Water Closet for October 9, 2015
[pullquote]”By noon Wednesday the water was up a foot at the south Middleton gauge.”[/pullquote]Early last Wednesday morning, the last day of September, rain finally came after an otherwise dry month. The duff and topsoil in our woods and fields were tinder dry. One old timer replaced a broken wooden post in the rail fence at Farnsworth Landing on the river and found that the dryness went deep. The first few hours of rain fell gently in warm air, a warm-up group before the predicted main event coming up the coast. It was being followed by super show Hurricane Joaquin that spared New England rain wise as it turned east and out to sea. By mid afternoon Wednesday 2.8 inches of water from the sky had joined the soil. The drought was over.
Continual reports of fires raging west of the Sierra Nevada and Rockies had us wishing substantial rain from the Pacific would visit there.
In the Water Closet, our hideaway on the Ipswich River, we old timers often clumsily dance and croakily sing for rain. When the river rises, kayaks and canoes will be launched all along its length from Wilmington to the tidal waters in Plum Island Sound. We might even carefully take a plunge although we don’t swim much anymore. By noon Wednesday the water was up a foot at the south Middleton gauge. Volunteers had found shallow water but no measureable flow the previous Sunday when doing our monthly measuring at each bridge for the Ipswich River Watershed Association. However, the water at 14 degrees C was clear and odorless with a healthy 7 mg/l of dissolved oxygen. We’d seen the river level lower in 18 years of testing and before. The beaver dams every mile or so along the river for the last two decades have kept water significantly higher than depths were during droughts before them.
Rain after a dry spell excites and makes us happy. We can imagine what people in much drier places feel when rain comes. They must be ecstatic. One old Closeteer’s sister now here from Phoenix tells of the great disappointment when rain which often threatens does not fall. She delighted upon hiking in Wednesday’s downpour and relatively cool air. We sometimes get more rain in a few days here than Phoenix does in a year.
Her brother likes to describe how vertically thin our storms are. Joaquin, several hundred miles across, only a few miles thick, is a great whirling disc as it skims towards us over the warm Atlantic. He goes further and marvels at the seeming vulnerability of our planet’s thin biosphere in space beyond our ken. He likes to spout round numbers such as 4000 miles for the Earth radius to illustrate. He then asks, “How thick is the atmosphere”? We dutifully tell him about 12 miles.
“How thick is the hydrosphere”?
“About 7 miles to the bottom of the deepest ocean trench,” from the chorus who have heard all this before.
“Let’s throw in a mile layer of solid Earth with life”, he adds.
12 plus 7 plus 1 conveniently equals 20. 4000 divided by 20 equals 200. He then pulls forth a 500 page ream of copy paper and separates 200 pages and orders, “Now imagine a sphere of these with 200 concentric layers”. In our minds we do and soon have a softball-size Earth. He further asks us to imagine it is green, brown and blue. In a high state of anticipation he continues, “Carefully peel off the outer layer, a single sheet of paper, representing 20 miles, the biosphere! See how thin and fragile this film is compared with solar system distances and even the diameter of the Earth?
“The biosphere is subject to the abuses of 7,000,000,000 souls and their machines which discard heat and many millions of tons of wastes into it each year! We kill plants and animals, and essential microorganisms, the latter largely unknown except to biologists. Is it any wonder that many scientists, wise leaders, and even the Pope beg us to think more about what we are doing”?
Vulnerable and fragile the Earth may be, but it has been tough and lucky beyond belief for four billion plus years of evolution and resulting biodiversity. Life here has been fortunate that no big asteroids have blasted the planet to oblivion, and even luckier that millions of wondrous species have come and gone. Now there is evidence that too many species are leaving too quickly.* We are pushing our luck and even our planet’s toughness too far by our careless behavior.
Our brilliant chemistry, only three centuries old, has resulted in many marvelous substances including who knows how many poisons and explosives. The latter are often purposely yet carelessly spread about. All well know that a small fraction of a gram of some compounds will kill or sicken a 70,000 gram human body. How many metric tons will it take to poison our thin biosphere?
* We urge you to watch The Biodiversity Foundation’s “On Ants and Men” about Harvard’s famous naturalist Edward O. Wilson quite often mentioned here in the Water Closet over the years. He, an ant specialist, has long written superbly about our planet’s wonderful diversity. “On Ants and Men” was premiered here on September 30 on PBS’s program Nature.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches
|2015 Central Watershed Actual
|0.2 as of 10/5**
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Oct 5, 2015 Normal . . . 7.7 CFS Current Rate . . . 24 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Sept..
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for Oct.
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584