Water World

A new visualization of all the water in the world from Howard Perlmann of the USGS balls up all the water on earth.

Spheres representing all of Earth’s water, Earth’s liquid fresh water, and water in lakes and rivers

The largest sphere represents all of Earth’s water, and its diameter is about 860 miles (the distance from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Topeka, Kansas). It would have a volume of about 332,500,000 cubic miles (mi3) (1,386,000,000 cubic kilometers (km3)). The sphere includes all the water in the oceans, ice caps, lakes, and rivers, as well as groundwater, atmospheric water, and even the water in you, your dog, and your tomato plant.

Liquid fresh water

The blue sphere over Kentucky represents the world’s liquid fresh water (groundwater, lakes, swamp water, and rivers). The volume comes to about 2,551,100 mi3 (10,633,450 km3), of which 99 percent is groundwater, much of which is not accessible to humans. The diameter of this sphere is about 169.5 miles (272.8 kilometers).

Water in lakes and rivers

Do you notice that “tiny” bubble over Atlanta, Georgia? That one represents fresh water in all the lakes and rivers on the planet, and most of the water people and life of earth need every day comes from these surface-water sources. The volume of this sphere is about 22,339 mi3 (93,113 km3). The diameter of this sphere is about 34.9 miles (56.2 kilometers). Yes, Lake Michigan looks way bigger than this sphere, but you have to try to imagine a bubble almost 35 miles high—whereas the average depth of Lake Michigan is less than 300 feet (91 meters).

One estimate of global water distribution

Water source Water volume, in cubic miles Water volume, in cubic kilometers Percent of
Percent of
total water
Oceans, Seas, & Bays 321,000,000 1,338,000,000 96.54
Ice caps, Glaciers, & Permanent Snow 5,773,000 24,060,000 68.6 1.74
Groundwater 5,614,000 23,400,000 1.69
    Fresh 2,526,000 10,530,000 30.1 0.76
    Saline 3,088,000 12,870,000 0.93
Soil Moisture 3,959 16,500 0.05 0.001
Ground Ice & Permafrost 71,970 300,000 0.86 0.022
Lakes 42,320 176,400 0.013
    Fresh 21,830 91,000 0.26 0.007
    Saline 20,490 85,400 0.007
Atmosphere 3,095 12,900 0.04 0.001
Swamp Water 2,752 11,470 0.03 0.0008
Rivers 509 2,120 0.006 0.0002
Biological Water 269 1,120 0.003 0.0001
Source: Igor Shiklomanov’s chapter “World fresh water resources” in Peter H. Gleick (editor), 1993, Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World’s Fresh Water Resources (Oxford University Press, New York).

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