Water and technological advances

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Water and its use go hand in hand with the development of civilizations and the transformation of the environment, as exemplified by these advances and technological developments:

  • Aqueducts. The aqueduct, or conductor of water (for its Latin origin, aquaeductus, aqua, (water) and ducto of the verb ducere (to guide), is a work that allows transporting water continuously from a place to a distant point of consumption, almost always cities or towns. They were employed in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, India, Petra, Jordan, Greece, Rome, Sri Lanka, North America, and Mesoamerica.

Roman aqueducts – scattered across three continents – are considered one of the most outstanding achievements of engineering. Today many cities maintain and use ancient aqueducts. For example, the aqueduct of Segovia, Spain, was in operation until much of the twentieth century.

Acueducto romano 2. Segovia. Foto de Helena Rivas

Aqueduct of Segovia. Photo by Helena Rivas

In ancient Mexico, in 1466, Nezahualcóyotl, King Texcoco, devised the construction of the aochpango or aqueduct (from Nahuatl: atl, water; ochpantli, road and co, place: “place of the path of water”). This aqueduct, known as the Chapultepec aqueduct, carried the waters from Chapultepec to Mexico-Tenochtitlan. Today only a few arches are preserved on Avenida Chapultepec in Mexico City and two of its original fountains.

Today there are extensive distribution networks of drinking water to provide the vital liquid to towns and cities.

  • Irrigation systems. In Mesopotamia, already in the year 1 300 BCE, to rinse, they used guimbaletes, that is, long poles with a counterweight to raise buckets of river water that were then emptied into channels.

For their part, the pharaohs of ancient Egypt undertook great irrigation works: they assembled systems of canals and dug water coffers. “One of the first positions in ancient Egypt was that of ‘canal digger'” (Casson et al., 2001).

Today there is a wide variety of irrigation systems: analog and digital irrigation programs, solar irrigation; sprinkler irrigation system; micro-spray irrigation systems; drip irrigation systems; drainage; multi-gate irrigation systems; airdrops.

  • Dams. In its simplest sense, a dam is a thick wall built through a river, stream, or canal to dam water or redirect it out of its channel; in this regard, “The Egyptians captured the overflowing waters in immense ponds dug into the earth and invented primitive, but ingenious mechanisms to raise the water and take it where it was needed” (Casson et al., 2001) and dammed the Nile with a series of dikes to prevent flooding.

If today we think of a dam, a large hydraulic structure capable of storing or retaining water that can be used for irrigation, human consumption, and generating electricity would come to mind, in addition to being a space for recreation and tourism.

There are more than 14,000 dams in the world.

  • Hydroelectric power plants. They go hand in hand with the prey. Hydroelectric power plants transform the force of water into electrical energy. They have their antecedent in the Egyptian Ferris wheel (100 BCE). The Ferris wheel is an energy amplifier that allows you to take advantage of the force of moving water and obtain energy. It is considered the oldest of all renewable energies and is currently one of the most efficient.

The ten largest hydroelectric dams in the world are the following Naturgy. (n.d.):

  1. Three Gorges Dam (22,500 MW), China.
  2. Itaipu (14 000 MW), Brazil/Paraguay.
  3. Xiluodu (13 860 MW), China.
  4. Guri (10 234 MW), Venezuela.
  5. Tucuruí (8 370 MW), Brazil.
  6. Grand Coulee (6 809 MW), USA
  7. Xiangjiaba (6 448 MW), China.
  8. Longtan (6 426 MW), China.
  9. Sayano-Shushenskaya (6 400 MW), Russia.
  10. Krasnoyarsk (6 000 MW), Russia.
  • Hydraulic mills or water mills. Developed since ancient times, these hydraulic machines harness the natural driving force of river or tidal water to grind cereals, irrigate or produce electricity.
  • Water containment systems. As cofferdams to channel water flows, drainage, barriers, walls, and gutters. The ancient Egyptians dammed the Nile with a series of dikes to prevent flooding.
  • Steam vehicles (locomotives, cars, skateboards). The action of water vapor drives them. Steam locomotives operated until the twentieth century, when they were replaced by diesel and electric machines.
  • Hot air balloons (steam). In Europe, in the eighteenth century, the first steam balloons appeared. Today there are three main types of balloons: hot air; gas (hydrogen, coal gas, helium, and propane; the latter the most common today); and Rozière (heated and unheated lifting gases for long-haul flights).

In 2019, Finnish researchers proposed using hot steam balloons to launch rockets at high altitudes and thereby prevent them from exploding (hydrogen is flammable), in addition to being a cheaper option (helium is expensive).

The principle that makes a balloon work was developed in ancient China.

They are used for military purposes, meteorological (measurement of atmospheric pressure, temperature, and humidity) when rising into the atmosphere, recreation, advertising, and sports.

  • Wastewater disposal and purification technologies.
  • Nanotechnologies for water treatment and quality, among others. As new systems for nanofiltration, improvement of desalination techniques (reverse osmosis) using nanotechnology; nanoparticles as catalysts to degrade organic pollutants and remove salts and heavy metals from the liquids in which they are dissolved; nanosensors for the detection of contaminants.

Which ones were we missing? Can you tell us? Please write to us.

La antigua Mesopotamia, historia y resumen, fácil y divertido
La Ingeniería Hidráulica a través de la historia


You can consult the following sources to learn more about the subject:

Casson, L. et al. (2001). Egipto antiguo. Castaño, A. (trad). Las grandes épocas de la humanidad. Historia de las culturas mundiales. México, DF, México : Ediciones Culturales Internacionales, S.A. de C.V.

Douas, M., Serena, P. A., & Marqués, M.I. (s.f.). La conexión nanotecnología-agua. Esfera del agua. Recuperado de https://www.esferadelagua.es

En el Green Power. (s.f.). La energía hidroeléctrica. Recuperado de https://www.enelgreenpower.com

Europa Press. (21 de agosto de 2019). Proponen un globo de vapor para lanzar cohetes a gran altitud. Recuperado de https://www.europapress.es

Gestiriego. (2 mayo, 2019). Sistemas de riego innovadores. Recuperado de Recuperado de https://www.gestiriego.com/sistemas-de-riego-innovadores/

Hadas, M. et al. (2000). La Roma imperial. Bosh, E. S. (trad.). Las grandes épocas de la humanidad. Historia de las culturas mundiales. México, DF, México : Ediciones Culturales Internacionales, S.A. de C.V.

Kramer, S. M. et al. (2000). La cuna de la civilización. Saavedra, C. (trad.). Las grandes épocas de la humanidad. Historia de las culturas mundiales. México, DF, México : Ediciones Culturales Internacionales, S.A. de C.V.

Martí, A. (27 de septiembre de 2020). La presa de las Tres Gargantas: un monstruo hidroeléctrico situado en China y la planta energética más grande del mundo. Recuperado de https://www.xataka.com/otros/presa-tres-gargantas-monstruo-hidroelectrico-situado-china-planta-energetica-grande-mundo

Meléndez, J. (s.f.). Historia de los globos aerostáticos. Mucha Historia. Recuperado de https://muchahistoria.com

Naturgy. (s.f.). Las grandes presas hidroeléctricas del mundo. Recuperado de https://www.naturgy.com

Real Academia Española. (s.f.). Presa. Recuperado de https://dle.rae.es/presa

Wikipedia. (s.f.). Acueducto. Recuperado de https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acueducto

Wikipedia. (s.f.). Acueducto de Chapultepec. Recuperado de https://es.wikipedia.org

Wikipedia. (s.f.). Molino hidráulico. Recuperado de https://es.wikipedia.org

English translation: Rubén Marrufo García León