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FRESH WATER by E.C. Pielou


by E.C. Pielou

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-226-66815-0
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

A crystal-clear introduction to the physics, character, and exquisite grace of fresh water, from naturalist Pielou (After the Ice Age, not reviewed). Fresh water—without which there would be no human life—is a paltry 2.6 percent of Earth’s total water, and then only 30 percent of that is in cycle, shapeshifting through rain and snow to stream and aquifer, evaporating, falling, flowing. Pielou endeavors to bring the natural history of fresh water to life, and she does so admirably. Her book takes its broad circularity from the water cycle, starting with how groundwater gets underground, what it is doing down there, how it surfaces (including her nifty conceit that we are all walking on water). She moves on to stream morphology and how rivers shape the land and why they course rather than sink; the where and why of lakes and their watery architecture; and the hydrological, ecological, and biological wonder worlds of wetlands’string bogs, ribbed fens, wet meadows, prairie sloughs (“as always with wetlands, there’s no shortage of names”). She explores the mechanics of ice and the dynamics of autumn freeze and spring breakup; the circumstantial advantages—and disadvantages—of reservoirs, dams, and diversion projects. Thence she returns to the atmosphere—vapor, clouds, fog—both closing and restarting the cycle. There is a satisfyingly vast amount of detail in these pages, and Pielou never shies from scientific and technical explanations, but she knows how to coax the art out of —potential evapotranspiration = precipitation + withdrawal + deficit— with a poet’s economy of means, carefully sprinkling hydrology’s word-songs for effect. There is also much here for gardeners, who will appreciate an understanding of wilting points and moisture budgets. Pielou writes with clarity and a feel for words, and her affection for the subject at hand is immediately and infectiously communicated to readers. (81 b&w illustrations)