Saturday, July 26, 2014

Water Reservoir

Reservoirs store water in reserve for our consumption.

Natural or anthropogenic lakes, storage ponds, or impoundments from damming are used as water reserves.
“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.”
Thomas Fuller (1608-1661)
The word reservoir is from the French réservoir meaning storehouse.

Essential for Life

Water is essential for life on Earth. Water is a constituent of the fluids in all living organisms.
“Life in us is like the water in a river.”
Henry David Thoreau
Water is abundant in parts of the world, yet more than 1.1 billion humans have no potable water. Fresh water reserves are unevenly distributed around the world.
"We are living on the planet as if we have another one to go to.”
Terri Swearingen
Reservoirs in the Universe
Golden rings of star formation

Water is produced as a byproduct of star formation.

The components of water molecules, hydrogen and oxygen, are among the most abundant elements found in the universe.

Astronomers have detected evidence of water on the Moon, Mars, Jupiter's moons, and in comets.

Water has also been detected in interstellar clouds in the Milky Way. It is hypothesized that water exists in abundance in galaxies beyond the Milky Way. A massive cloud of water vapor has been observed feeding a black hole in a galaxy 12 billion light-years away.

Exoplanets have been confirmed to hold water. Despite these findings, detecting the presence of water on planets outside our solar system might be rarer than previously assumed (cf., Hunt for Water on Earth-like Exoplanets More Challenging Than Previously Thought).

Yin and Yang

Opposing phenomena like abundance and scarcity seem strangely interconnected in nature. Although counter-intuitive the abundance and scarcity of water seems more inter-related than contrarian.
“Water is the driving force in nature.”
Leonardo da Vinci
Like yin and yang in Chinese philosophy, the abundance and scarcity of water seems to be complementary facets of an integrated phenomena we have yet to comprehend.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ocean Currents

A flowing river is a literary metaphor for existence and time.
“The river is everywhere.”
Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
Flowing water often symbolizes the unity and eternity of the universe. Ocean currents are the ocean's great rivers.

Ocean currents are continuous conveyances of water that flow in predictable paths for thousands of miles.

Massive volumes of water, deep and shallow, are driven by physical forces like:
  • The Earth's rotation;
  • Prevailing Winds;
  • Water temperature gradients;
  • Salinity gradients (i.e., water density differences); and
  • The gravitational pull of the moon.

Major Ocean Currents

Ocean currents determine the climate in many parts of the world.

The swift Gulf Stream transports warm water from the tip of Florida northeast across the Atlantic ocean toward northwest Europe making this part of Europe more temperate than any other region at that latitude.

The Gulf Stream carries almost four billion cubic feet of water per second which is a flow rate that exceeds all of the world's rivers combined.
“A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.”
Laura Gilpin


Saturday, July 12, 2014


Supermoons occur tonight July 12th, and again on August 10th and September 10th of 2014.

Show Don't Tell

Oft quoted writing advice from Anton Chekhov to his brother has been paraphrased as:
“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Chekhov advised his brother, an aspiring writer, to "show, don't tell" which has become a guiding principle of writing. Show don't tell might be extended to scientific phenomena like the supermoon.

Elliptical Orbit

The moon orbits the earth in an elliptical path. Unlike a hypothetical circular path where the moon would always be equidistant from the earth, the moon's elliptical path means the distance between the earth and the moon varies over an orbital cycle.

The supermoon, or a full moon at perigee, is a phenomenon that occurs when the moon's orbital path transports it to its closest point to the Earth. The terms perigee and apogee describe the shortest and longest distance between the earth and the moon.

Full Moon at Perigee

A full moon at perigee would, by comparison, appear about 12-14% larger than the full moon at apogee because it is closer. If you held a ball at arm's length then brought it to your nose, the same ball would appear larger. Similarly, the full moon at perigee might appear larger, but only if we have a reference to compare it to ― like side-by-side images of full moons at perigee and apogee.
It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.
Henry David Thoreau

Apparent Size Difference by Observers of the Full Moon at Perigee and Apogee

Super Moons and Natural Disasters

The moon has less gravitational pull when it is at apogee (farthest from earth) than when it is at perigee (closest to earth). The gravitational pull of the moon influences tides. The stronger gravitational pull of a moon at perigee leads to higher variation in the high and low tide levels.

Despite these gravitational variations, science hasn't established a definitive correlation between a full moon at perigee and its attendant gravitational pull, and the occurrence of natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, and volcanic eruptions.
"I think you'd be hard pressed to see a difference in tectonic activity during different lunar phases."
William Burton, USGS Research Geologist
Lunar phases seem to have no discernible influence on seismic activity, weather patterns, or volcanic activity.
"This idea of blaming natural disasters on the phases of the moon goes way back to the Greeks. It has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years."
Malcom Johnston, USGS Scientist Emeritus

Nearly Full Moon at Perigee
image by Cindy Gipple
Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.
Guatama Buddha


Saturday, July 5, 2014

State & Story

"Whereof what's past is prologue" is a line from Shakespeare's play The Tempest. What's past is prologue has become a conversational phrase meaning
History sets the context for the present.
If history sets the context for the present, then the present is a key to unlocking the unobservable past.

Key to the Past

In forming a narrative of the Earth that reconciles with what is observable today, it's common for scientists to assume the principle of uniformitarianism, that is, to assume that the same natural laws that operate in the universe now have operated in the universe in the past.
In using the present in order to reveal the past, we assume that the forces in the world are essentially the same through all time; for these forces are based on the very nature of matter, and could not have changed. The ocean has always had its waves, and those waves have always acted in the same manner. Running water on the land has ever had the same power of wear and transportation and mathematical value to its force. The laws of chemistry, heat, electricity, and mechanics have been the same through time. The plan of living structures has been fundamentally one, for the whole series belongs to one system, as much almost as the parts of an animal to the one body; and the relations of life to light and heat, and to the atmosphere, have ever been the same as now.
James Dwight Dana, Manual of Geology, 1863
State & Story

The state of the Earth is always a snapshot. Strung together these snapshots reveal a story. The story of the Earth is built from events and processes that are both sudden and gradual.
In the course of the history of the earth innumerable events have occurred one after another, causing changes of states, all with certain lasting consequences. This is the basis of our developmental law, which, in a nutshell, claims that the diversity of phenomena is a necessary consequence of the accumulation of the results of all individual occurrences happening one after another... The current state of the earth, thus, constitutes the as yet most diverse final result, which of course represents not a real but only a momentary end-point.
Carl Bernhard von Cotta, 1808-1879
Science uses present-day evidence and the immutable laws of physics, chemistry, and biology to form a narrative. All aspects of the narrative must fit within the constructs of natural laws. The narrative is revised as new data emerge or as the formative processes are better understood.