Cover image for Water from heaven : the story of water from the big bang to the rise of civilization, and beyond
Water from heaven : the story of water from the big bang to the rise of civilization, and beyond
Kandel, Robert S.
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Uniform Title:
Eaux du ciel. English
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xiii, 312 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
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GB661.2 .K3513 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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From where--and what--does water come? How did it become the key to life in the universe? Water from Heaven presents a state-of-the-art portrait of the science of water, recounting how the oxygen needed to form H2O originated in the nuclear reactions in the interiors of stars, asking whether microcomets may be replenishing our world's oceans, and explaining how the Moon and planets set ice-age rhythms by way of slight variations in Earth's orbit and rotation. The book then takes the measure of water today in all its states, solid and gaseous as well as liquid.

How do the famous El Niño and La Niña events in the Pacific affect our weather? What clues can water provide scientists in search of evidence of climate changes of the past, and how does it complicate their predictions of future global warming? Finally, Water from Heaven deals with the role of water in the rise and fall of civilizations. As nations grapple over watershed rights and pollution controls, water is poised to supplant oil as the most contested natural resource of the new century. The vast majority of water "used" today is devoted to large-scale agriculture and though water is a renewable resource, it is not an infinite one. Already many parts of the world are running up against the limits of what is readily available.

Water from Heaven is, in short, the full story of water and all its remarkable properties. It spans from water's beginnings during the formation of stars, all the way through the origin of the solar system, the evolution of life on Earth, the rise of civilization, and what will happen in the future. Dealing with the physical, chemical, biological, and political importance of water, this book transforms our understanding of our most precious, and abused, resource. Robert Kandel shows that water presents us with a series of crucial questions and pivotal choices that will change the way you look at your next glass of water.

Author Notes

Robert Kandel is a senior scientist of the C.N.R.S. (National Scientific Research Agency of France).

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Simply put, "No water, no life." But how is our supply of freshwater maintained? Scientist Kandel explains the earth's elaborate and essential-to-life water cycle in a suitably fluid and mesmerizing narrative, beginning cosmologically with the birth of the solar system and an analysis of various theories as to where the earth's water, weighing in at "over a billion billion tons," originated. Kandel traces the balance of salt water and freshwater to ice and snow over the course of the earth's volatile geological history, pausing to consider past mass extinctions and our current precipitous loss of life-forms. He then cogently explains the awesome, truly beautiful dynamics of the tides, deep-water ocean currents, and every phase of the water cycle, which maintains the crucial balance between evaporation and condensation. "Life on the land depends on water from the sky," Kandel reminds readers, as he assiduously catalogs every threat to our precious water supply, from pollution to climate change to deforestation to unwise water management to the tricky convolutions of "hydropolitics." The more we understand about the water cycle, the better our chances of ensuring its continuance. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

No tangible substance means more to us than water, and in this scientific history, astrophysicist Kandel traces not only the cycles of water molecules on Earth, but their voyages through time and space as well. Since water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen-very old elements, cosmologically speaking-Kandel applies a Michener-like thoroughness to his subject in the first section of his book. Starting with the Big Bang, he methodically works his way along toward the origin of life. "No water, no life," he states succinctly, showing how crucial water is to the biochemical development of organisms. The second part of the book, dedicated to "Water in Today's World," covers weather, tides and currents, and the familiar rain-river-sea-cloud cycle that children learn in school. Kandel works to make the hard science exciting, but he really shines in the last third of the book, which is devoted to "hydropolitics." Water "could be the biggest problem of the 21st century," he writes, and he offers numerous examples (e.g., water conflict and management between Israel and its neighbors) to prove his point. Judging by the vulnerability of agrarian societies and the struggles of cities trying to support their growing populations, humans around the globe are having trouble finding, keeping and recycling water. While dense with facts and figures, Kandel's aquatic history is riveting, an exhaustive and complex examination of our most precious chemical compound. "Have a drink of water," says Kandel. You're sipping "the history of the Earth and of the universe." 21 illustrations (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

For anyone with a decent scientific background, this is a very frustrating book. Kandel's chosen subject, indicated by the subtitle, is too broad to treat adequately in 288 pages. The result is overgeneralization, summary without adequate explanation, and "facts" that are almost, but not quite, correct. For instance, "crust" and "lithosphere" are not quite the same thing, but Kandel treats them as though they were. There is no doubt that the book covers "everything that you always wanted to know about water," but none of it is covered in great enough depth to satisfy any but general readers. Additionally, in some places there are statements of "fact" that are for the specialist still subject to debate and argument. For the nonscientist, this book will introduce a lot of interesting information, but the science student will have to look elsewhere for authoritative and definitive data. ^BSumming Up: Optional. General readers. C. W. Dimmick Central Connecticut State University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. XI
Acknowledgmentsp. XV
Prologuep. 1
Priming the Pumpp. 1
The States of Waterp. 3
Some Remarkable Propertiesp. 5
Water's Many Cyclesp. 6
Part I Water in the Universe from the Big Bang to the Appearance of Manp. 9
1. Beginningsp. 11
From Hydrogen to Oxygen, and All the Restp. 11
Water in the Interstellar Mediump. 17
2. The Churning of the Earthp. 19
Saving the Water at the Birth of the Planetsp. 19
Primordial Waters--from Inside the Earth or from Outside?p. 23
Outgassing and Delugep. 25
A Living Solid Earth: Oceans, Sea-floor spreading, Continental Drift, Earthquakes, and Volcanoesp. 28
3. Origin and Evolution of Lifep. 39
An Extraterrestrial Origin?p. 39
Matter Living and Inertp. 40
Where and When Did Life Appear?p. 45
Life Without the Sun at the Bottom of the Seap. 47
The Invention of Photosynthesis and the Conquest of Dry Landp. 50
4. Catastrophesp. 55
Climbing Up an Evolutionary Ladder?p. 55
Mass Extinctionsp. 56
The Demise of the Dinosaursp. 58
Deadly Impactp. 61
Man the Exterminatorp. 64
5. Ice, Moon, and Planetsp. 66
The Moon, Time, and Tidep. 66
The Precession of the Equinoxesp. 70
The Moon and Milankovitchp. 72
Ice on the Movep. 75
Ice in the Tropicsp. 80
Part II Water in Today's Worldp. 83
6. Water and Energy Cyclesp. 85
Ice Budgetsp. 85
Water Budgets: Clouds, Rain, and Snowp. 87
Water Budgets: Evaporation, Condensation, and Latent Heatp. 89
Energy Budgets and the Greenhouse Effectp. 92
Latitudes and Seasonsp. 95
Land and Seap. 98
7. Winds, Waves, and Currentsp. 101
The Tropical Furnace and the Hadley Circulationp. 101
East Winds, West Winds, and the Gyrations of the Oceansp. 104
Land and Sea: Monsoonsp. 108
East-West: El Nino, La Nina, and the Pacific Basinp. 111
North-South: The Atlanticp. 120
8. Water's Deep Memoriesp. 124
The Salt of the Seap. 124
The Great Conveyor Beltp. 131
Foreseeable Accidents, or Surprises?p. 132
9. Clouds, Rain, and Angry Skiesp. 135
Making Rainp. 135
Stability or Instability?p. 139
From Fair-weather Cumulus to Cumulonimbus: Convection and Precipitationp. 141
Cyclones and Convective Cloud Systemsp. 142
Tornadoesp. 146
Tropical Cyclones: Hurricanes and Typhoonsp. 149
Gently Falling Snow and Rainp. 151
Acid Rainp. 152
10. Earth's Water, Between Sky and Seap. 155
Watersheds and Water Flowsp. 155
Vegetation, Evapotranspiration, and the Soilp. 161
Infiltration and Underground Waterp. 164
Runoff: From Rills to Riversp. 170
Along the Great Riversp. 177
Water on the Continental Scalep. 182
Part III Water in Human History, Past and Futurep. 187
11. Water and Man's Rise to Civilizationp. 189
Out of the Ice Agep. 189
The Nilep. 195
Water's Revengep. 196
Drinking Water for the Citiesp. 201
Clean But Toxic Waterp. 204
Water Down the Drainp. 207
Water for Foodp. 209
Land for Food?p. 211
Mosquitoes and Diseasep. 213
Water for Industryp. 214
Water Businessp. 215
Nuclear Power and Waterp. 217
12. Problems for the 21st Centuryp. 220
A New Millennium?p. 220
The Water Resourcep. 221
Satisfaction of Water Needsp. 225
Water Management: Cooperation or Conflict?p. 228
Water Between Israel and the Arabsp. 232
13. Butterflies and Humans in a Warming Greenhousep. 239
The Butterfly Effectp. 239
The Greenhouse Effectp. 242
Global Warming?p. 243
The Real Risksp. 246
A New Deal in Waterp. 249
14. Back to the Ice Agep. 252
The End of the Pleistocene?p. 252
From the Twentieth to the 21st Centuryp. 253
Finite and Infinite Resourcesp. 255
Avoidable Catastrophep. 257
15. Conclusion--the End of the Story?p. 259
Back to the Beginning?p. 259
Notesp. 263
Bibliographyp. 289
Indexp. 299