Rivers are essential to civilization and even life itself, yet how many of us truly understand how they work? Why do rivers run where they do? Where do their waters actually come from? How can the same river flood one year and then dry up the next? Where the River Flows takes you on a majestic journey along the planet's waterways, providing a scientist's reflections on the vital interconnections that rivers share with the land, the sky, and us.
Sean Fleming draws on examples ranging from common backyard creeks to powerful and evocative rivers like the Mississippi, Yangtze, Thames, and Congo. Each chapter looks at a particular aspect of rivers through the lens of applied physics, using abundant graphics and intuitive analogies to explore the surprising connections between watershed hydrology and the world around us. Fleming explains how river flows fluctuate like stock markets, what "digital rainbows" can tell us about climate change and its effects on water supply, how building virtual watersheds in silicon may help avoid the predicted water wars of the twenty-first century, and much more. Along the way, you will learn what some of the most exciting ideas in science—such as communications theory, fractals, and even artificial life—reveal about the life of rivers.
Where the River Flows offers a new understanding of the profound interrelationships that rivers have with landscapes, ecosystems, and societies, and shows how startling new insights are possible when scientists are willing to think outside the disciplinary box.
Sean W. Fleming has two decades of experience in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors in the United States, Canada, England, and Mexico, ranging from oil exploration to operational river forecasting to glacier science. He holds faculty positions in the geophysical sciences at the University of British Columbia and Oregon State University.
1 Introduction 1
2 Why Rivers Are Where They Are 11
3 How Do Rivers Remember? 37
4 Clouds Talking to Fish: The Information Content of Rain 61
5 Searching for Buried Treasure 89
6 The Digital Rainbow 109
7 Landslides, Fractals, and Artificial Life 132
8 The Sky’s Not the Limit 149
9 The Hydrologist’s Final Exam: Watershed Modeling 168
10 Epilogue 183
Some References and Suggestions for Further Reading 189