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Following the Water

Chapter 2

Making the circle round: Perceptions of hydrology through time

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river

Is a strong brown god – sullen, untamed and intractable

Patient to a degree, at first recognized as a frontier;

Useful, untrustworthy as a conveyor of commerce;

Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.

The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten

By the dwellers in cities – ever, however, implacable,

Keeping his seasons and his rages, destroyer, reminder

Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated

By worshippers of the machine.

TS Eliot1


The hydrological cycle is like a Buddhist devotee, reborn in different guises over millennia. This chapter examines the five different guises that the hydrological cycle has worn for European intellectuals, beginning with the ancient Greeks and ending in the twenty-first century. It tells of the different ways humans have tried to understand what water is, where it comes from and where it goes to when it passes beyond our senses.

That the idea of the hydrological cycle has a history is profoundly important. It means we cannot understand the actions of past persons, communities or societies unless we have an understanding of which incarnation of the cycle they thought was true. This outing into the intellectual pedigree of the hydrological cycle situates colonial Gippslanders along a spectrum of intellectual development and perception, as much as it situates me, the writer. It can be hard to appreciate or understand the way people behaved in the past, especially if the results of their actions are now a problem. It is therefore vital to take the time to understand the different versions of the hydrological cycle, because this will allow a more nuanced interpretation of why colonial Gippslanders acted as they did.

Outline of the hydrological cycles

Since the time of ancient Greece and up to the present, there have been five permutations of the hydrological cycle. I have called these:

  • the underground purification model
  • the vertical model
  • the divine design model
  • the rainfall-driven, quantitative model
  • the connected model.

Each reflects the concerns, considerations and biases of the era in which it was created. The first three reflect the fundamental question that bothered many scientists and natural philosophers for centuries; namely, where do rivers and springs come from? The majority of scientific thought on hydrology from the ancient Greeks until the late 1600s went to solving this question and centred around the underground purification, the vertical and the rainfall-driven models.

Briefly, the underground model theorised a mechanism based on underground channels. Water was sucked out from the ocean through holes in the ocean floor and channelled under the earth up into mountains, where it was released as vapour to condense and form rivers. The major opposing theory, also dating from ancient Greece and which has proved to be correct, is that rivers were fed by rainfall. The vertical model relied on theories of alchemy, of how one substance could be converted into another.

Ancient Greece and Rome

Hydrological manipulation is driven by the development of agriculture and urbanisation. Generally societies pursuing a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, like Australia’s Indigenous peoples, had little need for large-scale hydrological alterations. It is for this reason that most scholarship on water manipulation begins with societies of the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East, where agricultural societies that could support cities developed.2

Because most histories of science begin with the classical Greek philosophers, the few published histories of hydrology tend also to start there. This approach overlooks the many precursor civilisations of the Middle East, and civilisations from other continents.3 Nace, however, admits that the origin of the idea of the hydrological cycle is unknown, and that it probably predated the biblical Book of Amos, written in approximately the eighth century BC.4

Three versions of the hydrological cycle were debated in the period approximately 500 years before the common era: the rainfall model, the underground model and the vertical model. Thales of Miletos (640–546 BC), Xenophanes of Colophon (570–470 BC) and Anaxagoras of Clazomene (500–428 BC) all had conceptions of a cycle in which water moved ceaselessly in a loop. Of these, and ‘making due allowance for the lack of substantive data 2500 years ago’, Nace considers that ‘Anaxagoras formed a concept of the hydrological cycle which was qualitatively correct’.5 However, Anaxagoras’s insights were eclipsed by the enduring inaccuracy of Aristotle, Plato and Pliny. They (and many others at the time and subsequently) supported the underground purification model. The vertical version competed with the underground and rainfall-driven models. Based on alchemical theories of elemental transmutation, cool air could convert into water in the ground and into rain above mountains.6 This theory was based on the empirical observation of how liquid water evaporates and rises.

Greek empirical observation and theorising was prompted by scepticism about explanations for all events being based on divine direction. These three visions of a hydrological cycle should be seen as part of a broader imperative to ask questions about how the world worked; a response to the need to make the world understandable and potentially amenable to human control. Rupp wrote:

The Greeks conviction that there were logical explanations for natural phenomena … had dazzling implications for the future. If events had causes other than the fickle fingerlings of the supernatural, infinite possibilities opened up for predicting, circumventing, redirecting, controlling or exploiting them. The natural philosophers were intellectual revolutionaries, star players in a splendid and startling era of cognitive epiphany.7

Predicting, circumventing, redirecting, controlling and exploiting is exactly where the Greeks’ innovative thinking led to, potentially making the world less terrifying. From the relative comfort and safety of the twenty-first century it is easy to forget, after all, that this was a world of actual wolves, living in actual forests, near to actual villages. Vito Fumagalli notes that fear was a primary factor in determining responses to the environment.8 This fear fostered a mentality that encouraged attempts to remake ecological and hydrological conditions to be more in line with human survival requirements. Water’s capacity for destruction was well understood and was immortalised in religious teachings. Feliks has argued that the role of flood as divine punishment in the monotheistic religions that arose in the Middle East derived from actual experience. Relatively narrow river valleys along which roads and villages were strung meant that floods tended to be devastating because of the greater velocity of the water being channelled through the narrow space. This also meant people had few places to escape to.9 Hillel discusses devastating floods in Sumerian culture as well as in the other great riverine-dominated empire of the ancient world, Egypt.10

Many historians do not credit the Romans with innovations about the theory of the hydrological cycle, even though they were the absolute masters of its practical alteration. (The exception is Marcus Vitruvius Pollio who wrote on the basis of his practical expertise, and came to the conclusion that rainfall was the origin of rivers and springs.)11 The Roman obsession with bathing required the transport of vast quantities of water over long distances, and their engineers therefore developed a fine grasp of hydraulics.12 In AD 100, Romans received almost three times as much water per capita as modern New Yorkers.13 Roman water redirection bears out the truth of Nace’s assertion that lack of theoretical knowledge of hydrology was no impediment to hydrological alteration. Similarly, Wikander’s Handbook of Ancient Water Technology gives examples from a variety of ancient Middle East civilisations that practised irrigation and drainage, amply demonstrating that practical bodies of knowledge about water manipulation existed from about 6,000 BC.14

The capacity to change hydrological processes without any theoretical understanding of the hydrological cycle is a key point, because the repercussions could be so great. The incorrect understanding of the cycle lead to environmental repercussions, notably irrigation induced salinity leading to abandonment of previously fertile land. However, this often did not appear as an immediate cause and effect that could be observed. Time lags between action and reaction can take decades to reveal, suggesting that the capacity to learn about hydrological processes generally wouldn’t have matched most of the ancient people’s life expectancy. The role of long-term temporal fluxes in ecological processes is crucial in understanding ecological misperceptions.

Middle Ages

When the Roman Empire disintegrated, much of the theoretical musings of the Greeks and the practical skills of the Romans disappeared for centuries, plunging Europe into what became popularly known as the Dark Ages.15 Around the turn of the first millennium, Europe was gradually rebuilding after the cumulative impact of invasions, wars and disease.16 During this period, there was no resolution about how the hydrological cycle worked. The period saw, however, the origin of the divine design model, which would reach its height in the early eighteenth century, and the high point of the vertical model. The vertical model also had its heyday.

By the time the surviving Greek theoretical writings resurfaced in Muslim libraries and were brought to Europe through Spain, the ideological hold of Christianity was palpable. In this world view, God in His munificence created the earth for man’s benefit. The Bible has numerous references to hydrological phenomena, but only Ecclesiastes 1:7 gives a description which hints at a cycle. These four lines became critical in the slow (some might say meandering) development of hydrology:

All the rivers run into the sea;

Yet the sea is not full;

Unto the place from whence the rivers come,

Thither they return again.17

The essential role of this quote cannot be overstated in defining how Christian men of learning would come to think about the cycle. As Yi-Fu Tuan said, Ecclesiastes 1:7 provided biblical authority for the idea that the hydrological cycle was the manifest wisdom of God.18

The emphasis upon God’s divine design acted as a stranglehold on thought, encapsulated by the doctrine of St Augustine, which stated that the Bible is always true.19 Most scholars scorned experiment and practical observation and rehashed Greek writings, particularly those of Aristotle and Plato who both supported the underground purification model. The adherence to the wrong Greek theories combined with the central role of the Ecclesiastes verse, which suggested there was a cycle but didn’t actually provide the mechanism, led to a few more centuries of confusion.

With the ongoing interest in alchemy, the vertical model also had its supporters. The ancient Greek notion of alchemical transmutation in a linear pattern was overlaid with the medieval idea of the Great Chain of Being. Although a hierarchical concept, the Great Chain of Being taught that God had made everything for a reason and that relationships between the things of His creation were meaningful. Hence, respectful behaviour and thought towards the nonhuman was not only expected, but required. St Francis’s position of respect towards animals and biblical writings which express reverence for water are examples. Of the earlier models, this one had the greatest capacity to recognise the preciousness of ecological connections mediated by water. However, it competed with the emphasis on hierarchy and power that was derived from it. In a world dominated by absolute monarchs, it was easy for those with vested interests and status to emphasise the hierarchical and authoritative aspects rather than the obligations of interlinking respect. In practice, there was a greater weight placed on the superiority of man vis-à-vis the people, animals, plants and things that were lower down on the scale.20

In terms of the practical understanding of the hydrological cycle, Tuan notes that the vertical emphasis downplayed winds, which create a horizontal component to the operation of the hydrological cycle. The preceding line to Ecclesiastes 1:7, upon which so much was written, refers to different wind directions. If the two had been read together, the correct physical interpretation might have appeared much earlier. But because of the hierarchical nature of the biblical world view, with God in His heaven and a step ladder of other beings below Him, these horizontal elements and connections were obscured.21

Renaissance and the Enlightenment

Nace suggests that there were three key factors for the renaissance in hydrology that coincided with the Renaissance. The first was the improved skills in tools and measurement techniques. Second, the intellectual rigidity of the Church was breaking down, and the third was the translation of the rediscovered Greek texts.22

Figure 2.1

Figure 2.1: Leonardo da Vinci’s view of the hydrological cycle.

Source: AK Biswas, History of hydrology, North Holland Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1970.

While the Greeks had not solved the directional and method questions of the hydrological cycle, their works revived the interest in observation, measurement, testing and theory amongst the Renaissance scholars. For example, Leonardo da Vinci was deeply interested in experiment, and conducted a number of flow experiments amongst his other prodigious interests.23 During the 1600s the barometer and thermometer were invented, there were experiments into rainfall and evaporation measurement, the first correct explanation of artesian wells was produced, the first European rain gauge was constructed, and Castelli published the correct formula for the relationship between velocity and stream flow discharge.24 It wasn’t until Perrault published On the Origin of Springs in 1674 that the underground purification model was laid to rest. His evidence demonstrated that rivers originated with rainfall, while Halley figured out the evaporative end of the cycle. The reemergence of interest in hydrology, coupled with the Renaissance rise of scientific method, ultimately produced the hydrological science upon which most twentieth-century resource decisions were made.25

With the basic questions now answered, scholarship was now devoted to how to better discern God’s divine design. Much scholarship was devoted to understanding the earth and retrofitting a divine intent to it. In The Hydrologic Cycle and the Wisdom of God, Tuan noted:

[In this era,] not only was there was no sharp distinction between natural theology and science but the scholars who wrote on the theme of the water cycle within the context of a physico-theological treatise actually contributed to it. The contribution lay largely in extending the number of physical processes and facts that can be subsumed in a unified scheme. For it was this unity – the beautiful economy of means and ends – that illustrated the wisdom of God.26

Tuan uses John Ray’s immensely popular book The Wisdom of God, first published in 1691, as his preeminent example. It was still in print in the 1820s, giving John Ray better sales than most authors could ever dream of. The book explained how various physical phenomena had been designed by God for human benefit.27 For example, the vastness of the sea was a particular conundrum, when it would appear that terra firma is of much more obvious benefit to Homo sapiens. The answer put forward was that the sea provided water vapour, which became rain, providing drinking water and creating rivers.28 Ray employed Perrault for this part of his argument, and then moved onto Halley, to explain how mountains fitted into the grand scheme. The growing understanding of the physical path of water through landscapes was put to moral and theological use. Unlike in the fourth version of the cycle, there was no essential split between the science of the writers and their faith in Christianity.

Colonial Gippslanders sit at the tail end of the divine design model and cross over into the quantitative model. They were devout Christians on the whole and the notion of an earth designed for them to improve had considerable appeal, as Chapter 3 will consider in more detail.

Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

With the basic parameters of the hydrological cycle established, research in the eighteenth century turned towards developing a more refined understanding of its components, primarily a range of advances in the understanding of surface water. Jean-Claude De La Methiere (1743–1817) noted how rainfall is disposed of in different ways: as direct runoff to streams, as evaporation and transpiration, and storage as soil moisture or deeper as groundwater.29 It was conclusively shown that water flows faster towards the surface of a stream than at lower depths, and Dalton finalised his theories about vapour pressure, which allowed estimates of evaporation to be made for the first time. Dalton’s modified theory is still used.30 Mathematicians, fluid mechanicists and hydraulicists from Europe dominated this research.31

The nineteenth century saw a continuation of the trend of attempting to master individual technical problems that the hydrological cycle presented. In particular, the contribution of the French engineer Henry Darcy solved a major barrier. In 1856, Darcy published his findings on how water travels through porous media, thus laying the foundations of groundwater research.32 In the nineteenth century there was also a strong correlation between engineering, the industrial revolution and hydrology, as suggested by this chapter’s epigraph. ‘Many works examined relationships between precipitation and streamflow out of necessity for engineers designing bridges and other structures.’33 The relevance of this for Gippsland was that bridges represented significant and ongoing expenditure to communities, and any advances in knowledge in this area could mean the difference between keeping communities connected. Gippsland and the remainder of colonial Australia followed the pattern for increasingly large dams to provide clean water to its burgeoning settlements.

Twentieth century

The rainfall version of the cycle, hypothesised by Anaxagoras, proved by Perrault and increasingly refined during the nineteenth century, is what is currently accepted. The cycle is understood as the product of rational, scientific enquiry. Davie noted that hydrology’s claim to be a science rests upon its fundamental theory of the water balance equation, the application of which is the basis of most field studies:

[The water balance equation is a] mathematical description of the processes operating within a given timeframe and incorporates principles of mass and energy continuity. In this way, the hydrological cycle is defined as a closed system whereby there is not mass or energy created or lost within it. The mass of concern in this case is water.34

The equation can be summarised in simple terms as inputs equal outputs plus or minus a change in storage. So, precipitation as the input will equal the outputs of evapotranspiration, plus runoff, plus groundwater storage, plus or minus a change in storage of water.35 This mathematical equation version of the hydrological cycle is what is employed in policy, planning and management decisions. It was formalised in the 1930s by the American hydrologist Robert Horton, but we can trace its antecedents back to the 1700s and it is created from the individual insights and work of all the proto-hydrologists discussed so far who sought to quantify the cycle. As Davie suggested, it is a vision based upon a numerical rendering of a single substance, in and of itself.

It is often schematically presented. Figure 2.2 is one of many available to download from any internet search.

Other aspects of the environment are subordinated to water, and interpreted only in so far as they affected the parameters of the mathematical equation. Some diagrams push this representation even further, entirely removing any representation of the environment, making the path of water an abstracted series of pipes.

This reduction of the cycle to a quantitative volume was historically unique, and served a socioeconomic purpose:

The need for a coherent world view of water cycles only became necessary through the dire need for a treatment of resource and hazard problems – those require prediction or forecasting and for the want of such insights the hydraulic civilisations (heroic manipulators of water) met their demise in environmental stress and disorder.36

Figure 2.2

Figure 2.2: Schematic representation of the hydrological cycle.

Source: Diagram from Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (

It is possible to see this process in microcosm in Gippsland, especially through the debates about the poor quality of Sale’s water supply soon after the population began to grow.

This way of viewing water, as merely a quantity that can be manipulated and redirected, dovetailed with an increasing emphasis on large-scale water infrastructure. In particular, Linton pairs the timing of Horton’s foundational lecture with the New Deal era of progressive projects like the Tennessee Valley authority.37 Mega water projects built upon the wide range of state excursions into water supply, sewerage and drainage ventures in the nineteenth century. For example, the EU Water Time Project lists the start dates of major water infrastructure in 16 European cities in the nineteenth century.38 Most of these projects were initiated to solve problems caused by industrialisation and massive population growth. Many of the excellent water histories, such as Cioc’s history of the Rhine, explore the nuances of these drivers at river and catchment scale.39 Generally these histories are telling the story that TeBrake identified in his work on the lowlands Dutch, that is the inability (or refusal) of humans to exist within their local hydrological conditions. Instead, the hydrological processes are changed to suit human wants (e.g. to transport products safely, to provide irrigation water out of season, to cleanse the body and make products).

Late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries

Within the last two decades of the twentieth century, the quantitative version of the hydrological cycle was being questioned. I have labelled the fifth version the ‘connected’ cycle. Although there is no definite articulation of what ‘it’ is, there are a number of critiques that point to some common concerns.

In 1999, hydrologist Rafael Bras delivered the annual Horton lecture, in which he reflected on his career over 30 years.40 His remarks demonstrate the emergence of the fifth version and clearly showed his commitment to its quantitative and volumetric version.

He began his studies in the late 1960s. At the time, hydrology could have been seen as a mature field but there was a ‘revolution’ underway, brought in by experiments in catchment modelling with computers. ‘When I learned hydrology, vegetation was treated almost as a nuisance term’, he says. He gives several other examples of complete turn arounds in received wisdom. For example, ‘in the late 1970s and early 1980s Eagleson suggested the then radical idea that the biosphere, the climate, the hydrology and the soil were in a synergistic waltz’.41 The assertion that water should be viewed as being interconnected with elements of the environment was a problem for a discipline that had, up till then, defined itself as primarily a quantitative and volumetric science. This was a shift from an engineering paradigm to an environmental paradigm.

There are other critiques of the hydrological cycle, notably arising out of its geographical birthplace. There is an inherent bias towards streamflow, which occurs globally in a limited geographic range. The proto-hydrologists like Perrault all lived in Northern Europe, where the presence of surface water all year round is the norm, not the exception. The application of a model based on this to other parts of the globe has had serious consequences:

The hydrologic cycle upholds a long-standing Western prejudice against aridity, by which places (and often the people inhabiting the places) lacking ‘sufficient’ rainfall, or subject to ‘violent swings’ in seasonal and annual precipitation must be regarded as deficient, abnormal and in need of hydrological correction.42

The entire history of, say, Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin could be summed up in this one sentence. It might reasonably be said that the European experience of evenness and reliability in hydrological conditions is the exception to the rule. Yet it was that expectation that colonial settlers brought with them to the continent with the greatest hydrological variability on the planet.

As an input/output model, the equational nature of the hydrological cycle carries a gain or loss mentality. The question is who or what gains and who loses? Infiltration of water into the ground is only a loss from the point of view of someone who wants to know how much water to take from a stream. Again, the emphasis upon streamflow is explicit. Streamflow accounts for only a small portion of total water, and the emphasis upon what Malin Falkenmark calls blue water fails to recognise other pathways and other connections.43 In the Australian context, Aplin has noted that the volume of water stored in soil is greater than all surface waters. He further remarked:

Many Australian ecosystems and individual plant and animal species are well adapted to variations in moisture availability. Many ecosystems can be accurately described as ‘stop-go’, going into a form of suspended animation under drought conditions and exploding into life when rain falls or floodwaters arrive. One likely conflict in water management, then, is between the human desire for a steady, reliable, year-in, year-out supply of water and the dependence of ecosystems and species on variability.44

European-inspired agricultural practices were profoundly threatened by the stop-go nature of the Australian hydrological cycle, and this has set the stage for much of the degradation of Australian catchments.

Appreciation of the connectedness of hydrology to other ecological processes was very much a 1990s concern, as evidence mounted of cumulative impacts on natural ecosystems. In 1987 the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development chose to open their famous Brundtland Report using the image of the blue planet as a meditation on global connectedness:

In the middle of the twentieth century, we saw our planet from space for the first time. Historians may eventually find that this vision had a greater impact on thought than did the Copernican revolution of the 16th century, which upset human self image by revealing that the Earth is not the centre of the universe. From space, we see a small and fragile ball dominated not by human activity and edifice, but by a pattern of clouds, oceans, greenery and soils. Humanity’s inability to fit its doings into that pattern is changing planetary systems, fundamentally.45

The Brundtland Report led to the Agenda 21 conference in Rio. The conference report has 40 chapters, all dealing with some aspect of interrelationship between humanity and its environment. With so many chapters, there was an inescapable conclusion. No aspect of social life or the environment could be considered in isolation anymore, and certainly not water, the subject of Chapter 18. Unlike the quantitative version of the cycle, the connected version emphasised much more than just the quantity of water and the direction of its movement.

Because water moves, and because it is integral to the proper functioning of so many other ecological processes, the hydrological cycle is symbolic of a web-based understanding of humanity and nature. This is partly due to water’s remarkable range of physical and chemical qualities. Its capacity to move materials and hold others in suspension, to dissolve substances and change form all contribute to its connected nature. It is not possible to understand hydrology without also having an appreciation, at minimum, of disciplines like botany, chemistry, mathematics, ecology, engineering, geomorphology and zoology. Yet, as Bras so bluntly said, this viewpoint was very new in hydrology’s long career. Vegetation was a nuisance!

The fifth version of the hydrological cycle is part of a changing view of the world that places interconnection between species, places and things as being of paramount importance. ‘Ecologists use connectivity to describe how animals and plants live in interconnected relationships, across multiple spatial and temporal scales.’46 The two-way relationships – for example, between the ti-tree and the swan, or the molecule of phosphorus and the plankton – are just as important as the things themselves. This includes humans. This is a way of perceiving the environment that would not have come easily to the European migrants that colonised Gippsland. Their world view, which Chapter 3 enlarges upon, was not based upon an idea of connection. In contrast, Indigenous Australians did have such a view. Rose wrote:

Water, like country, is dreamed into existence. Dreamings created relationships that structure obligations of care, and that constitute webs of reciprocity in the created world … Rockholes, soaks, wells, rivers, claypans, water holding trees, billabongs, springs and other localized water sources form part of the subsistence geography of country and almost invariably part of the sacred geography as well … Along with ‘owning’ country came owning the water, it was a right. However as noted above, it comes with obligations of care.47

An ethic of caring for the connections that sustain life is a hopeful prospect, and one that the connected version of the hydrological cycle embodies.


This chapter has demonstrated that there is no such thing as ‘the’ hydrological cycle. A tour of a few millennia of intellectual history demonstrates human propensity to interpret natural phenomena according to cultural precepts and values.

Ancient Greek philosophical attempts to impose orderly theories on nature were a reaction to the mercurial whims of their pantheon. The vertical model reflected the rigid social boundaries that marked ancient and medieval societies. The eighteenth-century natural theologians, considering themselves to be the apotheosis of God’s creation, produced a hydrological cycle that was all about themselves. Nineteenth-century industrial growth fostered an abstract quantitative approach, divorcing water from its ecological context just as so many European people were shorn from their own. Finally, in the late twentieth century, a new version of the hydrological cycle emerged that attempted to reinstate the cycle with the other ecological processes it is in relationship with.

This book does not argue that the fifth ‘connected’ version of the hydrological cycle is the correct one. It simply recognises it as a product of its own times, where the desire for ecological sustainability conflicts in a multitude of ways with the desire for progress and growth and the idea that nature is a resource. Both world views slog it out daily in local councils and state government planning and environment departments. We live on a daily basis at the conjunction between the fourth and the fifth version of the hydrological cycle.

Hydrologically inspired history therefore recognises and makes explicit the base values and world views of peoples in their catchments, and in their time frame. Or, to echo DuNann Winter, it shows the frame and the walls of the house. Chapter 3 delves more specifically into the frame and walls that constructed the world of colonial Gippslanders.

1 TS Eliot, ‘Four Quartets’. This quote alludes to the pre-Christian pagan worship of rivers. For further information on this topic see T Andrews, Legends of the earth, sea and sky: An encyclopedia of nature myths, ABC Clio, Santa Barbara, 1998.

2 For example, Phillip makes passing remarks about Sumer and Egypt. JR Phillip, ‘Water on the earth’, in AK McIntyre (ed.), Water: Planets, plants and people, Australian Academy of Science, Canberra, 1978, p. 37.

3 For a discussion of ancient Chinese debate on the cycle, see V Te Chow, ‘Hydrology in Asian civilization’, Water International, vol. 1, no. 2, 1976. Cited in SM Karterakis, BW Karney, B Singh & A Guergachi, ‘The hydrologic cycle: A complex concept with continuing pedagogical implications’, Water Science and Technology: Water Supply, vol. 7 no. 1, 2007, pp. 23–31. See also L Rezende, Chronology of science, Checkmark Books, New York, 2006, entries for c. 300 BCE and c. 100 BCE. For a brief history of Persian knowledge of groundwater extraction, see, accessed 24 January 2011.

4 R Nace, ‘General evolution of the concept of the hydrological cycle’, Three centuries of scientific hydrology: Key papers submitted on the occasion of the celebration of the Tercentenary of Scientific Hydrology, 9–12 September 1974, UNESCO, Paris, 1974, p. 41.

5 Nace, ‘General evolution of the concept of the hydrological cycle’, p. 43.

6 Y-F Tuan, The hydrologic cycle and the wisdom of god: A theme in geoteleology, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1968, pp. 25–6.

7 R Rupp, Four elements: Water, air, fire, earth, Profile Books, London, 2005, p. 2.

8 V Fumagalli, Landscapes of fear, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1994, pp. 1–2.

9 Y Feliks, Nature and man in the Bible: Chapters in biblical ecology, Soncino Press, London/Jerusalem/New York, 1981; D Hillel, The natural history of the Bible: An environmental exploration of the Hebrew scriptures, Columbia University Press, New York/Chichester and West Sussex, 2006. Page 5 of the prologue describes his own personal experience of sudden torrents in the Negev desert highlands.

10 Hillel, Natural history of the Bible, ch. 3 on Mespotamia and ch. 5 on Egypt.

11 FH Chappelle, Wellsprings: A natural history of bottled spring waters, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 2005, p. 27.

12 Roman technological skill in many areas was the subject of one (in my opinion) of the best scenes in Monty Python’s film Life of Brian. John Cleese, as the all-talk, no-action leader of the People’s Front of Judea asks the members, ‘What have the Roman’s ever done for us?’ A member responds with ‘The aqueduct’, followed by sanitation.

13 O Wikander, Handbook of ancient water technology, Technology and change in history, vol. 2, Brill, Leiden, 2000, p. 48.

14 Nace, ‘General evolution of the concept of the hydrological cycle’, p. 40; Wikander, Handbook of ancient water technology.

15 The major exception was the Dutch. TeBrake’s article ‘Taming the waterwolf’ is a very useful overview of the history of hydraulic engineering in the Netherlands. In fact, the Dutch had totally transformed the lowlands of their nation by the 1300s, a process that locked them into a never-ending cycle of maintenance and further drainage. Importantly, the Dutch would then go on to export their hydraulic expertise across Europe and its colonies in later centuries. W TeBrake, ‘Taming the waterwolf: Hydraulic engineerings and water management in the Netherlands during the Middle Ages’, Technology and Culture, vol. 43, no. 3, July 2002, p. 489.

16 Fumagalli, Landscapes of fear, p. 17.

17 King James Bible, sourced via the University of Virginia’s e-text repository.

18 Tuan, The hydrologic cycle, p. 21.

19 AK Biswas, History of hydrology, North Holland Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1970, p. 136.

20 Tuan, The hydrologic cycle, p. 73.

21 Tuan, The hydrologic cycle, p. 43.

22 Nace, ‘General evolution of the concept of the hydrological cycle’, p. 44.

23 Da Vinci swung between the rainfall and underground theories of the cycle. Nace, ‘General evolution of the concept of the hydrological cycle’, p. 45.

24 Biswas, History of hydrology, p. 173; D Camuffo, C Bertolin, PD Jones, R Cornes & E Garnier, ‘The earliest daily barometric pressure readings in Italy: Pisa AD 1657–1658 and Modena AD 1694, and the weather over Europe’, The Holocene, vol. 20, no. 3, 2010, pp. 337–49.

25 The following chronology with early examples of scientific investigations in many aspects of water’s properties is sourced from Rezende, Chronology of science: 1590 – Galileo Galilei invents the thermoscope, forerunner of the thermometer; 1637 – Descartes describes how rainbows appear as arcs; 1643 – Evangelista Torricelli invents the barometer and describes atmospheric pressure; 19 September 1648 – Blaise Pascal and Perier Pascal show that atmospheric pressure drops at high altitudes; May 1652 – Pascal states his law of hydraulics in Treatise on the equilibrium of liquids; 17 September 1683 – Antonym van Leuwenhoek describes bacteria he has seen under the microscope; 1686 – Edmond Halley describes trade winds and suggests the air currents are caused by solar radiation; 1698 – Guillaume Amontons shows that water boils at the same temperature and doesn’t increase in temperature after reaching boiling point and proposes the boiling point of water as a way to fix a temperature scale; 1714 – Daniel Fahrenheit invents the mercury thermometer.

26 Tuan, The hydrologic cycle, p. 4.

27 For an example of this in relation to Australia, see Cathcart’s discussion of the inland sea in The water dreamers: The remarkable history of our dry continent, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2009, p. 101.

28 Tuan, The hydrologic cycle, pp. 10–12.

29 Biswas, History of hydrology, p. 279.

30 Biswas, History of hydrology, p. 276.

31 J Hubbart with J Kundell, ‘History of hydrology’, in CJ Cleveland (ed.), Encyclopedia of Earth, Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and Environment, Washington DC, 2008 [First published in the Encyclopedia of Earth, 20 May 2007], last revised 11 February 2008,, accessed 25 February 2009.

32 Hubbart, ‘History of hydrology’.

33 Hubbart, ‘History of hydrology’.

34 T Davie, Fundamentals of hydrology, Routledge Fundamentals of Physical Geography, Routledge, London, 2003, p. 9.

35 Davie, Fundamentals of hydrology, p. 9.

36 M Newson, Hydrology and the river environment, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1994, p. 3.

37 J Linton, ‘Is the hydrologic cycle sustainable? A historical–geographical critique of a modern concept’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 98, no. 3, 2008, p. 636.

38 European Union Water Time Project, Click on the ‘City in Time’ link for further details of the historical aspects of this broader project on water governance.

39 M Cioc, The Rhine: An eco-biography, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 2002.

40 RL Bras, ‘A brief history of hydrology’, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, vol. 80, no. 6, June 1999, pp. 1151–65.

41 Bras, ‘A brief history of hydrology’, pp. 1151–65.

42 Linton, ‘Is the hydrologic cycle sustainable?’, p. 640.

43 M Falkenmark & C Folke, ‘The ethics of socio-ecohydrological catchment management: Towards hydrosolidarity’, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, vol. 6, no. 1, 2002, pp. 1–9.; M Falkenmark, ‘Freshwater as shared between society and ecosystems: From divided approaches to integrated challenges’, Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, vol. 358, no. 1440, Freshwater and Welfare Fragility: Syndromes, Vulnerabilities and challenges, 29 December 2003, pp. 2037–49.

44 G Aplin, Australians and their environment: An introduction to environmental studies, 1988, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, reprinted 1999, both references are from p. 423.

45 United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, Our common future, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987, p. 1.

46 J Weir, ‘Connectivity’, Australian Humanities Review, no. 45, 2008, p. 153.

47 D Rose, ‘Fresh water rights and biophilia: Indigenous Australian perspectives’, Dialogue, vol. 23, no. 3, 2004, p. 36.

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