Fresh water

Amazon River near Iquitos, Peru
Lake Baikal as viewed from the Olkhon Island
Aerial view of Everglades with sawgrass and coastal marsh
Rivers, lakes, and marshlands, such as (from top) South America's Amazon River, Russia's Lake Baikal, and the Everglades in Florida of the United States, are types of freshwater systems.

Fresh water (or freshwater) is any naturally occurring water except seawater and brackish water. Fresh water is generally characterized by having low concentrations of dissolved salts and other total dissolved solids. Though the term specifically excludes seawater and brackish water, it does include mineral-rich waters such as chalybeate springs. Fresh water may include water in ice sheets, ice caps, glaciers, icebergs, bogs, ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, and even underground water called groundwater.

Water is critical to the survival of all living organisms. Some organisms can thrive on salt water, but the great majority of higher plants and most mammals need fresh water to live.

Fresh water is not always potable water, that is, water safe to drink. Much of the earth's fresh water (on the surface and groundwater) is to a substantial degree unsuitable for human consumption without some treatment. Fresh water can easily become polluted by human activities or due to naturally occurring processes, such as erosion.


Numerical definition

Fresh water can be defined as water with less than 500 parts per million (ppm) of dissolved salts.[1]

Other sources give higher upper salinity limits for fresh water, e.g. 1000 ppm[2] or 3000 ppm.[3]


Earth seen from Apollo 17 on December 7, 1972. The Antarctic ice sheet at the bottom of the photograph contains 61% of the fresh water, or 1.7% of the total water, on Earth.
Visualisation of the distribution (by volume) of water on Earth. Each tiny cube (such as the one representing biological water) corresponds to approximately 1400 cubic km of water, with a mass of approximately 1.4 trillion tonnes (235000 times that of the Great Pyramid of Giza or 8 times that of Lake Kariba, arguably the heaviest man-made object). The entire block comprises 1 million tiny cubes.[4]
Water fountain found in a small Swiss village; used as a drinking water source for people and cattle.

Fresh water habitats are classified as either lentic systems, which are the stillwaters including ponds, lakes, swamps and mires; lotic which are running-water systems; or groundwaters which flow in rocks and aquifers. There is, in addition, a zone which bridges between groundwater and lotic systems, which is the hyporheic zone, which underlies many larger rivers and can contain substantially more water than is seen in the open channel. It may also be in direct contact with the underlying underground water.


The source of almost all fresh water is precipitation from the atmosphere, in the form of mist, rain and snow. Fresh water falling as mist, rain or snow contains materials dissolved from the atmosphere and material from the sea and land over which the rain bearing clouds have traveled. However they can be as well found in glaciers, lakes, reservoirs. Also in areas such as ponds, rivers, streams, wetlands and even groundwater they can be found.[5] In industrialized areas rain is typically acidic because of dissolved oxides of sulfur and nitrogen formed from burning of fossil fuels in cars, factories, trains and aircraft and from the atmospheric emissions of industry. In some cases this acid rain results in pollution of lakes and rivers.

In agricultural areas the lack of sewage and waste treatment has led to the quality of fresh water to become very toxic and create certain diseases or even birth defects. This has led to a reduction Of animals and a decrease of recreational activities in outside areas.[6]

In coastal areas fresh water may contain significant concentrations of salts derived from the sea if windy conditions have lifted drops of seawater into the rain-bearing clouds. This can give rise to elevated concentrations of sodium, chloride, magnesium and sulfate as well as many other compounds in smaller concentrations.

In desert areas, or areas with impoverished or dusty soils, rain-bearing winds can pick up sand and dust and this can be deposited elsewhere in precipitation and causing the freshwater flow to be measurably contaminated both by insoluble solids but also by the soluble components of those soils. Significant quantities of iron may be transported in this way including the well-documented transfer of iron-rich rainfall falling in Brazil derived from sand-storms in the Sahara in north Africa.

Water distribution

Saline water in oceans, seas and saline groundwater make up about 97% of all the water on Earth. Only 2.5–2.75% is fresh water, including 1.75–2% frozen in glaciers, ice and snow, 0.5–0.75% as fresh groundwater and soil moisture, and less than 0.01% of it as surface water in lakes, swamps and rivers.[7][8] Freshwater lakes contain about 87% of this fresh surface water, including 29% in the African Great Lakes, 22% in Lake Baikal in Russia, 21% in the North American Great Lakes, and 14% in other lakes. Swamps have most of the balance with only a small amount in rivers, most notably the Amazon River. The atmosphere contains 0.04% water.[9] In areas with no fresh water on the ground surface, fresh water derived from precipitation may, because of its lower density, overlie saline ground water in lenses or layers. Most of the world's fresh water is frozen in ice sheets. Many areas suffer from lack of distribution of fresh water, such as deserts.

Aquatic organisms

Water is a critical issue for the survival of all living organisms. Some can use salt water but many organisms including the great majority of higher plants and most mammals must have access to fresh water to live. Some terrestrial mammals, especially desert rodents, appear to survive without drinking, but they do generate water through the metabolism of cereal seeds, and they also have mechanisms to conserve water to the maximum degree.

Fresh water creates a hypotonic environment for aquatic organisms. This is problematic for some organisms with pervious skins or with gill membranes, whose cell membranes may burst if excess water is not excreted. Some protists accomplish this using contractile vacuoles, while freshwater fish excrete excess water via the kidney.[10] Although most aquatic organisms have a limited ability to regulate their osmotic balance and therefore can only live within a narrow range of salinity, diadromous fish have the ability to migrate between fresh water and saline water bodies. During these migrations they undergo changes to adapt to the surroundings of the changed salinities; these processes are hormonally controlled. The eel (Anguilla anguilla) uses the hormone prolactin,[11] while in salmon (Salmo salar) the hormone cortisol plays a key role during this process.[12]

Many sea birds have special glands at the base of the bill through which excess salt is excreted. Similarly the marine iguanas on the Galápagos Islands excrete excess salt through a nasal gland and they sneeze out a very salty excretion.

Freshwater molluscs include freshwater snails and freshwater bivalves. Freshwater crustaceans include freshwater crabs and crayfish.

Unfortunately freshwater biodiversity faces many threats.[13] The World Wide Fund for Nature's Living Planet Index noted an 83% decline in the populations of freshwater vertebrates between 1970 and 2014.[14] These declines continue to outpace contemporaneous declines in marine or terrestrial systems. The causes of these declines are varied but are related to what Reid et al. call the "dirty dozen".[15][16] The dirty dozen are:

  1. A rapidly changing climate
  2. Online wildlife trade and invasive species
  3. Infectious disease
  4. Toxic algae blooms
  5. Hydropower damming and fragmenting of half the world's rivers
  6. Emerging contaminants, such as hormones
  7. Engineered nanomaterials
  8. Microplastic pollution
  9. Light and noise interference
  10. Saltier coastal freshwaters due to sea level rise
  11. Calcium concentrations falling below the needs of some freshwater organisms
  12. The additive—and possibly synergistic—effects of these threats


Limited resource

Fresh water is a renewable and variable, but finite natural resource. Fresh water can only be replenished through the process of the water cycle, in which water from seas, lakes, forests, land, rivers, and reservoirs evaporates, forms clouds, and returns as precipitation. Locally, however, if more fresh water is consumed through human activities than is naturally restored, this may result in reduced fresh water availability from surface and underground sources and can cause serious damage to surrounding and associated environments.

Fresh and unpolluted water accounts for 0.003% of total water available globally.[17] However the downgrade of fresh water quality has been putting about 30% of amphibians and 50% of fish species that need fresh water at as possible risk of extinction[18]

The increase in the world population and the increase in per capita water use puts increasing strains on the finite resources availability of clean fresh water. The World Bank adds that the response by freshwater ecosystems to a changing climate can be described in terms of three interrelated components: water quality, water quantity or volume, and water timing. A change in one often leads to shifts in the others as well.[19] Water pollution and subsequent eutrophication also reduces the availability of fresh water.[20]

Many areas of the world are already experiencing stress on water availability (or water scarcity). Due to the accelerated pace of population growth and an increase in the amount of water a single person uses, it is expected that this situation will worsen. Areas on the planet with dry climates or hot weather such as deserts may not have access to as much freshwater as areas with a more cool or tropical climate.[21] It has been predicted that by the year 2050 almost half of the world's population may have very little access to freshwater.[22] A shortage of water in the future could be detrimental to sanitation, overall health and the production of food.[23]

Fresh water distribution has become a problem the past years and is now becoming a public health problem and starting many political arguments. Issues with distribution of freshwater can as well begin from activities conducted upstream from a river which will affect how people are communities living downstream will receive the water and in what condition it will be.[24]

Minimum streamflow

An important concern for hydrological ecosystems is securing minimum streamflow, especially preserving and restoring instream water allocations.[25] Fresh water is an important natural resource necessary for the survival of all ecosystems. The use of water by humans for activities such as irrigation and industrial applications can have adverse impacts on down-stream ecosystems.

Fresh water withdrawal is the quantity of water removed from available sources for use in any purpose, excluding evaporation losses. Water drawn off is not necessarily entirely consumed and some portion may be returned for further use downstream.

Water pollution

Pollution from human activity, including oil spills and also presents a problem for freshwater resources. The largest petroleum spill that has ever occurred in fresh water was caused by a Royal Dutch Shell tank ship in Magdalena, Argentina, on 15 January 1999, polluting the environment, drinkable water, plants and animals.[26] Chemical contamination of fresh water can also seriously damage eco-systems.

Of all the water that there is on Earth only 1% of it is fresh water. And from that 1% it all has to provide for us and they mostly come from the atmosphere, lakes, rivers, and underground areas. And due to industrial plants, agricultural farming, and many other operations this causes pollutants or chemicals to reach spots that do contain fresh water to be contaminated.[27]

Human uses

Uses of water include agricultural, industrial, household, recreational and environmental activities.

Water used for agriculture is called "agricultural water" or farm water.[28]

See also


  1. ^ "Groundwater Glossary". 27 March 2006. Archived from the original on 28 April 2006. Retrieved 14 May 2006.
  2. ^ "Freshwater". Glossary of Meteorology. American Meteorological Society. June 2000. Archived from the original on 6 June 2011. Retrieved 27 November 2009.
  3. ^ "Freshwater". Fishkeeping glossary. Practical Fishkeeping. Archived from the original on 11 May 2006. Retrieved 27 November 2009.
  4. ^ USGS – Earth's water distribution Archived 29 June 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Ga.water.usgs.gov (11 December 2012). Retrieved on 29 December 2012.
  5. ^ "What is Freshwater and Where is it Found?". World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  6. ^ "What is Freshwater and Where is it Found?". World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  7. ^ Where is Earth's water? Archived 14 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine, United States Geological Survey.
  8. ^ Physicalgeography.net Archived 26 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Physicalgeography.net. Retrieved on 29 December 2012.
  9. ^ Gleick, Peter; et al. (1996). Stephen H. Schneider (ed.). Encyclopedia of Climate and Weather. Oxford University Press.
  10. ^ "Vertebrate Kidneys". 3 November 2002. Archived from the original on 29 April 2006. Retrieved 14 May 2006.
  11. ^ Kalujnaia, S.; et al. (2007). "Salinity adaptation and gene profiling analysis in the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) using microarray technology". Gen. Comp. Endocrinol. 152 (2007): 274–80. doi:10.1016/j.ygcen.2006.12.025. PMID 17324422.
  12. ^ Bisal, G.A.; Specker, J.L. (24 January 2006). "Cortisol stimulates hypo-osmoregulatory ability in Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar L". Journal of Fish Biology. 39 (3): 421–432. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8649.1991.tb04373.x.
  13. ^ Reid, AJ; et al. (2019). "Emerging threats and persistent conservation challenges for freshwater biodiversity". Biological Reviews. 94 (3): 849–873. doi:10.1111/brv.12480. PMID 30467930.
  14. ^ "Living Planet Report 2018 | WWF". wwf.panda.org. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  15. ^ Reid, Andrea J.; Carlson, Andrew K.; Creed, Irena F.; Eliason, Erika J.; Gell, Peter A.; Johnson, Pieter T. J.; Kidd, Karen A.; MacCormack, Tyson J.; Olden, Julian D. (2019). "Emerging threats and persistent conservation challenges for freshwater biodiversity". Biological Reviews. 0 (3): 849–873. doi:10.1111/brv.12480. ISSN 1469-185X. PMID 30467930.
  16. ^ Reid, Andrea Jane; Cooke, Steven J. "Freshwater wildlife face an uncertain future". The Conversation. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  17. ^ Nitti, Gianfranco (May 2011). "Water is not an infinite resource and the world is thirsty". The Italian Insider. Rome. p. 8.
  18. ^ "Why fresh water? | FreshWater Watch". Earthwatch FreshWater Watch. 22 July 2020. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  19. ^ The World Bank, 2009 "Water and Climate Change: Understanding the Risks and Making Climate-Smart Investment Decisions". pp. 19–22. Archived from the original on 7 April 2012. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  20. ^ "Nutrients in fresh water"
  21. ^ Society, National Geographic (1 October 2019). "Freshwater Access". National Geographic Society. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  22. ^ "Why fresh water? | FreshWater Watch". Earthwatch FreshWater Watch. 22 July 2020. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  23. ^ "Fresh Water in the Future" Archived 30 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Un.org (17 December 2010). Retrieved on 29 December 2012.
  24. ^ Hasan, Arif (31 March 2020). "What Has Emerged From 30 Years of the Orangi Pilot Project". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Global Public Health. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190632366.001.0001/acrefore-9780190632366-e-150. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  25. ^ Peter Gleick; Heather Cooley; David Katz (2006). The world's water, 2006–2007: the biennial report on freshwater resources. Island Press. pp. 29–31. ISBN 978-1-59726-106-7. Retrieved 12 September 2009.
  26. ^ Petroleomagdalena.com Archived 14 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine. Petroleomagdalena.com (15 January 1999). Retrieved on 29 December 2012.
  27. ^ "Freshwater Pollution | Water Pollution". u.osu.edu. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  28. ^ "USDA Economic Research Service - Irrigation & Water Use". www.ers.usda.gov. Archived from the original on 15 November 2015. Retrieved 17 November 2015.

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