“What Would Happen If the Whole World Peed in the Ocean at Once?” Several things, in fact, though nothing really earthshaking.
1. About the same proportion of water to salt, but more nitrogen:
Where the composition of a person’s urine strays a bit from that of seawater is with the components creatinine and urea. Both compounds are routes the body uses to get rid of nitrogen. Creatinine is a nitrogen-heavy cyclic compound that is a breakdown by-product of energy-laden molecules in muscle. It’s only present in the average person’s urine at about 0.7 g/L. Urea, on the other hand, is more concentrated: It’s present at about 9 g/L. Because it’s high in nitrogen, the molecule is frequently used as a fertilizer, but it’s also applied in topical creams as a moisturizing factor.
2. Still, we’re talking relatively low volumes here:
There are 7 billion people on the planet. Let’s just say that all of them relieved themselves in the Atlantic Ocean at once (the Atlantic and its adjacent seas have a collective volume of 3.5 x 1020 L), there would be about 6 x 10-11 g/L of urea in that body of water. If you’re a chemist and you think in terms of moles, that’s about 1 picomolar urea, a pretty tiny concentration for a highly unlikely situation in only one of the oceans of the world.
3. And the creatures who live there load up the joint even more assiduously than we do:
[A] fin whale (slender body, found in the North Atlantic, 16 times the length of a human on average) pees at a rate of 970 L/day and excretes amounts of sodium and chloride 23 times as high as do humans. Please feel free to use these fun facts as a conversation starter at your next cocktail party.
Which means that no matter how much we whiz off the pier, we’re never going to upset the existing equilibrium in the seas: we just don’t produce enough of the stuff. This does not mean, of course, that we can dump just any old thing in the oceans and expect no consequences, especially if there’s a whole lot of said thing.
(Via this Jennifer Ouellette tweet.)