The Hydrologic Cycle

The water on the Earth ungergoes a continuous process of evaporation and condensation called the hydrologic cycle. Since the oceans cover 71% of the Earth's surface, much of the evaporation comes from the ocean. Franks (the source of most of this data) places the total water content of the atmosphere at 6 x 1012 m3. With a total annual rainfall of 2.25 x 1014m3 this implies that the water in the atmosphere is cycled about 37 times per year. The runoff of this water from the surface back to the oceans is a major part of the physical shaping of the continental surfaces in the overall geophysics of the Earth.

Water Cycle from USGS

From Ball, Life's Matrix: A Biography of Water, "Each 3100 years, a volume of water equivalent to all the oceans passes through the atmosphere, carried there by evaporation and moved by precipitation .. the Sun's heat removes from the oceans the equivalent of three feet in depth each year - 875 cubic kilometers in total every day."

The human body is 66% water by weight, according to Hill and Kolb. Water is the universal solvent for life, referred to by Nobel Laureate A. Szent-Gyorgy as "the matrix of life".That water serves as the solvent for sodium chloride (salt) and other substances so that the fluids of our bodies are similar to sea water. This leads Hill and Kolb to refer jokingly to us as "walking bags of sea water". Water serves to suspend the red blood cells to carry oxygen to the cells. It is the solvent for the electrolytes and nutrients needed by the cells, and also the solvent to carry waste material away from the cells.

With water as the solvent, osmotic pressure acts to transport the needed water into cells. With cells bathed in the interstitial fluid, diffusion contributes to carrying needed molecules into the cells. When more complex mechanisms control the transport of molecules across the membranes into and out of cells, the presence of water as the surrounding medium and solvent is essential.

As rain falls on the land masses, the solvent action of water carries minerals with the runoff and provides not only the necessary water for plants downstream, but also the essential minerals for plant growth. This erosion of the highlands is aided during cold weather by the fact that water expands upon freezing. Ice in the multiple cracks and crevices helps to break up the minerals and contributes to the making of soil for the lower altitudes. The soil production process produces a matrix which retains water and its cargo of dissolved mineral nutrients. The components of the soil are generally classified as sands, silts and clays along with organic matter that will be collected along with them. The clays are critical to plant life not only because their small particle size allows them to hold water more effectively, but also because the clays hold mineral ions for exchange with plant roots.


Water concepts

Chemistry concepts

Ch 1

Hill and Kolb


Denton, Ch 1
HyperPhysics*****Chemistry R Nave
Go Back