The Hydrological Cycle
Water has been constant in quantity and has been in motion from the time it first appeared. Over the years, little water has been lost or added. The same water molecules have been transported or transferred from the oceans and land surface to the atmosphere via evaporation. It is then dropped on land through precipitation and transferred back to the sea by groundwater and rivers. This is an endless circle known as hydrologic cycle.
Example of the hydrological cycle
A good example of the hydrological cycle is the lake effect snowfall. The production of lake snowfall begins as cold winds blow across a large lake. This is a phenomenon that commonly occurs in late winter and fall months around Great Lakes.
During the cycle, evaporation of warm water from the surface increases the amount of moisture in drier and colder air flowing above the lake surface. With continued evaporation, water vapor in cold air condenses to create ice crystal clouds, transported towards the shore.
The clouds are filled with snowflakes by the time they reach the shoreline. They clouds become large and cannot remain suspended in the air; therefore, they fall along the shoreline in a precipitation process. The intensity of lake effect snowfall can be intensified by additional lifting as a result of topographical features or hills along the shoreline. Once the snow starts to melt, water can be absorbed by ground hence, returning back to the lake as runoff or becoming groundwater.
The hydrological cycle processes
Evaporation occurs when water is heated by the sun causing surface molecules to be more energized. They break free or any attractive force that binds them together evaporates and becomes invisible vapor rising in the atmosphere.
After evaporation, water vapor is emitted from plant leaves through transpiration process. Each day, a plant that is actively growing transpires 5 to 10 times based on the amount of water it can hold at once.
As water vapor rises, it cools and condenses on tiny dust particles in the air. It then goes back to liquid and turns to solid (hair, snow, ice). The particles then collect and form clouds.
Clouds condense and form precipitation in form of snow, hail and rain. Clouds move across the globe propelled by currents of air. For example, when they rise above and over mountain ranges, they cool and become saturated with water. The water begins to fall down as rain, hail or snow based on temperatures of surrounding air.
Excessive snowmelt is one of the most visible parts of the hydrological cycle. This is because it produces excessive rain that leads to overland flow to ditches and creeks. Runoff is also visible on flow of water in creeks, rivers and lakes as the water that is stored in basin dries up or drains out.
Some of precipitation and snow will melt downwards because of warm temperatures, infiltrate through cracks, pores and joints in rocks and soils till it reaches water table where it will become groundwater.
Groundwater is held in pore spaces and cracks. Based on geology and hydrology cycle experts, groundwater supplies can flow with high speed to support streams. This however can be tapped by wells. In some cases, groundwater can be very old because they may have been lying there for thousands of years.
The last part of the cycle is formation of a water table. This is the level at which water stands still in a shallow well.
It is however essential to note that the cycle and more specifically, evaporation of water into atmosphere needs an enormous amount of energy that comes from the sun. The sun’s heat is trapped in the earth’s atmosphere by greenhouse gases, plenty of which is water vapor.
When water vapor condenses to precipitation, the energy is then released back to the atmosphere. Fresh water can change in some degree and be stored on landscape as snow covers, wetlands, rivers and glaciers. These stores latent energy and the water will then act as energy transfer medium for weather or climate system.
Therefore, the water cycle is a key and significant process by which other cycles operate. For instance, one needs to understand the water cycle very well to address other important atmospheric cycles.
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