Every living thing on Earth needs water to survive. Fortunately, Mother Nature’s got a pretty smart way of recycling water – the water cycle.
The water cycle, also known as the hydrologic cycle, is the continuous movement of water on, above, and below the surface of the Earth. It involves the processes of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, infiltration, and runoff.
Water evaporates from bodies of water and land surfaces, forms clouds, and falls back to the Earth as precipitation. This water then flows into streams, rivers, and oceans, where it can evaporate again and continue the cycle. The water cycle is essential for the distribution of water resources and the maintenance of ecosystems.
Water Cycle Facts For Kids
- The water cycle has four stages: evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and collection.
- Sun’s heat causes water to evaporate from oceans, lakes, and rivers.
- Water vapor forms clouds when it cools and condenses in the air.
- Precipitation happens when cloud particles become too heavy and fall as rain.
- Snow, sleet, and hail are also forms of precipitation.
- Some rain gets absorbed by the ground and helps plants grow.
- Rain that doesn’t get absorbed becomes part of rivers and goes back to the sea.
- Trees also release water into the air in a process called transpiration.
- The water cycle is continuous – it never stops!
- The water we drink was once in clouds, oceans, or even a dinosaur’s drink!
Water Cycle Process
Evapotranspiration is a vital part of the water cycle. It’s made up of two parts: evaporation and transpiration. Evaporation is water turning into vapor from places like soil and bodies of water. Transpiration is the loss of water from plants. Both processes help send water back to the atmosphere, which eventually forms clouds and leads to rain. So, evapotranspiration helps keep the water cycle going, moving water between the Earth and the sky, and helping plants and other living things thrive.
Condensation is a key step in the water cycle. After water evaporates from bodies of water or is released by plants, it rises into the atmosphere. As it cools, it turns from a gas back into a liquid, forming clouds. These clouds then release rain or snow, which is called precipitation. Without condensation, we wouldn’t have the water cycle. So, condensation is a crucial part of how water circulates around our planet.
Precipitation is an important part of the water cycle. It’s how water gets from the atmosphere back to Earth. It starts with condensation, where water vapor forms droplets that create clouds. When these droplets get too heavy, they fall as rain, snow, sleet, or hail. This water fills up lakes, rivers, and oceans, and gives plants the water they need to live. So, precipitation is a key step in the water cycle, helping to keep Earth’s water moving and replenished.
The collection is the last step of the water cycle. It’s what happens after rain or snow falls to Earth. This water ends up in different places like rivers, lakes, oceans, the ground, or plants. Then, the sun’s heat causes this water to evaporate and go back into the sky. So, the collection stage is important because it helps keep the water cycle going, moving water from the ground back into the air.
The water cycle and hydrology (the science of water) are closely related. The water cycle shows how water moves on, above, and beneath the Earth’s surface. Hydrologists, scientists who study water, use the water cycle to understand how water behaves in the natural world.
They study all parts of the cycle: evaporation (water turning into vapor), transpiration (water release from plants), condensation (vapor turning into liquid), precipitation (rain or snow), and infiltration (water sinking into the ground). These studies help manage water resources, predict floods, and protect the environment.
Groundwater is an important part of the water cycle. After it rains, some water soaks into the ground, which is called percolation. This water fills up spaces in rocks underground, making up what we call aquifers. Groundwater is used by plants, humans, and farms. Over time, it moves and ends up in lakes, streams, or the ocean. So, groundwater helps keep the water cycle going, and without it, life would be very different.
Movement of Water
The movement of water is what makes the water cycle work. It starts with evaporation, where water turns into vapor and rises into the air. This vapor then cools and forms clouds, a process known as condensation. The water then falls back to Earth as rain or snow, which is called precipitation. Once back on the ground, it either seeps into the ground or flows back into rivers and seas. This movement of water is what keeps the water cycle going, helping life on Earth to exist.
The water cycle is very important for aquatic ecosystems like oceans, rivers, lakes, and wetlands. These places give water to the air through a process called evaporation. This water then falls back as rain or snow, a process known as precipitation. Runoff from land and groundwater also ends up in these ecosystems, bringing more water and nutrients. So, the water cycle helps keep these ecosystems healthy and full of life.
The water cycle is important for the hydrosphere, which is all the water on Earth. This cycle moves water between the atmosphere, oceans, rivers, lakes, and groundwater. It starts with water evaporating into the air, then forming clouds. Next, water falls from these clouds as rain or snow. Some of this water seeps into the ground, and some flows back into the oceans. This cycle makes sure we always have fresh water, helps control the climate, and supports life.
Water Cycle and Climate Change
Climate change affects the water cycle a lot. When it’s warmer, water evaporates more, which can lead to drier areas and more rain in others. This can also cause more big storms. In some places, it can make droughts worse. Also, warmer temperatures are causing ice to melt, which can make sea levels rise and change our freshwater supply. So, the water cycle and climate change are closely linked, and changes in one can affect the other.
Water Cycle Effects
The water cycle affects many parts of life on Earth. It moves water around the world, which helps all living things survive. It fills up our rivers and lakes with fresh water we need for drinking and farming. It also affects the weather and shapes the land through erosion. Plus, it helps cycle nutrients in ecosystems. So, the water cycle’s effects are important for both nature and people.
More Fun Facts about the Water Cycle for Kids
- After a storm, some of the water in your yard soaks into the ground or it’s soaked up by trees and plants.
- The sun turns water on the Earth into a vapor. Water comes from the ocean, lakes, rivers and streams. It also comes from plants, trees and the ground. This is called transpiration.
- As the vapor rises, it gets cold. When it gets cold, it gathers in clouds. This is called condensation.
- When the clouds get too heavy to hold the water any longer, they drop it back to Earth in the form of rain, sleet, snow or hail.
- Some of the water runs into lakes, streams, rivers and oceans.
- Some of it soaks deep into the ground, creating underground aquifers. When someone digs a well, they are tapping into an underground aquifer to find water for drinking.
- Ground water is water that soaks into the ground. Eventually some of it travels to the ocean, picking up salt and other minerals on its way. This is why the ocean is salty.
- Water trapped in glaciers and ice caps can be millions of years old. It is the purest water on Earth.
- Most of the water keeps moving. Water always moves downhill. After a rainstorm, rain water moves to the lowest point in your yard, usually the gutter and the street.
- In nature, water moves downward too. It moves from the highest mountains, running down to become a brook or creek. A brook isn’t very big. Eventually it might run into a stream. Other brooks might have run into the stream too, making it bigger.
- Later, the stream might meet other streams and flow into a river. Rivers are very big and deep. They flow quickly over rocks and soil, carving the land out. The Colorado River made the Grand Canyon, a deep ravine eighteen miles wide and a mile deep. Rivers move fast down hills and more slowly over flat land.
- When a river gets too much water, like in a big rainstorm, it can flood, seeping out to the land around it. Dams are made by people to control the water in rivers so it doesn’t flood or dry up. Dams can also be used to make electricity. Reservoirs are manmade lakes sometimes controlled by a dam. Farmers use water from reservoirs to water their crops.
- Sometimes water reaches a low point and stands still. This water becomes a lake or pond.
- Sometimes water becomes a spring. A spring is water that soaks into the ground and flows across rock under the ground before bubbling up to the surface again.
- Sometimes water hits a cliff and tumbles over the edge becoming a waterfall.
- But most water runs until it meets the ocean. Oceans are the lowest places on earth.
- When rivers run into oceans, they slow down. The rocks, minerals, and soil the river was carrying are released where the river meets the ocean (the mouth of the river). This area is called a delta.
Water Cycle Vocabulary
- Recycle: reuse
- Vapor: a gas
- Transpiration: the process of turning water on Earth into a vapor
- Sleet: cold, icy rain
- Pure: clean, free of pollutants
Learn More All about the Water Cycle
Check out this cool video all about the water cycle for kids:
Bill Nye the Science Guy explains all about the water cycle and how it works.
Water Cycle Q&A
Question: If most rain comes from ocean water that’s turned to vapor, why isn’t it salty?
Answer: Good question! When water in the ocean becomes a vapor, the salt is left behind.