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Water cycle

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Dec 15, 2021
article - Water cycle

The water cycle, also known as the hydrologic cycle or the hydrological cycle, is a biogeochemical cycle that describes the continuous movement of water on, above and below the surface of the Earth. The mass of water on Earth remains fairly constant over time but the partitioning of the water into the major reservoirs of ice, fresh water, saline water (Salt Water) and atmospheric water is variable depending on a wide range of climatic variables. The water moves from one reservoir to another, such as from river to ocean, or from the ocean to the atmosphere, by the physical processes of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, infiltration, surface runoff, and subsurface flow. In doing so, the water goes through different forms: liquid, solid (ice) and vapor.

Continuous movement of water on, above and below the surface of the Earth

Global water cycle[1]

Part of a series on
Biogeochemical cycles
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The water cycle involves the exchange of energy, which leads to temperature changes. When water evaporates, it takes up energy from its surroundings and cools the environment. When it condenses, it releases energy and warms the environment. These heat exchanges influence climate.

The evaporative phase of the cycle purifies water which then replenishes the land with freshwater. The flow of liquid water and ice transports minerals across the globe. It is also involved in reshaping the geological features of the Earth, through processes including erosion and sedimentation. The water cycle is also essential for the maintenance of most life and ecosystems on the planet.

. . . Water cycle . . .

The sun, which drives the water cycle, heats water in the ocean and seas. Water evaporates as water vapor into the air. Some ice and snow sublimates directly into water vapor. Evapotranspiration is water transpired from plants and evaporated from the soil. The water molecule H
2
O
has smaller molecular mass than the major components of the atmosphere, nitrogen (N
2
) and oxygen (O
2
) and hence is less dense. Due to the significant difference in density, buoyancy drives humid air higher. As altitude increases, air pressure decreases and the temperature drops (see Gas laws). The lower temperature causes water vapor to condense into tiny liquid water droplets which are heavier than the air, and which fall unless supported by an updraft. A huge concentration of these droplets over a large area in the atmosphere become visible as cloud, while condensation near ground level is referred to as fog.

Atmospheric circulation moves water vapor around the globe; cloud particles collide, grow, and fall out of the upper atmospheric layers as precipitation. Some precipitation falls as snow, hail, or sleet, and can accumulate in ice caps and glaciers, which can store frozen water for thousands of years. Most water falls as rain back into the ocean or onto land, where the water flows over the ground as surface runoff. A portion of this runoff enters rivers, with streamflow moving water towards the oceans. Runoff and water emerging from the ground (groundwater) may be stored as freshwater in lakes. Not all runoff flows into rivers; much of it soaks into the ground as infiltration. Some water infiltrates deep into the ground and replenishes aquifers, which can store freshwater for long periods of time. Some infiltration stays close to the land surface and can seep back into surface-water bodies (and the ocean) as groundwater discharge. Some groundwater finds openings in the land surface and emerges as freshwater springs. In river valleys and floodplains, there is often continuous water exchange between surface water and ground water in the hyporheic zone. Over time, the water returns to the ocean, to continue the water cycle.

  • Earth’s water cycle
  • As the Earth’s surface water evaporates, wind moves water in the air from the sea to the land, increasing the amount of freshwater on land.
  • Water vapor is converted to clouds that bring fresh water to land in the form of rain snow and sleet
  • Precipitation falls on the ground, but what happens to that water depends greatly on the geography of the land at any particular place.

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. . . Water cycle . . .