Connecting Waterpeople

New USGS diagram re-envisions how Earth's most precious commodity cycles the planet

  • New USGS diagram re-envisions how Earth's most precious commodity cycles the planet
  • New educational tool better illustrates the role humans play in water availability.

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Starting today, educators around the nation will have a more accurate and more comprehensive tool to explain the Earth’s water cycle with the unveiling of the new U.S. Geological Survey water cycle diagram.

The revised version replaces one used by hundreds of thousands of educators and students internationally every year since 2000. So why the new water cycle? This depiction brings humans into the picture, showing the water cycle as a complex interplay of small, interconnected cycles that people interact with and influence, rather than one big circle.

“So much about the water cycle is influenced by our actions, and it’s important that we clearly see the role that each of us can play in sustainable water use amid a changing climate,” said Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “The water crisis is one of the most important challenges we face today, and it is time we recognize the bigger picture of water availability.”

USGS experts consulted with more than 100 educators and more than 30 hydrologic experts to develop the new diagram. The vast amounts of water data that USGS has collected in recent decades has informed a nuanced perspective of the water cycle, demonstrating how both its human and natural components are interconnected. Where the existing water cycle diagram depicted only the natural aspects of the cycle, the new version depicts how Earth’s water moves and is stored, both naturally and because of human actions.

“This updated water cycle diagram will set a new international standard for how we visualize and communicate water’s complex journey on Earth, with the potential to better inform our next generation of scientists, natural resource managers and policymakers as they tackle the increasing challenge of sustainable water-resource management,” said USGS Director David Applegate.

Not only does the new diagram illustrate a more comprehensive view of the water cycle, it draws on principles of information design to focus attention on the water as it moves through the natural and built environment. It shows how multiple ecosystems – including a coastal plain, dry basin, wet basin and agricultural basin – are connected across watersheds and at continental scales.

The new diagram will initially be available in both English and Spanish, with the expectation it will be translated into many other languages by end users, as was the previous version.

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