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Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Earth, Climate, and Change

Observing Human Impact

Where Does the Water Go? A Global Journey

Learning Targets

  • I can describe the cycling of water through Earth’s systems.
  • I can interpret and explain how the complex interactions of air and water movements results in changes in local weather.


This activity should be done after the class has learned about the water cycle. Consider reviewing the essential features of the cycle before starting this activity.

Water is three-fourths of the Earth’s surface. Most of that water (97%) is in oceans, so changes in our oceans also have profound effects on the atmosphere and conditions on land. As students learned in the class, water is solid (ice), liquid (water), or gas (vapor), moving between these states and around the planet. Sunlight melts ice and evaporates water, creating atmospheric water vapor, which condenses into rain or snow. Gravity causes the water to fall to Earth, where it returns to oceans, lakes, and rivers.

Begin the Activity


  • Sticky notes

Students might have noticed that many of the consequences of climate change that they have been observing in the photo collection are related to water. Increased atmospheric moisture leads to stronger storms and flooding, for example. Ask students what percent of the Earth’s water they think is in oceans (97%). Ask them to identify other locations of water (including ice) on Earth and in the Earth’s atmosphere.

After reviewing the locations of water, have students work in small groups or pairs to re-create the water cycle by using the provided photos. As they arrange photos on their desks, have them explain the different water states (ice, liquid, and vapor), how water might travel between locations while in the different states, and the factors—such as sunlight or air temperature—that might cause water to be converted to one state or another. (Optional: have them refer to a diagram of the water cycle from their textbook or other source.)

Ask students to reflect and comment on connections between the states of water and its global locations. Have them discuss the likely consequences of climate change on each step, each component, and the entire system. To keep track of their ideas, they might add sticky notes to each picture, predicting the effects of climate change on this part of the water cycle.

Questions to Consider

  • What ideas did your group come up with about the possible effects of climate change on the water cycle? Share your results with other groups. How do your ideas compare to the ideas of other groups?
  • Overall, how would you describe the effects that climate change might have on the water cycle, especially if current trends continue?
  • What are the impacts that water and changes in water level can have on the surface of the earth?
  • How did photographs help organize ideas about climate change and the water cycle?
  • Optional/advanced: If you have studied other cycles that occur on the earth (e.g., carbon cycle), do you think that they would also be affected by climate change? If climate change continues with recent trends, what might happen on the surface of the Earth? 

Students might predict acceleration or intensification of parts of the cycle; for example, they might predict increased evaporation with increased temperature. They might predict stronger rain and snowstorms after the increased evaporation.

next: Citizen Science

Grade Level

Middle & High School


Earth and Space Science
Environmental Studies
Physical Science
Social Studies


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Photographs in This Activity

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