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Impact of Human Activities on the Hydrosphere

Last updated date: 22nd Mar 2024
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The cumulative water on the earth is a hydrosphere. Water on the surface of the earth, underwater, and the air is included in the hydrosphere. The hydrosphere of the earth may be liquid, vapor, or ice. On the surface of the Earth, water is in the form of oceans, lakes, and rivers. It is also found under the earth, in wells and aquifers. Water vapour, as fog and clouds, is most noticeable. Glaciers, ice caps, and icebergs are the frozen portion of Earth's hydrosphere. The frozen portion of the hydrosphere is called the cryosphere. In a cycle, the water flows by the hydrosphere. Water forms in the clouds, and then in rain or snow falls to the Earth. The rivers, lakes, and oceans absorb this water. Then it evaporates into the atmosphere and restarts the loop. This is nothing but the Water cycle. 

Distribution Earth’s Waters 

Water is very unevenly distributed on the surface of the Planet. Just 3% of the surface water is fresh; the rest of the 97% is contained in the ocean. 69% of freshwater is present in glaciers, 30% in the land, and less than 1% in rivers, lakes, and swamps. In other words, only 1% of the water on the surface of the earth can be used by humans and 99% of the amount is underground.

Climate Change

The combined water mass on, under, and around the surface of the Earth is the hydrosphere. The majority of it can be found in the oceans, with freshwater only representing 2.5 percent of the sphere and much of it in glaciers, permanently covered by snow at pole areas and mountains. The rest is in lakes and rivers. The hydrological cycles that are powered by the sun and transfer water continually around the world by exchanging molecules of water from plants and oceans and back to and around the ecosystem keep freshwater quantities at a constant level. The wheels on the hydrology mechanism moving water in and out of the hydrosphere are evapotranspiration, condensation, precipitation, infiltration, runoff, and subsurface flow. In these cyclic processes, water is converted into liquid, solid, and gas (vapor). The atmosphere is cooled as it evaporates; water condenses releases energy and warms the environment. It hydrates life on the earth and plays a role in moving energy from the terrain to the aquatic environment, through erosion and the motion of minerals. Life will cease to exist on this planet, without these cycles and water itself. In fact, water is approximately 60% of our body weight.

Water Cycle

Water is stored in the hydrosphere in a variety of storages that can be described in many distinct ways. Storages are present in numerous spheres of the Earth's system: geosphere (even in oceans, seas, lakes, rivers and marshes, cryosphere-ice and snow, lithosphere-ground waters, rocky waters, and earth's crust) and biosphere (living organisms, flora, and fauna).

Water Chemistry

In general, geochemists defined the hydrosphere (often called the aqua sphere) as the water vapour, liquid, solid, present, and dissolved in the soil, on and about the earth's surface. The atmospheric water vapour and condensed water are generally included, but the hydrosphere produces water that is immobilized by integration into mineral structures in rock. In reality, the chemical composition of the water has been established during the processes of the hydrological cycle on the Earth that link the hydrosphere and the atmosphere. Water, a universal solvent, is enriched by a wide variety of various substances in gas, solid, and liquid states that produce huge variability of natural water forms from a perspective to their chemical makeup and interact with all elements in the natural landscape and are influenced by natural and man-made elements.

Anthropogenic Influences

While the hydrosphere still operates to the same forces as it has always, people have played an unmistakable role in shifting the balance. In general, the global water balance has had relatively little effect on these impacts and the direct exploitation of the hydrosphere has little chance of affecting global water storage and cycle management. On a regional scale, however, the last thousand years have been spent attempting to temporarily and spatially redistribute water supplies. Weirs, canals, and reservoirs were built in order to monitor runoff times and more recent times to relocate water supply from the surface of the reservoir with accidental loss of evaporation. Irrigated farming often diverts ocean-based flows, most of which are returned by evapotranspiration into the atmosphere. People are thus paying for the privilege of redirecting water to the environment with greater losses.

The Consequences of Regulated System 

In addition to what would be expected of climate variation, the results of this controlled mechanism include slightly lower total discharge, ecological effects of altered inputs to the Pacifica, and modified sediment budgets because of sediment traps behind dams. One unintentional impact of the modified hydrograph was a decrease in the surface salinities of autumn and winter from the mouth of Columbia to the Aleutian Island chain, along the North American coast, with possible negative environmental implications for endangered salmon runs.

Regional water balance also is impaired by the use of agricultural and domestic water by underground water, at rates increasingly higher than natural water recharge and leading to flooding of groundwater. Surface and groundwater contamination, although it has no physical impact on the water cycling itself, contributes in addition to the effects on equilibrium in other biogeochemical processes to depletion of freshwater resources.

The change in land use has resulted in one of the biggest human impacts on the hydrological cycle. Altering the surface of the soil and natural vegetation in a specific area disturbs the natural balance of precipitation, evapotranspiration, and runoff. This effect is also exaggerated by the fact that land-use changes (e.g. agriculture and rural development) are often linked to the above-mentioned physical changes.

The global hydrological cycle, in particular, because people have not had great success in controlling the ocean and atmospheric water balance, which are the largest and most vulnerable reservoirs within the system, would probably not have much effect on this and other direct human hydrological impacts. The indirect changes, particularly climate change caused by human beings, are far more likely to have important effects on the hydrological cycle.

Human Activities that Affect the Hydrosphere

It should be evident at this point that the hydrosphere plays a vital role in Earth's survival, and that the specific characteristics of water make it possible for various essential processes that are chemically impossible otherwise. Sadly, there is a range of threats to our hydrosphere and, due to human activity, the majority of threats. Two of these concerns will be addressed: pollution and overuse and strategies to solve these problems.


Hydrospheric pollution is an important problem. Sometimes only stuff like plastics, bottles and oil and so on are thought about when we talk about pollution. But any chemicals in the hydrosphere that are not what they need to be are pollutants. Animals and plants which live in the water bodies of the Earth are specially adapted to survive under certain conditions. These species can not survive if these conditions are modified. Thus, whole marine environments are subject to pollution. Material from humans and factories, such as nitrogen contamination, such as fertilizer ruins, which cause eutrophication, and toxic trace elements, such as aluminium, mercury, and copper are among the most common types of hydrosphere pollution. Most of these elements originate from mining or industry.

Overuse of water 

We said earlier that only a very limited amount of water is available in the hydrosphere as freshwater. Despite this, humans are consuming more and more water until the amount of water that is available is rapidly approached. The situation is critical, particularly in countries such as South Africa, where water supplies are naturally dry and limited. Water in South Africa is expected to be unable to satisfy rising water demand in South Africa between 2020 and 2040. This is partly because of population growth, but also because business needs are rising and evolving. This must be a very frightening thought for each of us.


  • Rising Sea Levels

  • Decrease in Arctic Sea Ice

  • Change in Precipitation Events

  • Melting Permafrost

Rising Sea Levels

An increasing number of people and habitats worldwide would have an effect on the rising maritime levels. The measurements of tidal gauge indicate a global increase in sea levels of 15-20 cm and the IPCC suggested that ocean waters expand because of increasing temperatures and the melted mountain glaciers and ice-capes. The IPCC suggested a development. Most glaciers in the world are retreating because of global climate change, and several scientific studies show that melting has increased. This would have a big impact on the global level of the sea. For example, a decrease as in previous cuts in the ice sheets of the West Antarctic and Greenland will result in a sea-level increase of 10 meters or more. This would result in drowning coastlines worldwide. 

Decrease in Arctic Sea Ice

Over the past few decades, the level of Arctic sea ice has decreased significantly. Latest NASA studies show that Arctic sea ice declines by 9.6 percent per decade. Such ice dilution and retreats will affect the salinity of the ocean, heat balance, and animal habitat. For instance, polar bears decline as thin ice populations because they are more stranded from the ground, are forced to swim long distances, and many drown on the way. The loss of marine ice often impacts Albedo of Earth's surfaces' reflectivity. The darker seas retain more heat and fewer white patches of ice on the surface.

Change in Precipitation Events

Rainfall rises can lead to flooding and landslides, while a decrease results in droughts and wildfires.   For instance, the changes that are associated with an El Niño event in the ocean currents off Peru can result in changes in weather patterns across North America. Modifications in monsoon patterns due to elevated temperatures can cause droughts for monsoon-dependent areas around the world. Hurricanes will become even more disastrous for humans in the future, growing in intensity with rising sea surface temperatures.

Melting Permafrost

The permafrost of the tundra melts with rising temperatures. This affects the people who most often live in this climate, as houses sink and become volatile. The effect is not only immediate, but scientists also fear that the melting permafrost releases vast quantities of carbon dioxide and methane that were previously stored into the atmosphere in frozen organic material, thereby impacting the ecosystem for longer. The addition of greenhouse gases will fuel global warming further by trapping atmospheric heat.

Human Impact on Hydrosphere

Let us look into Human Impact on Hydrosphere. Modern society's practices have a serious impact on the cycle of hydrology. Dynamic constancy is disrupted by the discharge into the surface and subsurface water systems of hazardous chemicals, harmful contaminants, and other industrial waste as well as the infiltration of mineral fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. The nature of the hydrosphere has also been seriously affected by the inadvertent and intentional release of oils, inappropriate sewage waste disposal, and thermal pollution. There are three main issues in the current debate:

  • Eutrophication 

  • Acid rain

  • The buildup of the so-called greenhouse gases.

Each demonstrates human interventions and their far-reaching impact on the hydrological cycle.


Historically, aquatic environments were categorized as either oligotrophic or eutrophic. The nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus are poorly fed in oligotrophic waters, and their concentrations are low. As a result, photosynthesis produces no organic matter in such waters. Eutrophic waters, on the other hand, are nutrient-rich, with high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus and, as a result, high concentrations of plankton due to high biological productivity. These aquatic systems' waters are typically muddy, and lakes and coastal marine systems can be oxygen-depleted at depth. Eutrophication is characterized as high biological productivity caused by increased nutrient or organic matter input into aquatic systems. This increased biological productivity typically results in a decrease in lake volume due to the accumulation of organic detritus. Natural eutrophication happens as organic matter fills in the gaps in aquatic systems; it differs from cultural eutrophication, which is triggered by human activity. This is typical of aquatic environments that have been artificially enriched with excess nutrients and organic matter from waste, agriculture, and industry. Lakes that are naturally eutrophic can contain 75–250 grams of carbon per square meter per year, whereas lakes that are eutrophic due to human activity can support 75–750 grams per square meter per year. Culturally eutrophic aquatic environments often have extremely low oxygen concentrations in bottom waters. This is especially true in stratified systems, such as lakes during the summer, where molecular oxygen concentrations can fall below one milligram per liter, a critical level for a number of biological and chemical processes.

Acid Rain

Human-caused emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, mostly from fossil-fuel combustion, have resulted in the acidification of rain and freshwater aquatic environments. Acid rain is a worldwide problem that has been well known in eastern North America and western European countries. Nitrate and sulfate concentrations in precipitation are closely associated with pH over the eastern United States—the lower the pH of rain, the higher the concentrations of nitrate and sulfate. Until the late twentieth century, such low pH values and increased nitrate and sulfate concentrations were found in rains in western Europe and North America. Because of strict air quality controls, the pH values of precipitation in these areas have risen dramatically since then. Other areas of the world, such as China, that have industrialized since the late twentieth century without enacting effective air pollution controls, have seen similar pH declines in precipitation.

Buildup of Greenhouse Gases

The greenhouse gases (so-called because of their heat-trapping “greenhouse” properties) released into the atmosphere are one issue caused by human activity that is undoubtedly affecting the hydrosphere globally. Carbon dioxide has gained a lot of attention as one of the greenhouse gases emitted by anthropogenic activities. Carbon dioxide measurements in ice bubbles and continuous carbon dioxide concentration measurements in air samples collected at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, since 1958 indicate that the atmospheric concentration of more than 400 ppmv is approximately 45 percent higher than its late 1700s value of 275 ppmv (see also Keeling curve). Most of this rise is attributed to carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere from the combustion of coal, oil, gas, and wood, as well as slash-and-burn activities associated with deforestation, practices (as, for example, those adopted in the Amazon River basin). The ocean is the part of the hydrosphere that is most affected by carbon dioxide emissions.

Humans have a significant influence on all spheres. Pollution in the atmosphere is caused by harmful factors such as the use of fossil fuels. The accumulation of waste in landfills has an effect on the geosphere. The hydrosphere is affected as waste is pumped into the oceans. Overfishing and habitat loss can also reduce the diversity of life in the biosphere. However, people all over the world are trying to make things better. Recycling activities are growing all over the world, and businesses are looking for new ways to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. People in the United States alone are recycling six times more than a decade ago. That adds to the positive human impacts on the hydrosphere. 


The hydrosphere of the Earth consists of all the water on the planet that can be contained in the oceans, glaciers, rivers, streams, groundwater, or water vapour. It is constantly in motion, moving water and heat throughout the atmosphere as water vapour and precipitation. The oceans (which cover more than 70% of the Earth's surface) absorb massive quantities of solar energy and radiation. Thermohaline circulation, also known as the conveyor belt, transfers absorbed heat from the equator to the poles in order to control and moderate the Earth's atmosphere. Previously, as the conveyor belt changed speeds, it had an effect on the global atmosphere and temperature. It is crucial to comprehend how the hydrosphere interacts with the other spheres and how this impacts global climate change. There are several urgent problems that must be tackled that are specifically relevant to the hydrosphere.

FAQs on Impact of Human Activities on the Hydrosphere

1. What is Hydrosphere?

Ans: Water is the most abundant substance on the surface of Earth. About 1.4 billion cubic km (326 million cubic miles) of water in liquid and frozen form make up the oceans, lakes, streams, glaciers, and groundwaters found there. It is this enormous volume of water, in its various manifestations, that forms the discontinuous layer, enclosing much of the terrestrial surface, known as the hydrosphere.

2. What are the Positive Human Impacts on the Hydrosphere?

Ans: People all over the world are trying to make things better. Recycling activities are growing all over the world, and businesses are looking for new ways to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. People in the United States alone are recycling six times more than a decade ago. That adds to the positive human impacts on the hydrosphere.

3. What is the Impact of Human Activities on the Hydrosphere?

Ans: Human Impact on Hydrosphere has serious consequences. Dynamic constancy is disrupted by the discharge into the surface and subsurface water systems of hazardous chemicals, harmful contaminants, and other industrial waste as well as the infiltration of mineral fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. The nature of the hydrosphere has also been seriously affected by the inadvertent and intentional release of oils, inappropriate sewage waste disposal, and thermal pollution.