The Global Distribution of Water


I came across the graphic below this morning and found it really interesting, and startlingly revealing of the fragility of freshwater on the planet. It was put together by UNESCO’s , a program that monitors freshwater issues to properly inform decision making and ensure a comprehensive understanding of the status of our planet’s most valuable natural resource. WWAP puts out a report, the , that comprehensively reviews the state of freshwater on the planet. This relates to an earlier post here, What is Important, to Scale, that used a compelling image to represent the proportion of air and water to our planet. The graphic below supports the tenuous nature of freshwater on our planet:

Global Distribution of Water

Let’s summarize:

  • Of the total water on the planet, only 2.5% is freshwater
  • Of that 2.5%, almost 69% is in glaciers
  • About 30% is groundwater
  • Only 0.4% is surface and atmospheric freshwater
  • Of that 0.4%, 67.4% is freshwater lakes
  • 12.2% is made up of soil moisture
  • 9.5% is in the atmosphere
  • And just over 10% is in wetlands, rivers and plants and animals

It is interesting to realize how overwhelmingly abundant freshwater is in certain areas of the world, so much so as to be taken for granted, while in contrast how overwhelmingly scarce it is in others. The net is that there is just not that much freshwater on the planet.

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