Mountains' Role in the Water Cycle - International Mountain Day

First off, I would like to say belated happy International Mountain Day! To celebrate this day that is dedicated to mountains, let’s talk about the importance of mountains in the water cycle. Aside from that, let’s talk about ways of protecting our mountains to preserve our water quality.

Why are Mountains Important in the Water Cycle?

The elevated landmass, the mountain, creates a barrier of sorts to incoming air masses. When the air, which carries moisture, hits the mountains, they are forced to move upwards. As the moist air continues to move upward, they begin to condense. When there is enough condensation, rain clouds would be formed which could lead to precipitation. Mountains are especially important in semi-arid and arid regions, the water generated by them comprise as much as 90 percent of the total freshwater available in their watershed. In places like these, there’s little moisture in the air. Despite this, the mountains can sort of collect what little moisture is present and generate precipitation. This precipitation would then create runoff and replenish groundwater not only in the mountains but also in the area below. Yep, that’s right, waters from the mountains aren’t kept there. When precipitation occurs in the mountain, the water coming from the rain would flow, with the help of gravity, through a network of streams. Aside from this, water from the mountains may move through groundwater aquifers.

Mountains are basically ‘natural water towers’. Major rivers all around the world have their headwaters in the mountain tops. These major rivers provide fresh water to a lot of people. As our population grows, the demand for freshwater would increase. The problem is that the amount of freshwater that a mountain could provide is limited. Add this to the fact that human activities have disrupted our mountain’s freshwater output, it is clear that we are heading to a water crisis in the future. With proper resource management and the protection of our mountains, this problem could be averted.

Human impact on the Mountains and Waters

Human activities such as agriculture and mining have affected the mountains’ ability to provide fresh water to people. If some of the water upstream is used for irrigation then the amount of water that would flow downstream would be reduced significantly. What’s more, is that the water may become unfit for use as it gets contaminated with agricultural products such as pesticides, bacteria from manure, excess ammonia and nitrate from fertilizers, etc. Mining may not affect a mountain’s water output as much as agriculture. However, this activity can pollute the water and make it unfit for use. Land-use changes, such as converting forested areas to urban areas disrupt a mountain’s ability to provide fresh water as well. The absence of vegetation, which is replaced by cement and pavement, encourages surface runoff during heavy rains. The resulting erosion could then pollute the freshwater or could disrupt the streams that carry water from the mountain towards the low lying areas. Air pollution is also a major concern for it can lead to acid rain. The acid rain could also cause the widespread destruction of vegetation.

Is there anything we could do?

As mentioned earlier, proper resource management could ensure that everyone is given equal access to freshwater. Aside from that, due attention should be given to our mountains for there are several human activities that can disrupt our “natural water towers’” ability to provide us with fresh water.


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