Hydrologic sink

Ever get the feeling that you’re spread a mile wide but an inch deep?

That’s hydrology in the Everglades!

Or rather, that’s life as a hydrologist in the Everglades.

We call it sheet flow.

Sheet flow season is summer and fall. By winter we still have thin sheets of water, but they are no longer flowing (just evaporating). And by spring, and especially this one, the sheets are gone too.

Somehow that doesn’t mean less work for me.

When I first arrived to Florida, a colleague made a point of regularly stopping me in the hallway with variations on the same question –

“So what are you still doing here, Sobczak? Haven’t you noticed it’s the dry season,” he’d say in mock astonishment, usually ending with a terse and definitive – “All the water’s gone! Go home!”

Another hydrologist may have taken offense (as if there wasn’t enough water to keep me busy for the full year), but being somewhat raised in the comic tradition of beating a dead horse myself, it not only took on a certain amount of charm after his 6th or 7th re-asking (although on occasion I’ll admit it was annoying), I adopted it on a polemic level as a false paradigm that I needed to learn how to refute.

My initial responses were admittedly lame, and uninformed.
“It’s a good time to get out in the field,” I’d say in half-hearted defense.

“And see what – no water?” He’d respond.

Not being easily defeated, I’d have something along the lines of “we still get cold fronts,” on queue for the next encounter, “and they can be big rain days.”

“I don’t know what window you’re looking out,” he’s say dismissively. “All I see is sunshine!”

That sent me back to the drawing board once again where I came up with my best game plan to date – the counterintuitive twist that “yes, it’s the dry season,” and “yes, it barely rains,” but “those zeros are numbers too, and counting consecutive days of no rain is just as important as waiting around for the big rain days.”

“Last time I checked,” he’d counter back, “zero plus any number equals that number.”

It growing later and later into the dry season by the day, and being quite frankly exhausted by the whole line of conversation, I had no other recourse but to throw the kitchen sink at him upon our next chance encounter:

“Rain is just one part of the hydrologic cycle.” I said. “In south Florida, evapotranspiration is just as big or bigger than rain!”

For the first time he didn’t have a quick response at hand.

We shared a moment of silence in the thickening heat of the afternoon hallway.

That’s when we heard a crackle of thunder in the distance.

“You hear that?” He responded. “That’s your sign its time to get back to work. It’s the wet season!”

Somehow I knew I couldn’t win.

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