Ephemeral things are transitory, existing only briefly. Typically the term is used to describe objects found in nature, although it can describe a wide range of things.

Geographical examples

An ephemeral waterbody is a wetland
A wetland is an area of land whose soil is saturated with water either permanently or seasonally. Wetlands are categorised by their characteristic vegetation, which is adapted to these unique soil conditions....

, spring
Spring (hydrosphere)
A spring—also known as a rising or resurgence—is a component of the hydrosphere. Specifically, it is any natural situation where water flows to the surface of the earth from underground...

, stream
A stream is a body of water with a current, confined within a bed and stream banks. Depending on its locale or certain characteristics, a stream may be referred to as a branch, brook, beck, burn, creek, "crick", gill , kill, lick, rill, river, syke, bayou, rivulet, streamage, wash, run or...

, river
A river is a natural watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, a lake, a sea, or another river. In a few cases, a river simply flows into the ground or dries up completely before reaching another body of water. Small rivers may also be called by several other names, including...

, pond
A pond is a body of standing water, either natural or man-made, that is usually smaller than a lake. A wide variety of man-made bodies of water are classified as ponds, including water gardens, water features and koi ponds; all designed for aesthetic ornamentation as landscape or architectural...

 or lake
A lake is a body of relatively still fresh or salt water of considerable size, localized in a basin, that is surrounded by land. Lakes are inland and not part of the ocean and therefore are distinct from lagoons, and are larger and deeper than ponds. Lakes can be contrasted with rivers or streams,...

 that only exists for a short period following precipitation
Precipitation (meteorology)
In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation (also known as one of the classes of hydrometeors, which are atmospheric water phenomena is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation...

 or snowmelt
In hydrology, snowmelt is surface runoff produced from melting snow. It can also be used to describe the period or season during which such runoff is produced. Water produced by snowmelt is an important part of the annual water cycle in many parts of the world, in some cases contributing high...

. They are not the same as intermittent or seasonal waterbodies, which exist for longer periods, but not all year round.

Examples of ephemeral streams are the Luni river
Luni River
The Luni is a river of western Rajasthan state, India. It originates in the Pushkar valley of the Aravalli Range, near Ajmer and ends in the marshy lands of Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, after travelling a distance of 530 km...

 in Rajasthan
Rājasthān the land of Rajasthanis, , is the largest state of the Republic of India by area. It is located in the northwest of India. It encompasses most of the area of the large, inhospitable Great Indian Desert , which has an edge paralleling the Sutlej-Indus river valley along its border with...

, India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, Ugab River
Ugab River
The Ugab River is an ephemeral river that only flows above the surface of its sandy bed a few days each year, but even during much of the dry season its subterranean water surfaces as pools in places, and provides an important resource for species in the Damaraland region of northern Namibia...

 in Southern Africa
Southern Africa
Southern Africa is the southernmost region of the African continent, variably defined by geography or geopolitics. Within the region are numerous territories, including the Republic of South Africa ; nowadays, the simpler term South Africa is generally reserved for the country in English.-UN...

, and a number of small ephemeral watercourse
A watercourse is any flowing body of water. These include rivers, streams, anabranches, and so forth.-See also:* physical geography* Environmental flow* Waterway* Hydrology* Wadi-External links:...

s that drain Talak in northern Niger
Niger , officially named the Republic of Niger, is a landlocked country in Western Africa, named after the Niger River. It borders Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, Algeria and Libya to the north and Chad to the east...

. Other notable ephemeral rivers include the Todd River
Todd River
The Todd River is an ephemeral river in the southern Northern Territory, central Australia. The origins of the Todd River begin in the MacDonnell Ranges, where it flows past the Telegraph Station, almost through the center of Alice Springs, through Heavitree Gap at the southern end of Alice Springs...

 and Sandover River
Sandover River
The Sandover River is a river in northeast Central Australia. It is the only major tributary of the Georgina River that does not rise in western Queensland. Instead it flows from the eastern Macdonnell Ranges in the Northern Territory northward to enter the Georgina near Urandangi...

 in Central Australia
Central Australia
Central Australia/Alice Springs Region is one of the five regions in the Northern Territory. The term Central Australia is used to describe an area centred on Alice Springs in Australia. It is sometimes referred to as Centralia; likewise the people of the area are sometimes called Centralians...

 as well as the Son River
Son River
Son River of central India is the largest of the Ganges' southern tributaries. A British 1850s diary shows that the river was written in English as Soane.-Course:...

, Batha River
Batha River
The Batha River is an ephemeral river in Chad. As with any rivers or lakes in this region, its existence depends on the amount of rainfall. The river's delta is at Lake Fitri in Chad. Batha River carries water west from Ouaddaï highlands during rainy seasons, usually during flash flooding....

 and the Trabancos River
Trabancos River
The Trabancos is a river in Spain that flows between the Zapardiel and the Guareña rivers, and is a tributary of the Duero river. The source of the Trabancos is in Moraña, a region in the north of the province of Ávila, near Blascomillán...


Any endorheic basin, or closed basin, that contains a playa
Dry lake
Dry lakes are ephemeral lakebeds, or a remnant of an endorheic lake. Such flats consist of fine-grained sediments infused with alkali salts. Dry lakes are also referred to as alkali flats, sabkhas, playas or mud flats...

 or dry lake at its drainage lowpoint can become an ephemeral lake. Examples include Lake Carnegie
Lake Carnegie (Western Australia)
Lake Carnegie is an ephemeral lake in Western Australia. It fills with water only during very rare periods of significant rainfall, such as during the huge 1900 floods and in numerous recent tropical wet seasons when the monsoon and tropical cyclones have been moved south by recent climate change...

 in Western Australia
Western Australia
Western Australia is a state of Australia, occupying the entire western third of the Australian continent. It is bounded by the Indian Ocean to the north and west, the Great Australian Bight and Indian Ocean to the south, the Northern Territory to the north-east and South Australia to the south-east...

, Lake Cowal
Lake Cowal
Lake Cowal is the largest inland lake in New South Wales, Australia. The lake is ephemeral, being fed by the small Bland Creek and by the occasional flooding of the Lachlan River. Despite this, it retains a considerable amount of water in about 70% of years....

 in New South Wales
New South Wales
New South Wales is a state of :Australia, located in the east of the country. It is bordered by Queensland, Victoria and South Australia to the north, south and west respectively. To the east, the state is bordered by the Tasman Sea, which forms part of the Pacific Ocean. New South Wales...

, Mystic Lake
Mystic Lake (California)
Mystic Lake is an ephemeral lake in the San Jacinto Valley of western Riverside County, California. It is located east of Lake Perris, between Moreno Valley and San Jacinto.-Shrinking:...

 in California, and Sevier Lake
Sevier Lake
Sevier Lake is an intermittent and endorheic lake which lies in the lowest part of the Sevier Desert, Millard County, Utah. Like Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake, it is a remnant of Pleistocene Lake Bonneville. Sevier Lake is fed primarily by the Beaver and Sevier rivers, and the additional inflow...

 in Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

. Even the driest and lowest place in North America, Death Valley
Death Valley
Death Valley is a desert valley located in Eastern California. Situated within the Mojave Desert, it features the lowest, driest, and hottest locations in North America. Badwater, a basin located in Death Valley, is the specific location of the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below...

 (more specifically Badwater Basin), became flooded with a short-lived ephemeral lake in the spring of 2005.

There are also ephemeral islands such as Banua Wuhu
Banua Wuhu
Banua Wuhu submarine volcano rises more than 400 m from the sea floor in the Sangihe Islands of Indonesia. Historical records show that several ephemeral islands were formed and disappeared. A 90 m high island was formed in 1835, but then dwindled to only a few rocks in 1848. A new island...

 and Home Reef
Home Reef
Home Reef is an ephemeral island built by a submarine volcano whose top has repeatedly breached the surface and was subsequently eroded by wave action again...

. These islands appear when volcanic activity increases their height above sea level, but disappear over the course of several years due to wave erosion. Bassas da India
Bassas da India
Bassas da India is part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. It is an uninhabited, roughly circular atoll about in diameter, which corresponds to a total size of . It is located in the southern Mozambique Channel, about half-way between Madagascar and Mozambique, and northwest of...

, on the other hand, is a near-sea level island that appears only at low tide.

Biological examples

Many plants are adapted to an ephemeral lifestyle
Ephemeral Plant
An ephemeral plant is one marked by short life cycles, usually six to eight weeks. The word ephemeral means transitory or quickly fading. In regards to plants, it refers to several distinct growth strategies...

, in which they spend most of the year or longer as seeds before conditions are right for a brief period of growth and reproduction. The spring ephemeral plant mouse-ear cress is a well known example.

Animals can be ephemeral, with brine shrimp
Brine shrimp
Artemia is a genus of aquatic crustaceans known as brine shrimp. Artemia, the only genus in the family Artemiidae, has changed little externally since the Triassic period...

 being an example. The placenta
The placenta is an organ that connects the developing fetus to the uterine wall to allow nutrient uptake, waste elimination, and gas exchange via the mother's blood supply. "True" placentas are a defining characteristic of eutherian or "placental" mammals, but are also found in some snakes and...

 is considered an ephemeral organ
Organ (anatomy)
In biology, an organ is a collection of tissues joined in structural unit to serve a common function. Usually there is a main tissue and sporadic tissues . The main tissue is the one that is unique for the specific organ. For example, main tissue in the heart is the myocardium, while sporadic are...

 present during gestation
Gestation is the carrying of an embryo or fetus inside a female viviparous animal. Mammals during pregnancy can have one or more gestations at the same time ....

 and pregnancy
Pregnancy refers to the fertilization and development of one or more offspring, known as a fetus or embryo, in a woman's uterus. In a pregnancy, there can be multiple gestations, as in the case of twins or triplets...


Ephemeral artifacts

Ephemeral can also be used as an adjective to refer to a fast-deteriorating importance or temporary nature of an object to a person. Brands are notoriously ephemeral assets, magazine
Magazines, periodicals, glossies or serials are publications, generally published on a regular schedule, containing a variety of articles. They are generally financed by advertising, by a purchase price, by pre-paid magazine subscriptions, or all three...

 publishing was once much more ephemeral than it is today, as was television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...


A number of art forms can be considered ephemeral because of their temporary nature. Early land art
Land art
Land art, Earthworks , or Earth art is an art movement which emerged in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked...

 and all sand sculptures, ice sculpture
Ice sculpture
Ice sculpture is a form of sculpture that uses ice as the raw material. Sculptures from ice can be abstract or realistic and can be functional or purely decorative...

s and chalk drawings on footpaths are examples of ephemeral art. G. Augustine Lynas
G. Augustine Lynas
G. Augustine Lynas is a renowned sculptor of sand sand castles and other ephemeral materials including snow. He also works in concrete, ceramic and most two dimensional media....

 and Duthain Dealbh
Duthain Dealbh
Duthain Dealbh , is a group of artists made up of the three Irish sculptors Daniel Doyle, Niall Magee and Alan Magee, all graduates of Fine Art Sculpture from the Dublin Institute of Technology...

 create ephemeral sculptures.

Ephemeral art

The transience of life has been a continued subject for artists of the fifteenth century to contemporary times. Prominent within fifteenth century northern European still life paintings the burning candle or partially peeled lemon symbolised the transience of time, and consequently of life. Manifest in the symbols of vanitas
In the arts, vanitas is a type of symbolic work of art especially associated with Northern European still life painting in Flanders and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries, though also common in other places and periods. The word is Latin, meaning "emptiness" and loosely translated...

 the ephemeral remained within the realms of picturesque depiction, the continued diversification of materials throughout the twentieth century however transformed subject into material form.

Ephemeral works of art embody a perpetual state of physical transformation, time very literally defines the truly ephemeral work of art. Ice, flowers, sand, chocolate, in this post-modern destruction of the revered art object traditionally non-art materials embody rather than represent transience. Perhaps most iconically Anya Gallaccio
Anya Gallaccio
Anya Gallaccio is a Scottish artist, who often works with organic matter. She was a nominee in the 2003 Turner Prize.-Life and career:...

 employs entropic process to slowly transform natural material such as the red gerberas found in works such as the 2003 Turner Prize shortlisted preserve “beauty”.

The ephemeral continues to be a subject fascinating artists. Last winter La Casa Encendida presented on&on arguably the most comprehensive and exciting exploration of ephemeral art to date. Bringing together 14 exceptional international artists curators Flora Fairbairn and Olivier Varenne transformed the heterotopia of the gallery into a site exploring the evolution, dissolution, fragility and decay of the ephemeral in art.

Other uses

Often happiness
Happiness is a mental state of well-being characterized by positive emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. A variety of biological, psychological, religious, and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources....

 is described as being ephemeral, as one does not find it to be a permanent state, within the scope of human lives. There are always varying shades of happiness and disappointment.

In computer networking technology, an ephemeral port
Ephemeral port
An ephemeral port is a short-lived transport protocol port for Internet Protocol communications allocated automatically from a predefined range by the TCP/IP software...

 is a TCP
Transmission Control Protocol
The Transmission Control Protocol is one of the core protocols of the Internet Protocol Suite. TCP is one of the two original components of the suite, complementing the Internet Protocol , and therefore the entire suite is commonly referred to as TCP/IP...

User Datagram Protocol
The User Datagram Protocol is one of the core members of the Internet Protocol Suite, the set of network protocols used for the Internet. With UDP, computer applications can send messages, in this case referred to as datagrams, to other hosts on an Internet Protocol network without requiring...

 or SCTP
Stream Control Transmission Protocol
In computer networking, the Stream Control Transmission Protocol is a Transport Layer protocol, serving in a similar role to the popular protocols Transmission Control Protocol and User Datagram Protocol...

TCP and UDP port
In computer networking, a port is an application-specific or process-specific software construct serving as a communications endpoint in a computer's host operating system. A port is associated with an IP address of the host, as well as the type of protocol used for communication...

 which is dynamically assigned to a client application for a short period of time (the duration of time the application is running). This is in contrast to the "well known" ports which are typically statically assigned to a specific application or service.

Other uses also include:
  • Ephemeral film, a film made by a particular sponsor for a specific purpose other than as a work of art
  • Ephemeral key
    Ephemeral key
    A cryptographic key is called ephemeral if it is generated for each execution of a key establishment process. In some cases ephemeral keys are used more than once, within a single session where the sender generates only one ephemeral key pair per message and the private key is combined separately...

    , a cryptographic key generated for each execution of a key establishment process
  • Ephemeral (EP)
    Ephemeral (EP)
    Ephemeral is the 2009 follow-up to the PLCN/TAAS split EP by American post-metal band Pelican. It is their first album to be released since signing to Southern Lord Records...

    , a 2009 EP by post-metal
    Post-metal is a music genre, a mixture between the genres of post-rock and heavy metal.Hydra Head Records owner and Isis frontman Aaron Turner originally termed the genre "thinking man's metal", demonstrating that his band was trying to move away from common metal conventions...

     band Pelican
    Pelican (band)
    Pelican is a post-metal quartet from Chicago, Illinois.-Biography and description:The band is known for its dense combinations of different melodies and extended track lengths. Its distinctive sound draws from stoner rock, doom metal, post-rock, and other influences...

  • Ephemeral, a 1997 album by Synæsthesia (band)
  • Ephemeral data stuctures, the opposite term for persistent data structures
    Persistent data structure
    In computing, a persistent data structure is a data structure which always preserves the previous version of itself when it is modified; such data structures are effectively immutable, as their operations do not update the structure in-place, but instead always yield a new updated structure...


Further reading

  • Christine Buci-Glucksmann
    Christine Buci-Glucksmann
    Christine Buci-Glucksmann is a French philosopher and Professor Emeritus from University of Paris VIII specializing in the aesthetics of the Baroque, Japan and computer art...

    , Esthetique De L'ephemere, Galilee, ISBN 2718606223
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