You have just learned about what happens to water during its four-part cycle--how it travels into the air during the evaporation phase, leaves trees and plants through transpiration, forms clouds in the atmosphere during condensation, and then falls to the earth during precipitation. A lot of that rain, snow, or sleet falls directly into the ocean, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water.
But what about the precipitation that hits the land instead of the water? Watch this animation to find out. Remember that you can view it as many times as you like, stop it at any point, and read the transcript.
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Even though oceans, lakes and rivers get all the glory, a big part of the water cycle is actually land. When water falls over land, it travels either through it (groundwater), or over it (runoff), to reach its destination.
But that destination depends on the watershed--the area of land--on which it falls. Like an upside down umbrella, a watershed collects and directs all water that falls onto it to a particular place. Watersheds can be the size of entire countries (Amazon River), or there can be several in your state (17 watersheds in North Carolina).
Regardless of how big or small, watersheds and water have a give-and-take relationship. Water affects the landmass (erosion and flooding), and the landmass and what we do to it affects the water (pollution, soil displacement).
So although there are more awe-inspiring parts of the water cycle (thunderstorm), that land it falls on--the watershed--plays a huge part. Because whether we breathe it (fish) or drink it (human, bird, cat) we all rely on the water right next to us.