Energy. It makes the world gently go ‘round and sometime shakes it violently. It gives life to winds and ocean currents, waves and storms. It fuels life and volcanic processes.
The story of all natural history derives from the flow of energy through the earth system. In The Energy of Nature, Dr E.C. Pielou, Killam Professor at Dalhousie University and author of several outstanding nature books, takes the subject of energy and weaves it through all Earth systems and spheres, ending her thread with a brief discourse on humanity's partnership with energy.
Dr Pielou's first chapter title "Energy is Everywhere" aptly describes the context of much of the remaining book. She deftly defines for us what energy is and how it works in the context of the natural world: the atmosphere, the oceans, the rocks around and under us, and the biosphere.
Overall, The Energy of Nature provides a solid understanding of basic principles covering the flow of energy in our environment. By being broad in its approach, however, the book cannot delve deeply into the details of any specific processes. The book's strength is the author's ability to provide a sturdy foundation in the physics of energy as she shows us how energy in its various forms is partitioned throughout the global systems. To teach us about earth energy, Dr Pielou provides many examples to which the reader can easily relate.
For example, likely few of us think about the range of energy transformations that occur when a rock falls from a cliff to the ground below. The obvious energy conversion moves potential -- gravitational -- energy into the kinetic energy of motion. But along the way down, the rock imparts some of its energy to the surrounding air (through frictional drag); then on striking the surface, the remaining energy is spent as heat, sound and the impact energy, some of which will crack the rock and alter the surface.
I found very few aspects of the book to which I took exception. There is one glaring typographical error in the introduction to Chapter 6 where the author states that the average amount of solar energy reflected back into space is
"approximately 70 percent of all incoming sunlight. This quantity -- 70 percent -- is the earth's reflectivity or, to use the technical term, its albedo."
Perhaps the author was thinking of the average amount not reflected when writing those lines, because the average planetary albedo is around 30 percent (100-70 %).
One specific disagreement I do have with the material is the assertion that the source of the "flooding that often accompanies severe hurricanes is a manifestation of" the inverted barometer effect on sea level. While the inverted barometer effect plays a role, it is usually a small portion of the coastal flooding, the major component is the storm surge of water pushed ahead of the storm by the hurricane-force winds.
The Energy of Nature is a succinct account of Earth energy systems, and it is thus an ideal book for a lay guide to the subject which could also easily serve as a background or introductory text for a survey course in earth processes for non-science majors. It is packed with instructive material on energy presented in an enjoyable and readable style with a few equations and basic drawings to clarify particular points. The books thin appearance masks the great amount of material presented therein. The reader will gain much information and knowledge upon reading this volume.The Energy of Nature by E.C. Pielou is one volume that belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in nature or the earth, ecological and environmental sciences. I highly recommend The Energy of Nature, particularly anyone in business or government service whose work involves environmental or energy components, for it can provide much needed insight into the energy milieu in which we live and work.
Keith C. Heidorn, PhD
THE WEATHER DOCTOR
November 1, 2001
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