If you are submerged in water are you wet?

One of the philosophical questions divers and other marine lovers frequently ask is whether being submerged counts as being wet. Much like the infamous chick or egg question, this answer often leads to long debates, and in the end, we resort to saying: it depends. We’ll try to show both sides of the debate, and everyone can decide for themselves.

 

Defining Wet

According to most dictionaries, the definition for “wet” is given as covered or saturated with water. To further elaborate, being covered with water requires that an object’s surface should not allow water molecules to penetrate; that is, the water stays on the surface.

Objects that can be saturated with water have surfaces that allow water to penetrate through pores, thus saturating the object. Three examples that can illustrate wetness clearly are a sponge, a high-quality raincoat, and a pebble.

A sponge soaks up water, becoming saturated and thus wet.

A pebble (no matter how smooth or rough it is) allows some water to stay on its surface and becomes covered by it. Hence, it too can get wet.

A high-quality raincoat neither allows for water to soak into it nor cover it. Water slips right off the surface, and so we can say raincoats never get wet.

Scientists further define wetness and wettability depending on how water molecules interact with an object’s surface and whether the surface repels or attracts water. These properties can also be observed and measured for scientific purposes.

 

Argument For Yes

Most people will probably answer that yes, you are wet when you are submerged. They argue that since being submerged makes you completely covered with water, it fits the definition of being wet.

 

Others argue that as long as the water is making contact with you, you are wet. This is because of their incorrect belief that water itself is wet. However, wetness is defined as the ability of a liquid to stick to a solid surface. Thus, water is able to make other solids wet, but it is not wet.

 

Due to the fluidity of water (it is a liquid and thus a fluid), its surface cannot get wet but instead mixes with other liquids. A clear example would be mixing alcohol with water. We cannot say that alcohol is wet when it is in contact with water because both are liquids. Instead, we say they have mixed. Some liquids do not mix, such as water and oil or water and mercury.

 

Argument For No

While it is natural to assume that being submerged equates to being wet, scientists require more fact-based arguments to decide.

Chemists, physicists, and other scientists know that the definite answer is no; being submerged does not mean being wet. In scientific terms, wetness is clearly defined as the adhesion of some liquids to the surface of a solid when they come in contact with each other.

Science also shows us that some materials are hydrophilic (water-loving), and others are hydrophobic (water-fearing). Human beings are made up of billions of cells, and our skin allows some penetration of water but not at the same level as sponges. We don’t repel water entirely either. Our skin is both hydrophilic and hydrophobic, which is a complex feature we possess.

Our skin has a (microscopically) rough layer of keratin. The surface of our skin repels water, but some of the water molecules may get trapped in the keratinized layer of our skin.

Another argument against equating submersion in water and wetness states that you are only wet when you leave the water and not whilst still submerged. That is, fish are only wet once they leave the water. Fish are not wet while being surrounded by water.

 

The idea is that while being submerged (and thus surrounded by water), water molecules are never adhering to a solid surface but moving around it. Unless and until a solid object leaves the water, the water molecules are not given a chance to wet the surface. Remember that wetness refers specifically to the adhesion of water molecules.

Thus, while being submerged in water, objects (and people) are not considered wet because the water is not sticking to them. Especially if you are wearing a wetsuit while snorkeling, water won’t even touch your body.

 

Penguins

Probably the most bizarre natural phenomenon related to wetness and submersion is exhibited by Antarctic penguins. Penguins have a thin layer of feathers like most birds. You might have noticed that these penguins aren’t constantly covered in a layer of frozen water. The reason being, they never get wet, even when submerged in water. Slipping in and out of ice-cold water is easier when you are always dry.

Penguin feathers are, like most bird feathers, hydrophobic. Antarctic penguins take it to the next level by trapping tiny air bubbles in them, increasing their hydrophobic properties. They also have an extra hydrophobic coating on their feathers (when compared to other birds).

When they are underwater, Antarctic penguins are always surrounded by a thin layer of air and always stay dry. You can try to replicate this easily, with the help of any type of oil. If an object is first submerged and coated with oil thoroughly, submerging it in water will not make it wet. Even taking the object out of the water, water will completely slide off because oil and water do not mix (all oils are hydrophobic).

Wetsuits made of neoprene (synthetic rubber) attempt to mimic this phenomenon, which is why scuba divers can stay comfortable in cold temperatures without risking hypothermia. Neoprene is hydrophobic; that is, it cannot get wet.

 

Conclusion

Although some people like to debate about the semantic of being wet and being submerged in water, there is only one clear answer according to science. Arguments based on pure scientific facts that are both observable and measurable will always be more compelling than an anecdotal hypothesis that cannot be proven.

 

To sum it up, unless you are outside of a body of water, with water adhering to the surface of your skin, you cannot be considered wet. Thus, when fully submerged in water, one cannot technically be wet.