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Water: H2O = Life

Every language has a word for water; no living thing exists without water. It soothes the spirit and sustains the body; its beauty inspires art and music. Employed by cultures around the world in rituals and ceremonies, water bathes us from birth to death. Water is essential to life as we know it. And as it cycles from the air to the land to the sea and back again, water shapes our planet—and nearly every aspect of our lives.

Its force and abundance are the backdrop of our lives. Salty or fresh, water is everywhere—falling from the skies, rushing to the sea, lapping the shores, deep within the Earth—cycling in volumes that boggle the mind.

Every single day, even when the sun is shining on you, vast amounts of water are falling as rain all over Earth. Every single year, more than 40,000 cubic kilometers (nearly 10,000 cubic miles) of water pour from Earth's rivers into the sea. Some experts think the amount of water locked in the minerals of Earth's mantle is many times that held by all our oceans.

No wonder we treat water as though there were an infinite supply.

Fresh water makes up only three percent of the water on Earth's surface—and often, places with the most people have the least water. About two-thirds of Earth's fresh water is ice, and much of the remainder is locked underground. A mere fraction of a percent of Earth's water supports all life on land.

Yet all too often we mistreat that precious fraction…and there is no more. Our actions can condemn many of Earth's creatures—our fellow humans among them—to diminished lives and sometimes even to extinction. Can we learn to become better stewards of water? Is there really a choice?

Exhibition Highlights



Life in Water

Since life on Earth began in water some 3.5 billion years ago, living organisms have evolved an amazing variety of techniques for surviving different water conditions.



Blue Planet

Water is the most familiar substance in our lives, and perhaps the most mysterious.



Water Works

Humans put water to work for hundreds of purposes. To support our water use, we have built a huge infrastructure—from massive dams that harness waterpower to vast networks of wells, canals, and irrigation ditches.



Water, Water Everywhere

Water is all around us. Oceans cover more than two-thirds of our planet, and in most places on land you're not far from a lake, river, stream, swamp or glacier.



Nor Any Drop to Drink

Today, more than one billion people still cannot get enough safe drinking water to keep them healthy. That kind of water scarcity isn't just about too little rain—it's a problem of politics, infrastructure, and sustainable use.



Healthy Water, Healthy Lives

As humans, we have always searched for sources of safe water. Today, with human populations growing and climate changing, that search takes on increased urgency.




Aquatic ecosystems are essential to life—and they're very fragile. When we alter these systems—from wetlands to rivers to coral reefs—we often transform them so much that they no longer function at all.




Many water problems also have solutions. From households to huge cities, elected officials to entrepreneurs, everyone has a role to play in protecting Earth's water.


Staff Profile

Meet the Curator

Eleanor J. Sterling directs the Center for Biodiversity Conservation (CBC) and is the curator of the exhibit Water: H2O = Life.


Image Gallery

Behind the Scenes

Water: H2O = Life was designed and produced by the Museum's Department of Exhibition, under the direction of David Harvey, Vice President for Exhibition.



Fast Facts

We all know what water is--a clear, odorless, tasteless liquid that we cannot live without. Here are other facts about water you may not know.


Video, Interactive


Four video or multimedia presentations.




Collaborators who have contributed to Water: H2O = Life at the American Museum of Natural History.

The American Museum of Natural History gratefully acknowledges the Tamarind Foundation for its leadership support of Water: H2O = Life, and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future for its assistance.

Exclusive corporate sponsor for Water: H2O = Life was JPMorgan.

Water: H2O = Life was supported by a generous grant from the National Science Foundation 


The support of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is appreciated. 


The Museum extends its gratitude to the Panta Rhea Foundation, Park Foundation, and Wege Foundation for their support of the exhibition's educational programming and materials.

Water: H2O = Life

American Museum of Natural History

Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024-5192
Phone: 212-769-5100

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