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The USGS Water Science School

The World's Water

"Water, Water, Everywhere...."
You've heard the phrase, and for water, it really is true. Earth's water is (almost) everywhere: above the Earth in the air and clouds, on the Earth as rivers, oceans, ice, plants, and dogs, and inside the Earth in the top few miles of the ground.

Below are two representations of where Earth's water resides. The left-side bar chart shows how almost all Earth's water is saline and in the oceans. And of the small amount that isactually freshwater, only a relatively small portion is available to sustain human, plant, and animal life.

The globe image is meant to show how much actual water exists, as compared to the total size of the Earth. The spheres look small because it is compared to the size of the whole globe. What it show is that Earth's water resides in a very thin slice all around the Earth's surface.

Distribution of Earth's Water

View a larger version of this image and learn more.

All of the World's Water

Picture of the globe with all the water in a large ball.

All Earth's water, liquid fresh water, and water in lakes and rivers

Spheres showing:
(1) All water (sphere over western U.S., 860 miles in diameter)
(2) Fresh liquid water in the ground, lakes, swamps, and rivers (sphere over Kentucky, 169.5 miles in diameter), and
(3) Fresh-water lakes and rivers (sphere over Georgia, 34.9 miles in diameter).
Credit: Howard Perlman, USGS; globe illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (©); Adam Nieman.

One estimate of global water distribution
(Percents are rounded, so will not add to 100)
Water sourceWater volume, in cubic milesWater volume, in cubic kilometersPercent of
Percent of
total water
Oceans, Seas, & Bays321,000,0001,338,000,000--96.5
Ice caps, Glaciers, & Permanent Snow5,773,00024,064,00068.71.74
Ground water5,614,00023,400,000--1.69
    Fresh2,526,00010,530,00030.1  0.76
    Saline3,088,00012,870,000--  0.93
Soil Moisture3,95916,5000.050.001
Ground Ice & Permafrost71,970300,0000.860.022
Swamp Water2,75211,4700.030.0008
Biological Water2691,1200.0030.0001
Source: Igor Shiklomanov's chapter "World fresh water resources" in Peter H. Gleick (editor), 1993, Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World's Fresh Water Resources (Oxford University Press, New York).

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Page Last Modified: Thursday, 06-Mar-2014 14:30:48 EST