From a physics standpoint, which school of bending is able to create or exert the most energy?

Cases for each that I considered:

  • Air: Probably the weakest, since air has little mass and is easy to move around
  • Earth: Some benders could move very large chunks of massive earth, and metal benders can separate metals which requires breaking the atomic bonds
  • Water: We see some examples of benders moving large sections of water, and instantly convert water to ice
  • Fire: My candidate for the most energy output. Can create fire at will and in large amounts. Lightning bending especially shows a large amount of energy output, as it takes a very high voltage to make lightning travel through thin air.

Is anyone able to run some rough calculation to see the orders of magnitude of differences, or have other canon examples that would better showcase the true strength of different bending schools in terms of physics?

  • there's pieces of reality in every work of fiction. asking a question like "who is character A's father" would be implying from the REAL WORLD that people in a fictional work must be born of a father and mother, yet would be a completely reasonable question for this site. i don't see how this is any different.
    – DLeh
    Apr 24, 2014 at 19:01
  • 3
    Physics probably won't accept it, as it's asking about the physics of a fictional world. Based on this meta question, I think it's borderline, but I'm voting to keep it open.
    – phantom42
    Apr 24, 2014 at 19:05
  • I just thought we'd try to put some "empirical" evidence towards the "what bending is best" argument
    – DLeh
    Apr 24, 2014 at 19:06
  • not to mention that "science fiction" implies that people might be interested in the scientific implications of the science in the fiction.
    – DLeh
    Apr 24, 2014 at 19:24
  • I've answered it based on real-world physics. Hopefully you'll see the obvious difficulties.
    – Valorum
    Apr 24, 2014 at 19:32

1 Answer 1


The most extreme forms of bending for each element seen in-canon are;

  • Lightning bending - The production of lightning from the hands or from the sky
  • Earthquake-Bending - The production of a small localised earthquake centred on the bender
  • Water-lifting/Water-freezing - The lifting and freezing of volumes of water
  • Tornado/Hurricane Bending - The creation of medium-sized tornadoes and hurricane-force winds.

In terms of the levels of power required to generate each phenomenon in joules;

  • Lighting-power - 90-400 Billion Joules (assuming a 3-second strike)
  • Earthquake-power - 1.9 Trillion Joules (assuming a Richter 5 earthquake)
  • Water-freezing - 1.1 Billion Joules (assuming you lift and freeze 5 tonnes of water)
  • Tornado-Bending - 36 Billion Joules (assuming a small tornado). Hurricane bending would be orders of magnitude larger, possibly in the region of 50-100 trillion joules.

For the record, the show bible describes a bender's ability as "never extending beyond the bender's immediate area" (which the forces above clearly do) which means the the figures above are likely to be wildly inaccurate.

  • Though I agree that the bender's ability never extends beyond the immediate area - This is a fair estimate given that the bender usually concentrates the equivalent of such massive energy to a single point/area of focus.
    – mustard
    Apr 25, 2014 at 2:44

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