World Waterfall Database
Book Review

International Waterfall Classification System

Beisel Jr, Richard H. (author)

Outskirts Press, 2006
Edition 1
Format Paperback
Print Style Black and White
Book Type Reference
Page Count 294
ISBN 978-1598003406
In Print? Yes
Ratings
Picture quality (1)
Picture Quantity (3)
Accuracy of Content (2)
Thoroughness of Content (3)
Production Value (1)

Reviewed by Bryan Swan

With his book International Waterfall Classification System, author Richard Beisel attempts to do what no one had previously attempted - create a standardized, internationally accepted method for classifying waterfalls based on the volume of water present in the waterfall. While the system itself is fairly sound and does a decent job at ranking any given waterfall against another, the presentation of the system in this book is both less than professional and is full of clerical errors which only serve to damage the author's credibility.

The basic premise of the International Waterfall Classification System is that all things being equal, the more water in a waterfall, the more massive it is. The measurements used for the formula are based on the height and pitch of the waterfall as well as the average streamflow of the river along which the waterfall occurs. The fatal flaw in this system is that given equal heights the less steep of a pitch the waterfall has, the higher the rating will be. If there is a 10 foot tall waterfall on a large river that drops straight down and a 10 foot tall series of rapids on the same river, the rapids will have a higher rating simply because they are longer than the vertical waterfall. The result is simply a system that compares the mass of waterfalls and not the force, impressiveness or any other quantifiable metric.

Presenting his system, the author has traveled across North America documenting many waterfalls for his case study, the large majority of which appear to be east of the Mississippi. He gives a good sampling of tall, short, high and low volume falls, vertical and gradual, but much of the physical data cited in each entry is incorrect, pointing to a lack of research about the actual heights and streamflow figures necessary to achieve his equations. A few that stood out to me include citing Argentina's Nacunday Falls as occurring on the Iguacu River and Iguacu Falls as occurring on the Parana River - both errors which could have easily been checked by looking at any decent World Atlas - and citing the streamflow of British Columbia's Takakkaw Falls as averaging 5 cubic meters per second while Switzerland's Staubbach Falls as averaging 7 cubic meters per second - even though any pictures of either waterfall would clearly illustrate Takakkaw to have easily 10 times more volume in its stream than Staubbach.

Part of this erroneous streamflow citation seems to derive from the fact that Beisel uses a Coefficient of Correlation (a method of predicting a value based on related values) to guess at the volume of a stream based on another nearby stream, which may work on some streams, particularly in the eastern United States, but he seems to have little to no grasp on how Glaciers, Icefields, Lakes and Springs have an influence on streamflow, how groundwater retention behaves in different regions, karst geology influences flow patterns or any similar influences and he doesn't appear to have taken such features into account in his book. This one glaring problem says to me that Beisel's background as an Actuary came much more heavily into play in his research than his experience with waterfalls in person.

As far as production goes, the book looks to have been a Print On Demand product (nothing wrong with that, as prices are falling so fast its hard not to go that way) that he himself produced, which does deserve marks. However, the print quality is so bad for the black and white converted pictures included in the book that the majority of them look like they were hand drawn rather than taken with a camera, and often artifacts in the pictures make it look like they were simply printed on a cheap laser printer. The book has very little structure, no alphabetization within the chapters, a questionably constructed index and no "flare" to jazz up the presentation. Even the cover is boring - with text that looks more like it belongs on the front of a Harry Potter book and a bad scan of an old slide of Patterson Falls in New Jersey.

For the price, content and quality of this book, the only reason I could recommend it to anyone interested is if you desperately need documentation of the International Waterfall Classification System itself, but as a book about Waterfalls, this one is best left on the shelf unless you can snag a discounted copy.

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