The sun, which drives the water cycle, heats water in oceans and seas. Water evaporates as water vapor into the air. Ice and snow can sublimate directly into water vapor. Evapotranspiration is water transpired from plants and evaporated from the soil. Rising air currents take the vapor up into the atmosphere where cooler temperatures cause it to condense into clouds. Air currents move water vapor around the globe, cloud particles collide, grow, and fall out of the sky as precipitation. Some precipitation falls as snow or hail, and can accumulate as ice caps and glaciers, which can store frozen water for thousands of years. Snowpacks can thaw and melt, and the melted water flows over land as snowmelt. Most water falls back into the oceans or onto land as rain, where the water flows over the ground as surface runoff. A portion of runoff enters rivers in valleys in the landscape, with streamflow moving water towards the oceans. Runoff and groundwater are stored as freshwater in lakes. Not all runoff flows into rivers, much of it soaks into the ground as infiltration. Some water infiltrates deep into the ground and replenishes aquifers, which store freshwater for long periods of time. Some infiltration stays close to the land surface and can seep back into surface-water bodies (and the ocean) as groundwater discharge. Some groundwater finds openings in the land surface and comes out as freshwater springs. Over time, the water returns to the ocean, where our water cycle started.
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