Aug 30, 2009

Invisible flow

In the summer the sheet flow spreads out far and wide.

It’s flowing, you just can’t see it …

Or rather, you can see it, but you have to know where to look.

An engineer will take you to the side of one of south Florida’s famously straight roads and point to a structure: “See, it’s flowing, at about a couple hundred cubic feet per second … I can get you the exact numbers back in the office.”

A scientist will walk you off road – behind the cypress curtain where the trees scatter, the trunks thicken, then the knees rise high – to where the canopy opens into a lattice pattern of light shining through craggy swamp apple branches:

“See, it’s flowing, at only a few inches per second (at most) … how does a hydrologist measure this type of flow anyhow?”

The scientist will ruminate that “the sheet flow would be running deeper and longer if there wasn’t a levee upstream.”

The engineer will respond that “we can adjust the gates to let out more water to the critters if only the biologists would tell us how much.”

Where do the worlds of the engineers and scientists overlap?

I just got back from Belgium, where everyone speaks everyone’s language, and where rules are, apparently, only loosely obeyed.

“It’s not that Belgian’s break the rules, we’re just creative in how we follow them,” I was told,

Followed by a clarification:

“But it’s completely different in Holland. It’s as flat as a pancake over there … just like the Everglades. You should go there someday.”

Maybe next time maybe I will.

A hydrologist is part scientist and part engineer you know!

I'm sure that on top of any number of its lowland levees that I'd see "water in motion" -- even if I have to turn backwards toward the "ebb and flow" of the great North Sea to see it.

Those levees were built to keep the saltwater out, not as -- in the case of the Everglades -- to channel the freshwater away and around.

Levees are quite common, but there's only one Everglades.


Tabor said...

Ah, yes, the communication between engineers and scientists. I especially liked the words--if only biologists would tell us how much---spoken like a true engineer and my biologist husband would smile and shake his head.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Funny how YOU are the go-between between scientists and engineers. Good luck with that one!!!!! ha ha


Robert V. Sobczak said...

Thanks for your comments. It's true: the Everglades may appear as flat as a pancake, but there are deep chasms of thought about how and when water flows across it. That being said, there's common ground (or rather, water) to be found.

Janie said...

The Belgian philosophy is interesting. I think our financiers and CEO's have already figured out the "creative" part.

Lindy said...

You are lucky to work in such a unique ecosystem. I'm glad you're on that wall!!! (so to speak)