In the guide below, we outline how much water there is on Earth, how much of it is saltwater vs freshwater, and other information relating to water on Earth and where it’s located.
(*Note – the numbers in this guide are estimates, and are to be used as a general guide only.)
Summary – How Much Water Is There On Earth?
A large portion of the Earth’s water is in the ocean.
Fresh water is distributed unequally in much smaller amounts amongst different countries.
Not all fresh water on Earth is immediately accessible or drinkable.
Some of the data in the guide below takes into consideration the Earth’s surface only. There is also water in the Earth’s atmosphere, in clouds, as water vapour (some estimates put water vapour at 0.001% of the Earth’s water share/distribution), in plants and other life, and even in water bottles.
Beyond this short overall summary, the water on earth can be identified and explained in some of the following ways …
How Much Water Is On Earth, & What It’s Composed Of
– % of total Earth surface covered by water
About 71% of the world’s surface is covered by water, with about 2% of water being locked up in ice (mostly glaciers)
We discuss what the Earth’s remaining surface area is composed of in this guide
– Ocean water
Roughly 96.5% of water on the Earth’s surface is ocean
Roughly 2-3% of water is freshwater, and about 1.6% of that is locked up in ice and snow
– Freshwater found underground (groundwater)
0.36% of freshwater is found underground in aquifers and wells
– Freshwater classified as surface water
Only about 0.036% of the planet’s total water supply is found in lakes and rivers
– Water is also found in other places
Such as the atmosphere (in water vapour and clouds), in the soil, in plants and animals, and in bottles in shops and people’s homes (but this water has obviously been extracted from some other source first).
Accessible vs Non Accessible Fresh Water
Not all fresh water is accessible for different reasons
Less than 1 percent of the world’s total freshwater supply is readily accessible from the various freshwater sources
Drinkable vs Non Drinkable Water
Not all fresh water that is accessible is immediately drinkable (due to factors like being being brackish water, or being contaminated).
The % of water available on earth that is ready and available to drink and use, works out to be about 0.007%
Potable & Non Potable Water – Where It Might Come From
Different cities around the world might get different %’s of their potable and non potable fresh water from above ground and underground water sources respectively.
Freshwater Generation & Augmentation
These number sonly represent natural water sources
What should be pointed out is that man made water technology such as desalination can augment water supplies, and turn saltwater into freshwater.
Perth in Western Australia is an example of a city currently using desalination technology to augment their water supply.
There’s also technology such as atmospheric water generation to consider that can harvest water from air
Different Sources Of Freshwater, & How We Use It Across Society
Read more in this guide specifically about fresh water supplies around the world
How Much Of The Earth’s Surface Is Water?
About 71% of the Earth’s surface is water
% Of Earth’s Surface
About 71% of the world’s surface is covered by water (water.usgs.gov)
Earth’s Water Represented As Spheres
If water quantities were to be described in spheres, the water distributions are as follows:
A sphere of all water on Earth would have a diameter of about 860 miles
A sphere of all of Earth’s fresh water would have a diameter of about 169.5 miles
A sphere of all of Earth’s immediately accessible fresh water would have a diameter of 34.9 miles
How Much Of Earth’s Water Is In The Ocean?
About 96.5% of all of Earth’s surface water is ocean
But, the depth of the ocean also has to be considered too to get an idea of the total volume of saltwater on earth.
As A % Of The Earth’s Surface Water
Of the world’s surface water, about 96.5% is the ocean (water.usgs.gov)
Depth Of The Ocean
The average depth of the ocean is several thousand feet (about 1000 metres) (science.howstuffworks.com)
How Much Fresh Water Is There On Earth?
About 2-3% percent of the planet’s water is freshwater, but over half of it is locked up in different sources
Freshwater that isn’t locked up might be split between underground and surface level sources
About 2-3% percent of the planet’s water is fresh … (science.howstuffworks.com)
How Much Freshwater Is Locked Up In Other Sources
[About … 1.6 percent [of the planet’s total water] is locked up in the polar ice caps, snowfields and glaciers [and this 1.6 percent works out to be about 70% of all freshwater] (science.howstuffworks.com)
Freshwater Found Underground
0.36 percent of freshwater is found underground in aquifers and wells (also called groundwater) (science.howstuffworks.com)
Freshwater Found Above Ground – On Earth’s Surface
Only about 0.036 percent of the planet’s total water supply is found in lakes and rivers (science.howstuffworks.com)
Explaining Freshwater Volumes & Distribution Another Way
3% of the world’s water is fresh water
69% of the 3% is in glaciers and ice caps
30% of that 3% is in ground water in underground soil and rock crevices
1% of that 3% is in surface water and other sources
Of that surface water, 87% is in lakes, 11% in swamps and 2% in rivers
The full the71percent.org resource is worth reading as they list some of the places on Earth that hold the highest concentrations (in volume) of fresh water
Where The Rest Of The Freshwater Is
The rest of the water on the planet is either floating in the air as clouds and water vapor, or is locked up or contained in plants and animals, and living things like humans
There’s also billions of gallons of drinkable water in bottles of water in shops on shelves around the world at any one time.
There’s even water in the foods we eat.
It’s important to note water is constantly moving on the Earth between the atmosphere, ocean, rivers and streams, snowpacks and ice sheets, and underground.
This is known as the hydrologic cycle.
Other Information On Freshwater Resources & Supplies On Earth
Read more about fresh water resources and supplies, how we use them, and what to consider when managing fresh water into the future in this guide.
How Much Drinkable Water Is On Earth?
About 0.007% of all water on Earth is ready and available to drink and use at any one time
This is important to note as not all freshwater can be accessed or used for various reasons
How Much Freshwater On Earth Is Readily Accessible?
Less than 1 percent of the world’s total freshwater supply is readily accessible from the various freshwater sources (livescience.com)
How Much Freshwater Is Ready & Accessible To Drink?
As a % of the total amount of water available on earth that is ready and available to drink and use, that % number works out to be about 0.007 percent (nationalgeographic.com)
In other words, when you subtract all the salt water, water trapped in ice/snow and water not physically accessible, you have about 0.007% left to drink, and use for business, agriculture and municipally.
Much of that water we get from rivers and lakes – but each country in the world and even different cities withdraw and consume different shares of water from surface water and ground water sources.
Some of it is not going to be drinking quality – because of water pollution or contaminants, or even because it’s brackish water (too saline).
Some water can be treated or purified to drink (after it’s been tested) at water treatment plants, but some water can’t be.
Water used for agriculture and irrigation may not have to reach the same quality standards as drinking water.
Cities now are even using water from water recycling and water desalination (which are not included in the above estimates and numbers as these are not natural sources of water).
Water Breakdown Summary By Water Type, & Location
Mdba.gov.au also outlines the following % distributions of Earth’s water:
Water Vapor – 0.001%
Fresh Water (on the surface – lakes, rivers, etc) – 0.025%
Fresh Water (underground) – 0.615%
Fresh Water (frozen in ice caps, glaciers, snow) – 2.15%
Salt Water (underground) – 0.93%
Salt Water (oceans) – 97.2%
Countries With The Most Freshwater
We list the countries with the most fresh water reserves in this guide.
Where Earth’s Water Is Located/Distributed – More Data & Illustrations
The usgs.gov resources in the sources list provide more data and illustrations of global water distribution.
Will We Have Enough Water In The Future For Human Use?
Read this guide about the availability of freshwater for humans in the future.