Water Cycle

Hi! My name is Splat the raindrop and I am here to tell you all about the water cycle and where your water comes from! First things first though, water is all around our planet, but the water that falls from the sky is freshwater, not like the oceans, which are saltwater. That is pretty important because you drink freshwater, not saltwater, and many people around the world collect rainwater to drink!

The way water moves through the environment is in the shape of a circle; which is why the flow of water is called the water cycle. When something goes through the environment in a cycle, we call it a renewable resource. Water is a renewable resource, there is always going to be water flowing through the cycle to become rain or snow. Can you think of another renewable resource?

 

The first step in our water cycle adventure starts way up high in the sky. When water is in the air, it forms clouds. There are many different types of clouds, the big puffy ones are called cumulus clouds; the spindly ones are called cirrus, and the dark billowy ones are called cumulonimbus or thunderheads. Each cloud is formed because of different weather conditions.

Our next step is when water falls from the sky, called precipitation. The most common form of precipitation around the world, especially in a rainforest, is rain. Rain is really cool, it is a huge part of almost every ecosystem on Earth and terrestrial life (or life on the ground) depends on it. After the water in the clouds becomes too heavy for the water to stick together, through a process called adhesion, the drops fall from the cloud. When the water is in a cloud, because water tends to stick to itself, it is a perfect sphere, but when it falls, the drop changes shape into the teardrop form that we all know. Clouds can sometimes be really high up and rain can get moving really fast, sometimes up to 20 mph!

“Falling from a really high cloud is lots of fun! You can feel the wind blowing you around and you wonder where you will end up… I think that falling as rain is my favorite part of the water cycle!”

Our next stop in the cycle is what happens when the rain hits the ground. When rain hits the ground, a couple things can happen. A raindrop can hit the soil and sink it to become something called groundwater or it can hit water that is already standing, like a river, or a lake, or an ocean. A third thing a raindrop can hit is a building or a parking lot. When a raindrop hits a building, it rolls off of it and will eventually become groundwater, it just takes a little more time. Groundwater is important for many reasons. Groundwater is what helps plants grow, when they stick their roots into the ground, they suck up the groundwater. Groundwater also is what people use when they have a well. The well goes deep into the ground to here the groundwater is collected way underground and people can suck up the water, just like plants do. Eventually though, all the groundwater and river water and lake water will eventually go to the ocean. The ocean has a lot of water! If you can remember from the beginning of our story though, the water than falls as rain is freshwater, but the ocean is saltwater. The next step of the water cycle is going to show us how that can happen!

“When I fall, I always like to fall into a forest, then I might be caught by a leaf of some nice soft moss. It is not as much fun when I fall onto a parking lot, in fact, it can kinda hurt!”

 

The last stop on our water cycle is how the water gets from the ocean up into the sky. When the sun hits the ocean, the water gets a little bit warmer and it starts to move around a bit. Not enough so that we can see it, but enough that it starts to push away from the other blobs of water in the ocean. Once it starts to get away, the sun warms the air around the water and the water starts to float up with the warm air because warm air rises. The movement of water upwards with the warm air is called evaporation. Evaporation carries the water up to the atmosphere where it condenses back into clouds and the process starts over again!

“I enjoy evaporation, it is like riding a rollercoaster up to the top of the first hill. You know what will come next is going to be lots of fun, so as you’re floating up the anticipation for falling as rain is almost unbearable!”

Our last cool fact is that because the water cycle functions like a giant circle, it will continue forever and has been going on for millions of years! The water that falls on you during a spring shower probably fell on a dinosaur 65 million years ago! Going through the water cycle takes some time though, depending on where the raindrop falls, it can 6 months to over 1,000 years to end up back in the atmosphere! Can you think of a place on our planet that of water fell, it would stay there for thousands of years?

“Have you thought about it? I can tell you of you’re stumped! This happened to me once; I fell from a really high cloud and landed on Antarctica! When you land there, you freeze! I was stuck right near the South Pole for two thousand years until the chunk of ice that I was part of broke away and I drifted up towards Australia. Let me tell you, waiting for that long is really boring! Although… penguins are really nice!”

 

CAC is a program of the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.