LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Did you know the exact water that you drink, use to wash the dishes, and even swim in has been around for billions of years? It has! The earth and atmosphere are constantly recycling the same water through a process known as the hydrologic cycle, or simply, the water cycle.
Water exists in three states: liquid, solid (ice), and gas (vapor). Water in all of its various forms is continually passed along the water cycle moving from oceans and lakes, to the atmosphere, back to rivers and streams, and even underground while shifting from state to state. In order to help this process along, a few processes have to take place. Namely evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and collection.
We start first at the ocean where the bulk of the world’s liquid water is held. With the help of solar radiation warming the ocean’s surface, liquid water turns into water vapor, evaporating into the atmosphere. Plants and trees can also lose their stored water when warmed by solar radiation, in that case it is called transpiration.
Once the water evaporates and lifts into the atmosphere, it rises until cooled enough to condense, turning back into the liquid form of water in what we see as clouds. Clouds drift across the globe steered by currents in the air.
Once enough condensation collects and packs the cloud with moisture, the cloud releases the water as precipitation. Precipitation takes on many forms such as rain, snow, sleet, or hail, depending on the temperature of the air below the cloud as the water molecule falls to the ground.
Finally- collection! As water falls back to earth through precipitation, some moisture falls directly into large bodies of water like oceans and lakes, while other moisture is absorbed into the ground and vegetation. Moisture that doesn't fall into a large body of water or get absorbed by the ground is considered runoff that eventually flows back into the ocean to start the process over again.
There you have it! The water cycle, nature’s oldest recycling program.