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The Atlas of Water—mapping the world's most critical resource

Robin Clarke and Jannet King. Earthscan, London (2004). 127 pages; numerous illustrations in colour.  ISBN 1-84407-133-2.

This useful atlas should be on the desk of everyone concerned with the the provision, conservation and optimal use of freshwater resources. It gives a wealth of information in comparatively few pages. Statistics are presented in table form and in double-page maps. Although some of these maps have insets with parts of the world in greater detail, some of the information is difficult to read, particularly at the division between the two pages. This design, which seems to be more concerned with prettiness than legibility, does not facilitate the task of reading, particularly for those with reading difficulties or with colour-vision problems.

 The intention of the publication, in addition to the presentation of the information on the global problems of access to adequate water, seems to be to draw attention to the possibilities of reducing water consumption and of increasing the efficiency of water use in a number of areas. This has already been done in some countries with regard to agricultural use, for example, by using drip irrigation, and particularly industrial use, where it has been possible to make savings of 50 per cent of water, while almost quadrupling ouput.

In the final section, attention is drawn to one of the messages of the United Nations World Water Development Report that, by the year 2025, the world could be faced with a severe water shortage that could lead to a reduction in food production; and that, by 2050, 4 billion people could be living in countries that are chronically short of water. It is suggested that much could be achieved by using water more productively as a result of radical changes in water management. 

In looking to the future, however, neither the Atlas of Water nor the UN World Water Development Report has given much consideration to the fact that approximately half the present global population now between the ages of one day and 16 years, will mature and can be expected to seek better standards of living and to have rather different patterns of resource use from their parents. Increased access to imagery of how people live in the industrialized world can have major impacts on desires for different, if not necessarily better, nutrition, transport and way of life generally. 

For nutrition, the amount of water required to produce 1 kg of cereal is about 1.5 m3, of poultry 6 m3 and of beef 15 m3. Changes from tortilla and beans to a beefburger, for example, will have significant effects on water use. For transport, to take but one example, China at present has about eight cars per 1000 residents (compared with 122 in Brazil’s and 940 in the USA) but, from 1 million in 1990, the estimate is that it will be 14 million before the end of 2005. If the same rate of growth continues until 2025, there will be more than 30 million, but a semi-official estimate is that there will be more than 140 million. In reflecting on this one has to take into consideration not only the prime resources that will be needed to produce the cars but also the energy to be used in them and the waste products produced. 

A third factor is the possible desire to migrate to another country where the standard of living seems, and may be, better. What will be the effects of increases in migrations on water resources? A fourth factor is the increasing amount of man-made chemicals that are discharged into rivers, estuaries and the sea. The effects on wildlife although still imprecisely known. are likely to be negative, especially for aquatic mammals. 

The Atlas of Water makes no mention of the WMO or of the lead taken by the Organization in the collection of data on water, nor is any WMO publication given as a “useful source”.

Mike Baker


Desert Meteorology 

Thomas T. Warner, Cambridge University Press (2004); xvi + 595 pages. ISBN 0-52181798-6. Price: £80/US$ 120. 

This book is a welcome addition to the scientific works on dryland issues initiated in the 1950s by the UNESCO arid zone programme. Its title expands the concept of meteorology (physics of the lower troposphere) to encompass almost all elements of ecology: the 20 chapters of the book present a rich range of material. Because of this  admirably broad range, chapters often contain a degree of repetition, requiring the reader to do some inter-chapter cross-referencing. The sequence of chapters may also be a distraction but not a serious one. 

The three principal areas covered are:

  • The physics of atmospheric dynamics that relate to microscale (interface   between air and surface and subsurface features of the ground), meso- and  macroscale continental or ecogeographical units
  • Ecological interactions of biota, including human beings, with the elements of  the desert system
  • Impacts of desert processes on global climate and the worldwide geography of deserts.

 The geography of climatic aridity (causes) is explained and forces that may drive climate change are reviewed, as are likely impacts of desert environment, particularly dust, on atmospheric processes. This is a comprehensive coverage.

The global dimension of impacts of deserts and processes of dryland degradation (desertification) caused primarily by human overexploitation, has relevance to issues of international governance of global environmental issues. When the World Bank/UNDP/UNEP envisaged the establishment of a Global Environment Facility (GEF) in 1991 as a financial mechanism in support of schemes for managing global environment issues,  desertification was not considered to be a global environment issue to be included with protecting the ozone layer; limiting emission of greenhouse gases; protection of biodiversity; and protection of international waters. The position of GEF towards desertification has mellowed since 2002. Some chapters of this book explain the scientific basis for this change in attitude.

Two chapters address issues of interactions of vegetation with, and impacts of humans on, dryland ecosystems. Advanced students of desert ecology will find here sources of ideas. One chapter addresses the question of human adaptation to a desert environment that is dry and austere.

Two chapters deal with desert rainfall: a climatic feature that controls the ecological features of deserts. Paucity and wide-scale variability make water resources poor and non-predictable. Excess may cause floods that can be destructive: this is the dilemma of desert inhabitants and desert biota. Recurrent drought is the most damaging environmental menace for inhabitants of the world’s drylands. 

The text is based on solid science and the author presents his diverse material in a commendable style of clear and well illustrated text. Because climate studies depend on the science of physics, the presentation includes mathematical equations (and models) but the author handles this in a way that keeps the book accessible for a broad readership, which is an added merit. 

A set of appendices adds to the utility of the text. The list of references, though rich, misses several useful and relevant publications, examples: Interactions of Desertification and Climate, by M.A.J. Williams and R.-C. Balling, 1996, WMO/UNEP; Atlas of African Rainfall and its Interannual Variability, by S.E. Nicholson, J. Kim and J. Hoopingarner, 1988, Florida State University. 

This is a reference book that deserves acclaim. It does indeed present an “in-depth review of [desert] meteorology and climate … desert geomorphology, desert hydrologic systems, and desert thermal energy budget”. It provides excellent text and teaching material: each chapter ends with “questions for review” and “problems and exercises”, as well as hints to solving some of the problems and exercises.

            M. Kassas



New books received for review in the WMO Bulletin

Atmospheric Turbulence and Mesoscale Meteorology  

E. Fedorovich, R. Rotunno and B. Stevens (Eds.). Cambridge University Press (2004). x + 280 pages; numerous equations and figures. ISBN 0-521-83588-7 (h/b), Price: £70/US$ 120.

The Interaction of Ocean Waves and Wind

By P. Jansen. Cambridge University Press (2004). viii + 300 pages; numerous equations and figures. ISBN 0-521-46540-0 (h/b). Price: £70/US$ 120.

Hydrogeology of the Oceanic Lithosphere  

E. Davis and H. Elderfield (Eds.). Cambridge University Press (2004). xx + 706 pages; numerous figures + CD-ROM. ISBN 0-521-81929-6 (h/b). Price: £95/US$ 170.  

Earth System Analysis for Sustainability

H.J. Schellnhuber, P.J. Crutzen, W.C. Clark, M. Claussen and H. Held. The MIT Press, London (2004). xiv + 454 pages. ISBN 0-262-19513-5. Price: £24.95.

Particulate Matter Science for Policy Makers—A NARSTO Assessment  

P. McMurry, M. Shepherd and J. Vickery (Eds.). Cambridge University Press (2004). xxxi + 510 pages. ISBN 0-521-84287-5 (h/b). Price: £100/US$ 150.  

Impacts of a Warming Arctic—Arctic Climate Impact Assessment

Cambridge University Press (2004). 140 pages; numerous illustrations. ISBN 0-521-61778-2 (p/b). Price: £19.99/US$ 29.99.


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