What is hydrology?
Hydrology is the scientific discipline that studies the waters of the planet, the oceans, the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface. He is interested in the physical, chemical and mechanical properties of these waters, as well as their distribution, circulation and flow at a regional and global level. However, it does not deal with underground water reserves, which correspond to hydrogeology.
Hydrology is the exhaustive study of water on our planet, differentiating it from hydrography, which is limited to the study of the measurement and collection of hydrological data and its transcription into a cartographic document. Although hydrology has a much broader field of study, it is possible in certain contexts to use both terms synonymously.
The precise concept of hydrology has changed enormously over time, but very broadly it can be understood as the science that studies the dynamics of water on the planet.
History of hydrology
The history of this discipline begins in Antiquity, in the “speculative period”, since knowledge about water and its cycles was the result of the speculations of ancient naturalists, such as the Greek Thales of Miletus (c. 624-546 BC. C.), Plato (c. 427-347 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC), or the Romans Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD) and Pliny “the elder ” (23-79 AD).
However, the speculative nature of this knowledge did not prevent the construction of the great water works of antiquity, such as the wells of Arabia, the Khanats of Persia or the irrigation systems and canals of ancient Rome and Egypt.
This stage is followed, during the Renaissance, by a “period of observation” characterized by the direct observation of the behavior of water by scholars such as Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). Later, a specifically scientific stage began, known as “Measurement”, in which the study of water began to modernize and formalize.
This will be followed by the stages of experimentation (18th century), modernization (19th century) and empiricism (beginning of the 20th century). Knowledge about water and its capabilities and its management was modernized, until reaching the period of rationalization (mid-20th century).
Thus its vital importance began to be understood not only as a biochemical element, but as a force that shapes the world. The study of its impact on climate, relief, geography and meteorology required theoretical and practical approaches, such as those that characterize the last period of hydrology: the period of theorization, which begins in 1950 and culminates in the present.
Importance of hydrology
Given the indisputable importance of water resources, as a source of drinking water, industrial resources and even a source of energy, hydrology as a science could not be more relevant, thus becoming an indispensable part of the great architectural and industrial projects of humanity.
It also represents an indispensable approach for geography, climatology, geology and different civil engineering. Knowing the properties and behavior of water in its different stages and conditions is vital when planning economic activities or designing environmental strategies.
What do hydrologists do?
In a world where water is an increasingly scarce resource, the role of hydrologists in the food industry, agriculture, construction and ecological work could not be more important. That is why hydrologists, broadly speaking, deal with:
- Study the dynamics of water flow and availability, so that productive initiatives (especially agricultural) can be located in the most convenient place.
- Propose ecologically sustainable solutions for the return of used water to its natural channels.
- Review the impact of various human initiatives on the hydrological ecosystem around them.
- Predict the behavior of surface waters for an infrastructure project.
Applications of hydrology
Hydrology has numerous applications in the contemporary world, most of which have to do with the physical, chemical and mechanical understanding of water. Thus, it is possible to use hydrology in:
- Civil engineering works, such as dams, sewage systems, river dams, etc.
- Ecological management work, such as cleaning rivers, lakes and lagoons, or studies on the presence of contaminants or physical damage to the hydrosphere. Also the ecological evaluation of industries that use water.
- Design of hydroelectric, wave or similar plants.
- Design of contingency plans for water erosion and evaluation of surface runoff.
- Flood control and massive water forecasting systems.