Penn State NASA

Distribution of Water on the Earth’s Surface



Distribution of Water on the Earth’s Surface, see text below
Distribution of the Earth's Water
Credit: Timothy Bralower

The distribution of water on the Earth’s surface is extremely uneven. Only 3% of water on the surface is fresh; the remaining 97% resides in the ocean. Of freshwater, 69% resides in glaciers, 30% underground, and less than 1% is located in lakes, rivers, and swamps. Looked at another way, only one percent of the water on the Earth’s surface is usable by humans, and 99% of the usable quantity is situated underground.

All one needs to do is study rainfall maps to appreciate how uneven the distribution of water really is. The white areas on the map below had annual rainfall under 400 mm for the last year, which makes them semi-arid or arid. And, remember, projections are for significant aridification to occur in many dry regions and for more severe rainfall events to characterize wet regions.

World map showing accumulated precipitation from Oct. 24, 2011 to Oct. 22, 2012
Accumulated Precipitation
Credit: CPC Unified