Where is Water Stored on Earth?
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Last updated 22 Mar 2021
Water is stored in the following places:
The lithosphere (the solid outer crust and upper mantle).
In oceanic crust it is stored within the rock structure which it is composed of and in continental crust it is also found in rocks, minerals, and also in clay and as groundwater.
The hydrosphere (water on the surface of the planet).
This includes oceans, seas, rivers, streams, lakes and ponds.
The cryosphere (frozen areas on the planet).
This includes glaciers and ice sheets as well as frozen sections of oceans, such as around the Antarctic.
The atmosphere (the layer of gases surrounding the planet).
Most obviously we see water storage in clouds, but water is stored in all layers of the atmosphere and even in clear air, microscopic particles of water vapour are carried.
The size of the global water stores can change slightly. The largest store, the hydrosphere, has a limited change in volume over the short-term. However, if we consider longer timescales, such as during the last ice advance, the volume of ocean water will decrease as more of this water is contained in the cryosphere.
Cryospheric stores can therefore increase in colder climatic conditions, whereas the lithospheric and atmospheric stores tend not to change a great deal.