Water Storage in the Atmosphere

Cycle of Water: Atmospheric Water Storage

A lenticular cloud over New Zealand.
Lenticular cloud / New Zealand.
Photo Credit: Chris Picking

The cycle of water is about storing and moving water on, in, and high above the Earth. While the atmosphere may not be a perfect warehouse of water, it is the pipeline used to transport water around the world. Evaporation / transpiration morph liquid to water vapor, which rises up to the atmosphere on rising currents of air. The cooler temperatures high above allow the condenses the vapor into the clouds and trade winds push the clouds around the globe until the water drops as rainfall to further the water cycle. More than 90 percent of h2O in the atmosphere is created by evaporation from bodies of water, while the other 10 +/- % is the result of plant transpiration.

There is perpetually water in our atmosphere. Clouds are the most visible signals of atmospheric water, but clear air contains water vapor, particles of water too small to be seen by the naked eye. One guess of the volume of h2O in the atmosphere at any time is about approximately 3,000 cubic miles, or 12,800 cubic km. (km3). That may sound substantial, but it represents only about 0.001 percent of the planet’s water volume. If all of the h2O in the atmosphere fell at once, it would cover the globe with only about 1 inch of water.