GLOBAL WATER DISTRIBUTION: How Much Water is in Oceans, Glaciers and Groundwater?

global water distribution

Last Updated: Sep 2, 2018

How much water is in oceans, glaciers, groundwater, lakes and streams?

Earth is unique because of it has so much water. It’s in the ground, on the surface, in the air and in our bodies.

About 71% of Earth is water. If you took all the water on Earth and put it into a ball, it would be about 860 miles wide.

Where is that water located? Is it saltwater or freshwater? How much water is in glaciers, groundwater, rivers and lakes?

Here’s some interesting numbers about the global water distribution on Earth.

What is the global water distribution and volume on Earth

  • 97.2% of Earth’s surface water resides in oceans. There are 5 oceans surround continents with an average depth of 2.7 kilometers. This makes oceans water volume about 1,338,000,000 cubic kilometers.
  • Glaciers consume about 2.1% of Earth’s water. Glaciers are the second largest reservoir of water with most of them in Greenland and Antarctica. They fluctuate in water availability the most with ice ages and global warming. Currently, glaciers store about 24,060,000 cubic kilometers of water.
  • 0.65% of the water on Earth is in groundwater stored in an aquifer. We find groundwater everywhere. There’s two types of groundwater – saline and fresh water from groundwater. Fresh groundwater makes up about 45% of water in the ground. Whereas saline groundwater is about 55%.
  • Freshwater lakes make up only 0.009%. For example, the Great Lakes are sources of freshwater which consists of about 21% of freshwater lakes on Earth. Lake Baikal in Russia stores approximately the equivalent of all 5 great lakes.
  • Saline lakes are landlocked bodies of water with a high concentration of salt (NaCl). Evaporation is the only way water to exits from saline lakes. Saline lakes like the Caspian and Dead Seas only contain about 0.008% of Earth’s water.
  • Next, soil is the upper-most layer which supports plant growth and agriculture. Soil moisture has only 0.005% of the global water distribution.
  • Almost insignificant, streams, wetlands and swamps hold only 0.001%. Finally, only 0.001% of water is in the form of vapor within the atmosphere or in living plants and animals.

Salt (Non-Drinkable) vs Freshwater (Drinkable)

About 97.2% is not suitable for drinking because it has salt in it. If we sum up all the sources of freshwater. About 2.8% of water on Earth is freshwater.

Of that 2.8%, 99% of freshwater sources is either from glaciers or in an aquifer contained as groundwater. Just a minuscule amount (1%) are in freshwater lakes, streams and in the atmosphere.

Glaciers store approximately 3/4 of Earth’s freshwater. This makes glaciers the largest reservoir of freshwater on Earth.

Finally, groundwater is the second largest reservoir of freshwater on Earth. Groundwater varies on location. Fresh groundwater makes up about 45% of water in the ground. Whereas saline groundwater is about 55%.


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