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The terrestrial hydrologic cycle: an historical sense of balance

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In this article, I explore the evolving historical views of the terrestrial hydrologic cycle through a lens that might be called ‘a model of balance.’ The notion of balance in western literature, seems to me to capture a central theme for how scholars of natural history, medieval mathematicians, designers of scientific instruments, and early waterworks engineers viewed the complexities and evaluated the evidence for how water moves in the terrestrial landscape. Using historical images and text, this study attempts to document how we arrived at the modern interpretation, its sources, origins, and relationships within the terrestrial earth. By comparing ancient models for the hydrologic cycle one can begin to construct a plausible story of its evolution as well as the important actors. I pay particular attention to the origins and sources of springs, rivers, and groundwater, the kinds of evidence proposed, and its relation to the sense of balance that emerges. Finally, I argue that at by the end of the 18th and into the early 19th century, the modern view of the terrestrial hydrologic cycle that emerged became a necessary foundation for the geophysical, ecological, and cultural Earth science themes that still flourish today. WIREs Water 2017, 4:e1216. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1216 This article is categorized under: Science of Water > Hydrological Processes Human Water > Water as Imagined and Represented
Tiber river flowing through Rome (circa 1585, Bifolco and Ronca, 2014, n. 105), showing the upstream principalities that inhabited a water network that drained the Apennines through Rome. Possibly the first map to depict the river network in proportion to the drainage area and to define formally the physical extent of the drainage basin. The Tiber was an important network for Roman commerce since at least the 5th century BC (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiber).
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(a) Leonardo's image for the branching of a tree network or a river network from Leonardo Da Vinci's Notebooks, vol. 1, p. 273, Plate XXVII (Richter, 1939). (b) The continuity or local conservation statement for branching and sequential networks that were proposed by Leonardo.
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Stephen Hales’ (1677–1761) experiments in plant physiology for measurement of the pressure and rates of transpiration of plants. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 1727)
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Bernardo Ramazzini's (1633–1714) modern conception of confined pressure creating artesian wells and the ‘Wonderful springs of Modena.’ The hydrostatic balance is based on Torricelli's experiments indicated in the lower figures. (Reprinted with permission from Ref , p. 298, 4th ed. Copyright 1718)
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Paul Ward English's illustration of ancient and modern qanat construction or subsurface tunnel well with vertical air shafts, generally located on the margin of desert basins and alluvial fans. Qanats had a very low slope that ultimately intersected the groundwater table creating a gently flowing underground channel and spring or fountain for irrigated agriculture and water supply.
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Stephen Switzer's depiction of Edmund Halley's vertical hydrologic cycle (Switzer, 1729) based on Halley's 1692 Transactions of the Royal Society paper.
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Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680), gives an explicit explanation of the reverse hydrologic cycle and the source of springs and rivers (Mundus Subterraneous, 1641). Unlike Herbinius, he does not indicate the role of rainfall. This may be due to the arid zone setting of the Nile and the lands south and east of the Mediterranean.
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The ‘reverse hydrologic cycle’ as illustrated in the frontispiece of Johann Herbinius 1678, Dissertationes de Admirandis Mundi Cataractis Supra et Subterraneis.
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Historical models of the hydrologic cycle from earliest Greek philosophers to the modern era. The notion of ‘balance’ is represented in each frame as balance of the important sources as understood by scholars of natural history and practitioners of the water arts through time.
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Humbolt's concept of the biogeography of the Andes, from: The Physical Atlas: A Series of Maps & Illustrations of the Geographical Distribution of Natural Phenomena (1848). Andes map extracted from p. 42: The Distribution of Plants in a perpendicular direction in the torrid temperate and frigid zones with indications of the mean temperature of the year and the coldest and warmest months (Geographiae plantarum Lineamenta, auct. A de Humboldt), Library of Congress.
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John Dalton's1799 Water Management Districts of England and Whales based on the drainage basins.
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The rivers of Europe map by Phillipe Buache (1753) presented to the Royal Academy, Paris showing the river network and a quantitative outline of the drainage basin. Also note that the location of the river source and the depth of groundwater below the basin are indicated.
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