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How Much Water is There on Earth?
All Earth’s water, liquid fresh water, and water in lakes and rivers
The Earth is a watery place. But just how much water exists on, in, and above our planet? About 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth’s water. Water also exists in the air as water vapor, in rivers and lakes, in icecaps and glaciers, in the ground as soil moisture and in aquifers, and even in you and your dog.
Water is never sitting still. Thanks to the water cycle, our planet’s water supply is constantly moving from one place to another and from one form to another. Things would get pretty stale without the water cycle!
All Earth’s water in a bubble
The globe illustration shows blue spheres representing relative amounts of Earth’s water in comparison to the size of the Earth. Are you surprised that these water spheres look so small? They are only small in relation to the size of the Earth. This image attempts to show three dimensions, so each sphere represents “volume.” The volume of the largest sphere, representing all water on, in, and above the Earth, would be about 332,500,000 cubic miles (mi3) (1,386,000,000 cubic kilometers (km3)), and be about 860 miles (about 1,385 kilometers) in diameter.
The smaller sphere
The smaller sphere over Kentucky represents Earth’s liquid fresh water in groundwater, swamp water, rivers, and lakes. The volume of this sphere would be about 2,551,000 mi3(10,633,450 km3) and form a sphere about 169.5 miles (272.8 kilometers) in diameter. Yes, all of this water is fresh water, which we all need every day, but much of it is deep in the ground, unavailable to humans.
Water is on and in the Earth
The vast majority of water on the Earth’s surface, over 96 percent, is saline water in the oceans. The freshwater resources, such as water falling from the skies and moving into streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater, provide people with the water they need every day to live.
Water sitting on the surface of the Earth is easy to visualize, and your view of the water cycle might be that rainfall fills up the rivers and lakes. But, the unseen water below our feet is critically important to life, also
. How do you account for the flow in rivers after weeks without rain?
In fact, how do you account for the water flowing down a driveway on a day when it didn’t rain? The answer is that there is more to our water supply than just surface water, there is also plenty of water beneath our feet.
Where is Earth’s water located?
For a detailed explanation of where Earth‘s water is, look at the data table below. Notice how of the world’s total water supply of about 332.5 million mi3 of water, over 96 percent is saline. Of total freshwater, over 68 percent is locked up in ice and glaciers. Another 30 percent of freshwater is in the ground. Rivers are the source of most of the fresh surface water people use, but they only constitute about 509 mi3 (2,120 km3), about 1/10,000th of one percent of total water.
Note: Percentages may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.
Even though you may only notice water on the Earth’s surface, there is much more freshwater stored in the ground than there is in liquid form on the surface. In fact, some of the water you see flowing in rivers comes from seepage of groundwater into river beds. Water from precipitation continually seeps into the ground to recharge aquifers, while at the same time water in the ground continually recharges rivers through seepage.