World water distribution

The hydrosphere (from Greek ὕδωρ hydōr, "water"[1] and σφαῖρα sphaira, "sphere"[2]) is the combined mass of water found on, under, and above the surface of a planet, minor planet or natural satellite. Although the Earth's hydrosphere has been around for longer than 4 billion years, it continues to change in size. This is caused by seafloor spreading and continental drift, which rearranges the land and ocean.[3]

It has been estimated that there are 1,386 million cubic kilometres (333,000,000 cubic miles) of water on Earth.[4] This includes water in liquid and frozen forms in groundwater, oceans, lakes and streams. Saltwater accounts for 97.5% of this amount, whereas fresh water accounts for only 2.5%. Of this fresh water, 68.9% is in the form of ice and permanent snow cover in the Arctic, the Antarctic, and mountain glaciers; 30.8% is in the form of fresh groundwater; and only 0.3% of the fresh water on Earth is in easily accessible lakes, reservoirs and river systems.[4]

The total mass of the Earth's hydrosphere is about 1.4 × 1018 tonnes, which is about 0.023% of Earth's total mass. At any given time, about 20 × 1012 tonnes of this is in the form of water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere (for practical purposes, 1 cubic meter of water weighs one tonne). Approximately 71% of Earth's surface, an area of some 361 million square kilometers (139.5 million square miles), is covered by ocean. The average salinity of Earth's oceans is about 35 grams of salt per kilogram of sea water (3.5%).[5]

Water cycle


The water cycle refers to the transfer of water from one state or reservoir to another. Reservoirs include atmospheric moisture (snow, rain and clouds), streams, oceans, rivers, lakes, groundwater, subterranean aquifers, polar ice caps and saturated soil. Solar energy, in the form of heat and light (insolation), and gravity cause the transfer from one state to another over periods from hours to thousands of years. Most evaporation comes from the oceans and is returned to the earth as snow or rain.[6]:27 Sublimation refers to evaporation from snow and ice. Transpiration refers to the expiration of water through the minute pores or stomata of trees. Evapotranspiration is the term used by hydrologists in reference to the three processes together, transpiration, sublimation and evaporation.[6]

Marq de Villiers has described the hydrosphere as a closed system in which water exists. The hydrosphere is intricate, complex, interdependent, all-pervading and stable and "seems purpose-built for regulating life."[6]:26 De Villiers claimed that, "On earth, the total amount of water has almost certainly not changed since geological times: what we had then we still have. Water can be polluted, abused, and misused but it is neither created nor destroyed, it only migrates. There is no evidence that water vapor escapes into space."[6]:26

"Every year the turnover of water on Earth involves 577,000 km3 of water. This is water that evaporates from the oceanic surface (502,800 km3) and from land (74,200 km3). The same amount of water falls as atmospheric precipitation, 458,000 km3 on the ocean and 119,000 km3 on land. The difference between precipitation and evaporation from the land surface (119,000 - 74,200 = 44,800 km3/year) represents the total runoff of the Earth's rivers (42,700 km3/year) and direct groundwater runoff to the ocean (2100 km3/year). These are the principal sources of fresh water to support life necessities and man's economic activities."[4]

Water is a basic necessity of life. Since 2/3 of the Earth is covered by water, the Earth is also called the blue planet and the watery planet.[notes 1] Hydrosphere plays an important role in the existence of the atmosphere in its present form. Oceans are important in this regard. When the Earth was formed it had only a very thin atmosphere rich in hydrogen and helium similar to the present atmosphere of Mercury. Later the gases hydrogen and helium were expelled from the atmosphere. The gases and water vapor released as the Earth cooled became its present atmosphere. Other gases and water vapor released by volcanoes also entered the atmosphere. As the Earth cooled the water vapor in the atmosphere condensed and fell as rain. The atmosphere cooled further as atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolved in to rain water. In turn this further caused the water vapor to condense and fall as rain. This rain water filled the depressions on the Earth's surface and formed the oceans. It is estimated that this occurred about 4000 million years ago. The first life forms began in the oceans. These organisms did not breathe oxygen. Later, when cyanobacteria evolved, the process of conversion of carbon dioxide into food and oxygen began. As a result, Earth's atmosphere has a distinctly different composition from that of other planets and allowed for life to evolve on Earth.

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