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The water cycle is a continuous process by which water moves through the environment. The sun is the source of energy that drives the water cycle. In the water cycle, water moves from bodies of water, land, and living things on the Earth's surface to the atmosphere and back to the Earth's surface. The animation below shows water as it moves through the water cycle.

The water cycle has no beginning and no end, but it does have several stages that the water will go though.

Evaporation takes place when the water's surface absorbs enough energy to change from a liquid to a vapor or gas. Some water evaporates from lakes and rivers and some is given off by plants through transpiration.

Condensation occurs when water vapor is cooled. Warm air carries water vapor high up into the atmosphere. Higher up, the air becomes much colder. Cold air holds less water vapor than warm air. Some of the water vapor cools and condenses around a dust particle to form a drop of water.

As more water vapor condenses, the water droplets in a cloud get bigger and bigger. Soon, the drops are so big that they fall back to the Earth in the form of rain, snow, hail, or sleet. This is called Precipitation. Some of the water drops evaporate before they hit the Earth. When precipitation falls on land, some of the water evaporates immediately. Some runs off the surface of the land into rivers and lakes. From there, it may evaporate or flow back into the ocean. Some water percolates into the soil where it is used by plants or becomes ground water. Ground water will move underground until it reaches a river, lake or ocean. Upon reaching the surface ground water can evaporate and move through the cycle again.