Water Cycle

The water cycle, also known as the hydrological cycle or H2O cycle, describes the continuous movement of water on, above and below the surface of the Earth. Although the balance of water on Earth remains fairly constant over time, individual water molecules can come and go, in and out of the atmosphere. 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, runoff, and subsurface flow. In so doing, the water goes through different phases: liquid, solid (ice), and gas (vapor).

The water cycle involves the exchange of heat, which leads to temperature changes. For instance, 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. By transferring water from one reservoir to another, the water cycle purifies water, replenishes the land with freshwater, and transports minerals to different parts of the globe. It is also involved in reshaping the geological features of the Earth, through such processes as erosion and sedimentation. Finally, the water cycle figures significantly in the maintenance of life and ecosystems on Earth.


As the Earth's surface water evaporates, winds move water in the air from the sea to the land, increasing the amount of fresh water on land. Water vapor is converted to clouds that bring fresh water to land in the form of rain or snow. Precipitation falls on the ground, but what happens to that water depends greatly on the geography of the land at any particular place.


Read more about Water Cycle:  Description, Residence Times, Changes Over Time, Effects On Climate, Effects On Biogeochemical Cycling, Slow Loss Over Geologic Time

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