Precipitation has a lot to do with how our natural systems and water cycle operate.

But what is precipitation?

Precipitation is water that has been released from clouds in either the form of rain, freezing rain, snow, sleet or hail. Precipitation is the main connection within the water cycle that provides the delivery of water for our Earth.

Why is precipitation important?

Simply put: without it, our planet would be a huge desert.

The amount of precipitation affects water levels as well as the quality of water within estuaries – an important source of dissolved nutrients and oxygen.

However, recently, climate change has been affecting how our Earth’s precipitation and water cycles work. In this article, we will explain the role of our water cycle, why it’s important, how exactly climate change is altering this cycle, and what that means for our future. 

The Water Cycle Steps

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Where does water come from? How does this supply of water continue to sustain billions of humans and creatures on earth?

The water cycle is extremely important as it’s also often taken for granted.

By looking at how these systems work, we can begin to understand how precious they are and why they need protection – especially in this day and age.

Let’s start with the first water cycle step:

Evaporation

This is the beginning of the water cycle journey – on the surface of our planet.

Evaporation is the process of water converting from its liquid form to a gaseous state, otherwise known as water vapor. According to a study by the United States Geological Survey, 90% of water vapor in our air comes from surface water. This includes oceans, rivers, and lakes while the rest of the vapor comes from plants.

When evaporation happens, anything that is within the water such as salt, rocks, minerals or other materials stay behind.

Evaporation is important because it’s a purifying process.

One way to purify ocean water is by heating it up so that it evaporates and leaves the salt and minerals behind. The steam you receive is pure water. Getting it to return to a liquid form involves our next step in the water cycle.

Condensation

This is the process in which vapor is turned back into liquid. It’s a very important process to our weather and climate because condensation is what produces cloud formation.

Why are clouds important?

Without clouds, we wouldn’t receive precipitation. This is because clouds form once water vapor condenses around tiny particles.

Precipitation

As we discussed earlier, precipitation is any form of water that falls from clouds to the Earth’s surface. It’s very important to life on Earth because it helps maintain atmospheric balance. It helps provide fresh water to plants that feed us and water systems that sustain us.

That being said, too much precipitation can be harmful to our world as it can create floods, accidents, and crop damage.

In order to maintain the right amount of precipitation to keep our planet stable there needs to be balance. That’s where the climate comes in.

How Does Climate Change Impact the Water Cycle?

Climate change raises our risk of extreme drought and at the same time, heavy rains.

But how is this possible?

Climate change has been shown through scientific studies to reach every corner of our planet and all its ecosystems, including our water cycle. This is because the processes involved greatly depend on temperature. Global temperatures have increased steadily over the past 50 years and it’s directly affecting systems such as vapor concentrations, clouds, patterns of precipitation and stream flow – all of which are related to our water cycle.

So, how does climate change impact this cycle?

Water is evaporated from both the land and the sea which returns to Earth as either snow or rain.

Climate change escalates this cycle by evaporating more water into the air as the temperature increases. Warmer air is able to hold more water which is then transformed into more severe rainstorms such as global flooding.

However, on top of this, while some areas face stronger precipitation, others experience dryer temperatures. As the temperature rises, as we mentioned before, evaporation increases, and therefore, soils are dried out.

When the rain eventually comes, the majority of the water runs off the hard, dry ground and flows into streams and rivers, leaving the soils as dry as before.

This creates more evaporation and a huge risk of drought.

Earth’s Precipitation and Water Cycle: Why It’s Important

As you can see now, it’s imperative for us to become aware of climate change and its causes because the idea of a warming climate means a lot more than melting ice.

Water cycles are paramount to our livelihoods, our resources, and how we sustain ourselves. By creating imbalance in our climate, we’re directly affecting these precious cycles as well.

For more information on how to fight against climate change, check out WWF’s top suggestions here.

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