Global Water Cycle


The global water cycle describes the circulation of water around the world from one store to another via repeated evaporation of water from land and the oceans and precipitation back to the surface. The greatest amount of water is stored in the sea, and most fresh water in ice sheets and groundwater. Much groundwater is decoupled from the current hydrological cycle, having been formed in earlier wetter periods. The ‘mobile’ part of the cycle comprises only a small proportion of the total water.

Keywords: hydrology; precipitation; evaporation; runoff; human impacts

Figure 1.

Fluxes of water in the global water cycle (103 km3a−1). Data from Berner and Berner .

Figure 2.

Distribution of average annual precipitation, evaporation and runoff, and the ratio of runoff to rainfall. Precipitation data from New et al. , runoff from Korzun .

Figure 3.

The hydrological cycle in a catchment.

Figure 4.

Four monthly runoff regimes.

Figure 5.

Daily flows for two British catchments.

Figure 6.

Global abstraction of water. Data from Shiklomanov .



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Further Reading

Arnell NW (2001) Hydrology and Global Environmental Change. Harlow: Pearson.

Barry RG and Chorley RJ (1998) Atmosphere, Weather and Climate. London: Routledge.

Berner KB and Berner RA (1987) The Global Water Cycle. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Gleick PH (1998) The World's Water. The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources 1998–1999. San Francisco, CA: Island Press.

Neal C, Robson AJ and Bhardwaj CL et al. (1993) Relationships between precipitation, streamflow and throughfall for a lowland beech plantation, Black Wood, Hampshire, Southern England. Journal of Hydrology 146: 221–233.

Newson MD (1997) Water, Land and Developmen. London: Routledge.

Ward RC and Robinson M (2000) Principles of Hydrology. London: McGraw‐Hill.

World Commission on Dams (2000) Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision‐Making. London: Earthscan.

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Arnell, Nigel W(May 2005) Global Water Cycle. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0004087]