Tractor at Peanut Belt Research Station

The Water Cycle

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The Water Cycle extended definition

About 70% of the earth’s surface is covered with water.  This water evaporates and condenses into clouds.  The clouds cause precipitation which gets collected back into the water on the earth’s surface, ready to start the cycle again. 

The Water Cycle why do i care both

Why do I care? The water cycle is critical not only to weather, but to life on earth.  Rain is necessary for the survival of plants and humans.  Condensation is necessary for cloud formation.  Evaporation is necessary to cooling and keeping a good balance of water vapor in the air.

The Water Cycle body


Diagram of the water cycle

Figure A: The Water Cycle
http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/earth/Water/images/water_cycle_ucar_jpg_image.html

The water on Earth now is the same water that’s been on Earth since the beginning.  The rain that falls on us is the same water that rained on the dinosaurs, King Tut and George Washington.  What makes that awesome feat possible?  The water cycle.  The water cycle is the process that re-circulates water so we can have bodies of water as well as clouds and precipitation.

The first step of the water cycle is evaporation.  About 85% of the water vapor in the air comes from water that evaporated from the oceans.  The other 15% comes from evapotranspiration, which is a catch-all term for water that evaporates from over land.  This includes water vapor produced by plants during transpiration (vegetation link), water from lakes, streams, puddles and soil moisture, direct evaporation of snow and even water vapor from the breath of animals. 

The second step of the water cycle is condensation.  Now that the atmosphere is full of water vapor, that water vapor condenses into water droplets.  Sometimes, like early in the morning, the water vapor condenses on the grass as dew and seeps back into the soil, ready to be evaporated again.  But most of the water vapor condenses higher up in the air and forms clouds.  Once the water droplets are in a cloud, two things can happen.  Either the cloud will dissipate and the water droplets will become vapor again, or the cloud will grow and it will begin to precipitate.

The third and final step of the water cycle is precipitation.  Precipitation includes all water that falls from the sky, both in liquid and frozen form, which reaches the ground.  Once the precipitation makes its way to the ground it can end up soaking into the ground, run off into streams and lakes, become snow cover, be used by plants, be inhaled by animals or fall directly back into the ocean.  Then the water cycle can begin again and continue for millions of years to come.

The Water Cycle relation to agriculture

How does this relate to agriculture? 

The water cycle is the basis for most weather phenomena.  We can also use the basic principles of the water cycle to alter our own surroundings.  For example, the use of a swamp cooler works by evaporation, which causes cooling of the air around us in the summer.  We can collect rainfall into rain barrels or farm ponds rather than letting it run off, allowing irrigation of plants and flowers around our farms during dry spells.