Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Virtual Luna Leopold Project.

This site holds a rich compilation of pre-PDF works by Luna Leopold, one of the early luminaries of fluvial geomorphology. The site's a bit odd in that nobody takes credit for it, but it holds nearly 200 PDF files of his works.

I've always liked Leopold's writing style, and reading Sand County Almanac, written by his father Aldo, a true pioneer of ecological thinking, in a grad school soils class was something I'll never forget (see the "atom X" passage, and thanks, Gray Henderson, wherever you are.)

In scanning the PDF list I saw this one: A reverence for rivers. It's the text of a keynote speech given in 1977 (the year I graduated high school), and published in Geology. This short talk is an incredibly thoughtful and well-written treatment of water resources science, engineering, and management.

Leopold manages to weave stories of the Greek Herodotus and Persian reverence for rivers into an ongoing California drought and the rising conservation ethic of the day, and in his fashion, write beautifully about the statistics of risk and flood return intervals, engineering design, and the perils of letting raw economic forces control all use of natural resources:
The management of resources cannot be carried out successfully if it is looked upon as just another facet of economics, administration, and politics. Yet the latter view describes rather accurately our present approach to resource use (it can hardly be called management).
We haven't move forward much, have we? He finishes with this:
Man’s engineering capabilities are nearly limitless. Our economic views are too insensitive to be the only criteria for judging the health of the river organism. What is needed is a gentler basis for perceiving the effects of our engineering capabilities. This more humble view of our relation to the hydrologic system requires a modicum of reverence for rivers.
Luna died in 2006.


Michael said...

Whoever at Berkeley put this together provided a valuable service - these are classic works from a classic researcher.

Interestingly, Ralph Bagnold (of The Physics of Blown Sand and Desert Dunes), once he reached the point where he needed long term wind data that simply weren't available, turned his attention to water and struck up a productive and personal relationship with Leopold.

In one of my favourite non-desert passages from his autobiography, Bagnold writes that, while they were conducting ground-breaking experimental work in Wyoming on direct measurements of river load, "Luna organized a diversion." Ostensibly to measure pool depths, they were to raft down the Cataract Canyon section of the Colorado River, something that had been done only rarely before and only when the river was in flood. They started on the Green River and "then came the deep-canyon junction with the Colorado, flowing past from left to right, swollen with snowmelt from the Rockies. High on the rock wall was painted, in large letters, "ALL CRAFT TURN LEFT" and a great arrow that pointed upstream. On the right, grim warnings forbade going downstream, further emphasized by a large skull and crssbones. In addition, an ominous dull roar rose up from the water and echoed between the canyon walls. We ignored the warnings and turned downstream."

Bagnold was 70 at the time - something of an inspiration. Leopold gave one of the addresses at the Memorial Service for Bagnold, and I have the recording, which is wonderful.

pascal said...

Thanks for the link Steve.
I'll be putting a class on soil conservation together for next year - these links will be very useful!

Steve Gough said...

And thanks for the reminder, I'm talking to a bunch of engineering undergrads on Friday and this will be a great source!

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--lily said...

awesome insight, Steve. I appreciate you sending this link to me :-)