Down gradient

There’s a misconception out there that water flows downhill.

I found myself loosely using that expression until a estuarine ecologist friend of mine, in the precision of a true scientist, corrected my language:

“Water flows downhill most of the time, but it flows ‘down gradient’ all of the time” he would say … light-heartedly but also with insistence.

His case in point was Herring River Estuary.

It’s located up on the outermost arm of Cape Cod, tucked up in Wellfleet Harbor and reaching up into Cape Cod National Seashore. He spent a good chunk of his career working to restore tidal flow to its upper reaches, which historically had been blocked off by a dike.

What other instances come to mind?

The beach for one (as shown in the video clip above), where the tide rolls water up on the beach front, riding the momentary wave of an breaking swale, or the Central Arizona Project sending water uphill to Phoenix and Tucson by way of pumps and a canal.

The paradox of “water flowing uphill but also down gradient” is resolved.

But more broadly speaking (and as proven in the video), doesn’t water always find its way back to the sea.

I would say yes, most of the time.

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