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Water, Water Everywhere
A traveling exhibit dives into the beauty, power, and vitality of H2O.

©D. Finnin/AMNH

Agua. Eau. Voda, Wasser. A dozen words for the world’s most essential resource float against a backlit curtain of mist—the entryway to a new exhibit on water at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Through this refreshing fog and around a bend, a placard asks visitors, “Can we learn to become better stewards of water? As they explore the elaborate displays, guests will learn that the answer is yes—and they’ll also find out how.

The AMNH opened “Water: H2O = Life” to educate museum-goers about the importance of water and its conservation. Its construction was a response to a 2006 survey by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration revealing that only four percent of respondents were aware that less than one percent of earth’s water is available for human use. The exhibit, now on display in New York City until May 26, 2008, will later tour other museums in North America, as well as in South America, Asia, and Australia. It will be tailored to each region by including specific information on the area’s own water supply and ways people can act locally to conserve it.

Water is a remarkable natural substance that is found in all three physical states—liquid, solid, and gas—under conditions normally found on earth. Visitors can touch and feel all three phases with a hands-on, water-cycle sculpture.

©D. Finnin/AMNH

At the AMNH, the exhibit is split into eight different sections, each highlighting a different role water plays in life on earth. It also offers many demonstrations of water’s mystery, power, and significance. A graphite-colored stone sculpture (photo above) is a creative way of showing how water can exist in different physical states: A real block of solid ice drips into a carved spiral on a lower pillar; the liquid circulates and emerges—as fog—from a lighted halo carved into the lowest pillar.

There are also plenty of hands-on activities children will enjoy. Kids can turn cranks to unleash rushing water—which illustrates a dam’s effect on sediment deposits—or touch a striated rock outcrop from Central Park shaped by glacial movement—demonstrating the power of moving ice.

In the “Water, Water Everywhere” section, children can arrange colored blocks to tell a story about life in the Arctic and how people and animals live on the ice. Once the blocks are put in the right order, a video of that story they tell plays on a television screen. Both adults and children can engage in game show–style interactive multiple-choice quizzes to test their water knowledge.

The section called “Water Works” is particularly provoking. By providing a history on how humans have harnessed water to their advantage—building dams and irrigation systems, for example—it offers an enlightening perspective on how agricultural practices such as growing corn and cotton and raising cattle are devastating our existing ecosystems by heavily taxing our water supply. Indeed, more than 60 percent of the world’s largest rivers have been dammed or diverted, and water draining from farmland carries fertilizers into nearby rivers and eventually oceans, creating “dead zones,” where few organisms can thrive (see Water Facts sidebar).

By the end of the exhibit, visitors will no doubt reflect on their individual water use and how they can cut back. A “What Can I Do?” room shares stories of real people engaging in projects intended to reduce water consumption. One woman installed rain-catching barrels at her house, for instance, and a student began handing out reusable water bottles to people in her community.

Visitors can test their “ H2O IQ” in an interactive game that challenges them to use less water in their daily lives.

©D. Finnin/AMNH

A final interactive quiz (photo above) tests visitors’ newly acquired water knowledge, asking such questions as what should be done with an old inefficient dishwasher or a running toilet (hint: the best answer is the one that yields the most water conservation). At the end of the quiz are helpful, easy tips on how to conserve water, which include simple fixes—like repairing leaky faucets and installing low-flow showerheads—to not-so-obvious suggestions, such as curbing consumerism (the more products you buy, the more water you are using indirectly through production processes) and eating less meat (beef is the most water-intensive agricultural product).

In New York, additional water seminars and activities for kids and adults are ongoing at the museum (and can be found on the museum’s website: Coupled with the exhibit, they’re sure to enhance visitors’ perspective on life’s most precious resource—and hopefully inspire them to use it wisely.

Exhibit: Water: H2O = Life
Dates: Now through May 26, 2008
Location: American Museum of Natural History 79th St. and Central Park West, New York. N.Y. 10024-5192
Admission: Adults, $22; children (2-12), $13, senior/student with ID, $16.50
Hours: Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.
Telephone: 212-769-5100
More information: American Museum of Natural History

Water Facts

• It takes three liters of water to produce a one-liter bottle of water.
• Humans are about 60 percent water by weight. To replenish the body’s water supply, a typical man needs approximately one gallon (3.7 liters) each day, while a woman needs approximately 0.7 gallons (2.7 liters).
• Kangaroo rats have super-efficient kidneys that recycle water to the extent that they get all the water they need from just the food they eat.
• Agriculture accounts for approximately 70 percent of global water use.
• It takes 16,000 liters of water (about 4,230 gallons) to produce one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beef.
• Construction of China’s Three Gorges Dam—the largest dam in the world—has already required the relocation of more than 1.2 million people and submerged more than 1,000 villages and 74,000 acres of farmland.
• An estimated 40 percent of bottled water in the United States is just filtered tap water.
• More than two-thirds of earth’s freshwater supply (and two percent of its total water) is stored in the polar regions as ice and glaciers.
• In the United States people use 151 gallons of water per person, per day for domestic and municipal purposes. A U.K. resident uses 31 gallons a day, while a person in Ethiopia uses 3 gallons per day, on average.
• How much water do you require for the foods you eat, the items you purchase and the habits you keep? Find out with the Water Footprint Calculator.

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Click on the images below to learn more about the displays featured in “Water: H2O = Life.”

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