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Discovery Magazine 3/1/2003

’Round and ’Round it Goes

Have you ever wondered why the oceans don’t fill up? After all, rivers continue to flow into them year after year, carrying millions of gallons of water. And what happens to water after it rains? Questions like these baffled people for years, but today we understand where water goes. Would it surprise you to find out that it just keeps going through the same cycle over and over again? That’s right, those raindrops that hit your roof last night or last week might have contained some of the same water that hit your roof a year ago or 20 years ago. Let’s see how the water cycle works.

About 97 percent of the water on the Earth is found in the oceans. That leaves about 3 percent that is found in other places such as underground (known as groundwater), frozen in polar icecaps, in the air, or in bodies of water like ponds, lakes, and rivers. The Sun sends energy into our atmosphere that heats the water and causes it to evaporate. Evaporation occurs when a liquid (like water) turns into a gas. You have probably heard a teapot whistle, as a result of evaporated water called steam.

When water evaporates, it goes up into the atmosphere. It then becomes cooler, changes back into water (a process called condensation), and bunches together to form clouds. When so much water collects in the atmosphere that the air can no longer hold it, that water is sent back to Earth in the form of rain, sleet, snow, or hail (called precipitation). When the precipitation comes back to the Earth, it lands in oceans, lakes, streams, or on land. The Sun sends more energy, and the process starts all over again.

It is interesting that we, in modern times, did not begin to understand the water cycle until the mid 1600s when two French scientists named Pierre Perrault and Edmond Mariotte started studying it. However, God knew about the cycle all along, and inspired King Solomon to write: “All rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; to the place from which the rivers come, there they return again” (Ecclesiastes 1:7; also read Amos 9:6). The water cycle shows God’s wonderful care for this planet Earth, and the reference to it by Solomon helps show that the Bible is God’s Word.

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