Together, evaporation, transpiration, and sublimation, plus volcanic emissions, account for almost all the water vapor in the atmosphere that isn’t inserted through human activities. While evaporation from the oceans is the primary vehicle for driving the surface-to-atmosphere portion of the hydrologic cycle, transpiration is also significant. For example, a cornfield 1 acre in size can transpire as much as 4,000 gallons of water every day.
When precipitation falls over the land surface, it follows various routes in its subsequent paths. Some of it evaporates, returning to the atmosphere; some seeps into the ground as soil moisture or groundwater; and some runs off into rivers and streams. Almost all of the water eventually flows into the oceans or other bodies of water, where the cycle continues. At different stages of the cycle, some of the water is intercepted by humans or other life forms for drinking, washing, irrigating, and a large variety of other uses.
The water, or hydrologic, cycle describes the pilgrimage of water as water molecules make their way from the Earth’s surface to the atmosphere and back again, in some cases to below the surface. This gigantic system, powered by energy from the Sun, is a continuous exchange of moisture between the oceans, the atmosphere, and the land.
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The amount of water in the atmosphere at any moment in time is only 12,900 cubic kilometers, a minute fraction of Earth’s total water supply: if it were to completely rain out, atmospheric moisture would cover the Earth’s surface to a depth of only 2.5 centimeters. However, far more water—in fact, some 495,000 cubic kilometers of it—are cycled through the atmosphere every year. It is as if the entire amount of water in the air were removed and replenished nearly 40 times a year.
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And so begins the adventure of Droplet, the water molecule, as he enters the great water cycle- condensation, precipitation, infiltration, runoff, and evapotranspiration-and starts his journey home.
Throughout the hydrologic cycle, there are many paths that a water molecule might follow. Water at the bottom of Lake Superior may eventually rise into the atmosphere and fall as rain in Massachusetts. Runoff from the Massachusetts rain may drain into the Atlantic Ocean and circulate northeastward toward Iceland, destined to become part of a floe of sea ice, or, after evaporation to the atmosphere and precipitation as snow, part of a glacier.
Also important is the measurement of the amount of water involved in the transitional stages that occur as the water moves from one process within the cycle to other processes.
Students may decide which 2 they will write about and which 2 their partner will write about.
precipitation, collection, evaporation, condensation.
Click on the droplet picture to link the the NASA kids website. Read the droplet story as a reference to your water drop story.
The remaining 30 percent of the annual precipitation ( 429 cubic miles) is transported through the other surface and subterranean processes of the water cycle to a stream, lake, or ocean.