Archive for 2013 July

Hailstones like lemon drops: Strange summer on the PCT

Mostly it's been dry, dry, dry this year in Southern California, but a week ago Monday, as I was on the Pacific Crest Trail in the Big Bear section, big old clouds came in and hung over the moon:


Then Tuesday afternoon, heading over a ridge near Doble Springs, down came the hail. 


Biggest hail I've ever seen! In July in Southern California! Who would've thunk?


Occasioned this one:

hailstones like lemon drops
crunching under my boot heels
summer storm at Big Bear 

Discussed the question of monsoonal flow briefly with a couple of experts at Scripps. As I mentioned previously, some scenarios call for an increased monsoonal flow in a climate change scenario, but to date they haven't seen such a trend in our time — just natural variability. 

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Dionysionism: A forgotten religion turned big business?

From a really penetrating book review by David Ulin in, yes, the Los Angeles Times, a fascinating historical idea/fact:

"No one remembers," [author Lawrence Osbourne] tells us, "that Dionysianism was the most popular religion of the late [Roman] empire before the arrival of Christianity. It was Christianity's principal rival…We have even forgotten that Dionysianism was a religion at all."

Book is The Wet and the Dry, by Lawrence Osbourne. Makes one wonder if this "religion" has simply morphed into the wine and spirits culture of today.  


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Saving John Muir’s favorite tree: Maria La Ganga

Everyone has good days and bad days, but especially so he Los Angeles Times in recent years, which has been absolutely devastated by cutbacks, subscription falloffs, print declines, and local editions cut. The tale of at times seems endless. Yet good people at the paper have kept on doing good work. It's worth celebrating a good day, and yesterday, Sunday July 28th 2013, the Los Angeles Times had a pretty great journalistic day. I'm going to post links to a couple of examples, beginning with Maria La Ganga's marvelous story about John Muir, and a tree he planted

MARTINEZ, Calif. — It would be hard to equal John Muir's love for the giant sequoia, a majestic California native that can live 3,000 years and soar 250 feet high.

"The King tree & me have sworn eternal love," he wrote to a friend in the fall of 1870, "sworn it without swearing and Ive taken the sacrament with Douglass Squirrels drank Sequoia wine, Sequoia blood, & with its rosy purple drips I am writing this woody gospel letter."

A decade or so later, the besotted conservationist returned from a Sierra Nevada jaunt with a seedling wrapped in a damp handkerchief. He planted the slender specimen in a place of honor on his family's fruit ranch.

Today, Muir's homestead 35 miles northeast of San Francisco is a national historic site. And the sequoia, 70 feet tall, is dying of an airborne fungus.

Keith Park loves this particular tree almost as much as Muir loved them all — which is why the young National Park Service horticulturist is trying to keep at least a remnant of the ailing conifer alive by cloning it.

Great to see Muir's "woody gospel" on the front page of the largest paper on the West Coast. Here's Mr. Park, ascending the tree he wants to immortalize. 


Thank you, Maria. (By the way, the story is good to the last word.) 

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Fun is a disaster that couldn’t really happen: Sharknado

So says the director of the instantly notorious Sharknado:

Anthony C. Ferrante, the director of "Sharknado," studied the raining-animal phenomenon after he came up with the title "Sharknado," but kept hard science at bay, referencing one blood-soaked scene where a character uses a chainsaw to cut himself out of a shark that swallows him whole after falling from the sky.

"If we tried to go into how realistic it is, it wouldn't be fun," Ferrante said. "If you go into the science of it, the whole movie falls apart."

"Sharknado" has become an Internet sensation since its debut, when it became the top-trending word on Twitter for hours after its July 11 premiere, with tongue-in-cheek tweets from actors, directors and even Red Cross Oklahoma.

And Ferrante is in on the joke.

"This movie is the most improbable thing," he said. "One of the reasons why people embraced the movie is it's a disaster that couldn't happen, necessarily."


Something to think about: the disasters we like to watch are the ones that couldn't really happen. Kind of makes sense, doesn't it…

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Day jobs of the poets: Grant Snider

From Grant Snider:

Useful to remember that poets can practical too, and hard-working. 


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NASA: Stellar womb gives birth to monster star


From an ALMA (ESO/NRAJ/NRAO)/NASA press release:
Observations of the dark cloud SDC 335.579-0.292 using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter array (ALMA) have given astronomers the best view yet of a monster star in the process of forming. A stellar womb with over 500 times the mass than the Sun has been found and appears as the yellow blob near the centre of this picture. This is the largest ever seen in the Milky Way — and it is still growing. The embryonic star within is hungrily feeding on the material that is racing inwards. It is expected to give birth to a very brilliant star with up to 100 times the mass of the Sun. This image combines data from ALMA and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.
ALMA is a radio telescope put together by an international consortium and installed on a high plain in Chile. Do I understand how it rendered this image? Not really. But it's worth it for "stellar womb."

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Plan B for the climate: Time to research the idea?

In Harvard's alumni magazine, a profile of an energetic young professor, David Keith, who argues thoughtfully for researching geoengineering solutions to global warming.

As skeptics continue to question whether global warming is real, and
worldwide efforts to cut greenhouse gases stall, a small but growing
number of scientists believe that humans may need to consider a “Plan B”
that takes control of our climate’s future. Solar geoengineering
encompasses multiple proposals to adjust the planet’s thermostat,
including deflecting sunlight away from the earth with massive space
shields or with extra-bright low-altitude clouds over oceans. One
suggestion, inspired by sulfur-spewing volcanoes, involves modifying a
fleet of jets to spray sulfates into the stratosphere, where they would
combine with water vapor to form aerosols. Dispersed by winds, these
particles would cover the globe with a haze that would reflect roughly 1
percent of solar radiation away from Earth. (The 1991 eruption of Mount
, which shot some 10 million metric tons of sulfur into the
air, reduced global temperatures about 1 degree F for at least a year.)

Scientists have discussed such strategies for decades, but (until
recently) mostly behind closed doors, in part because they feared that
speaking publicly about geoengineering would undermine efforts to cut
greenhouse-gas emissions. Keith, who is McKay professor of applied
physics in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and
professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, strongly advocates
bringing discussion of geoengineering into the open. He says, “We don’t
make good decisions by sweeping things under the rug.”

When I saw David Keith at the American Geophysical Union conference three years ago, he declared that researching "buffering the sun" measures could be accomplished for just $10 million. Climatologists for the most part are not comfortable with geoengineering, for good reason, but still, it's difficult for scientists to argue against research. (Especially when virtually every paper calls for more.more more.) 

Note that Keith is not a zealot about a particular solution. The most cost effective idea — sulphur particles in the stratosphere — could damage the ozone layer, a possibility he wants to test carefully on a small scale. Which he says could be accomplished for perhaps $10 million.  

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David Brower’s Sky Rule (of photography)

From an interview with Amory Lovins, who began as a photographer, and recounts how his first editor — David Brower — who pioneered the much-loved Sierra Club nature books, would edit photographers: 

"Everyone knows the sky is there. So don't show it unless it's doing something interesting, and then show a lot of it." 

Maybe something he learned from Ansel Adams


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How much of our climate change fear real? (Achenbach)

Joel Achenbach is a super-popular writer for the Washington Post who happens to be interested in science-y developments such as climate change, asteroids, and disasters. He's also a man with a giant pen, or, perhaps these days, keyboard. He can write! So refreshing in science, may I say.

His latest thinking out loud, from this month: 

The apocalypse will be budgeted. That is our trajectory, anyway: The
bureaucratization of disaster. That which cannot be stopped will still
be crammed, heroically, onto a spreadsheet. We like to tell ourselves
that we’re ready for the day when the eschatology hits the fan.

A week after 19 firefighters died in their emergency shelters in Arizona, and just days after a Quebec town
was largely destroyed in an explosive train derailment, we’re
collectively steeled for the next calamity. Death and destruction are
carefully enumerated in the modern world. There were 18,200 weather
catastrophes (or “loss events”) worldwide between 1980 and 2012,
totaling $2.8 trillion in losses (in 2012 dollars), including
$885 billion in insured losses, according to the reinsurance giant
Munich Re. These disasters have killed 1,405,000 people. (Stalin,
apocryphally: “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions
is a statistic.”)

At any given moment you can look at a NASA Web site
to see which asteroids have the potential to strike the Earth. There’s
one called 2007 VK184, for example, that’s about 425 feet in diameter.
It’s a minus-1.57 on the Palermo Scale and a 1 on the Torino Scale. What
does that mean? It means that it’s very unlikely to hit us when it
swings close in 2048, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

At some
level, we’re all doomsday preppers now. We’re part of a paradoxical
society that is, in the aggregate, wealthy and powerful, yet feels
vulnerable and insecure. The flip side of a cultural sense of
entitlement — to life, liberty, happiness and the freedom from accident
or misfortune — is the hurt and outrage when something goes terribly

Our civilization is increasingly like a fine-tuned sports
car that is very expensive to fix. It burns too much fuel. It’s
dangerous to drive. And when it’s not in the shop, we’re anxious about
the slightest dent or scratch.

We have a sense of being constantly
on the verge of disaster or in the midst of one. If there’s not a
disaster in the news, wait a week. There are disasters that come with
warnings, and those that appear from nowhere. Bulletin: On Friday, an
engineer parked a train hauling crude oil
on a hill above Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and went to a hotel for the
night. For some reason, the air brakes failed. The unoccupied train
rolled for miles, back into town. When it derailed, the explosion
leveled much of the downtown, including a bar packed with late-night
partyers, and killed at least 15 people, with dozens more reportedly
missing. They never knew what hit them.

Perhaps a modern
civilization always feels disaster-prone because we’re all so connected,
with live-streaming video from every part of the globe. There are no
faraway disasters anymore.

So the question is: How much of this vulnerability is real, and how much is it some kind of mass hysteria?

We’ve got our best committees working on that right now.

Honestly — how many studies is that opening-with-metaphors worth, when it comes to putting our national situation into perspective? Ten? Twenty? A hundred?

Impossible to say…but note how he parses the language. This is how we build understanding: By knowing the concepts — such as "exposure" — on which our thoughts are routed. A map to the paths in our minds. And like any map, it has edges, perceptual flaws, and limits. But the inclusive nature of language allows us to see these limits instantly, and respond in kind, emotionally.  

Our common language — you have to love it. Or, I do. 

But meanwhile, our overheated world refuses to wait…



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Back on the PCT — ahead of the Mountain Fire

Yep, time to get back on the trail. Fortunately I have completed section B, from Warner Springs to i-10 at the San Gorgoinio Pass, so the Mountain Fire in the San Jacinto range is behind me. 

NASA can see this fire from space:


I'll be mostly in the San Bernardino mountains, but descending to the desert. Section C. I've left some posts for your amusement. Big issue on this section is water. Wish me luck. 


Will walk to the I-15, south of Palmdale. How SoCal, right? Everything is freeways. Good news is we're getting a monsoon, as forecasters predicted, and so temps should moderate a bit. 

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