Audubon from Home

The Water Cycle Revisited!

Ages 8-12

Last time I was thinking about the water cycle, I was thinking about Evaporation, Condensation, and Precipitation. I asked you to put a plastic bag around a plant and asked you to go searching for water in various stages of the watercycle.

simple diagram of the water cycle "evaporation, transpiration, condensation"
Photo: Diagram: Audubon Vermont

I also had a lot more questions about water and the stages it can be in: What happens the rest of the time? Is it always in one of those stages? Can water leave the cycle? Can water get stuck in one of the phases? Does it always go in the same order?

So first, lets check in on your plant. What happened when it was covered by a bag? Here is a picture of my plant.

Do you notice that condensation inside of the bag? It came from the green leaves! When plants take in water from their roots, the water moves through the the plant and some water is used (all living things need water!) but some water evaporates from the leaves. We call this Transpiration. Transpiration is one of the reasons that plants like trees and shrubs are an important part of our ecosystem, because they do an important service of cleaning our water. Pollutants that might be in the water would stay in the plant, and cleaner water would evaporate from the leaves.

So we need to add Transpiration to our water cycle.

Water cycle diagram that includes transpiration
Photo: Audubon Vermont


The second thing I asked you to do was go on a scavenger hunt for water and label the part of the watercycle that it is in. 

My watercycle scavenger list:

  1. Steam from the kettle – evaporation
  2. Water droplets on glass of iced tea- condensation
  3. Big clouds forming in the afternoon – condensation
  4. Rain- precipitation
  5. Water in driveway puddle – precipitation? Evaporation?
  6. Water running down sidewalk after rain -- precipitation? Evaporation?
  7. Water soaking into soil in my flower pots-- ???
  8. Me drinking a glass of water--??
  9. The stream was lower than it was in early spring – evaporation?
  10. Ice cubes in my freezer --??

I ran into a problem and I wonder if you did too. There is no word from our song (evaporation, condensation, precipitation) to describe some of the things I saw! What part of the water cycle is water in after I drink it?! Its trapped in me until I flush it! So water also gets trapped, and during that time, it is not actively moving through the cycle. But here is the thing: it can’t leave the cycle. Once it is no longer trapped, it continues to move in a cycle.

Check out this interactive visual of the watercyle, that shows so many places a drop of water can go on its journey! You can hover over the droplets for a description of that part of its journey! 

Conservation Action:

All of the water on the earth is all the water that we have. That is why we call it a cycle: it is constantly being moved and changes form and location, but it goes through the same stages again and again (although not always in the same order).

So why do we need to conserve it, if it can’t go anywhere? For example, why is it important to turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth? It’s because “conserving” water really means to use what we have responsibly and to keep what we have clean and able for us to use. Sure, if you leave the hose on outside, that water will eventually evaporate, but we have no guarantee that it will come back to us as rain when we need it. Each year around the country, we hear about places that are flooding (too much water) or in a drought (not enough rain). We can control the water we use but we cant control the weather. By being responsible with the water we do have, we can make sure it’s there when we need it. Additionally, if we pollute the water we have, we are making it unusable for a very long time. Clean, fresh water is important for all living things.

For more information, check out this Audubon Adventures issue, all about water which includes some helpful things you can do for birds and the planet!

How you can help, right now