Water cycle

Water cycle

Overview

The water cycle, also known as the hydrologic cycle or H2O cycle, describes the continuous movement of water on, above and below the surface of the Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

. Water can change states among liquid
Liquid
Liquid is one of the three classical states of matter . Like a gas, a liquid is able to flow and take the shape of a container. Some liquids resist compression, while others can be compressed. Unlike a gas, a liquid does not disperse to fill every space of a container, and maintains a fairly...

, vapor
Water vapor
Water vapor or water vapour , also aqueous vapor, is the gas phase of water. It is one state of water within the hydrosphere. Water vapor can be produced from the evaporation or boiling of liquid water or from the sublimation of ice. Under typical atmospheric conditions, water vapor is continuously...

, and solid
Solid
Solid is one of the three classical states of matter . It is characterized by structural rigidity and resistance to changes of shape or volume. Unlike a liquid, a solid object does not flow to take on the shape of its container, nor does it expand to fill the entire volume available to it like a...

 at various places in the water cycle. 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.
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Encyclopedia

The water cycle, also known as the hydrologic cycle or H2O cycle, describes the continuous movement of water on, above and below the surface of the Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

. Water can change states among liquid
Liquid
Liquid is one of the three classical states of matter . Like a gas, a liquid is able to flow and take the shape of a container. Some liquids resist compression, while others can be compressed. Unlike a gas, a liquid does not disperse to fill every space of a container, and maintains a fairly...

, vapor
Water vapor
Water vapor or water vapour , also aqueous vapor, is the gas phase of water. It is one state of water within the hydrosphere. Water vapor can be produced from the evaporation or boiling of liquid water or from the sublimation of ice. Under typical atmospheric conditions, water vapor is continuously...

, and solid
Solid
Solid is one of the three classical states of matter . It is characterized by structural rigidity and resistance to changes of shape or volume. Unlike a liquid, a solid object does not flow to take on the shape of its container, nor does it expand to fill the entire volume available to it like a...

 at various places in the water cycle. 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
Ocean
An ocean is a major body of saline water, and a principal component of the hydrosphere. Approximately 71% of the Earth's surface is covered by ocean, a continuous body of water that is customarily divided into several principal oceans and smaller seas.More than half of this area is over 3,000...

, 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, and gas.

The hydrologic cycle involves the exchange of heat energy, which leads to temperature changes. For instance, in the process of evaporation, water takes up energy from the surroundings and cools the environment. Conversely, in the process of condensation, water releases energy to its surroundings, warming the environment. The water cycle figures significantly in the maintenance of life and ecosystems on Earth. Even as water in each reservoir plays an important role, the water cycle brings added significance to the presence of water on our planet. 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. In addition, as the water cycle also involves heat exchange, it exerts an influence on climate as well.

Description


The sun, which drives the water cycle, heats water in oceans and seas. Water evaporates as water vapor into the air. Ice and snow
Snow
Snow is a form of precipitation within the Earth's atmosphere in the form of crystalline water ice, consisting of a multitude of snowflakes that fall from clouds. Since snow is composed of small ice particles, it is a granular material. It has an open and therefore soft structure, unless packed by...

 can sublimate directly into water vapor. Evapotranspiration
Evapotranspiration
Evapotranspiration is a term used to describe the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration from the Earth's land surface to atmosphere. Evaporation accounts for the movement of water to the air from sources such as the soil, canopy interception, and waterbodies...

 is water transpired
Transpiration
Transpiration is a process similar to evaporation. It is a part of the water cycle, and it is the loss of water vapor from parts of plants , especially in leaves but also in stems, flowers and roots. Leaf surfaces are dotted with openings which are collectively called stomata, and in most plants...

 from plants and evaporated from the soil. Rising air currents take the vapor up into the atmosphere where cooler temperatures cause it to condense into clouds. Air currents move water vapor around the globe, cloud particles collide, grow, and fall out of the sky as precipitation
Precipitation (meteorology)
In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation (also known as one of the classes of hydrometeors, which are atmospheric water phenomena is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation...

. Some precipitation falls as snow or hail, sleet, and can accumulate as ice caps and glaciers, which can store frozen water for thousands of years. Snowpacks can thaw and melt and the melted water flows over land as snowmelt
Snowmelt
In hydrology, snowmelt is surface runoff produced from melting snow. It can also be used to describe the period or season during which such runoff is produced. Water produced by snowmelt is an important part of the annual water cycle in many parts of the world, in some cases contributing high...

. Most water falls back into the oceans or onto land as rain, where the water flows over the ground as surface runoff
Surface runoff
Surface runoff is the water flow that occurs when soil is infiltrated to full capacity and excess water from rain, meltwater, or other sources flows over the land. This is a major component of the water cycle. Runoff that occurs on surfaces before reaching a channel is also called a nonpoint source...

. A portion of runoff enters rivers in valleys in the landscape, with streamflow moving water towards the oceans. Runoff and groundwater
Groundwater
Groundwater is water located beneath the ground surface in soil pore spaces and in the fractures of rock formations. A unit of rock or an unconsolidated deposit is called an aquifer when it can yield a usable quantity of water. The depth at which soil pore spaces or fractures and voids in rock...

 are stored as freshwater in lakes. Not all runoff flows into rivers, much of it soaks into the ground as infiltration
Infiltration (hydrology)
Infiltration is the process by which water on the ground surface enters the soil. Infiltration rate in soil science is a measure of the rate at which soil is able to absorb rainfall or irrigation. It is measured in inches per hour or millimeters per hour. The rate decreases as the soil becomes...

. Some water infiltrates deep into the ground and replenishes aquifer
Aquifer
An aquifer is a wet underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock or unconsolidated materials from which groundwater can be usefully extracted using a water well. The study of water flow in aquifers and the characterization of aquifers is called hydrogeology...

s, which 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 comes out as freshwater springs. Over time, the water returns to the ocean, where our water cycle started.

Processes


Precipitation
Precipitation (meteorology)
In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation (also known as one of the classes of hydrometeors, which are atmospheric water phenomena is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation...

: Condensed water vapor that falls to the Earth's surface . Most precipitation occurs as rain
Rain
Rain is liquid precipitation, as opposed to non-liquid kinds of precipitation such as snow, hail and sleet. Rain requires the presence of a thick layer of the atmosphere to have temperatures above the melting point of water near and above the Earth's surface...

, but also includes snow, hail
Hail
Hail is a form of solid precipitation. It consists of balls or irregular lumps of ice, each of which is referred to as a hail stone. Hail stones on Earth consist mostly of water ice and measure between and in diameter, with the larger stones coming from severe thunderstorms...

, fog drip
Fog drip
Fog drip is a type of precipitation that forms when fog droplets condense on the needles or leaves of trees or other objects, and drips to the ground....

, graupel, and sleet
Ice pellets
Ice pellets are a form of precipitation consisting of small, translucent balls of ice. Ice pellets usually are smaller than hailstones. They often bounce when they hit the ground, and generally do not freeze into a solid mass unless mixed with freezing rain...

. Approximately 505000 km³ (121,155.9 cu mi) of water falls as precipitation each year, 398000 km³ (95,485.3 cu mi) of it over the oceans.

Canopy interception
Interception (water)
Interception refers to precipitation that does not reach the soil, but is instead intercepted by the leaves and branches of plants and the forest floor. It occurs in the canopy , and in the forest floor or litter layer...

: The precipitation that is intercepted by plant foliage and eventually evaporates back to the atmosphere rather than falling to the ground.

Snowmelt
Snowmelt
In hydrology, snowmelt is surface runoff produced from melting snow. It can also be used to describe the period or season during which such runoff is produced. Water produced by snowmelt is an important part of the annual water cycle in many parts of the world, in some cases contributing high...

: The runoff produced by melting snow.

Runoff: The variety of ways by which water moves across the land. This includes both surface runoff and channel runoff. As it flows, the water may seep into the ground, evaporate into the air, become stored in lakes or reservoirs, or be extracted for agricultural or other human uses.

Infiltration
Infiltration (hydrology)
Infiltration is the process by which water on the ground surface enters the soil. Infiltration rate in soil science is a measure of the rate at which soil is able to absorb rainfall or irrigation. It is measured in inches per hour or millimeters per hour. The rate decreases as the soil becomes...

: The flow of water from the ground surface into the ground. Once infiltrated, the water becomes soil moisture or groundwater.

Subsurface flow
Subsurface flow
Subsurface flow, in hydrology, is the flow of water beneath earth's surface as part of the water cycle.In the water cycle, when precipitation falls on the earth's land, some of the water flows on the surface forming streams and rivers...

: The flow of water underground, in the vadose zone
Vadose zone
The vadose zone, also termed the unsaturated zone, is the portion of Earth between the land surface and the top of the phreatic zone i.e. the position at which the groundwater is at atmospheric pressure . Hence the vadose zone extends from the top of the ground surface to the water table...

 and aquifers. Subsurface water may return to the surface (e.g. as a spring or by being pumped) or eventually seep into the oceans. Water returns to the land surface at lower elevation than where it infiltrated, under the force of gravity or gravity induced pressures. Groundwater tends to move slowly, and is replenished slowly, so it can remain in aquifers for thousands of years.

Evaporation
Evaporation
Evaporation is a type of vaporization of a liquid that occurs only on the surface of a liquid. The other type of vaporization is boiling, which, instead, occurs on the entire mass of the liquid....

: The transformation of water from liquid to gas phases as it moves from the ground or bodies of water into the overlying atmosphere. The source of energy for evaporation is primarily solar radiation. Evaporation often implicitly includes transpiration from plant
Plant
Plants are living organisms belonging to the kingdom Plantae. Precise definitions of the kingdom vary, but as the term is used here, plants include familiar organisms such as trees, flowers, herbs, bushes, grasses, vines, ferns, mosses, and green algae. The group is also called green plants or...

s, though together they are specifically referred to as evapotranspiration. Total annual evapotranspiration amounts to approximately 505000 km³ (121,155.9 cu mi) of water, 434000 km³ (104,122.1 cu mi) of which evaporates from the oceans.

Sublimation: The state change directly from solid water (snow or ice) to water vapor.

Advection
Advection
Advection, in chemistry, engineering and earth sciences, is a transport mechanism of a substance, or a conserved property, by a fluid, due to the fluid's bulk motion in a particular direction. An example of advection is the transport of pollutants or silt in a river. The motion of the water carries...

: The movement of water — in solid, liquid, or vapor states — through the atmosphere. Without advection, water that evaporated over the oceans could not precipitate over land.

Condensation
Condensation
Condensation is the change of the physical state of matter from gaseous phase into liquid phase, and is the reverse of vaporization. When the transition happens from the gaseous phase into the solid phase directly, the change is called deposition....

: The transformation of water vapor to liquid water droplets in the air, creating cloud
Cloud
A cloud is a visible mass of liquid droplets or frozen crystals made of water and/or various chemicals suspended in the atmosphere above the surface of a planetary body. They are also known as aerosols. Clouds in Earth's atmosphere are studied in the cloud physics branch of meteorology...

s and fog.

Transpiration
Transpiration
Transpiration is a process similar to evaporation. It is a part of the water cycle, and it is the loss of water vapor from parts of plants , especially in leaves but also in stems, flowers and roots. Leaf surfaces are dotted with openings which are collectively called stomata, and in most plants...

: The release of water vapor from plants and soil into the air. Water vapor is a gas that cannot be seen.

Residence times

Average reservoir residence times
Reservoir Average residence time
Antarctica 20,000 years
Oceans 3,200 years
Glaciers 20 to 100 years
Seasonal snow cover 2 to 6 months
Soil moisture 1 to 2 months
Groundwater: shallow 100 to 200 years
Groundwater: deep 10,000 years
Lakes (see lake retention time
Lake retention time
Lake retention time is a calculated quantity expressing the mean time that water spends in a particular lake. At its simplest this figure is the result of dividing the lake volume by the flow in or out of the lake...

)
50 to 100 years
Rivers 2 to 6 months
Atmosphere 9 days


The residence time
Residence time
Residence time is the average amount of time that a particle spends in a particular system. This measurement varies directly with the amount of substance that is present in the system....

of a reservoir within the hydrologic cycle is the average time a water molecule will spend in that reservoir (see adjacent table). It is a measure of the average age of the water in that reservoir.

Groundwater can spend over 10,000 years beneath Earth's surface before leaving. Particularly old groundwater is called fossil water
Fossil water
Fossil water or paleowater is groundwater that has remained sealed in an aquifer for a long period of time. Water can rest underground in "fossil aquifers" for thousands or even millions of years...

. Water stored in the soil remains there very briefly, because it is spread thinly across the Earth, and is readily lost by evaporation, transpiration, stream flow, or groundwater recharge. After evaporating, the residence time in the atmosphere is about 9 days before condensing and falling to the Earth as precipitation.

The major ice sheets - Antarctica and Greenland
Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

 - store ice for very long periods. Ice from Antarctica has been reliably dated to 800,000 years before present, though the average residence time is shorter.

In hydrology, residence times can be estimated in two ways. The more common method relies on the principle of conservation of mass
Conservation of mass
The law of conservation of mass, also known as the principle of mass/matter conservation, states that the mass of an isolated system will remain constant over time...

 and assumes the amount of water in a given reservoir is roughly constant. With this method, residence times are estimated by dividing the volume of the reservoir by the rate by which water either enters or exits the reservoir. Conceptually, this is equivalent to timing how long it would take the reservoir to become filled from empty if no water were to leave (or how long it would take the reservoir to empty from full if no water were to enter).

An alternative method to estimate residence times, which is gaining in popularity for dating groundwater, is the use of isotopic
Isotope
Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, which have differing numbers of neutrons. Atoms of a particular element by definition must contain the same number of protons but may have a distinct number of neutrons which differs from atom to atom, without changing the designation...

 techniques. This is done in the subfield of isotope hydrology
Isotope hydrology
Isotope hydrology is a field of hydrology that uses isotopic dating to estimate the age and origins of water and of movement within the hydrologic cycle. The techniques are used for water-use policy, mapping aquifers, conserving water supplies, and controlling pollution...

.

Changes over time


The water cycle describes the processes that drive the movement of water throughout the hydrosphere
Hydrosphere
A hydrosphere in physical geography describes the combined mass of water found on, under, and over the surface of a planet....

. However, much more water is "in storage" for long periods of time than is actually moving through the cycle. The storehouses for the vast majority of all water on Earth are the oceans. It is estimated that of the 332,500,000 mi3 (1,386,000,000 km3) of the world's water supply, about 321,000,000 mi3 (1,338,000,000 km3) is stored in oceans, or about 95%. It is also estimated that the oceans supply about 90% of the evaporated water that goes into the water cycle.

During colder climatic periods more ice caps and glaciers form, and enough of the global water supply accumulates as ice to lessen the amounts in other parts of the water cycle. The reverse is true during warm periods. During the last ice age glaciers covered almost one-third of Earth's land mass, with the result being that the oceans were about 400 ft (122 m) lower than today. During the last global "warm spell," about 125,000 years ago, the seas were about 18 ft (5.5 m) higher than they are now. About three million years ago the oceans could have been up to 165 ft (50 m) higher.

The scientific consensus expressed in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a scientific intergovernmental body which provides comprehensive assessments of current scientific, technical and socio-economic information worldwide about the risk of climate change caused by human activity, its potential environmental and...

 (IPCC) Summary for Policymakers is for the water cycle to continue to intensify throughout the 21st century, though this does not mean that precipitation will increase in all regions. In subtropical land areas — places that are already relatively dry — precipitation is projected to decrease during the 21st century, increasing the probability of drought
Drought
A drought is an extended period of months or years when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply. Generally, this occurs when a region receives consistently below average precipitation. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region...

. The drying is projected to be strongest near the poleward margins of the subtropics
Subtropics
The subtropics are the geographical and climatical zone of the Earth immediately north and south of the tropical zone, which is bounded by the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, at latitudes 23.5°N and 23.5°S...

 (for example, the Mediterranean Basin
Mediterranean Basin
In biogeography, the Mediterranean Basin refers to the lands around the Mediterranean Sea that have a Mediterranean climate, with mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers, which supports characteristic Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub vegetation...

, South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

, southern Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, and the Southwestern United States
Southwestern United States
The Southwestern United States is a region defined in different ways by different sources. Broad definitions include nearly a quarter of the United States, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah...

). Annual precipitation amounts are expected to increase in near-equatorial regions that tend to be wet in the present climate, and also at high latitudes. These large-scale patterns are present in nearly all of the climate model
Climate model
Climate models use quantitative methods to simulate the interactions of the atmosphere, oceans, land surface, and ice. They are used for a variety of purposes from study of the dynamics of the climate system to projections of future climate...

 simulations conducted at several international research centers as part of the 4th Assessment of the IPCC. There is now ample evidence that increased hydrologic variability and change in climate has and will continue have a profound impact on the water sector through the hydrologic cycle, water availability, water demand, and water allocation at the global, regional, basin, and local levels.

Glacial retreat is also an example of a changing water cycle, where the supply of water to glaciers from precipitation cannot keep up with the loss of water from melting and sublimation. Glacial retreat since 1850
Retreat of glaciers since 1850
The retreat of glaciers since 1850 affects the availability of fresh water for irrigation and domestic use, mountain recreation, animals and plants that depend on glacier-melt, and in the longer term, the level of the oceans...

 has been extensive.

Human activities that alter the water cycle include:
  • agriculture
    Agriculture
    Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

  • industry
    Industry
    Industry refers to the production of an economic good or service within an economy.-Industrial sectors:There are four key industrial economic sectors: the primary sector, largely raw material extraction industries such as mining and farming; the secondary sector, involving refining, construction,...

  • alteration of the chemical composition of the atmosphere
  • construction of dam
    Dam
    A dam is a barrier that impounds water or underground streams. Dams generally serve the primary purpose of retaining water, while other structures such as floodgates or levees are used to manage or prevent water flow into specific land regions. Hydropower and pumped-storage hydroelectricity are...

    s
  • deforestation
    Deforestation
    Deforestation is the removal of a forest or stand of trees where the land is thereafter converted to a nonforest use. Examples of deforestation include conversion of forestland to farms, ranches, or urban use....

     and afforestation
    Afforestation
    Afforestation is the establishment of a forest or stand of trees in an area where there was no forest. Reforestation is the reestablishment of forest cover, either naturally or artificially...

  • removal of groundwater from wells
    Water well
    A water well is an excavation or structure created in the ground by digging, driving, boring or drilling to access groundwater in underground aquifers. The well water is drawn by an electric submersible pump, a trash pump, a vertical turbine pump, a handpump or a mechanical pump...

  • water abstraction
    Water abstraction
    Water abstraction, water extraction, or groundwater abstraction is the process of taking water from any source, either temporarily or permanently. Most water is used for irrigation or treatment to produce drinking water....

     from rivers
  • urbanization
    Urbanization
    Urbanization, urbanisation or urban drift is the physical growth of urban areas as a result of global change. The United Nations projected that half of the world's population would live in urban areas at the end of 2008....


Effects on climate


The water cycle is powered from solar energy. 86% of the global evaporation occurs from the oceans, reducing their temperature by evaporative cooling. Without the cooling, the effect of evaporation on the greenhouse effect would lead to a much higher surface temperature of 67 °C (152.6 °F), and a warmer planet.

Aquifer drawdown
Drawdown
Drawdown has four distinct meanings:* Drawdown , a lowering of a reservoir or a change in hydraulic head in an aquifer, typically due to pumping a well.* Drawdown , decline in the value of an investment, below its all-time high....

 or overdrafting
Overdrafting
Overdrafting is the process of extracting groundwater beyond the safe yield or equilibrium yield of the aquifer.Since every groundwater basin recharges at a different rate depending upon precipitation, vegetative cover and soil conservation practises, the quantity of groundwater that can be safely...

 and the pumping of fossil water increases the total amount of water in the hydrosphere that is subject to transpiration and evaporation
Evaporation
Evaporation is a type of vaporization of a liquid that occurs only on the surface of a liquid. The other type of vaporization is boiling, which, instead, occurs on the entire mass of the liquid....

 thereby causing accretion
Accretion (atmosphere)
Accretion is an atmospheric science term for when an ice crystal or snowflake hits a supercooled liquid droplet, which then freeze together. This increases the size of the water particle. A common example of this that is visible to people is graupel....

 in water vapour and cloud cover
Cloud cover
Cloud cover refers to the fraction of the sky obscured by clouds when observed from a particular location...

 which are the primary absorbers of infrared
Infrared
Infrared light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength longer than that of visible light, measured from the nominal edge of visible red light at 0.74 micrometres , and extending conventionally to 300 µm...

 radiation in the Earth's atmosphere. Adding water to the system has a forcing effect
Global warming
Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and its projected continuation. In the last 100 years, Earth's average surface temperature increased by about with about two thirds of the increase occurring over just the last three decades...

 on the whole earth system
Gaia hypothesis
The Gaia hypothesis, also known as Gaia theory or Gaia principle, proposes that all organisms and their inorganic surroundings on Earth are closely integrated to form a single and self-regulating complex system, maintaining the conditions for life on the planet.The scientific investigation of the...

, an accurate estimate of which hydrogeological fact is yet to be quantified.

Effects on biogeochemical cycling


While the water cycle is itself a biogeochemical cycle
Biogeochemical cycle
In ecology and Earth science, a biogeochemical cycle or substance turnover or cycling of substances is a pathway by which a chemical element or molecule moves through both biotic and abiotic compartments of Earth. A cycle is a series of change which comes back to the starting point and which can...

, flow of water over and beneath the Earth is a key component of the cycling of other biogeochemicals. Runoff is responsible for almost all of the transport of eroded
Erosion
Erosion is when materials are removed from the surface and changed into something else. It only works by hydraulic actions and transport of solids in the natural environment, and leads to the deposition of these materials elsewhere...

 sediment
Sediment
Sediment is naturally occurring material that is broken down by processes of weathering and erosion, and is subsequently transported by the action of fluids such as wind, water, or ice, and/or by the force of gravity acting on the particle itself....

 and phosphorus
Phosphorus
Phosphorus is the chemical element that has the symbol P and atomic number 15. A multivalent nonmetal of the nitrogen group, phosphorus as a mineral is almost always present in its maximally oxidized state, as inorganic phosphate rocks...

 from land to waterbodies. The salinity
Salinity
Salinity is the saltiness or dissolved salt content of a body of water. It is a general term used to describe the levels of different salts such as sodium chloride, magnesium and calcium sulfates, and bicarbonates...

 of the oceans is derived from erosion and transport of dissolved salts from the land. Cultural eutrophication
Eutrophication
Eutrophication or more precisely hypertrophication, is the movement of a body of water′s trophic status in the direction of increasing plant biomass, by the addition of artificial or natural substances, such as nitrates and phosphates, through fertilizers or sewage, to an aquatic system...

 of lakes is primarily due to phosphorus, applied in excess to agricultural fields
Field (agriculture)
In agriculture, the word field refers generally to an area of land enclosed or otherwise and used for agricultural purposes such as:* Cultivating crops* Usage as a paddock or, generally, an enclosure of livestock...

 in fertilizer
Fertilizer
Fertilizer is any organic or inorganic material of natural or synthetic origin that is added to a soil to supply one or more plant nutrients essential to the growth of plants. A recent assessment found that about 40 to 60% of crop yields are attributable to commercial fertilizer use...

s, and then transported overland and down rivers. Both runoff and groundwater flow play significant roles in transporting nitrogen from the land to waterbodies. The dead zone
Dead zone (ecology)
Dead zones are hypoxic areas in the world's oceans, the observed incidences of which have been increasing since oceanographers began noting them in the 1970s. These occur near inhabited coastlines, where aquatic life is most concentrated...

 at the outlet of the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

 is a consequence of nitrate
Nitrate
The nitrate ion is a polyatomic ion with the molecular formula NO and a molecular mass of 62.0049 g/mol. It is the conjugate base of nitric acid, consisting of one central nitrogen atom surrounded by three identically-bonded oxygen atoms in a trigonal planar arrangement. The nitrate ion carries a...

s from fertilizer being carried off agricultural fields and funnelled down the river system to the Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

. Runoff also plays a part in the carbon cycle
Carbon cycle
The carbon cycle is the biogeochemical cycle by which carbon is exchanged among the biosphere, pedosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere of the Earth...

, again through the transport of eroded rock and soil.

Slow loss over geologic time


The hydrodynamic wind within the upper portion of a planet's atmosphere allows light chemical elements such as Hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 to move up to the exobase, the lower limit of the exosphere
Exosphere
The exosphere is the uppermost layer of Earth's atmosphere. In the exosphere, an upward travelling molecule moving fast enough to attain escape velocity can escape to space with a low chance of collisions; if it is moving below escape velocity it will be prevented from escaping from the celestial...

, where the gases can then reach escape velocity
Escape velocity
In physics, escape velocity is the speed at which the kinetic energy plus the gravitational potential energy of an object is zero gravitational potential energy is negative since gravity is an attractive force and the potential is defined to be zero at infinity...

, entering outer space
Outer space
Outer space is the void that exists between celestial bodies, including the Earth. It is not completely empty, but consists of a hard vacuum containing a low density of particles: predominantly a plasma of hydrogen and helium, as well as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, and neutrinos....

 without impacting other particles of gas. This type of gas loss from a planet into space is known as planetary wind. Planets with hot lower atmospheres could result in humid upper atmospheres that accelerate the loss of hydrogen.

See also


  • Bioprecipitation
    Bioprecipitation
    Bioprecipitation is the concept of rain-making bacteria and was proposed by David Sands from Montana State University before 1983. The formation of ice in clouds is required for snow and most rainfall. Dust and soot particles can serve as ice nuclei, but biological ice nuclei are capable of...

  • Drought
    Drought
    A drought is an extended period of months or years when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply. Generally, this occurs when a region receives consistently below average precipitation. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region...

  • Ecohydrology
    Ecohydrology
    Ecohydrology is an interdisciplinary field studying the interactions between water and ecosystems. These interactions may take place within water bodies, such as rivers and lakes, or on land, in forests, deserts, and other terrestrial ecosystems...

  • Flood
    Flood
    A flood is an overflow of an expanse of water that submerges land. The EU Floods directive defines a flood as a temporary covering by water of land not normally covered by water...

  • Moisture advection
    Moisture advection
    Moisture advection is the horizontal transport of water vapor by the wind. Measurement and knowledge of atmospheric water vapor, or "moisture", is crucial in the prediction of all weather elements, especially clouds, fog, temperature, humidity thermal comfort indices and...


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