Duffy (2017) The Terrestrial Hydrological Cycle

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Christopher J. Duffy, 2017, The terrestrial hydrologic cycle: an historical sense of balance, WIRES Water, e1216, doi: 10.1002/wat2.1216


This paper explores the development of concepts of the hydrological cycle from Classical times onwards, in the context of the 'model of balance' concept proposed by joel Kaye. In comparing models of the hydrological cycle it suggests how the evolution of concepts of hydrological balance were intrinsic to understanding in hydrology. It also suggests that modern understanding of the terrestrial hydrological cycle as developed by the 19th Century was an important basis for developments in other areas of the earth and ecological sciences. Some interesting early sources for the idea that rainfall was sufficient to support river discharges are given, including John Buridan (1295-1361) and Stephen Switzer (1683–1745) but notes that elements of the reverse hydrological cycle persisted much later with Johann Herbinius and Athanasius Kircher in the 17th century. The contribution of Stephen Switzer (1683–1745) in his 'Introduction to the General System of Hydrostaticks and Hydraulics' is noted, which introduced the experiments of Edme Mariotte and Pierre Perrault in France to a wider audience. Ideas from China and Persia (qanats) are also discussed, including the text on 'The Extraction of Hidden Waters'by Mohammed ibn al-Kiraji. Other contributions by Bernard Palissey (1510–1589), Bernardo Ramazzini (1633-1714), Valniseri (1661–1730), are noted and particularly the work by Stephen Hales (1677–1761) on capillary action in water use by plants.

The development of continuity principles in hydraulics is discussed from Thomas Bradwardine (1328) in Paris, Nicole Oresme in Paris (around 1350), Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo and Castelli in Italy, and its use in defining maps of catchment areas, especially in a map of the rivers contributing to the Tiber at Rome produced in about 1585, and a map of the rivers of Europe produced by Phillippe Buache (1700–1773). The origin of the relationship of groundwater to river levels is attributed to Silberschlag (1721–1791) in his 'Théorie de Fleuve'.

The application of balance concepts to water management by John Dalton (1799) and to wider biogeographical applications by Alexander von Humboldt, Carl Linneus and his student Bilberry are also noted.


Reverse Hydrological Cycle, Mass Balance, Continuity Principles.


available at WIRES Water