What Is Accumulation in the Water Cycle?

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, accumulation is the phase of the water cycle in which water collects in enormous amounts in rivers, lakes, oceans, glaciers, ice caps, and aquifers. Upon accumulation, water evaporates back into the atmosphere to restart the water cycle. After precipitation from the sky, accumulation takes place.

In the winter, water collects as ice and snow, and when the temperature rises, the snow melts and flows into streams, lakes, and rivers. In colder climes, frozen precipitation can accumulate into enormous glaciers that lock away water for millions of years.

Liquid precipitation moves across the surface of the land as surface runoff. This runoff enters lakes and penetrates into the earth to accumulate freshwater. The oceans are the greatest water accumulations on Earth.

Some precipitation penetrates the earth’s crust to replenish underground aquifers. This water is known as infiltration. This infiltration might return to the surface as springs or infiltrate into plants to rejoin the water cycle.

There are four major phases in the water cycle: evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and accumulation. When water is heated, it evaporates and rises into the atmosphere, and when it cools, it condenses into clouds. When sufficient condensation occurs, clouds become saturated and rain falls as a liquid or solid. The water then builds prior to evaporating once more.


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