Water is a common chemical substance that is essential for the survival of all known forms of life. In typical usage, water refers only to its liquid form or state, but the substance also has a solid state, ice, and a gaseous state, water vapor. About 1,460 teratonnes (Tt) of water covers 71% of the Earth's surface, mostly in oceans and other large water bodies, with 1.6% of water below ground in aquifers and 0.001% in the air as vapor, clouds (formed of solid and liquid water particles suspended in air), and precipitation. Some of the Earth's water is contained within man-made and natural objects near the Earth's surface such as water towers, animal and plant bodies, manufactured products, and food stores.
Saltwater oceans hold 97% of surface water, glaciers and polar ice caps 2.4%, and other land surface water such as rivers and lakes 0.6%. Water moves continually through a cycle of evaporation or transpiration (evapotranspiration), precipitation, and runoff, usually reaching the sea. Winds carry water vapor over land at the same rate as runoff into the sea, about 36 Tt per year. Over land, evaporation and transpiration contribute another 71 Tt per year to the precipitation of 107 Tt per year over land. Some water is trapped for varying periods in ice caps, glaciers, aquifers, or in lakes, sometimes providing fresh water for life on land. Clean, fresh water is essential to human and other life. However, in many parts of the world - especially developing countries - it is in short supply. Water is a solvent for a wide variety of chemical substances.
The collective mass of water found on, under, and over the surface of a planet is called hydrosphere. Earth's approximate water volume (the total water supply of the world) is 1 360 000 000 km³ (326 000 000 mi³). Of this volume:
1 320 000 000 km³ (316 900 000 mi³ or 97.2%) is in the oceans.
25 000 000 km³ (6 000 000 mi³ or 1.8%) is in glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets.
13 000 000 km³ (3,000,000 mi³ or 0.9%) is groundwater.
250 000 km³ (60,000 mi³ or 0.02%) is fresh water in lakes, inland seas, and rivers.
13 000 km³ (3,100 mi³ or 0.001%) is atmospheric water vapor at any given time.