Saturday, August 25, 2012

Discovery and Natural Wonder

Wind Canyon  10 Aug 2012
Coming upon a natural wonder, it's human nature to consider the notion of discovery.
Who was the first to witness this?
We romanticize discovery. But what is the nature of true discovery?

We imagine ourselves the fortuitous first-discoverer, but perhaps we overlook an important aspect of discovery.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. ― Marcel Proust
We sow the seeds of discovery by adopting Beginner's Mind. Discovery begins when we see the world through fresh eyes.
It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.
Rachel Carson, excerpt from The Sense of Wonder
We cultivate the probability of discovery when we shed the baggage of expectations to meet the world with openness.
When I am a beginner, everything is discovery.

Tower Fall

Year after year, I discover and re-discover natural wonders. I fancy myself an explorer seeing things for the first time. I wonder about these natural wonders. I romanticize the history of these sacred places.
Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children.Theodore Roosevelt
Tower Fall is one such natural wonder I have romanticized.

Six days into the Yellowstone Expedition of 1870, Lieutenant Gustavus Doane describes Tower Fall in his journal:
The great curiosity of the locality, however, is the Tower Fall of Hot Spring Creek, where that stream is precipitated, in one unbroken body, from an amygdaloid ledge, a sheer descent of 115 feet, into a deep gorge, joining the Yellowstone a few hundred yards below. ― Lt. Doane
Tower Fall. Sketched by Private Moore. The Yellowstone Expedition of 1870.
Lt. Doane's excellent journal writing often tempers his delight and exhilaration with the analytic detachment expected of his station, but of Tower Fall he waxes poetic:
Nothing can be more chastely beautiful than this lovely cascade, hidden away in the dim light of overshadowing rocks and woods, its very voice hushed to a low murmur, unheard at the distance of a few hundred yards. Thousands might pass by within a half mile and not dream of its existence; but once seen, it passes to the list of most pleasant memories. ― Lt. Doane

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Temperature Anomalies

The sweltering July heat was reminiscent of a line from the Lovin' Spoonful tune Summer In The City:
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head
High temperatures fueled wildfires, warmed and dried up surface water, exacerbated drought conditions, and wilted crops around the globe.

July 2012 was the hottest month on record in the United States.
It ain't the heat; it's the humility.
~ Yogi Berra

July 2012 - Difference from mean historical temperature for July 1895-2012
NOAA National Climatic Data Center

The Antarctic Peninsula, much of eastern Europe, and North Africa also recorded unusually warm temperatures in July. To the contrary, Australia, Northern and Western Europe, Eastern Russia, Alaska, and Southern South America were cooler than normal.

A statistical trend towards climate extremes concerns climatologists.
The distribution of seasonal mean temperature anomalies has shifted toward higher temperatures and the range of anomalies has increased.
~ James Hansen, NASA GISS director
July 2012 Data (Source National Climatic Data Center)
  • The average combined global land and ocean surface temperature was 1.12°F above the 20th century average (60.4°F) for July.
  • The Northern Hemisphere land surface temperature was the all-time warmest July on record since 1895, at 2.14°F above the average.
  • Over 2 million acres burned in the United States due to wildfires (the fourth most since 2000).
  • Moderate to exceptional drought conditions were recorded in 62.9 percent of the contiguous United States.
  • It was the fourth consecutive month the Northern Hemisphere set a new monthly land temperature record.
  • Sea ice in the Arctic averaged only 3.1 million square miles (the second lowest July sea ice extent on record).
Selected significant climate anomalies that occurred in July 2012 are depicted below in a worldwide map prepared by the National Climatic Data Center:

Selected Significant Climate Anomalies & Events July 2012
NOAA National Climatic Data Center

Your descendants shall gather your fruits.
~ Virgil


Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Ring of Fire

The Ring of Fire is a series of volcanic arcs and ocean trenches that encircle the the pacific basin. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions frequently occur along the Ring of Fire.

The Ring of Fire includes 75% of the world's active and dormant volcanoes.

Ring of Fire, from USGS

The Ring of Fire, shown above in dark pink, extends clockwise from New Zealand, along the eastern edge of Asia, north across the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and south along the coast of North and South America.
Ocean trenches are shown in blue-green. Arcs of volcanic islands run parallel to- and on the landward side of- the ocean trenches.

Prominent volcanic islands are the Aleutian Islands and the Mariana Islands. The Aleutian Islands, extending westward from the Alaskan peninsula, are a chain of volcanoes on the landward side of the Aleutian Trench. In the Pacific Ocean, south of Japan and north of New Guinea, the Mariana Islands form an archipelago that includes the summits of 15 volcanic mountains

3D Visualization of Daikoku Volcano in Mariana Arc region, NOAA Photo
There are many active submarine and above sea-level volcanoes on the Ring of Fire. The Daikoku Volcano (shown above) is a submarine volcano located in the southern part of the Izu-Bonin-Mariana Arc. It lies 323 meters below the ocean surface. During a 2006 NOAA expedition, Daikoku was observed emitting a cloudy hydro-thermal fluid.

Pacific Plate Collision and Subduction

The Ring of Fire is located at the interface between the Pacific Plate and other tectonic plates. These plates are giant rafts of the earth's surface. Plates collide with and slide underneath other plates (called subduction). Tremendous heat energy is created when these plates collide -- enough heat to melt rock into magma which can rise to the surface as lava to form volcanoes.

Volcanic areas in the Ring of Fire include:
  • South America - The Nazca plate is colliding with the South American plate creating the Andes mountains and volcanoes such as Cotopaxi and Azul.
  • Central America - The Cocos plate is colliding with the North American plate giving rise to the Mexican volcanoes Popocatepetl and Paricutun.
  • North America - The Pacific, Juan de Fuca, and Gorda plates between Northern California and British Columbia, have created the Cascade Mountains and caused the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens.
  • Aleutian Islands - The Pacific plate is colliding with the North American plate causing this arc of islands to grow.
  • Asia - The subduction of the Pacific plate under the Eurasian plate from Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula to Japan, has caused the Japanese islands and volcanoes (such as Mt. Fuji).
  • South Pacific - The Indo-Australian plate subducts under the Pacific plate creating volcanoes in the New Guinea and Micronesian areas. Near New Zealand, the Pacific Plate slides under the Indo-Australian plate.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Storm Energy Rises

If you have noticed that storms are more intense and more frequent in recent years, a July 2012 report from the Environment America Research and Policy Institute supports your observation.

The report analyzed 60 years of precipitation data dating back to 1948. Extreme downpours are up 30% in the US.

Analysis of nationwide data compiled by the National Climatic Data Center reveal that:
  • Heavy downpours that used to occur once every 12 months, now occur every 9 months on average; and
  • The largest yearly storms produce 10% more precipitation than they did 65 years ago.

Changes in Downpour Frequency from When it Rains it Pours.
He turned to look just in time to see the rain start falling out as if the storm had finally decided to weep with shame for what it had done to them.
― James Dashner, The Scorch Trials
The report notes that an increase in the number of downpours does not necessarily mean that more water will be available. Climatologists project that the pattern of extreme downpours after longer periods of relative dryness will continue. That is, periods of sparse precipitation will continue to be punctuated by heavy storms.
Gonna be a real frog-strangling turd-floater.
― Charles Martin, Chasing Fireflies

Temperature Effects

Rising land and ocean temperatures serve to increase the intensity of storms in two fundamental ways:
  1. Warmer land and ocean temperatures cause water to evaporate faster; and
  2. Warmer air temperatures allow the atmosphere to hold more water vapor. 
Today's clouds are richer with moisture so that heavy downpours, or snowstorms, are more likely to occur (cf. Rain from Clouds).
Genius is present in every age, but the men carrying it within them remain benumbed unless extraordinary events occur to heat up and melt the mass so that it flows forth.
Denis Diderot (1713-1784)