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Global Water Cycle Diagrams Minimize Human Influence and Over-represent Water Security

Abstract : The diagram of the global water cycle is the central icon of hydrology, and for many people, the point of entry to thinking about key scientific concepts such as conservation of mass, teleconnections, and human dependence on ecological systems. Because humans now dominate critical components of the hydrosphere, improving our understanding of the global water cycle has graduated from an academic exercise to an urgent priority. To assess how the water cycle is conceptualized by researchers and the general public, we analyzed 455 water cycle diagrams from textbooks, scientific articles, and online image searches performed in different languages. Only 15% of diagrams integrated human activity into the water cycle and 77% showed no sign of humans whatsoever, although representation of humans varied substantially by region (lowest in China, N. America, and Australia; highest in Western Europe). The abundance and accessibility of freshwater resources were overrepresented, with 98% of diagrams omitting water pollution and climate change, and over 90% of diagrams making no distinction for saline groundwater and lakes. Oceanic aspects of the water cycle (i.e. ocean size, circulation, and precipitation) and related teleconnections were nearly always underrepresented. These patterns held across disciplinary boundaries and through time. We explore the historical and contemporary reasons for some of these biases and present a revised version of the global water cycle based on research from natural and social sciences. We conclude that current depictions of the global water cycle convey a false sense of water security and that reintegrating humans into water cycle diagrams is an important first step towards understanding and sustaining the hydrosocial cycle.
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Conference papers
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Contributor : Isabelle Dubigeon <>
Submitted on : Thursday, March 15, 2018 - 9:09:37 AM
Last modification on : Thursday, January 14, 2021 - 11:38:06 AM


  • HAL Id : insu-01734767, version 1


Benjamin W. Abbott, Kevin Bishop, Jay Zarnetzke, Camille Minaudo, F. Stuart Chapin, et al.. Global Water Cycle Diagrams Minimize Human Influence and Over-represent Water Security . American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2017, Dec 2017, New Orleans, United States. pp.H32G-06. ⟨insu-01734767⟩



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