how does pollution affect the water cycle

How does pollution affect the water cycle? Given that water makes up more than 70% of Earth’s surface, why should we be concerned? We should actually!

Everyone knows all life on Erath depends on water, but it is interesting to know how pollution disrupts everything.

It is an undeniable reality that the quality of water has suffered as a result of modernization and industrialization. But exactly how does air pollution affect the water cycle?

Water pollution affects the carbon cycle, whereas air pollution prevents solar heat from converting water into vapors, eventually disrupting the water cycle. 

All You Need to Know about the Water Cycle

The hydrological cycle is a cyclical pattern that occurs naturally. There is a steady flow of water into and out of Earth’s atmosphere.

From the ground, it evaporates into the air, and then returns to the ground as liquid or solid.

earth's water cycle

The water cycle as a whole consists of many distinct processes, including:

  • Evaporation
  • Condensation
  • Precipitation

Other than these basic processes, it also involves infiltrations and evapotranspiration. Gravity and solar energy work together to keep this cycle going.  

So many things are affecting this cycle.

With a threefold rise in water extraction over the past half-century, ocean acidification is a pressing issue that must be addressed immediately.

In fact, pollution, over-exploitation, and climate change all negatively affect the water cycle in the natural environment. And it is important to react now.

Fact: Most of the water on Earth is either too salty to drink or too toxic for human consumption, whereas another 2% is frozen solid in ice caps and glaciers.

Understanding Water Pollution

In simple words, water pollution means contamination of water sources.  Chemicals, bacteria, garbage, and parasites are all examples of pollutant sources.

When water sources are contaminated, it renders that water unfit for human consumption, as well as for other uses, such as swimming, cleaning, cooking, and irrigation.

understanding water pollution

Some of the most common sources of water pollutants include:

  • Domestic sewage contains harmful pathogens
  • Heat or thermal pollution
  • Industrial waste containing carcinogens
  • Oil spills
  • Sedimentary deposits

Water pollution is pretty common and hard to control. One big reason is that lakes and oceans can also become contaminated because of polluted air. 

Types of Water Pollution

Just like different sources, there are different types of pollution that contaminate water. For instance: 

types of water pollution

Point Source Pollution

Pollution from a single, well-defined location, such as a sewer, ditch, pipe, channel, or tunnel, is called “point source pollution.”

It is important to remember that a single, concentrated source of water contamination is far simpler to manage than multiple, more diffuse ones.

The point source of pollution is the origin and exit location of the polluted water.   

An Important Consideration

Stormwater runoff from farms and wetlands, as well as recirculated water from irrigation systems, are usually not regarded as point source pollution.

Fact: Just like water regulates temperature in your body, it also helps regulate the Earth's temperature to support the climate. 

Nonpoint Source Pollution

To put it simply, this type of pollution does not have a single, identifiable point of origin.

Natural and anthropogenic pollutants are picked up by precipitation or snowmelt as it moves over and through the earth.

And later it is deposited in surface water bodies such as coastal waterways, wetlands, rivers, lakes, and groundwaters.

the sea is polluted

Activities like watering cattle in streams, fertilizing lawns, and building roads are only some of the many sources of NPS pollution throughout the watershed.

Pet waste is also a problem.

The runoff picks up natural and man-made contaminants as it flows across the land and is eventually deposited in surface water.

Pollutants from the land may travel through aquifers and springs to rivers and finally the ocean.

What it means is that any trash thrown in an empty lot can ultimately poison a nearby water source. And ultimately, it will interfere with how the natural water cycle works.

Fact: The water system is very interdependent, as anything you dump into the ground or expel into the air eventually makes its way into your water supply. 

How Does Pollution Affect the Water Cycle?

Pollution in general and water pollution, in particular, affect the water cycle in a big way.

So, how does water pollution affect the water cycle? Well, it all comes down to the role oceans play in keeping that water cycle working perfectly.

The oceans make it possible for water to circulate around the globe and provide evaporated water for the natural water cycle to occur.

effect of pollution in water cycle

You may not know it already, but oceans can take in carbon dioxide, usually referred to as the carbon absorption cycle

In fact, it absorbs 25-30% of CO2.

And interestingly, the more that is released into the atmosphere, the more the ocean will absorb, and the more severe the repercussions would be. 

The Effects of the Carbon Absorption Cycle

On the surface, this absorption is beneficial since it lessens the impact of climate change on the atmosphere. However, when CO2 dissolves in water, the result is a rise in ocean acidity.

This ends up making seawater corrosive and extremely damaging to the shells of many organisms.

This results in catastrophic effects that disrupt the marine ecology, which directly affects the water cycle.

carbon dioxide from plantations

It is worth mentioning that a change in atmospheric CO2 levels will also lead to a change in evapotranspiration rates. And that will affect the water cycle in a big way.

The truth is that the carbon and water cycles are intricately linked. 

While they may not be totally reliant on one another, they do require one another for a number of crucial functions to be carried out.

When one component is out of sync, the whole system is compromised. 

An Important Thing to Understand

There must be no interference with the water cycle.

Avoiding carbon dioxide emissions, practicing sustainable extraction methods, and decreasing water contamination are all essential in that regard. 

Air Pollution Affecting the Water Cycle

Air pollution has a wide range of potential impacts on the water cycle. This may include changes to rainfall and monsoon patterns and intensities.

water cycle is affected by air pollution

It is important to understand that the amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the Earth determines how fast water evaporates and rises into the atmosphere.

 With air pollution and particulate matter, that rate changes considerably, which affects moisture retention, cloud development, and the water cycle as a whole. 

Understanding the Role of Water Pollution in Climate Change

As an illustration, particulate matter pollution has been connected to shifts in rainfall intensity in China and India.

It means certain locations get more rain than usual, and that too in short bursts, while others get less. 

Similarly, dust particles have a multiplicative effect on droughts in different parts of the world, including:

  • North America
  • China
  • South Asia

 Not only this, but they also alter the path and strength of Asia’s monsoons.

These effects may seem inconsequential to the untrained eye since they are consistent with the natural variation of the environment.

But they have serious consequences for water storage, agriculture, and biodiversity.

The Effects of Climate Change and Water Cycle

More than 70% of Earth’s surface is water. Consequently, the oceans are mostly responsible for regulating global temperature. 

changing of earth's climate

They help because they:

  • Absorb a great deal of solar energy 
  • Distribute heat via ocean currents

When those currents shift because of a change in temperatures, it has a domino effect on the weather and climate overall. 

Temperatures might be greater than usual in certain places while being lower than usual in others.

A variety of factors, including variations in ocean temperatures, can spark extreme storms. And all this will directly impact the natural water cycle.

Fact: Relying on water-saving devices in your daily life will support the natural water cycle and the climate by preserving water. 


water pollution takeaway

How does pollution affect the water cycle? Air pollution as well as water pollution play a role in changing the natural water cycle.

With air pollution, solar energy fails to reach the surface of the water, so the speed of vaporization gets hampered quite significantly.

Similarly, water pollution can interfere with the carbon cycle, which ultimately affects the water cycle and hurts the marine ecosystem at the same time.

Therefore, it is important to limit the emission of greenhouse gasses and take pollution seriously or climate change will lead to serious consequences.