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what percent of earth’s freshwater is surface water available for human use

what percent of earth's freshwater is surface water available for human use

what percent of earth’s freshwater is surface water available for human use

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what percent of earth's freshwater is surface water available for human use
what percent of earth’s freshwater is surface water available for human use

Distribution of the Earth’s water

Earth is known as the “Blue Planet” because 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water. Water also exists below land surface and as water vapor in the air. Water is a finite source. The bottled water that is consumed today might possibly be the same water that once trickled down the back of a wooly mammoth. The Earth is a closed system, meaning that very little matter, including water, ever leaves or enters the atmosphere; the water that was here billions of years ago is still here now. But, the Earth cleans and replenishes the water supply through the hydrologic cycle.

The earth has an abundance of water, but unfortunately, only a small percentage (about 0.3 percent), is even usable by humans. The other 99.7 percent is in the oceans, soils, icecaps, and floating in the atmosphere. Still, much of the 0.3 percent that is useable is unattainable. Most of the water used by humans comes from rivers. The visible bodies of water are referred to as surface water. The majority of fresh water is actually found underground as soil moisture and in aquifers. Groundwater can feed the streams, which is why a river can keep flowing even when there has been no precipitation. Humans can use both ground and surface water.

Distribution of the water on Earth

  • Ocean water: 97.2 percent
  • Glaciers and other ice: 2.15 percent
  • Groundwater,: 0.61 percent
  • Fresh water lakes: 0.009 percent
  • Inland seas: 0.008 percent
  • Soil Moisture: 0.005 percent
  • Atmosphere: 0.001 percent
  • Rivers: 0.0001 percent.

Surface water

Surface water is far easier to reach, so this becomes the most common source of potable water. About 321 billion gallons per day of surface water is used by humans.

Surface waters can…

Surface waters can be simply described as the water that is on the surface of the Earth. This includes the oceans, rivers and streams, lakes, and reservoirs. Surface waters are very important. They constitute approximately 80 percent of the water used on a daily basis.

In 1990, the United States alone used approximately 327,000 billion gallons of surface water a day. Surface waters make up the majority of the water used for public supply and irrigation.

It plays less of a role in mining and livestock industries. Oceans, which are the largest source of surface water, comprise approximately 97 percent of the Earth’s surface water. However, since the oceans have high salinity, the water is not useful as drinking water.


The oceans also play a vital role in the hydrologic cycle, in regulating the global climate, and in providing habitats for thousands of marine species.

Rivers and streams

Rivers and streams constitute the flowing surface waters. The force of gravity naturally draws water from a higher altitude to a lower altitude.

Rivers obtain their water from two sources: groundwater, and runoff.

This is known as base flow to the stream. Runoff flows downhill, first as small creeks, then gradually merging with other creeks and streams, increasing in size until a river has formed. These small creeks, or tributaries, where the river begins are known as the headwaters. Springs from confined aquifers also can contribute to rivers.

The water cycle

The hydrologic cycle or water cycle is a graphic representation of how water is recycled through the environment. Water molecules remain constant, though they may change between solid, liquid, and gas forms. Drops of water in the ocean evaporate, which is the process of liquid water becoming water vapor.

Evaporation can occur from water surfaces, land surfaces, and snow fields into the air as water vapor. Moisture in the air can condensate, which is the process of water vapor in the air turning into liquid water. Water drops on the outside of a cold glass of water are condensed water.

Condensation is the opposite

Condensation is the opposite process of evaporation. Water vapor condenses on tiny particles of dust, smoke, and salt crystals to become part of a cloud. After a while, the water droplets combine with other droplets and fall to Earth in the form of precipitation (rain, snow, hail, sleet, dew, and frost).

Once the precipitation has fallen to Earth, it may go into an aquifer as groundwater or the drop may stay above ground as surface water. The hydrologic cycle is an important concept to understand.


Water has so many uses on Earth, such as human and animal consumption, power production, and industrial and agricultural needs. Precipitation—in the form of rain and snow—also is an important thing to understand.

It is the main way that the water in the skies comes down to Earth, where it fills the lakes and rivers, recharges the underground aquifers, and provides drinks to plants and animals. Different amounts of precipitation fall on different areas of the Earth at different rates and at various times of the year.

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