3 Ways Climate Change Impacts the Earth’s Water Cycle

Humans have been contributing to climate change since the industrial revolution. The effects of climate change have led to an increase in forest fires, ocean acidification, and is currently changing the Earth’s water cycle. The water cycle consists of atmospheric water vapor concentrations, clouds, precipitation patterns, and runoff and streamflow patterns.

It is important that you understand the ways in which climate change affects the Earth’s water cycle. Humans need water to survive, and the disruption of the water cycle can have harmful effects for us down the road. We have searched through the internet to find scientific evidence of the ways in which climate change impacts the Earth’s water cycle.

What is the Water Cycle?

In order to better understand how climate change impacts the Earth’s water cycle, you should probably have an understanding of what the water cycle exactly is. The water cycle doesn’t necessarily have a true beginning as it is a cycle. It is important to note that the sun is an important factor in the water cycle.

We will begin breaking down the water cycle by first starting with what happens to water in the ocean. First, the sun heats the water in the ocean. Some of the water evaporates and becomes vapor in the air. A smaller amount of the water becomes ice and snow. This ice and snow sublimate from its solid state into a vapor.

The process is Known as Sublimation

After sublimation, rising air currents move the vapor up into the atmosphere. This vapor is joined with the water that transpires from plants, and evaporated from the soil, a process called evapotranspiration. Lastly, the vapor continues to rise to cooler air, which causes the vapor to condense into clouds.

The vapor can move around through air currents. These currents cause air particles and clouds to collide leading to precipitation. Precipitation can fall as either rain or snow. Some of the precipitation is stored in ice caps and glaciers, which allow for the precipitation to be stored for thousands of years. In the springtime, this caps thaw out and contribute to runoff referred to as snowmelt. Other forms of runoff go back to oceans, lakes, and streams.

Aspects of Water Cycle

One of the last aspects of the water cycle is that some precipitation is not stored in ice caps, or in bodies of water, it actually goes underground. The portion of precipitation that moves underground, to underground reservoirs, is called infiltration. Infiltration replenishes aquifers and can store large amounts of water underground. Underground water makes its way back to the surface through either groundwater discharge, which sees underground water going back to oceans and streams, or in the form of freshwater springs. The water cycle can now begin a new.

To summarize the water cycle works as follows:
  • Evaporation: Vapor rises into the atmosphere
  • Sublimation: Some of that vapor becomes ice and snow
  • Evapotranspiration: Plants and soil contribute to vapor in the atmosphere
  • Condensation: The creation of clouds
  • Precipitation: Rain and snowfall
  • Snowmelt/Runoff: Rain and snow is stored in polar caps or other bodies of water
  • Infiltration: Some precipitation is stored in underground aquifers
  • Cycle Repeats

1. Heavy Rain

Climate change impacts the earth’s water cycle by leading to heavier rain patterns. Let’s break down the science of why this occurs. First, a large contributor to climate change is Global Warming. Global Warming is caused largely because of the dangerous effects of greenhouse gasses on the atmosphere. Elements like carbon dioxide work to break down different layers of the atmosphere, breaking down the protective layer from sun rays.

Weakened layers of the upper atmosphere allow the lower atmosphere, the troposphere, to become warmer. As the troposphere becomes warmer, evaporation rates will increase. From what we know about the water cycle, evaporation feeds directly into precipitation. The more evaporation that occurs, the more precipitation that follows.

Increase in Precipitation

Because there is more moisture in the troposphere, it has a higher vapor concentration. This concentration leads to an increase in precipitation. This is especially true over land areas. The warmer temperatures also cause more precipitation to fall as rain, opposed to snow. Precipitation also happens in larger volumes because of a large amount of evaporation that is occurring.

Heavy rainfall can severely damage certain types of communities. It can lead to an increase in floods which bring along mudslides, malaria, and insects that carry diseases. This can lead to the destruction of public infrastructure as well as to homes and communities.

In addition, heavy rainfall can contribute to crop erosion in certain regions of the world. Crop erosion is awful because entire food hauls can be destroyed in a flash. This can be especially disastrous for farmers whose crops are at risk of being flooded.

2. Increased Snow Melt

Climate change can affect the Earth’s water cycle be also causing increased snow melt. We spoke earlier about how Global Warming contributes to a higher level of evaporation. Global Warming also contributes to the melting of polar caps and ice caps. The increased snow melting that has occurred because of climate change affects the Earth’s water cycle in a number of ways.

First, snowmelt runs off into rivers and streams. If rivers and streams receive a larger influx of water, they will naturally have a large level of evaporation. However, this is not an equivalent exchange. Seasons with high water demand are impacted by reducing the amount of fresh water available in the system.

Snow Melt effect on Habitat

In addition, increased snowmelt can lead to the destruction of habitats. Polar bears are a prime example of animals who are suffering because of increased snowmelt. Their homes and habitats are being destroyed, and as a result, polar bears are drowning and dying in an attempt to survive.

Changes in runoff are incredibly important because it drastically changes the rhythm of an area. Imagine growing crops, and expecting a certain level of rainfall or water availability from streams. All of a sudden, the water levels have risen and your crops are being destroyed. Snowmelt and the extra runoff that is created by climate change negatively affects the Earth’s water cycle, by setting it off of its natural balance. If this was a naturally occurring phenomenon, that would be one thing, but we are directly contributing to climate change through our use of fossil fuels.

3. Drought

Another way climate change affects the Earth’s water cycle is by causing more drought. Warmer temperatures brought about by Global Warming, has caused an increase in the drying of some land around the world. The number of droughts has been increasing as the climate has declined. The Palmer Drought Severity Index is an index that records different levels of drought around the world.

Between 1900, and 2002

A region in Africa known as the Sahel has experienced harsher drought conditions. Some Americans may wonder why they should care about this. The truth of the matter is that the same forms of drought \that are happening on other continents also happens in America. For instance, California and surrounding states have received a large number of droughts due to the changing climate. This climate directly impacts the Earth’s water cycle and throw it out of balance.

Droughts can further disrupt the Earth’s water cycle by removing a key element, evaporation. If there is no water to evaporate, then we can only rely on underground reservoirs to seep back into springs and the ocean. However, that does not occur at a rate fast enough to replenish droughts. This is evident by the fact that California is currently experiencing one of the worse drought conditions in at least 1,200 years.

What Scientist Found?

The scientist has been able to prove the severity of the California drought, by looking at the tree rings of older trees. If climate change is not combatted by clean environmental living, the potential for more regions of the United States to exist in drought-like conditions increases. Once drought conditions are met, they are hard to fix.

Climate Change Greatly Impacts the Earth’s Water Cycle

As we have shown you, there is a lot of evidence that points toward the ways in which climate change impacts the Earth’s water cycle. It is important that we explain what exactly the water cycle is, so readers have a fresh understanding of the water cycle. It is important that readers understand the water cycle, so they can grasp how climate change is impacting the water cycle.

We have shown that the water cycle is being affected by causing heavier rain, snowmelt, and drought. All of these factors are caused by some aspect of Global Warming. Because the earth’s water cycle is a delicate cycle, it is important now more than ever that we thwart Global Warming to protect Earth’s water cycle


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