All the water and air on earth gathered into spheres and compared to the Earth


Dan Phiffer found this image on a message board (it's by Adam Nieman / Science Photo Library), and by his calculations, he says it's accurate.

Left: All the water in the world (1.4087 billion cubic kilometres of it) including sea water, ice, lakes, rivers, ground water, clouds, etc.

Right: All the air in the atmosphere (5140 trillion tonnes of it) gathered into a ball at sea-level density. Shown on the same scale as the Earth.

From Science Photo Library:
Conceptual computer artwork of the total volume of water on Earth (left) and of air in the Earth's atmosphere (right) shown as spheres (blue and pink). The spheres show how finite water and air supplies are. The water sphere measures 1390 kilometres across and has a volume of 1.4 billion cubic kilometres. This includes all the water in the oceans, seas, ice caps, lakes and rivers as well as ground water, and that in the atmosphere. The air sphere measures 1999 kilometres across and weighs 5140 trillion tonnes. As the atmosphere extends from Earth it becomes less dense. Half of the air lies within the first 5 kilometres of the atmosphere.
Link (Via forgetomori)


  1. Very cool way to show what’s there. And just think how much of that fresh water is controlled by the Great Lakes states. We have gold, we just don’t know it yet.

  2. Nice images. I wonder though from a modeling standpoint. Why is the ball representing water translucent while the air one is not?

  3. I’m confused, does the water include the giant white mass of Greenland and points north? And, presumably, extreme points south? I think it would be a clearer graphic if it showed gray for the normally-wet bits there, too.

  4. Visualized this way all of the water on earth looks like a single drop. I would conjecture that if we could visualize all of the humans compared to the size of the earth it would be a mass comparable to the mass of virus particles in a single human when it has a cold.

  5. Very cool way to show what’s there. And just think how much of that fresh water is controlled by the Great Lakes states. We have gold, we just don’t know it yet.

    States? There’s a province on the other side of those lakes too so don’t go draining them. Maybe Paul Gross (of Due South) will make a miniseries about the fight over water.

  6. This confuses me; I’ll buy that we can pin a definite volume on the amount of water on Earth, since water is relatively incompressible, but I won’t for air.

    Air is compressible basically until the critical point of either oxygen or nitrogen, whichever is lowest, at which point it goes supercritical. This appears to calculate the volume of the air based on weight and the density of air at atmospheric pressure. Conceivably, though, You could compress the air to the same volume as the water with no problem.

  7. Brings it “home” doesn’t it? Spaceship earth and how limited its life support supplies are.

    I suspect equally instructive would be if someone was to make a calculation of the useable TOPSOIL available – I’m not sure if one would want to try and split this into two piles, one for arable use, and total topsoil still “wild”, or perhaps further subdivide topsoil used for arable, and that which could be used for arable, and then areas that support lots of life but don’t have much in the way of “useable” (by humans) topsoil (I gather a lot of rainforests are of this nature, an intricate house of vegetative cards erected upon some pretty leached out and thin material, all recycling nutrients like mad to keep going).

    And then there would be the ball that makes up the topsoil being destroyed by inappropriate human activity – run off, windblown, soil structure destruction through overexploitation and chemical fertilisation that doesn’t contribute humous, and so forth.

    Then we’d get an idea of what little of the thin skim of skin is left…

    If anyone can dig out a link or work on visualising this as well as the air and water it would make a very impactive graphic indeed! I wouldn’t know where to start.

  8. I’m going to be generous in my assumptions, so the resulting ball will be bigger. I’m going to claim that my upwards error is exactly the same as the extra volume added by the packing inefficiency that’s inevitable when stacking human bodies together in space. Not that I’d know, of course; my orbital death platform is entirely fictional. Honest.

    6.7 billion humans in the world
    Average mass of a human is approx 65kg (Wikipedia says that the mean for the UK and USA is around 75kg; I assume most of the world is lighter than us)
    The mean density of a person is 1g/cm3

    So humans mass a total of 6.7 billion people x 65kg/person = 4.355×10^11 kg.

    At 1g/cm3 this mass takes up 4.355×10^11 litres = 4.355×10^8 cubic meters.

    Now we plug this value into the formula linking the volume of a sphere with its radius:

    Volume = 4/3 * radius^3


    Radius^3 = Volume / (4/3)
    Radius^3 = 4.355×10^8 / 1.3333333etc
    Radius^3 = 3.266×10^8
    Radius = 688.69 meters

    The sphere of all living human bodies would therefore be a puny 1,377m across. That’s pretty humbling.

  9. The more astute will have noticed that I forgot to include pi in the calculation. What can I say, it’s been an extremely long day.

    The last lines should of course read:

    adius^3 = Volume / ( (4/3) *pi)
    Radius^3 = 4.355×10^8 / (1.3333333 x pi)
    Radius^3 = 1.0397×10^8
    Radius = 470.21 meters

    Diameter = 940.43 meters

  10. Here is an interesting stat: the atmosphere only ever contains enough water for about two weeks’ worth of rain. If surface evaporation were to stop tomorrow, there would be no more rain after two weeks.

    Up until I heard that stat, I figured the atmosphere had huge amounts of water, but really, depending on where you are, it only contains 1-4% water vapour.

    Is it just me or are there a ton of news items about water these days?

  11. I would guess the ball of air is opaque because if was clear, you couldn’t see it, making for a lousy graphic. Second possibility is that the ball includes air from USA and China, cough cough.

    I am surprised that no one picked on the fact that if all of the air was collected into a ball, the oceans would be gone. So the ocean areas of the right globe would be grey too.

    JTF (#8) Chemists usually use “Standard Pressure” when they collects the entire earth atmosphere into a ball.

    Bugs (#10) My I suggest you use a blender?

  12. JTF, the quote does specifically say “at sea-level density” which means the pressure is specified. As per Wikipedia:

    “Average sea-level pressure is 101.325 kPa (1013.25 mbar) or 29.921 inches of mercury (inHg) or 760 millimeters (mmHg).”

  13. now that I look at it, I COULD sell the Earth’s water to the Vogons… suddenly it looks doable. Where did I put that number….

  14. mmm, I saw this graphic on an episode of QI. 2/3rds of the /surface/ of the earth is water, but less than 1%, I think, of the whole earth. Interesting smart alecky fact.

  15. Please read the book called Tales from the Underground by David W. Wolfe, is very important and somewhat related to this post.

  16. Bugs – did you squeeze the water out of us before compression into the sphere? Aren’t we about 60% liquid?

  17. yeah, I want to see the Total Meat Wad (ie: what kinda ball do ya get from squishing 6 billion plus of us together? Apart from red.

  18. Jeff sed:

    Very cool way to show what’s there. And just think how much of that fresh water is controlled by the Great Lakes states. We have gold, we just don’t know it yet.

    Here in Wisconsin, our state legislature has yet to approve the Great Lakes Compact that would control how the Great Lakes is used. I believe that if enough states pass it, it goes to Congress for final approval. Naturally, the Republicans are trying to block its passage. Its strongest opponents are from the rich suburbs that lay just on the other side of the subcontinental divide — the line that determines whether water flows to the Mississippi or Lake Michigan. The governor will likely have to call a special session to try and get the majority Republican state assembly to pass it, as the state senate already has done.

  19. @ #22: He made the assumption that we are entirely made up of water (ie: 1g/cm^3 density). It’s probably not too far out. (What is the average human density, anyway?)

    But, as Takuan pointed out, to make the sphere would require that we all be liquefied…

  20. @Patrick (22) – Nope, my victim-juicer is on the fritz today so I left all the water in the bodies. Knocking 60% off the sphere’s volume by sucking out the water will only have a smallish effect on its diameter anyway.

    @Takuan (23) – A picture like this showing the “total meat wad” (mmm, appetising!) can’t sensibly be made.

    You see Great Britain just above the water and air balls? The longest straight-line journey you can make in Britain (Land’s End in the SE to John ‘o Groats in the NW) is 945 kilometers, give or take a few diversions around the mountains.

    So picture a pinkish ball almost exactly one thousandth of the height of Britain, and that’s what the “total meat wad” would look like.

  21. I don’t think the oceans are all that deep relative to the diameter of the Earth. What’s the average ocean depth? Anybody?

  22. @Jason Encarta, really?? Bleccchh. What are their sources? When was the article written (since I’m not a Premium Subscriber)? Even if you take that table as true, and for ease of calculation, assume that the average depth of ALL the oceans is the deepest mentioned i.e. 14000 feet (sorry metric users)… my original point is that the oceans aren’t that deep compared with the diameter of the earth. OK, I’ll shut up now.

  23. Buckminster Fuller said if we shrink the earth down to a 12″ diameter steel ball and chill it, the condensation from your breath would be the depth of the oceans.

    Another interesting fact, Lake Tahoe holds a volume of 151 km³. With one dispersion of Lake Tahoe’s water, the State of California would be completely covered to a depth of 14.5 inches.

  24. Teresa, I wouldn’t do it! Geez, how small would my apartment be then? Where would I put all my stuff?

  25. Jardine, I shouldn’t have left out Canada, of course. And I hope Canada pushes as hard as it can to ensure water conservation. Michigan gives its water away to Ice Mountain, bottled water. The price of bottled water is more than Oil, and yet the State of Michigan is taxing it as if it were almost without value! STUPID STATE! That’s right, Michigan is run by a bunch of idiots.

  26. My thinking is sluggish today. My question is: is the graphic comparing surface area with mass? or surface area with volume? what happens if surface area is compared with surface area? or landmass (the floating stuff) with that earth?

    That is, is the graphic displaying comparable comparables?

  27. @ MPB (40)

    It’s comparing volume with volume: the total volume of the Earth’s water or atmosphere (assuming it’s kept at a constant pressure of 1 bar) compared with the total volume of the land.

    The calculations I did were to work out the total volume of all the world’s living humans, then the diameter of the sphere you could make this volume into. All bunched into a sphere our species is far, far too small to be seen on the image.

    Surface areas don’t enter into the calculations. However, because all of the volumes are formed into spheres their surface areas are of course in proportion.

  28. Perhaps for some real perspective, a ball of the surface area that we actually affect could be shown. Since we don’t live in the center of the earth, it is likely that the area we do affect is proportionate to the balls of water and gas(air).
    To show it next to the whole globe is misrepresentation at best, scare tactics at it’s worst. Maybe someone could post a before and after “earth hour farce” satellite picture of the darkside of earth. It would be just as educational………

  29. ROTFL!!! Bugs#10 “use a blender”, hoe hoe ha..

    Anyway, I’m sure you will all correct me if i’m wrong or whatever. I was looking at some total global production of crude oil data, a 2000 study that is supposed to be the last word in crude oil stats. I think if I read correctly that the total amount of crude oil in existance, used or not is about 6,000 billion barrels. So far we’ve used up about 302 billion barrels, I think.

    1m cubic = 6.29 barrels

    So if we refine and combust 6,000 billion barrels that would work out at 954,000,000 cubic km?

    Which rolled up into a sphere (at normal atmospheric pressure) would be a little snot sized ball relative to the atmosphere sphere?

    The hycrocarbon and methane release as a by product of the refinement industry is a tiny fraction of overall watervapour and atmospheric gasses of Earth? So why if there is no shortage of oil, and there is no real threat to the global atmospheric chemistry, and most of our oil comes from non war zones, are oil producers charging over $100 dollars a barrel? The 2000 projection for the highest cost per barrel in 2020 was under $30/barrel.

    Go green if you don’t want to be hustled, but it has nothing to do with saving the environment…

  30. So what…it’s not going to help us when the stuff becomes too polluted to drink or breathe. Instead of counting the shit, figure out a way to refresh it.

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