Reflections in Nature: Water collection from fog

BILL BOWER/Sun-Gazette Correspondent
Columnist Bill Bower photographed this version of “smoke on the water and fire in the sky” on Aug. 26.

BILL BOWER/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Columnist Bill Bower photographed this version of “smoke on the water and fire in the sky” on Aug. 26.

On Aug. 26, the Friends of Mt. Pisgah State Park held its 23rd annual Youth Field Day. It was a rather cool morning with fog covering the countryside.

As I drove up a hill on the way to the park I saw what appeared to be a huge fireball in the distance. At first glance, I thought it was a farmer’s barn on fire; however, it was the sun, appearing as a huge fiery ball in the sky.

Down the road I passed the Stephen Foster Lake, which appeared as if it was on fire, with smoke rising from it.

That Saturday morning, with nature at her best, will forever be etched in my memory bank.

At the time, I did not know who recorded the following song or what year it was released, but for the remainder of that day, the words kept running through my mind:

Smoke on the water,

a fire in the sky

Smoke on the water

— By Deep Purple, 1972

The fog that settled over the countryside that morning was typical of August and September mornings. In the fall, the morning fog often hugs the lower valleys of the Appalachians.

Valley fog is a type of radiation fog, which is the most common form of fog. Radiation fog occurs when cold, dense air drains down mountain slopes at night, collecting in the valley floors and forming as radiation fog.

Our word fog appeared first in the 14th century and means long grass. The word still persists in Yorkshire fog, which is the name of a species of grass.

Perhaps the word foggy, referring to a place overgrown with long grass, is where our word bog originated. The mist rising from marshy ground was called fog.

Perhaps you too have noticed steam fog rising from lakes in the fall or early winter. Cold air overlaying warm air near the surface of a warm lake is an unstable configuration, lending itself to rising air. The mixing of cool air chills the warmer and moister air immediately above the lake to allow condensation and clouds to form.

Typically, the wispy, vertical currents of fog, which we refer to as smoke on the water, can be seen rising from the lake.

Fog and mist are not the same, with fog more massive and thicker than mist.

Have you ever heard someone say that the fog was so thick you could it with a knife?

Many ancient cultures collected water from fog by placing large pots under trees and shrubs. As the water from fog collected on the trees and shrubs, it dripped to the pots below.

This method of water collection was not very effective. Today, our engineers are working on more sophisticated ways to collect water from fog.

The collection of water from fog is done by using large pieces of vertical canvas, which is known as a fog fence, to make the fog droplets flow down toward a trough below the canvas.

Fogs have the potential to provide an alternative source of fresh water in dry regions and can be harvested through the use of simple and low-cost collection systems.

Research suggests that fog collectors work best in locations with frequent periods of fog, such as coastal areas where water can be harvested as fog is driven in land by the wind.

In one day, a single screen can collect more than 100 gallons of water.

The Battle of New Orleans, which was fought on Jan. 8, 1815, provided us with a land victory during the War of 1812.

It was fought two weeks after the signing of the Treaty at Ghent because word that the treaty had been signed never reached the battle front.

On the night before the battle, a heavy fog formed, causing problems for both the British and Americans. The British were unable to form their columns for a sunrise attack, and the Americans were hindered because the British approached to within a short distance of their location before being discovered.

However, during the battle, a wind came up and blew the fog from the valley toward the British army’s position, giving an advantage to the American Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson and enabling him to win the battle.

Autumn creeps into our lives, a day at a time, with misty dawns and blankets of fog covering the ground. This fog persists against the weakening sun until late mornings; however, the sun will still be strong enough to produce hot afternoons. Yes, smoke on the water and fire in the sky are part of nature.

Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 1224 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.

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