The Earth without water would NOT look like this. 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.

Water is an essential component of life on Earth. It covers over 70% of our planet’s surface and plays a vital role in sustaining both plant and animal life. Despite its importance, there has been a growing misconception that the Earth would look radically different if it were devoid of water.

In reality, the Earth’s topography is much smoother and more gradual than what is 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, but, 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's gravitational field - not the Earth without water
No, the Earth without water would not look like this. The 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 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).

No! The Earth Would NOT Look Like This Without Water
The Earth would NOT look like this without water, too. Another widely shared but wrong image. Source: Dead Planet Earth on Deposit Photos

Here’s how Earth without water would look

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

How much water is on Earth? All the world's water
All Earth’s water, liquid freshwater, and water in lakes and rivers. Spheres showing: 1. All water (sphere over the western U.S., 860 miles/1384.04 km in diameter) 2. Fresh liquid water in the ground, lakes, swamps, and rivers (sphere over Kentucky, 169.5 miles/272.78 km in diameter), and 3. Fresh-water lakes and rivers (sphere over Georgia, 34.9 miles/56.17 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 drawing 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.

This image attempts to show three dimensions, so each sphere represents “volume.” The volume of the largest sphere, representing all the water on, in, and above the Earth, would be about 332,500,000 cubic miles (mi3) or 1,386,000,000 cubic kilometers (km3), and be about 860 miles (about 1,385 kilometers) in diameter.

The smaller sphere over Kentucky represents Earth’s liquid freshwater in groundwater, swamp water, rivers, and lakes. The volume of this sphere would be about 2,551,000 mi3 (10,633,450 km3) and form a sphere of about 169.5 miles (272.8 kilometers) in diameter. Yes, all of this water is freshwater, which we all need every day, but much of it is deep in the ground, unavailable to humans.

Did you notice the “tiny” bubble over Atlanta, Georgia? That one represents freshwater in all the lakes and rivers on the planet. Most of the water people and life on Earth need every day comes from these surface water sources.

The volume of this sphere is about 22,339 mi3 (93,113 km3). The diameter of this sphere is about 34.9 miles (56.2 kilometers). Yes, Lake Michigan looks way bigger than this sphere, but you have to try to imagine a bubble almost 35 miles high. For comparison, the average depth of Lake Michigan is less than 300 feet (91 meters).

Ignore these water spheres, and you’ll see what Earth actually would look like without water. The oceans are too shallow compared to Earth’s diameter. But no, the Earth isn’t as smooth as a cue ball, either.


Earth’s water vs Europa’s water

The volumes of water on Earth and Europa
All of the water on Jupiter’s moon Europa is compared to all of the water on Earth.

Scientists’ consensus is that a layer of liquid water exists beneath Europa’s surface. It is estimated that the outer crust of solid ice is approximately 10-30 kilometers (6-19 mi) thick, including a ductile “warm ice” layer, which could mean that the liquid ocean underneath may be about 100 kilometers (60 mi) deep. This leads to a volume of Europa’s oceans of 3×1018 m3, between two or three times the volume of Earth’s oceans.

Europa (Jupiter II, diameter: 3,122 km / 1,940 mi) is the smallest of the four Galilean moons orbiting Jupiter and the sixth closest to the planet. It has a smooth and bright surface, with a layer of water surrounding the mantle of the planet, thought to be 100 kilometers thick. The smooth surface includes a layer of ice, while the bottom of the ice is theorized to be liquid water.

The apparent youth and smoothness of the surface have led to the hypothesis that a water ocean exists beneath it, which could conceivably serve as an abode for extraterrestrial life. Heat energy from tidal flexing ensures that the ocean remains liquid and drives geological activity.

Life may exist in Europa’s under-ice ocean, perhaps subsisting in an environment similar to Earth’s deep-ocean hydrothermal vents or Antarctica’s Lake Vostok. Life in such an ocean could possibly be similar to microbial life on Earth in the deep ocean.

M. Özgür Nevres

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  1. Those images that made me find this article look exciting, too exciting that you actually have to ask yourself, is it really how it looks in reality?
    I doubted them for another reason. Watching earth from ISS, you can see how flat everything is, including tallest mountains. And that is enough to conclude that earth without water would look near or perfectly smooth.
    This article should be on top for people googling earth without water.

  2. The world would not look like that without water, because there would be no vegetation. You overlooked this.

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