The Water Closet, Feb 22, 2013

One of a score of NASA satellites daily and yearly monitoring their dynamic patient for Earth scientists and us.


     In the Water Closet, a shack that moves in the mind along the banks of the Ipswich River, Stream Teamers and Closeteers are without electricity and electronics.  Sun, candles, and moon provide light.  As old timers we take some perverse pride in this.  PBS’s NOVA and other good TV shows are watched in our homes.

Last week’s two hour long NOVA entitled “Earth from Space”1 really got us thinking.  Humans have added another layer above the atmosphere, and we are not speaking of green house gases and pollutants.  It is near space with sensitive satellites that receive electromagnetic waves from land, sea, ice caps, glaciers, clouds, plants, dust storms, minerals, gases of the air, and from our star the Sun.  Although neither climatologists nor electronic engineers, we like most knew they were up there, but until this good NOVA-NASA documentary, we had little idea of all they do and what they have enabled us to learn about our planet.  Orbiting and stationary satellites can even indirectly determine phenomena below the ground and water.  From their data, analysts with sophisticated computer software extrapolate as to what is happening below these surfaces.  Knowledge believed just a generation ago to be a century or more away is now available to all.  Just consider the computer-satellite age has only been with us for two generations.  How much more knowledgeable our grandchildren will be about their planet!  We hope that with modern communications, they will become internationally cosmopolitan as well as better and wiser in their treatment of the Earth.

So called “primitive” cultures, quite often not monotheistic, worshiped nature and sensed relationships between all things.  As children many of us went through this stage until taught in school to separate spheres of knowledge into sections.  We studied history, literature, and science in different classes and later in professional fields.  “Civilized” humans specialized and were very efficient in so doing.  Witness the remarkable satellites and their infrastructures as proof.  It would take a week to list all our triumphs in just the areas of medicine and, alas, weapon making alone.  Yet somehow in our educations we lost a basic respect for the whole, the interactions between our actions and what the earlier peoples called nature.  The ravens and other animals no longer spoke to us or us to them.  Stones were no longer alive.  Homo sapiens, all new scientific evidence to the contrary, were no longer animals.  They had become something special and above their surroundings.  People thus took control and being human weren’t always wise.  In our country they killed the seemingly limitless bison and cut all the trees from vast areas.  They dug coal without regard to life in, above and around the coal fields.  They used the air, sky and waters as dumps despite the presence of birds and fish.  Farmers filled ponds, marshes and swales for crops; the stopovers and feeding stations for millions of migrating birds.  The list goes on and becomes evermore depressing.  Early on, when recognized as a part of nature, humans deeply sensed the interrelationships.  Later in the name of “progress” ambitious leaders forgot.  As an example, rivers and streams were dammed for power.  Valuable fish were lost, a frequent topic of concern in the Closet.  The good news is that now scientists with marvelous tools are rediscovering the interconnectedness of planet, star, water, organisms and air.  This latest NOVA, “Earth from Space”, summarizes the necessary connections as seen by satellite eyes, sensors of waves with much wider frequency ranges than the narrow visible spectrum, the rainbow colors, detected by our eyes.   Microwaves, infrared, and ultraviolet are but a few known to most.

In two hours using animation, computer models, wonderful photography and short statements by enthusiastic scientists where needed, the documentary brings together much of which has been long hypothesized and now close to proven.  It teaches of interacting energies, massive ocean and air circulations, resulting storms, food production by forests and phytoplankton, etc.  Our short space in the weekly Water Closet won’t come close to doing justice to what we have learned by watching.  One old Closeteer who viewed “Earth from Space” for the third time yesterday says the revelations bring back his childhood, the urge to go forth naked to absorb all the Sun’s rays and to kiss the Earth before diving into the river and then wading out into its wetland-floodplain.  Translated musically, his feelings about Earth and Sun might lead to a symphony rivaling Handel’s Halleluiah Chorus.  He tells of such feelings as a young lad and lesser ones from time to time ever since.  The wondrous measurements by satellites, and their analyses by computers and men, have shown that the primitives were right.  All in nature is intertwined including what scientists called the inanimate.  Science, too often combined with ambition and rewards, had strayed.  Perhaps it will now bring us home to Mother Nature.

“Wow!  Look out the Closet window.  See the crazy old Closeteer hugging a silver birch while singing and looking up into its sunlit branches.”


1. NOVA is repeated many times on PBS’s channels. It is also available on line; simply Google NOVA         Earth from Space, there you can stop it at any time for thought and notes. We Closeteers and Stream Teamers recommend this good documentary to all.




Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Nov  Dec  Jan   Feb
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches  4.55 4.12 4 3.40 3.25  
2012 – 2013  Central Watershed Actual   0.97   7.12   0.93   2.61 to 3 PM 2/19

Ipswich River Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet per Second (CFS):

For February 19, 2013:   Normal . . . 77 CFS           Current Rate . . . Unavailable** CFS


*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data. Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.

** A beaver dam a quarter mile downstream from the USGS Gage has been causing invalid, thus unreleased gage reports.

THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: or <> or (978) 777-4584