You want my advice? (Pt. 16)

“You Want My Advice?” is a twice weekly feature (Tuesdays and Thursdays) of davisw.wordpress.com. I look at questions of ethics, manners, faith, technology, geopolitics, science, etc., and offer completely inappropriate, irresponsible and possibly even life-threatening advice. Today, we hear from a reader with a really stupid, really boring science question.

Q. With talk of rising seas, what could happen to the rivers that flow into the oceans? Will they reverse flow? Will rising seas back up into freshwater lakes? And what happens to our groundwater should saltwater flow backward into it? – Getting Thirsty Just Thinking About It

A. Finally … a hydrology question. Our readers have been waiting forever.

Though I’m an expert in many fields (taxidermy, thoracic surgery, the Dave Clark Five, the Ming Dynasty), this is one area where I’m a bit of an amateur. I’ve never studied the subject formally but rather have approached it as an all-consuming hobby, primarily through my quest to drown as many fire ants with boiling hot water as I can. (It’s fun to put a stick in the middle and watch a few lucky creatures survive, only to realize later their world has been wiped out.) So let’s see what the professionals have to say on the subject.

Hydrology has been a subject of investigation and engineering for millennia. For example, in about 4000 B.C. the Nile was dammed to improve agricultural productivity of previously barren lands. Aqueducts were built by the Greeks and Romans, while the history of China shows they built irrigation and flood control works. The ancient Sinhalese used hydrology to build complex irrigation works in Sri Lanka, and are also known for invention of the valve pit which allowed construction of large reservoirs which still function.

All of which has nothing to do with your question, especially that part about whatever the hell a “valve pit” is. I predict that when the seas rise that rivers will indeed reverse their flow and the seas will back up into freshwater lakes, just as you’ve postulated. Our groundwater will be rendered too saline to drink, which doesn’t bother me because I only drink Pepsi anyway.

It’s basically just an end-of-the-world scenario, and nothing to worry your little head about.

 

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