Updates from Cyprus

June 5, 2006

While weapons initiated, and rock bluffs facilitated, the defense of ancient coastal Cypriot cities against Persian, Greek, Egyptian, and Roman invasions, the fresh water enabled and sustained the defenders. Historical literature is filled with examples of the central role fresh water played for cities under siege. One dramatic Middle Eastern example is reported in The Source, where James Michener recounts an archeological dig in Israel and highlights how a bedrock tunnel was precisely constructed with rudimentary tools 5 thousand years ago to access water outside the city walls. Michener writes historical fiction, and conveys how this hidden tunnel confounded the encamped attackers, who waited and waited for thirst to cause the surrounded city to succumb. A more geographically- and historically-proximate example to Syracuse is in the brief 1664 defense of Dutch's New Amsterdam from invading British ships, and how the absence of fresh water inside Fort Amsterdam, on lower Manhattan, caused a dreadful thirst and allowed the well watered English frigates to quite easily take the entire province. A specific Cypriot example is the ancient site of Amathous, dedicated both to Heracles and Aphrodite Cults, along the south coast and not far from the major city of Limassol. In the attached photos I show some Hellenistic-era stone and clay pipes that conveyed spring water from the Troodos foothills to cisterns, baths, and a public fountain situated within a column decorated agora. Here, fresh water sustained commerce, art, family life as well as defense. Today, however, fresh water supplies to Amathous, and to most ancient ruins in Cyprus for that matter, are no longer considered sustainer, but viewed as a destabilizing and erosive force.

Water as the persistent and insidious weathering agent, rubbing off colorful archeological details, dissolving and undermining stone foundations, and carrying away pieces to the unsolved puzzle of history, is a view contrary to that as life sustaining solution; for the water resources engineer, this aggrieved view toward water was met with innovative design that achieved reconciliation. In sites such as Amathous, simple tin-roofed sheds have housed the precious stone fragments, but in this arrangement rainfall is concentrated to drip points, and then more aggressive and penetrating scour develops at or near the site. To allay concerns of extreme vulnerability, it is important that I point out Cyprus has many climate-controlled museums where delicate art work is stored and presented. Field sites, however, are the base for most ancient city studies, and an aesthetically pleasing alternative to the tin-roofed shed is the clay-replica guttered-roof found at nearby Kourion. Kourion was developed during Mycenaean colonization more than 3 thousand years ago. Note how the drainage pipes engineered this decade to protect the ruins from erosive water are similar to the drainage pipes developed many millennia ago to supply life-giving water! I attach a few photos from this site, first a precious mosaic of the Spirit of Creation, Ktsis, holding a measuring tool, and then the elegant wooden arched roof and clay tile drainage, protecting the mosaic. Another set of photos shows a mosaic of Odysseus tempting a female- disguised Achilles with weapons, and the wooden roof and clay tile cover and drain system. The Cypriot arid climate has done much to protect these ancient sites through millennia, however once excavated, innovative new designs were required to protect the historic elements from the more versatile element of water.

Picture of Cyprus waterfront showing low vegetation and white soil due to calcium

May 3, 2006
Water is the focal point for many conversations here in Cyprus. As air temperature rises, it is interesting to ponder how water helps keep humans cool and healthy. Simply by drinking water we can set into motion the a self-regulating cool-down process. The hotter the air, the more we are likely to cool, and the chillier the air, the less. Under warmer weather, say the 27 C (about 80-F) air temperature today in Cyprus, the air can absorb Picture showing the limestone and easily weathered rocks at the World Heritage Site Tombs of the Kings79% more water vapor than at the winter temperature of 18 C (about 64-F). So as an ounce of liquid water sweats its way from the body today, it will readily evaporate and cool a 43-kg (95-lb) human being by about 0.6 C or 1 F. If the sweat is sticking to your body, however, then the phase change from liquid to vapor is inhibited, and the cooling stagnates. Find a good breeze to solve this problem, and then if water is available, drink more ounces to sustain the phenomena of a sweat based cooling system. In Cyprus, available drinking water is considered scarce by international standards.

Another, less pungent, non-drinking, approach to cooling off on the island of Cyprus might involve taking a swim. The country has 782 km (486 miles) of coastline surrounded by Mediterranean, much of safe for swimming and stunningly turquoise in color. Temperature of the surface water is as low as 16 C (62 F) in winter, and now is about 21 C (70 F), but will rise to a high of about 28 C (82 F) this August, when average air temperatures are near 34 C (93 F). Conveniently, the sea is cooler than the daytime air temperature in the summer, so a pleasant cooling option is to immerse for a heat-exchange. Let the body cool by draining off heat into the cooler Mediterranean, which has the capacity to cool millions by tens of degrees C or F. Water, by nature of its hydrogen bonds among other physical properties, requires much more solar energy and heat to warm by 1 degree C or F than air, or soil, or humans. This property of specific heat keeps water relatively cool long into the summer, and relatively warm throughout much of the fall and winter.

Picture of the coastline of Cyprus showing turquoise water due to lack of organic materialTurquoise waters in the Mediterranean Sea attracts millions of swimmers and dippers and waders. Turquoise water reveals the bottom, and ensures many a nervous swimmer that nothing suspicious lurks and entry is safe. The water becomes turquoise in color due to a combination of geological and biological phenomena, regulated by the marvels of rainfall and runoff. The biological component to turquoise water is explained by the absence or low levels of organic material that might enter the water from flowing rivers. In the eastern Mediterranean, the Aswan Dam in Egypt retains much of the Nile's organic matter, and has significantly diminished loading of biological organics and minerals. Cyprus then adds little itself from river flow, as most rivers are ephemeral and only flow during the wet winter months. The geological component to turquoise water is explained by the abundance of limestone throughout the island, and its entry into the Sea. The calcium carbonates from this limestone generate a while flocculated suspension that deposits to the sea floor and backscatters sunlight, creating the blue-green of the turquoise color. Note that this is a geologic cycle, as the limestone largely originated from decomposed and compressed sea shells, was uplifted, and now erodes back to the sea to provide minerals for new shells.

I attached photos to illustrate turquoise coloration. In one, you can see a view from the Akamas peninsula of the waterfront, and immediately see both the turquoise color and the dry greenish vegetation as evidence of low flow rivers. In another, you can see the near absence of coastal vegetation and the white color of the calcium rich soils. In another you can see the evidence of limestone, easily weathered, rocks at the site of the World Heritage Site Tombs of the Kings, with the sea in the background. Several thousand years ago, tombs were constructed in southwestern Cyprus by working naturally occurring openings.

Cyprus students measuring ephemeral stream for surface roughnessApril 18, 2006
The rich cultural diversity on the Cypriot college campus is a wonderful testament to the 'we can get along' ability of this next generation of leaders. While Cyprus' land area measures 6.5% that of New York's, its island location links the continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia and brings together a tremendous variety of college students. I will admit, based on a few informal interviews, international students arriving in Cyprus are motivated in part by the Mediterranean beaches around the island, and not just the academic stature and social benefits of a degree from one of these programs. In my Engineering Hydrology class, the students are from mostly Middle Eastern countries, such as Jordan, Pakistan, and Palestine, and several are from Turkey, and a few from Egypt and Sudan. Surprising to me, there are few students in my class that are actually Cypriot.

My contributions to the water resources university education have been on both the north and south side of the island. Our family has made a point of visiting historic sites on each side to study water engineering features and enrich the classroom discussion. Student diversity at my northern teaching assignment, Near Eastern University (NEU) Civil Engineering Department, is strongly influenced by whether countries recognize the north Cypriot degree; recall that the northern Cypriot government is not recognized by any nation other than Turkey. Many of the students in my class have family involved in construction in the Middle East, and while they enjoy the engineering hydrology (see the attached photos), they hope to gain a job in construction engineering. In the photos I attach, the students are examining equations at the dry-erase board, and then measuring an ephemeral stream channel on the campus for surface roughness, bed slope, and other hydraulic properties.

Cyprus students examining equations on the white boardThis time of year, mid-April, is a great time for southern Cypriot university students to dig into their reading while enjoying the beaches - for nearly 2 weeks, the academic programs are on break for Eastern Orthodox Easter. In the southern part of the island, there are numerous college programs, many preparing students for careers in teaching, business, or other professional areas. I have encountered students from all three neighboring continents in these programs - Italians, Kenyans, Indians, to list a few countries. The biggest institution is the University of Cyprus, which teaches its undergraduate curriculum in Greek. Student cultural diversity is a bit constrained by this language requirement, and most students are Cypriot or Greek. The faculty at the University of Cyprus are trained in the best international programs. The engineering program is only 3 years old, and new faculty are being hired to help deliver the courses for these rising students. In the water engineering courses of the 3rd year, some are taught by a visiting instructor, Angelos Protopappas, with whom I share an office. Dr. Protopappas is an Associate Professor of Water Resources Engineering from the Democritus University of Thrace, in northeastern Greece, but trained at MIT. My contributions in this Greek curriculum have been technical graduate seminars, delivered in the universal language of mathematical numbers!

Picture of the eclipse in CyprusApril 3, 2006
Cyprus experienced a 95% total solar eclipse on Wednesday, March 29th, peaking around 1:30 pm, and the path of totality passed to our north west through Libya and Turkey. The track of this eclipse is shown in the attached image from NASA. Hundreds of people were out to enjoy this rare phenomenon, predicted to occur again in Cyprus the 1st of April 2088. One location for viewing was at the capital city Nicosia's Acropolis Park, where Poseidoneon Planetarium set up several telescopes for the public. Many local schools had dismissed children by that time, and they were cautiously peering through eclipse glasses and films, or through the scopes. I include a photograph of the crescent shaped shadows that were apparent under the canopy of trees during the eclipse. The eclipse had a notable impact on lowering the afternoon temperature by about 5 degrees Celsius, which caused thermal gradients that strengthened winds. It also of course dimmed daylight, and the sunlight striking us became weaker and cooler. The eclipse occurs when the view from the Earth to the Sun is obstructed by the New Moon. What we experienced was the moon's umbral shadow, darker than the moon's penumbral shadow associated with partial eclipses. The moon's orbit around the earth is on a 5 degrees tilt compared with earth's orbit around the sun, which makes the umbra typically pass above or below Earth during a New Moon. While it will be many decades before it happens again in Cyprus, eclipses take place every 1 to 2 years at different locations around the Earth. The impact of the eclipse on ancient societies is interesting to consider, and when astronomical explanations were not developed they often interpreted the eclipse as evil spirits or angry gods stealing the sun's light, and expected the subsequent arrival of epidemics, famine and war. A great web link for those interested in this topic is found at:

satellite image of Cyprus showing how sand is carried from the Sahara desert to CyprusMarch 23, 2006
News from Cyprus, as it relates to water resources engineering: Our sky is filled with fine sands from what meteorologists call an African dust storm or Simoon. I attach a TERRA Satellite MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) sensor image of a similar but more powerful storm from February 25. The image shows how the sands are carried off of the Sahara Desert of northern Africa, from countries such as Egypt and Libya, and carried to Cyprus at a relatively low elevation. This low elevation is revealed by the clarity of the Troodos Mountains and its Mount Olympus, at 1951 m, in the satellite image. With the low level sand, it is in air we breathe, causing irritation of the lungs and eyes, as well as impacting other fauna and flora. Today while I was at the Cyprus Meteorology Service, my colleague was interrupted by calls requesting a forecast of the storm to assist Cypriots health professionals. This storm will likely abate by tonight, but the season of Simoons may extend into May. The storms can and have killed humans; in 524 B.C.E. Cambyses, son of Persia's Cyrus the Great, saw his army smothered in Egypt due to such a storm.

Water resources management and climate are central to this phenomenon. This past year has experienced below average precipitation for this region, and extreme heat globally. The combination has dried the soils of northern Africa, increasing desertification, limiting crop growth, and creating a greater land area with soils that can blow away in the wind. Picture showing storm at the City of Larnaca  from the Salt LakeThen came along late winter and early spring of 2006, as the planet rotates and tilts its northern hemisphere back toward the sun. With this tilting comes a greater magnitude of solar radiation striking the Saharan Desert, and the generation of relatively hot air over the sand. As the ESF community knows, the hot air rises by buoyancy forces, and the convective cycle begins. This convective cycle is completed by relatively cooler air blowing in to replace the hot air. This year, because of the higher temperatures and drier lands, the hot air has risen quickly, and the cold air blew in aggressively, pushing entire sand dunes, particle by particle, out over the Mediterranean and onto Cyprus. There are reports by some scientists that Saharan Simoons affect plankton growth in the western Atlantic Ocean as well provide scarce mineral elements for plants in the Amazon rainforest. Let me know if any ESF students, staff, or faculty detect impacts in Syracuse! I attach another photo from Cyprus of the February 25 storm showing how the view from Salt Lake outside the City of Larnaca to the Hala Sultan Tekke mosque. The mosque was built to commemorate Mohammed's foster mother, Umm Haram, killed in 647 C.E. during an Arab invasion.

Picture showing a float with people dressed as chickens in regards to the Avian FluMarch 12, 2006
The first weekend in March ended a 10-day Limassol Carnival, not quite rivaling the Sao Paolo festivities. The population of Limassol is about 160,000, but the Carnival Parade attracts people from across the island. Pagan ritual influenced the early years of this event, and now it is coordinated to celebrate the coming of Lent and facilitate masquerading, political satire, and fancy-dress competitions. One political satire float we saw regarded avian influenza, which was identified on the island in February and caused difficulties for tourism and business. The float is pictured in the attached with fenced in chicks and hens, and outside the photo there were workers spraying biocides. A masquerading float that caught my scientific interest was celebrating neru, or water, with water drops diving into a pool and relaxing under palm trees. I suspect for this severely water limited island, which is coming out of an exceptionally dry winter, large water drops bring much joy and hope.

Anothe picture of a float from the Carnival Parade showing a swimming pool During February I encountered an obstacle to my proposed research of measuring sediment conveyance, deposition, and river adjustment above and below the many irrigation reservoirs. The problem arose because of political division that officially split the country in 1974, but dates back to hostilities between Turkish and Greek Cypriots in the early 1960s. In brief, the island has a United Nations managed buffer zone dividing the mostly Turkish northern third (called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and only recognized by Turkey) from the mostly Greek southern two-thirds (called the Republic of Cyprus and a member of the UN and European Union). I attach two map images (see below) that show how the capital of Nicosia (also called Lefkosia) has empty space on the opposite side of the buffer zone, to the south on the Turkish map, and to the north on the Greek. Some Greek Cypriots and most of their public agencies cannot recognize the north because this would implicitly accept what they perceive as an illegal occupation and violation of human rights. My assignment with the Cyprus Fulbright Commission has me working on both sides of the buffer zone, and when I met with the southern Cyprus Water Development Department (WDD), I was told no further work was permitted until I disavowed any future work with the northern side. My obligations with the north are to teach a engineering hydrology class and conduct research, so it was not possible for me to cease ties. After discussions with the Fulbright office, it was determined that this WDD research would not go forward for now. Fortunately, the contacts with the University of Cyprus on the southern side remain strong, and I teach some graduate lectures, and my research on rainfall for the island has been maintained.

Turkish map showing empty space on the South (Greek) side of the map

Greek map showing empty space to the north (Turkish) side of the map.

Cyprus Links

Click images to view full maps:

Map of Lemesos (Southern Cyprus)

Lemesos and surrounding area

Map showing rainfall in Cyprus for December 2005
Rainfall map for December, 2005

Graph showing rainfall in Cyprus for December 2005
Graph of accumulated rainfall, 12/05

Map showing major water projects in Cyprus
Major water projects in Cyprus

Geologic section map showing water flow
Geologic section map showing water flow


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