Monday, 4 May 2015

Living with water: an integrative approach for managing water use

Picture 1: The meandering River Cuckmere in the South Downs, East Sussex, UK

About water where I live

Living in a part of the world that has abundant water, and at the same time reading about drought-stricken parts of the world, I am compelled to take a closer look at this magical resource, water, especially freshwater, that we humans and many others in the web of life depend upon.  I’m very fortunate to live in southeast England, in an area called the South Downs (Pic. 1) which receives on an average, 950 mm of rainfall per year (Pic. 2; Met Office 2015).  The local geology of the area further helps in containing the rainwater, as the bedrock is Chalk (Pic. 3), a type of powdery textured Limestone, which serves as an excellent aquifer for storing as well as filtering water to keep it pure and clear.  The island of United Kingdom receives most of its rainfall from moisture-laden winds blowing over the Gulf Stream, the warm surface current in the Atlantic Ocean (UK Environmental Change Network 2015).

Seven Sisters cliffs and the coastguard cottages, from Seaford Head showing Cuckmere Haven (looking east - 2003-05-26).jpg
Picture 3.  Chalk cliffs in the South Downs. 

Rainfall average (1981 - 2010)
Picture 2. Average annual rainfall in the UK





The future scenario

What I’ve described above is wonderful in that those of us living here should have no concern for freshwater availability.  However, we are faced with a warming climate and consequently the possibility of changing patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulations.  In the future, the Gulf Stream may change its course and the UK may not benefit from its warm waters for its moderate climate and abundant rainfall.  Another cause for concern in the near future regarding the availability of freshwater in the southeast is from the activity of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale rock for obtaining methane gas.  The South Downs area has been identified as a shale rock hydrocarbon resource (British Geological Survey 2015a).  If fracking is done, large quantities of fresh water will be required, and there is the added concern of contamination of underground water aquifers as well as surface water bodies with the chemical fluids used for fracking, although the British Geological Survey argues otherwise (British Geological Survey 2015b).  

A preemptive strategy for living with water rather than living for water

Bearing the future scenario in mind which may alter the current situation of plentiful water in southeast England, here is a strategy for sustainable living to help cope with future water shortage as well as its conservation.  If every home has a water-meter installed it will give users a clear idea of how much water they use, and how they could reduce their consumption, if possible.  Home backyards or gardens could have a vegetable patch where vegetables and fruits that are endemic (local) to the area can be grown.  This will help reduce the water footprint of the household, if an effort is made to eat vegetables that grown naturally in an area.  This is already done to some extent in the UK where people rent a patch of land called an allotment, from the local city council, for growing fruits, flowers, and vegetables.  Foraging courses could be offered by city councils to educate people on edible plants that grow naturally (or invasively) in an area.  In a region of abundant rainfall, houses could easily reduce their water bill and help conserve water by installing a rainwater harvesting system (Pic. 4; Innovating Water Solutions 2015; Mother Earth News 2015) that collects rainwater, which could be used for watering the garden and for various other uses where tap-water is not exclusively required.  Eco-friendly household appliances could be used which consume less water and electricity.  As an example, for small and less soiled laundry loads, a mechanical washing machine could be used (Pic. 5, Goods Home Design 2015).   
Picture 4.  A rain barrel for harvesting rainwater.

Picture 5: Pedal-powered washing machine.
To reduce the water footprint as a result of energy usage, government incentives could be given to households to use energy sources that consume less water such as photovoltaic cells and wind-powered electricity.  Industrial and government buildings should implement this scheme wherever possible.  Community colleges, universities and other institutions that disseminate information and education should play an active role in raising public awareness on water-related issues and the mitigation of the same.  Super-markets and local grocery stores should have 'water-footprint' leaflets of common food products made available to shoppers, which may make people more aware of their own water footprint while shopping for groceries.

I live very close to my work place, so I walk to work every day, which makes my commuting water footprint nil.  I am also a vegetarian, and although my food water-footprint is lower than regular meat-eaters, I do realise that by consuming wheat, rice, oils, fruits, and vegetables, I have a significantly large indirect consumption of water, which  I am now looking to reduce.  I am also looking into ways by which I can reduce my annual usage of refrigerator and electricity appliances.


British Geological Survey. 2015a. “Jurassic shale of the Weald Basin: resource estimation report.” Accessed 02 May.

British Geological Survey. 2015b. “BGS maps help understand relationship between groundwater and fracking.”  Accessed 02 May.
Goods Home Design. 2015.  “Pedal-Powered Washer Needs No Electricity and Costs Only $40.” Accessed May 02.

Innovative Water Designs. 2015.  "Rainwater Harvesting Methods." Accessed May 04.
Met Office. 2015.  “How much does it rain in the UK?” Accessed May 02.

Mother Earth News. 2015.  “Build a Rainwater Harvesting System.” Accessed May 02.

UK Environmental Change Network.  2015.  "3.1 Factors affecting climate-ocean currents."  Accessed 04 May.

Picture sources:
Picture 1:
Picture 2:
Picture 3:
Picture 4:
Picture 5:

Friday, 7 June 2013

Work for the sake of work

Over the years in my student and professional career doing what I do, i.e. understanding earth processes, from time to time, my boat gets rocked.  I compare these moments of instability with the very earth processes that I strive to understand.  The rock record is a testimony of having endured whatever it was put through – subduction, compaction, thermal and pressure stress, upheaval, faulting, folding, jointing, erosion etc.  My story is one of endurance too, except that unlike the rocks (or sediment, in my case), my testimony carries emotion with it.  During one such recent event when the ground shook beneath my feet, I found the same old emotions surfacing again.  I couldn’t help but reflect upon the fact that the nature of the calamity was generally similar to others of the past as were the emotions associated with it.  The only difference was that of space and time and the personnel involved.  Thus, upon further reflection, I’ve arrived at the following conclusion: one’s objective and effort is best spent in striving to persist with the work involved – that alone is a constant;  other factors surrounding one are variable and subject to change at short notice.  In other words, carry on doing whatever you’re doing, if you still care about it and if it still interests you, for the sake of doing that work to the best of your ability.  There’s more merit in it, than in doing or not doing something for the sake of pleasing or abhorring personnel.  Let work itself be the motivator, not the people that you’re working for, although they benefit directly or indirectly from the former. 

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Waiting for a train that never comes


Plymouth to Exeter

Map courtesy:

     Once again I’ve made the mistake of venturing out in the so called British summer without a rain jacket or an umbrella (colloquially called brolly) or any warm clothing for that matter. I should know by now to always dress for winter or have the supplies ready, just in case the weather changes, as it often does here. It’s a coincidence, or perhaps not, that only a couple of days ago I attended a concert by Amanda Shires, a country/folk singer who sang a song about a train, the Union Pacific not turning up.  Here I am, waiting patiently on a wind-swept station, Exeter St. Davids, with rain pelting down, waiting for the First Great Western train that never comes, or one that is severely delayed.  The railway company staff can’t stop apologising; every announcement starts with, “I’m sorry to announce..”. The whole problem started at Ivybridge, a town just outside Plymouth where due to strong winds a tree fell down, blocking the railway track. It being a Sunday, everything is taking longer than usual.  Some being are happy though. The sea gulls are having a blast. The sea is stormy, and its windy and grey. They always seem to be extra chirpy in such weather. All is well with them!


The scenic rail route just before arriving into Exeter

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Right Here, Right Now

On a recent day trip to Teignmouth (an inspirational place indeed), I had this thought come to me that if I can't achieve something that I'd like to, in the present moment or condition that I'm in, then it's almost impossible that I'll be able to achieve it in the future.  If I can't do it now, then what guarantee is there that I'll be able to do it in the future?  The only certainty that I have is of the here and now, nothing can be said with accuracy about what is to come.  Then what is the point of dreaming up something for the future if I'm not able to believe that I can live my dream now?

This came to me in a bit of a raw form as above; I felt that the thought made no sense.  I then had counter thoughts about why should one bother dreaming dreams at all, for surely not all of them can be made to come true in this instance, in the now as it were.  So if they wouldn't come true now, then according to the above logic, they wouldn't come true in the future too.  Thus there was no point to this thought.

I mulled on this further, and slowly came to realise that whatever one aspired for or dreamt of achieving was mainly to do with the feeling associated with the aspiration, dream or achievement.  The actual thing that fructified the achievement was a physical thing, i.e. a change in one's physical circumstances, such as place, job, finances, relationship (presence or absence of someone), possessions and so on.  The feeling that came out of such a change would make all the difference and thus would be life changing, hopefully bringing about a change in one's mental attitude and making the effort worthwhile.

Now that this had come to light, linking it with the here and now made sense.  It has been said before that in order to achieve a goal, the best tactic is to assume that you are already there, i.e. the goal has already been achieved.  This philosophy as I understand it now, has mainly to do with the feeling/attitude/awareness associated with achieving the goal, not so much with the physical attribute of the goal itself.  Thus, if one proceeds with the task of making their dream happen, the feeling that they already own the outcome should necessarily be adopted.  Working towards the goal with such a feeling makes all the difference in many ways.  There is already a feeling of lightness, enthusiasm, joy, peace and a sort of unattachment to the result.  Doing the work then allows you to enjoy the journey to the goal and totally removes the stress element of achieving the result.  The state of happiness that one envisions with one's dream whatever it may be, is already there.  Thus is it possible to achieve, right here, right now.

But hang on, it's not over yet.  From my own experience I know that although I have tried in the past to assume that I'm already at my goal, and have worked with the diligence and sincerity that it takes to reach the goal, it has not been physically achieved after much labour.  How can this happen?  In answer to my querie, I found this article that cleared the glitch ( .  It speaks about an inner resistance that one might have towards one's dream/aspiration that prevents one from achieving it.  For whatever reason, one may not feel deserving of the result, or may not even want it, even though externally one may work hard for it having adopted the attitude stated above.  With such resistance comes doubt, thus the total commitment needed for adopting the 'winner' attitude is not there.  The words by Goethe and W.H. Murray talk about commitment beautifully (  One has to be committed externally through physical effort and internally through the attitude.  I do believe that with such a combination, it is possible to achieve your goal right here and right now.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

A kind of traveller

There is a kind of traveller who travels around without needing a base to return to. Wherever he travels is his base; it’s where he wholly operates from, it’s where he lives in his physical entirety for the time that he is there. He travels with reckless abandon, with nothing to lose or gain; he travels for the sake of the travel, following his heartfelt instincts. When it’s time to move, he lets go of everything that may bind him down, and trusts that the Universe will bring new supplies, resources, opportunities and encounters for him to experience and benefit from in his new ventures.

Such a traveller wastes no time. He goes at a pace as slowly or quickly as is needed to accomplish the purpose of the travel. There is nothing wrong in travelling a great distance if it’s only to stay there for a short while. Equally, when all his travels are done, he may stay put in a place of his choice for the rest of his life. Such travel is purely about quality, it has nothing to do with quantity. With quality is meant the lesson to be learned, the experience to be had, the work to be done.

Thus, you may travel without roots, stumbling along and allowing serendipitous things to happen to you, or you may travel with a plan and yet allow amazing things to happen to you. You may travel all the while having an anchored base to return to, or you may finally travel back to your roots. Each of these types of travels may be experienced by you if you wish, and then it is left to you to decide which journey was the most liberating and most worthwhile.

Monday, 23 January 2012

On Sarongs & Throws

Or How to hide your mess when under-the-bed is no longer an option.

I have always been mystified by sarongs.  These Indonesian/Malaysian traditional wrap-around skirts are so colourful more than anything else, that I’ve always felt they would serve better as wall pieces or displayed as materials of art rather than a piece of clothing. My feeling came true recently when some friends announced their intent of visiting me at very short notice.  Delighted as I was to be seeing them, chaos reigned supreme in my room, and in my mind too upon receiving the news of their imminent arrival.  My mind went into auto-pilot mode and before I knew it, I was working at amazing speed, efficiently bundling clothing and books away into the closet and the book case respectively.  Narrow longitudinal gaps between the closet and the wall can be efficiently used to squeeze in things such as overcoats and the laundry basket.  At this moment I remembered my sarongs.  I quickly dug them out from the closet and threw them over the piles of things that were seen from the in-between gaps that had been used as storage space. Open cupboards could also be covered by draping their front with a sarong.  I immediately regretting having discarded a rug that I had bought years ago from a shop called South Of The Border Imports.  It was a Mexican style rug woven in bright colours, rugged and huge as a rug should be.  Not only would it have adequately done the job of covering up things, but it would have made a bean-bag if wrapped carefully around a pile of winter woollies and pillows.

              Sarongs                                     Mexican rugs

Saturday, 9 July 2011

A snapshot of Vietnam

“We could run down the gangway shouting Ho! Ho! Ho Chi Minh!” suggested one of my shipmates jokingly, as we prepared to dock. “ We’re in Nha Trang, on the south coast of Vietnam, and quite far away from Ho Chi Minh city”, I reminded him, but he had already vanished in the excitement of disembarking from the ship after our 2 week long cruise in the South China Sea from Singapore to Vietnam. Much as I had enjoyed every bit of the cruise, I was relieved to set foot on ground again, as I left the ship to spend a couple of days in the scenic coastal town of Nha Trang. The local Oceanography Institute had organised a welcome party for the entire crew followed by a short tour of the institute and its in-house aquarium. I had my first taste of the delicious local food which seemed to set me up for a life-long love of Vietnamese food. Our hosts had organised music and dance for later in the evening; we couldn’t have had a warmer and more heart-felt welcome!

The following day we hired a boat and went off on a snorkelling trip in the coastal waters of the South China Sea. The boat was skippered by an old man. The old man met tourists from various countries through his boat business and he maintained a notebook of his encounters and conversations with foreigners. He showed me a page in his book of a popular Indian song written in Hindi by an Indian person who had been on his boat. He even hummed the tune to me, which he remembered very clearly. I was amazed and inspired by him. From his little wooden boat in Nha Trang, he was able to stay connected with the rest of the world. His notebook contained snapshots of multiculturalism from around the world. It was my first attempt at snorkelling, and although I was somewhat overwhelmed to be out in the open ocean with a pair of flippers and a face mask with a pipe to work as a breathing apparatus, the scene of the colourful corals underwater made every minute of it worthwhile. On returning to the boat, a delicious Vietnamese lunch awaited us, prepared by the skipper and his assistant, while we were out in the water.

Later that evening upon returning ashore having bid our friendly boatman a warm farewell, I took a walk along the sandy beach lined with palm trees. A local musician strummed a guitar playing local tunes and accepting whatever change people dropped in his hat. Local kids played in the sand, with no seeming hurry to go home. The next morning we made a trip to the market in paddle rickshaws. The driver of my rickshaw would not accept a tip, and he insisted on waiting for me until I finished shopping at the market so that he could take me back to the hotel. Most of us bought the traditional Vietnamese straw hats that are typically worn by workers in the rice fields. One of my colleagues couldn’t stop taking pictures of the market place. He said it felt so warm and homely that he had to take back as many reminders of it as he could. We treated ourselves to traditional Vietnamese coffee and spring rolls at a street-side cafĂ©. I bought portable statues of the laughing, travelling and the meditating Buddha, local paintings and picture postcards depicting life in Vietnam, all as souvenirs and gifts. At another street-side shop, I bought a t-shirt embroidered with a traditional scene of a rice field. Happy with my purchase, I walked away. A few minutes later, I saw the owner of the shop hurrying towards me with a t-shirt. I thought she wanted to sell more of them to me, so I politely refused in English and started walking away. She followed me, insisting on something in Vietnamese, all the while holding out a t-shirt to me. I ignored her for a few minutes, and then I tried to explain again that I did not want another t-shirt. She pointed at the t-shirt that I had bought from her which was in my shopping bad and said the word ‘damaged’. I pulled out the t-shirt from my bag, which she hastily grabbed from me, unfolded it and pointed out to me a large tear in the cloth! She had realised that she had sold me a damaged product, so she had followed after me to exchange it for another t-shirt! I was touched by her honestly, and I gladly exchanged the t-shirt with her. She smiled in relief and went away.

We went to a restaurant for our evening meal. I ordered two servings of spring rolls. The waitress laughingly informed me that two servings would be too much for me. She recommended one serving to which I agreed, although I was somewhat confused and embarrassed that I was being told to eat less. When the food arrived, I realised why her advice made sense. One serving consisted of a medium sized plate full of about 10 small-sized spring rolls! I couldn’t possibly have managed to eat more than a plateful.  My short stay in Nha Trang was over. As I waited in the airport lounge for my flight, I wondered when I would be back again. Although 2 days seemed like such a short time, almost like a snap-shot, after 12 years my memories and feelings of the place are still alive and fresh.