lb/cu ft) at 3.98 °C (39.16 °F).The density of ice is 917 kg/m3 (57.25 lb/cu ft), an expansion of 9%.This expansion can exert enormous pressure, bursting pipes and cracking rocks (see Frost weathering).

In a lake or ocean, water at 4 °C (39.2 °F) sinks to the bottom, and ice forms on the surface, floating on the liquid water. This ice insulates the water below, preventing it from freezing solid. Without this protection, most aquatic organisms would perish during the winter.

Phase transitions

At a pressure of one atmosphere (atm), ice melts or water freezes at 0 °C (32 °F) and water boils or vapor condenses at 100 °C (212 °F). However, even below the boiling point, water can change to vapor at its surface by evaporation (vaporization throughout the liquid is known as boiling). Sublimation and deposition also occur on surfaces.For example, frost is deposited on cold surfaces while snowflakes form by deposition on an aerosol particle or ice nucleus.In the process of freeze-drying, a food is frozen and then stored at low pressure so the ice on its surface sublimates.

The melting and boiling points depend on pressure. A good approximation for the rate of change of the melting temperature with pressure is given by the Clausius–Clapeyron relation:

where {\displaystyle v_{\text{L}}}{\displaystyle v_{\text{L}}} and {\displaystyle v_{\text{S}}}{\displaystyle v_{\text{S}}} are the molar volumes of the liquid and solid phases, and {\displaystyle L_{\text{f}}}{\displaystyle L_{\text{f}}} is the molar latent heat of melting. In most substances, the volume increases when melting occurs, so the melting temperature increases with pressure. However, because ice is less dense than water, the melting temperature decreases.In glaciers, pressure melting can occur under sufficiently thick volumes of ice, resulting in subglacial lakes.

The Clausius-Clapeyron relation also applies to the boiling point, but with the liquid/gas transition the vapor phase has a much lower density than the liquid phase, so the boiling point increases with pressure. Water can remain in a liquid state at high temperatures in the deep ocean or underground. For example, temperatures exceed 205 °C (401 °F) in Old Faithful, a geyser in Yellowstone National Park.In hydrothermal vents, the temperature can exceed 400 °C (752 °F).

At sea level, the boiling point of water is 100 °C (212 °F). As atmospheric pressure decreases with altitude, the boiling point decreases by 1 °C every 274 meters. High-altitude cooking takes longer than sea-level cooking. For example, at 1,524 metres (5,000 ft), cooking time must be increased by a fourth to achieve the desired result. (Conversely, a pressure cooker can be used to decrease cooking times by raising the boiling temperature.) In a vacuum, water will boil at room temperature.

Triple and critical points

On a pressure/temperature phase diagram (see figure), there are curves separating solid from vapor, vapor from liquid, and liquid from solid. These meet at a single point called the triple point, where all three phases can coexist. The triple point is at a temperature of 273.16 K (0.01 °C) and a pressure of 611.657 pascals (0.00604 atm); it is the lowest pressure at which liquid water can exist. Until 2019, the triple point was used to define the Kelvin temperature scale.

The water/vapor phase curve terminates at 647.096 K (373.946 °C; 705.103 °F) and 22.064 megapascals (3,200.1 psi; 217.75 atm).This is known as the critical point. At higher temperatures and pressures the liquid and vapor phases form a continuous phase called a supercritical fluid. It can be gradually compressed or expanded between gas-like and liquid-like densities, its properties (which are quite different from those of ambient water) are sensitive to density. For example, for suitable pressures and temperatures it can mix freely with nonpolar compounds, including most organic compounds. This makes it useful in a variety of applications including high-temperature electrochemistry and as an ecologically benign solvent or catalyst in chemical reactions involving organic compounds. In Earth’s mantle, it acts as a solvent during mineral formation, dissolution and deposition.

Phases of ice and water

The normal form of ice on the surface of Earth is Ice Ih, a phase that forms crystals with hexagonal symmetry. Another with cubic crystalline symmetry, Ice Ic, can occur in the upper atmosphere.As the pressure increases, ice forms other crystal structures. As of 2019, 17 have been experimentally confirmed and several more are predicted theoretically.The 18th form of ice, ice XVIII, a face-centred-cubic, superionic ice phase, was discovered when a droplet of water was subject to a shock wave that raised the water’s pressure to millions of atmospheres and its temperature to thousands of degrees, resulting in a structure of rigid oxygen toms in which hydrogen atoms flowed freely.When sandwiched between layers of graphene, ice forms a square lattice.

The details of the chemical nature of liquid water are not well understood; some theories suggest that its unusual behaviour is due to the existence of 2 liquid states.

Taste and odor

Pure water is usually described as tasteless and odorless, although humans have specific sensors that can feel the presence of water in their mouths,and frogs are known to be able to smell it.However, water from ordinary sources (including bottled mineral water) usually has many dissolved substances, that may give it varying tastes and odors. Humans and other animals have developed senses that enable them to evaluate the potability of water by avoiding water that is too salty or putrid.

Color and appearance

Pure water is visibly blue due to absorption of light in the region ca. 600 nm – 800 nm. The color can be easily observed in a glass of tap-water placed against a pure white background, in daylight. The principal absorption bands responsible for the color are overtones of the O–H stretching vibrations. The apparent intensity of the color increases with the depth of the water column, following Beer’s law. This also applies, for example, with a swimming pool when the light source is sunlight reflected from the pool’s white tiles.

In nature, the color may also be modified from blue to green due to the presence of suspended solids or algae.

In industry, near-infrared spectroscopy is used with aqueous solutions as the greater intensity of the lower overtones of water means that glass cuvettes with short path-length may be employed. To observe the fundamental stretching absorption spectrum of water or of an aqueous solution in the region around 3500 cm−1 (2.85 μm) a path length of about 25 μm is needed. Also, the cuvette must be both transparent around 3500 cm−1 and insoluble in water; calcium fluoride is one material that is in common use for the cuvette windows with aqueous solutions.

The Raman-active fundamental vibrations may be observed with, for example, a 1 cm sample cell.

Aquatic plants, algae, and other photosynthetic organisms can live in water up to hundreds of meters deep, because sunlight can reach them. Practically no sunlight reaches the parts of the oceans below 1,000 meters (3,300 ft) of depth.

The refractive index of liquid water (1.333 at 20 °C (68 °F)) is much higher than that of air (1.0), similar to those of alkanes and ethanol, but lower than those of glycerol (1.473), benzene (1.501), carbon disulfide (1.627), and common types of glass (1.4 to 1.6). The refraction index of ice (1.31) is lower than that of liquid water.

Polar molecule

In a water molecule, the hydrogen atoms form a 104.5° angle with the oxygen atom. The hydrogen atoms are close to two corners of a tetrahedron centered on the oxygen. At the other two corners are lone pairs of valence electrons that do not participate in the bonding. In a perfect tetrahedron, the atoms would form a 109.5° angle, but the repulsion between the lone pairs is greater than the repulsion between the hydrogen atoms.The O–H bond length is about 0.096 nm.

Other substances have a tetrahedral molecular structure, for example, methane (CH
and hydrogen sulfide (H2S). However, oxygen is more electronegative (holds on to its electrons more tightly) than most other elements, so the oxygen atom retains a negative charge while the hydrogen atoms are positively charged. Along with the bent structure, this gives the molecule an electrical dipole moment and it is classified as a polar molecule.

Water is a good polar solvent, that dissolves many salts and hydrophilic organic molecules such as sugars and simple alcohols such as ethanol. Water also dissolves many gases, such as oxygen and carbon dioxide—the latter giving the fizz of carbonated beverages, sparkling wines and beers. In addition, many substances in living organisms, such as proteins, DNA and polysaccharides, are dissolved in water. The interactions between water and the subunits of these biomacromolecules shape protein folding, DNA base pairing, and other phenomena crucial to life (hydrophobic effect).

Many organic substances (such as fats and oils and alkanes) are hydrophobic, that is, insoluble in water. Many inorganic substances are insoluble too, including most metal oxides, sulfides, and silicates.

Hydrogen bonding

Because of its polarity, a molecule of water in the liquid or solid state can form up to four hydrogen bonds with neighboring molecules. Hydrogen bonds are about ten times as strong as the Van der Waals force that attracts molecules to each other in most liquids. This is the reason why the melting and boiling points of water are much higher than those of other analogous compounds like hydrogen sulfide. They also explain its exceptionally high specific heat capacity (about 4.2 J/g/K), heat of fusion (about 333 J/g), heat of vaporization (2257 J/g), and thermal conductivity (between 0.561 and 0.679 W/m/K). These properties make water more effective at moderating Earth’s climate, by storing heat and transporting it between the oceans and the atmosphere. The hydrogen bonds of water are around 23 kJ/mol (compared to a covalent O-H bond at 492 kJ/mol). Of this, it is estimated that 90% is attributable to electrostatics, while the remaining 10% is partially covalent.

These bonds are the cause of 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 weak solution of hydronium hydroxide – there is an equilibrium 2H
2O ⇔ H
+ OH−
, in combination with solvation of the resulting hydronium ions.

Electrical conductivity and electrolysis

Pure water has a low electrical conductivity, which increases with the dissolution of a small amount of ionic material such as common salt.

Liquid water can be split into the elements hydrogen and oxygen by passing an electric current through it—a process called electrolysis. The decomposition requires more energy input than the heat released by the inverse process (285.8 kJ/mol, or 15.9 MJ/kg)

Mechanical properties

Liquid water can be assumed to be incompressible for most purposes: its compressibility ranges from 4.4 to 5.1×10−10 Pa−1 in ordinary conditions.Even in oceans at 4 km depth, where the pressure is 400 atm, water suffers only a 1.8% decrease in volume.

The viscosity of water is about 10−3 Pa·s or 0.01 poise at 20 °C (68 °F), and the speed of sound in liquid water ranges between 1,400 and 1,540 meters per second (4,600 and 5,100 ft/s) depending on temperature. Sound travels long distances in water with little attenuation, especially at low frequencies (roughly 0.03 dB/km for 1 kHz), a property that is exploited by cetaceans and humans for communication and environment sensing (sonar).


Metallic elements which are more electropositive than hydrogen, particularly the alkali metals and alkaline earth metals such as lithium, sodium, calcium, potassium and cesium displace hydrogen from water, forming hydroxides and releasing hydrogen. At high temperatures, carbon reacts with steam to form carbon monoxide and hydrogen.