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  • Discover information and hands-on activities about the water cycle.

    Find out more about water’s transformations in the water cycle. Select a label for background information and hands-on activities.

    To use this interactive, move your mouse or finger over any of the labelled boxes and click to obtain more information.

    Background image courtesy of Clint Prior.


    All about the water cycle

    Water is constantly recycled through the Earth’s water cycle. Use the following resources to learn about the water cycle.

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    Downloadable PDFs

    These Rivers and Us resources are in a downloadable PDF format.

    Select here to view the video transcript and copyright information.

    Acknowledgement: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Evaporation and condensation

    Evaporation is the process by which water changes from a liquid to a gas or vapour. Large amounts of water are released back into the water cycle due to evaporation from lakes, rivers, oceans and the land.

    Condensation is the change of water from its gaseous form (water vapour) into liquid water. It generally occurs in the atmosphere when warm air rises, cools and loses its capacity to hold water vapour.

    The activity Solid to liquid to gas examines the role of heat as water changes from a solid to a liquid to a gas and back again.

    This is similar to how the energy from the Sun drives aspects of the water cycle. If you use this activity as an analogy, provide adequate discussion time to help students make the connections between the activity model and the water cycle.

    Acknowledgement: Michael Shake, 123RF Ltd

    Capturing transpiration

    Transpiration happens when plants evaporate water through the openings in their leaves. The rate of transpiration depends on leaf shape, size, pores (stomata) and waxiness of the leaf surface.

    Use this image to explain how the process works, then go outdoors to capture transpiration.

    Choose a location that receives full sunlight. Place a plastic bag around the leaves of a plant. Secure the bag with a peg or clip. Leave the bag outside for a day or two, but monitor it regularly.

    We cannot see transpiration as the water leaves as a gas, but we can capture the water vapour. We can see the water as it condenses – returns to its liquid form.

    Acknowledgement: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Make a water cycle model

    In science, a model is a representation of an idea, an object, a process or a system that is used to describe and explain phenomena that cannot be experienced directly.

    There are components of the water cycle that are out of sight. Using models may help students go beyond the evaporation/precipitation loop and visualise how other components such as ground and surface water are part of the cycle.

    The following activities model the water cycle.

    Acknowledgement: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Follow the water droplet

    The water cycle contains complex interactions between the atmosphere and the land. The activity Follow the water droplet encourages students to place themselves in the water cycle and imagine the types of interactions they might have as a water droplet.

    The activity uses text to tell a story from a water droplet’s point of view. Students can use the provided storyboard template to create their own water droplet adventures.

    Acknowledgement: 123RF Limited

    Aquifers and groundwater

    An aquifer is an area of fractured rock, gravel or sand that holds water that has soaked down through the soil. Groundwater moves to the lower parts of a catchment and is a source of water for streams, rivers and lakes. We pump groundwater from aquifers for urban and rural uses.

    Aquifers can store large amounts of water. It can take months to thousands of years for groundwater to be discharged and to become part of the above-ground water cycle.

    The following videos and activities model the groundwater component of the water cycle and how land use can contaminate groundwater.

    This PLD article highlights how groundwater models were used to deepen understanding in year 3 classrooms.

    Acknowledgement: Public domain


    This interactive has been developed in partnership with the Waikato Regional Council as part of the Rivers and Us resource.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato and Waikato Regional Council Published 13 March 2020 Size: 560 KB Referencing Hub media
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