Atmospheric circulation moves water vapor around the globe; cloud particles collide, grow, and fall out of the upper atmospheric layers as precipitation. Some precipitation falls as snow or hail, sleet, and can accumulate as ice caps and glaciers, which can store frozen water for thousands of years. Most water falls back into the oceans or onto land as rain, where the water flows over the ground as surface runoff. A portion of runoff enters rivers in valleys in the landscape, with streamflow moving water towards the oceans. Runoff and water emerging from the ground (groundwater) may be stored as freshwater in lakes. Not all runoff flows into rivers; much of it soaks into the ground as infiltration. Some water infiltrates deep into the ground and replenishes aquifers, which can store freshwater for long periods of time. Some infiltration stays close to the land surface and can seep back into surface-water bodies (and the ocean) as groundwater discharge. Some groundwater finds openings in the land surface and comes out as freshwater springs. In river valleys and floodplains, there is often continuous water exchange between surface water and ground water in the hyporheic zone. Over time, the water returns to the ocean, to continue the water cycle.
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