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Hydrology vs. the Apocalypse
Three Gorges Dam


In Jacques Leslie's prologue to his book Deep Water: The Epic Struggle Over Dams, Displaced People, and the Environment, excerpted here at AlterNet, we learn that “between Hoover and the end of the century, more than 45,000 large dams — dams at least five stories tall — were built in 140 countries” and that “the water behind them blots out a terrain bigger than California.” Moreover, Leslie writes that “by now the planet has expended two trillion dollars on dams — the equivalent of the entire 2003 U.S. government budget.”

Three Gorges Dam

But here's what could possibly be the most interesting trivia:

The world's dams have shifted so much weight that geophysicists believe they have slightly altered the speed of the earth's rotation, the tilt of its axis, and the shape of its gravitational field.


To repeat: altered the speed of the earth's rotation.

Slightly, that is. But even if the alteration amounts to a mere fraction of a second per day, that dams could shorten or lengthen a year obviously offers a possible solution to a perennial nuisance: earth-bound extinction level asteroids.

In other words, would a hydrological meganetwork of dams hasten the planet's solar orbital journey such that we arrive at the impact point in space and then depart before the asteroid has even arrived?

Three Gorges Dam

Trillions of dollars would have to be spent constructing thousands of dams on every river basins in the world, and many trillions more integrating them into urban stormwater management systems; wetland restoration projects; concretized rivers and irrigation channels; fortified lagoons and estuaries; abandoned tunnels; flood control structures; and every faucets, sprinklers, buckets and rolling 'hippos' throughout the world.

At scheduled times during the year, a transnational governing agency chartered to oversee this Super-Versailles would initiate a carefully programmed sequence of valve openings and closings, of inflows and outflows, of discharge and storage. In soporific trickles and raging Jovian torrents, great volumes of water are shifted across the surface of the earth, against gravity, by sheer human will.

And if the calculations prove correct and the hydrochoreography is followed precisely, the earth would then spin a little faster, and we finish the day and reach year's end early.

Over the course of decades, countless miniscule fractions of seconds are saved, albeit probably amounting to a few seconds. Nevertheless, that just might be enough for us to miss our appointment with the Apocalypse.

Three Gorges Dam

In the meantime, before we even know if the whole thing actually works, this apocalypse-averting great flush will be treated as the grand spectacle.

Everywhere fountains will spurt with a little bit more mirth and whimsy. Fireworks will lighten up the night skies over the Three Gorges Dam and Aswan Dam, and barbecue pits will be lit beside a raging Los Angeles River. It'll be the only truly international holiday.

Meanwhile, travelers equipped with the latest edition of The Lonely Planet Guide to Super-Versailles will trek to the Aral Sea, the marshes of southern Iraq, the Everglades or and Owens Lake to witness these ancient landscapes get rehydrated with waters from Greenland's ice caps. To coincide with this event, the local tourist agency will stage a naumachia re-enacting The Deluge.

Those with Fodor's will visit picturesque Venice; those with more adventurous spirit and shun guidebooks at will rappel down behind Niagara Falls.

But most importantly, all the Great Water Wars are averted and resolved.

Three Gorges Dam

9 COMMENTS —
  • Anonymous
  • February 13, 2007 at 10:48:00 PM CST
  • I hate to be pedantic, but rotation and orbit--not the same thing. So, days get a bit shorter, say, but there are slightly more of them in a year and it evens out. We'd still be ontime for Armegeddon; we'd just think it fell on a Tuesday instead of a Monday.


  • Alexander Trevi
  • February 13, 2007 at 11:42:00 PM CST
  • Hey anonymous: you're absolutely right! Positively correct! Though I had wished that no one would call me out on the physics of the Super-Versailles, simply because it's rather fun just imagining it. And tirelessly working to avert our rendezvous with extinction.


  • Andy K
  • February 14, 2007 at 4:33:00 PM CST
  • I hate to be a critic because I love much of the materials presented here, but I've noticed a distinct sillyness in the grandiose schemes that have recently become the raison d'ĂȘtre of each post. I came to point out what anonymous already said, that today's "fantaisie" is blatently based on ignorance. I mean, everyone goes through a Borges or Buckminster phase, but this reader is hoping it passes quickly.


  • Alexander Trevi
  • February 14, 2007 at 9:53:00 PM CST
  • Hi Andy K: Thanks for the criticism.

    I hope that you got the chance, after visiting the websites I've linked to in the post, to hypertextually trace some of the interconnected thematic threads running throughout Pruned via, for instance, the in-link to the wetland restoration projects in the Everglades, and then further followed where the various postcripts, related (or vaguely related) footnotes, and self-referential links that litter the blog led to, so that you'd realize that 1) "grandiose schemes", real or fantasized, are our raison d'ĂȘtre, though not the overriding purpose; and that 2) while Super-Versailles might fail on its primary function due to a purposeful misapplication of physics, it's based on actually built and soon-to-be built engineering projects. In fact, one can argue that a version of the Super-Versailles already exists in the American West, that even the entire length of the Mississippi River is one giant Versailles of carefully choreagraphed bit of hydrology for purposes other than letting Nature be.

    But then again, whether or not the maths are wrong is besides the point. As I've said in my previous comment, fantasizing about this Garden is quite exciting. It gets the imagination going at full throttle. And if situated within a larger discussion -- here on Pruned and elsewhere in the blogosphere -- concerning energy, ecology, globalism, security, urbanism, and community (which admittedly I may sometime fail to make apparent that my posts are framed this way, as a personal yet public reflections on such matters), it can even provide tasty bits of intellectual morsel.

    So what if the scheme is so grandiose that they will never be built? So what if such schemes -- mine or those of others -- will never save the world? So what if I'm in a Borges or Buckminster (or Verne or Piranesi or Poliphilo or Book of Genesis or Star Trek or string physics) phase and that I'll be stuck there forever? There is more to the practice of design than merely producing real parks and houses.

    So there will be other Super-Versailles and Kumbh Mela Arrays and 1000-mile Jamarat Spiral Bridges and Biocidal Ebola Parks, I'm afraid. But I do hope that you will still drop by.


  • DT
  • February 15, 2007 at 10:25:00 AM CST
  • I think its great that you are trying to push the limits of your imagination and ours. However, the skewing of scientific facts, without any qualification, was a distraction from the rest of your idea and acceptance of it. If you had stated something in your initial post about playing loose with the physics it would have been a better post.

    Also, maybe your imagining wasn't fantatic enough in its play with physics. Sometimes when something is too close to correct it is seen as error. When we create our drawings, and the perspective lines are only slightly off from what they should be, the lines are seen as errors even if we created them purposefully to be that way. This might be the case here.


  • Michael
  • February 18, 2007 at 7:03:00 PM CST
  • Well, if we're to be using abandoned tunnels for this scheme, I don't think I'll be rapelling down behind Niagara Falls to enjoy that spectacle, just in case someone decided to tie that particular tailrace into the proceedings. On the other hand, if they sent the Niagara River to the Western Sahara for the afternoon, it would give me the chance to just hike in. I'll take conquering a boulder field over a laborious rope ascent any day.


  • Ron Padzensky
  • February 28, 2007 at 1:23:00 PM CST
  • "Nevertheless, that just might be enough for us to miss our appointment with the Apocalypse."

    Of course if this scheme were actually workable it might just as likely hasten our appointment with the Apocalypse by placing us in harms way where we otherwise would have had a near miss!


  • Red_Dog
  • May 9, 2008 at 2:54:00 PM CDT
  • The orginal idea that the shear mass of that much water, being now located in centralized areas, verse diffuse in all the worlds oceans, is like putting a small lead weight on a spinning top, you are going to affect the rotational tilt. I believe that scientist have now found this to be true. Nature has a way of correcting these problems, with earthquakes or strange weather patterns, but then there is also societies which have nuclear weapons who may want to speed natures process up!?!


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