Saturday, December 28, 2013

Perceiving Sky

Ram's Head
Georgia O'Keeffe, 1935
Painting landscapes involves learning how to paint the sky. Whether our intent leans toward realistic or representational, we learn the details of perception like the sky tends to lighten toward the horizon.

We are encouraged to consider atypical skies ― the non-blue moods of the sky we frequently see.

Painting sky, we sensitize ourselves to shadows and highlights. We are reminded that clouds reflect the light in the sky.

Look at your feet. You are standing in the sky. When we think of the sky, we tend to look up, but the sky actually begins at the earth.
Diane Ackerman
Cloud Study
John Constable, 1822
White light has the visible colors of the spectrum. White light emanating from the Sun is scattered by the gases and particles in the Earth's atmosphere.

Atmospheric gases act as a prism to separate white light into its component colors. The atmospheric prism is mostly nitrogen (78%) and oxygen (21%) with trace gases like argon and water vapor. Particulates can be dust, soot, ash, pollen or salt from the ocean.

Blue light travels as shorter, smaller waves. A cloudless sky appears blue because blue light is scattered more than other colors.
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,

"You owe me."

What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.

Viewing the sky away from the sun we see light that is bent the most ― a complex spectrum dominated by light of between violet (wavelength of 400 nanometers) and blue (wavelength of 450 nanometers).

Sunset at Montmajour
Vincent van Gogh, 1888
Sunset light travels farther through the atmosphere before it reaches us. More of that light is scattered.

The color of the sun itself changes from orange to red. The cooler, shorter wavelength blue light is completely scattered leaving the warmer, longer wavelengths like oranges and reds on the horizon.

The sky grew darker, painted blue on blue, one stroke at a time, into deeper and deeper shades of night.
Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Shoreline Waves

As swells travel toward the shoreline, the ocean floor gradually rises or there might be a disruptive change in ocean floor topography like a reef or rock ledge. As the depth of the water gets shallower, waves become higher and steeper.

Approaching the shore, the orbital motion of water is disrupted to the point where water particles no longer return to their original position. The orbital motion is shown by the red dots and blue traces above.

The Banzai Pipeline, Hāna, Hawaii

Ultimately a wave breaks when its crest overturns itself.

The waves broke and spread their waters swiftly over the shore. One after another they massed themselves and fell; the spray tossed itself back with the energy of their fall. The waves were steeped deep-blue save for a pattern of diamond-pointed light on their backs which rippled as the backs of great horses ripple with muscles as they move. The waves fell; withdrew and fell again, like the thud of a great beast stamping.
Virginia Woolf, The Waves


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Settling and Coelescence

Sandstone layering
Particles suspended in water tend to settle from the pull of gravity before coming to rest against some barrier. The settling and coalescence of Earth's fine-grained material is called sedimentation.

Sedimentation and erosion are poetically reciprocal phenomena.

If erosion is the breaking loose, suspension, and movement of particles via water, then sedimentation is the terminal end of that movement where suspended and transported particles settle out to come to rest.
"The question is, of course, is it going to be possible to amalgamate everything, and merely discover that this world represents different aspects of one thing?"
Richard Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics

Sedimentary Rocks

Sedimentary rocks form by the settling of Earth's fine-grained material. Earth's fine-grained material occurs from weathering and erosion. Sedimentary rocks cover much of Earth's continents, yet the volumetric contribution of sedimentary rocks to the total volume of Earth's crust is only about 8 percent.

Lateral Continuity

The result of the settling of particles or deposition of particles is the formation of new depositional landforms. These landforms are often observed in a lateral or horizontal plane. The lateral plane is orthogonal to the direction of gravitational pull.

Sedimentary rocks separated by a valley

Layers of sediment extending laterally in all directions are said to have lateral continuity (cf. The Principle of Lateral Continuity). Sometimes the lateral plane appears to be tilted or has been interrupted by other forces.

"Curiosity demands that we ask questions, that we try to put things together and try to understand this multitude of aspects as perhaps resulting from the action of a relatively small number of elemental things and forces acting in an infinite variety of combinations."
Richard Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Sun Dog Prisms

Sun Dogs in Fargo, North Dakota.
February 18th, 2009.
The luminous patches that occasionally appear on each side of the sun during freezing atmospheric temperatures are called sun dogs.

According to folklore, sun dogs follow the sun like a dog follows its master.

Parhelia is the scientific term for sun dogs. Parhelion derives from the Greek parēlion which means beside the sun.

Sun dogs are an atmospheric optical phenomena. The luminous patch occurs when sunlight passes through and is refracted by hexagonal ice crystals.

The hexagonal ice crystals, falling with their long axis perpendicular to the earth, act as rotating prisms bending the sunlight. Because of the prism-like configuration of the falling crystals, sun dogs happen 22° to the left and 22° to the right of the sun viewed above the horizon.
Top View of Falling Crystal: Sunlight passing through two
surfaces of a rotating hexagonal ice crystal which is a 60° prism.

Sun dogs appear in art and literature. Shakespeare wrote about them in  King Henry VI:
Dazzle mine eyes, or do I see three suns?

King Henry VI, Part 3
Three glorious suns, each one a perfect sun;
Not separated with the racking clouds,
But sever'd in a pale clear-shining sky.
See, see! they join, embrace, and seem to kiss,
As if they vow'd some league inviolable:
Now are they but one lamp, one light, one sun.
In this the heaven figures some event.

'Tis wondrous strange, the like yet never heard of.
I think it cites us, brother, to the field,
That we, the sons of brave Plantagenet,
Each one already blazing by our meeds,
Should notwithstanding join our lights together
And over-shine the earth as this the world.
Whate'er it bodes, henceforward will I bear
Upon my target three fair-shining suns.

— King Henry VI, Part 3, Act II, Scene 1

Sunrise or sunset is the best time to observe sun dogs.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

The River is Ice

Flowing water is a multipurpose literary metaphor. The course of life is like a river — what we need we carry along and what we don't need, or can't carry, settles out.

In Ask Me, William Stafford considers a future time when the river is ice when he might answer questions reconciling his life.
Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

— William Stafford

Stafford writes of the silent river and reflects upon its stillness, yet he acknowledges its undercurrents.

Frozen rivers, lakes, and ponds make us aware of the seasonal passage of time, the prospect of the suspension of time, and of objects temporarily frozen in time. Objects seemingly frozen in time, like sticks and leaves frozen in ice, invite inspection.

John Haines compares the alder leaves and gleaming pebbles frozen in ice to a night sky with its fixed planets and stars.
"I bend over, looking at the debris caught there in the clear, black depth of the ice: I see a few small sticks, and many leaves. There are alder leaves, roughly toothed and still half green; the more delicate birch leaves and aspen leaves, the big, smooth poplar leaves, and narrow leaves from the willows. They are massed or scattered, as they fell quietly or as the wind blew them into the freezing water. Some of them are still fresh in color, glowing yellow and orange; others are mottled with grey and brown. A few older leaves lie sunken and black on the silty bottom. Here and there a pebble of quartz is gleaming. But nothing moves there. It is a still, cold world, something like night, with its own fixed planets and stars."
John Haines
Frozen leaves and planets and stars in the night sky create an illusion of the fixed and unchanging.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Blink of an Eye

The Earth continues to move, erupt, collide and change shape. Some of these changes are gradual and imperceptible, while others are sudden and catastrophic.

A new island appeared in the Pacific Ocean this week from an exploding underwater volcano. Will this island of ash and rock last long enough to be charted on a map? Will it be subdued and eroded by pounding waves? We don't know. But the story unfolds with or without us.

What once were warm clear oceans are now the world's tallest mountains:
"When the climbers in 1953 planted their flags on the highest mountain, they set them in snow over the skeletons of creatures that had lived in a warm clear ocean that India, moving north, blanked out. Possibly as much as 20,000 feet below the sea floor, the skeletal remains had turned into rock. This one fact is a treatise in itself on the movements of the surface of the earth."
John McPhee, Annals of the Former World
1977 Soviet Military Map of Mount Everest Region [Scale 1:200,000]

Much of Earth's ongoing phenomena occur beyond the time scale of a human lifespan, but evidence of gradual and sudden changes abound.

The Earth is orders of magnitude older than any of the living creature that clings to it like a life raft. The Earth is much more resilient than living organisms.
"The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles…hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages…And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are!

We’re going away. Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Maybe a little Styrofoam…The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas."

George Carlin, comedian and social critic.

Human activity adversely impacts Earth's biosphere. The human species is a recent addition to the 3.5 billion year old biosphere, yet human activity, chiefly power generation and waste products, degrades the quality of water and air at an alarmingly accelerated rate. Whether human impacts can be stemmed or reversed remains a grave concern.

Life in the biosphere is fragile and short-lived. On a geologic time scale, species come into existence and vanish in the blink of an eye.
"If by some fiat, I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence; this is the one I would choose: The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone."
John McPhee, Annals of the Former World


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Grand Etchings

Painterly grooves in bedrock are often evidence of the grand and orderly etchings of glacier.
Nature has a way of leaving records for the curious.
Late 18th century Swiss alpinists were the first to recognize bedrock scratches and gouges as evidence of a moving glaciers.

Glacial striation left by ice-age glaciers on a shore cliff
Otaniemi, Espoo, Finland
Many of the rock striation visible today are from receding glaciers. Striation typically occurs in multiples that run parallel to one another.

Glacial striation north of Observation Rock
Mount Rainier National Park
Rock fragments and sand grains embedded and exposed at the base of the glacier acted as abrasive etching tools. The resulting cuts align with the direction of the receding glacier.
“As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can".”
John Muir
Like sandpaper, the abrasive fragments must be harder than the bedrock. Quartz can cut shale, but shale cannot cut quartz rich bedrock.
Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.
Stanley Horowitz


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Solar Eclipse

When the moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, sunlight headed for the Earth is fully or partially blocked. This phenomenon is a Solar Eclipse.

The celestial configuration for a full or partial eclipse is described by the astronomy term syzygy. Syzygy is from the Ancient Greek suzugos meaning yoked together. To astronomers a syzygy is a straight-line alignment of three celestial bodies.

Sunrise Partial Eclipse by independent filmmaker Steve Ellington.

In a time-lapse sequence made by Steve Ellington of a November partial eclipse, the rising Sun is blocked by a rising Moon (video above).
“I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you can rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff”
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
The same November eclipse shown above is shown in a NASA animation looking back at the earth (right).

The NASA Catalog of Solar Eclipses: 2001 to 2100 provides information on past and future eclipses.
“We are star stuff harvesting sunlight.”
Carl Sagan

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Patch of Sky

The word smog is a combination of the words smoke and fog referring to smokey fog. The word was coined in the early 20th century in London to describe a phenomena that became increasingly common to industrial cities.

Pea soup fog was a phrase used to denote air pollution that occurred in 19th century to mid 20th century in London. The source of London's pollution was the burning of coal for power.

Coal-generated power creates air-born particulates (soot, smoke, sulfur dioxide and other components). Coal-fired pollution has been a concern in London since the middle ages. King Edward I briefly banned coal fires in 1306.
“Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life.”
Marcel Proust, Swann's Way
Harbin, China
October 21, 2013

Harbin, a city in China with more than 10 million people, was recently shut down because of high levels of pollution. The city's Air Quality Index (AQI) spiked to 500. For comparison, an AQI of 300 is deemed hazardous to human heath.
Beijing, China
Yānwù or 煙霧 is the Chinese word for smog.
Coal fired power combined with a four-fold increase in the number of cars over the past 10 years in China has caused acute smog conditions during the heating season.

An estimated 1.2 million Chinese people die from air pollution every year.

The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.
Ralph Waldo Emerson


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Earth Maps

Maps help define, explain, and navigate Earth. Charting Earth has been around for at least 8,200 years. The graphical representations of one's perception is recognized as an acquired skill that predates all forms of written communication.
"Maps codify the miracle of existence."
― Nicholas Crane, Mercator: The Man Who Mapped the Planet
Evidence of early maps include cave paintings and later the ancient maps of Babylon, Greece, and Asia.

The Cantino Planisphere
Completed by an unknown Portuguese cartographer in 1502.
Charting Earth grew rapidly during the Age of Discovery in the early 15th century through the 17th century.
"I believe in such cartography – to be marked by nature, not just label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. ... All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps."
― Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

New Providence, New Jersey 1905.
NW corner of the Plainfield Quadrangle (USGS)
Advances in global-positioning and digital mapping continue to be made as we move into the 21st century.

Flat, three-dimensional, or virtual, maps are symbolic and metaphoric representations of space that are adopted as a sort of world language in accordance with our perception.
"A labyrinth is a symbolic journey . . . but it is a map we can really walk on, blurring the difference between map and world."
― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
Maps offer a finger-hold on the meaning of space both empty and occupied.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Potential & Discharge

The flashing tentacles of light in lightning are a visual manifestation of an electrostatic discharge between two electrically charged regions in storm clouds, or between storm clouds and the Earth's surface.

Storm clouds are like giant electrical capacitors in the atmosphere. The upper region is positively charged. The lower region is negatively charged. The cause of these electric potential differences is inconclusive in the scientific community.

The flash of light we see occurs at the moment oppositely charged regions equalize. Lightning can occur from a cloud to itself; from cloud to cloud; or between a cloud and the ground.


The awe-inspiring power, and the fear-inducing and potentially destructive nature of lightning, beget deeply held cultural mythologies throughout the ages.

In ancient and modern cultures, a lightning bolt is often considered a weapon of a sky god to be deployed as an act of retribution.

Prominent cultural mythologies:
Zeus' head and thunderbolt
coin from Epirus, 234 BC
  • The thunderbolt was a weapon given to Zeus in Greek mythology by the Cyclops (and Jupiter in Roman mythology). Lightning appeared on Greek and Roman coins;
  • In the Hebrew Bible, arrows are represented as lightning in Habakuk 3:11 and as divine punishment in Deuteronomy 32:42, Psalms 64:7, and Job 6:4;
  • In Hittite mythology, a triple thunderbolt was one symbol of Teshub;
  • In Vedic religion, and later Hindu mythology, Indra is the god of lightning armed with a thunderbolt;
  • In Celtic mythology, Taranis is the god of thunder;
  • Thor is the god of thunder in Germanic mythology;
  • Bai-Ülgen creates the thuderbolts in Turkish mythology;
  • In Maya mythology, Huracan is sometimes represented as three thunderbolts;
  • The Ani Hyuntikwalaski, or thunder beings, are beings that cause lightning fire in a hollow sycamore tree in Cherokee mythology;
  • The Thunderbirds, Nimkiig or Binesiiwag in Ojibway mythology, create thunder and lightning that's both benevolent and malevolent to people;
  • In Igbo mythology, the thunderbolt is the weapon of Amadioha; and
  • In the Yorùbá religion, the thunderbolt is the weapon of Shango.

"Why the Egyptian, Arabic, Abyssinian, Choctaw? Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What color is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies?"
Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes

Temperature, Frequency, Sound and Light

The maximum temperature in lightening (52,540 °F) is about five times hotter than the surface of the sun (10,340 °F).

There are about 1.4 billion lightning flashes per year in the Earth's atmosphere occurring approximately 40–50 times a second.

Thunder is the sound of the shock waves emanating from the intense electrical discharge.

Lightning emits white light, but appears as different colors depending on local atmospheric conditions.

"It is in the darkness of their eyes that men get lost"
Black Elk(1863 – 1950), from Black Elk Speaks


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Being the Stream

Emerson observed the unboundedness of living organisms.
"The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn"Ralph Waldo Emerson
Yet unboundedness is a apparent paradox in a closed ecosystem like Earth's biosphere ― or is it?
"Such a contradictory state of affairs is feasible only because the resources accessible to life can be used over and over again."J.I. Gitelson
A path toward deep ecology, and the realization of interconnectedness, is to cast aside what we have learned so that we might reconnect with a deep-seated, primordial awareness ― an awareness devoid of subject or object.
"The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there."
Hakuun Yasutani
Light and shadow are aspects of the whole, just as usefulness and uselessness are aspects of the whole. Taoist philosophy asserts that the moment we choose one side over the other we upset nature's balance.

Allowing ourselves to be immersed in interconnectedness involves the challenging discipline of embracing opposites. Gary Snyder writes about the meditative discipline of being at home in the whitewater and the eddies:
Being the Stream

Meditation is not just a rest or retreat from the turmoil of the stream or the impurity of the world. It is a way of being the stream, so that one can be at home in both the white water and the eddies. Meditation may take one out of the world, but it also puts one totally into it.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Nascent Island

Satellite images from Earth Observing-1
A new island composed of mounded sediment recently emerged off the coast of Pakistan.

It was created by a mud dome following a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

Mud domes occur when liquids, gases, and solid materials are geo-excreted due to the jostling of seismic activity. The occurrence of mud domes correlate to a subduction zone like the Makran Trench, where tectonic plates boundaries like the Eurasian plate and Arabian plate converge.
"Our knowledge is a little island in a great ocean of non-knowledge."
Isaac Bashevis Singer
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake is believed to have loosened sediment above a cache of subsurface natural gas allowing un-trapped gas to rise. The rising gas transported mud, rock, and sand upward to create the dome that is visible today.

Perhaps wind and wave erosion will eventually cause the island to disappear beneath into the sea. For now, the island is about 100 yards in diameter and rises 65 feet above the sea.
"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this."
Henry David Thoreau


Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Seat Among the Clouds

Mountains are the subject of legend and mythology. Some cultures revere mountains as sacred places. The rise, girth, steepness of mountain peaks piercing the clouds seem at times poetic and sacred, and awe inspiring.

Fittingly mountains are also the center of literary forms. In a poem by Gary Snyder, a Cold Mountain path becomes a metaphor for the trajectory of life where the trials of the trail lead to a seat among the clouds:
“Clambering up the Cold Mountain path,
The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:
The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,
The wide creek, the mist-blurred grass.
The moss is slippery, though there's been no rain
The pine sings, but there's no wind.
Who can leap the world's ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?”
Gary Snyder, Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems
A motion graphics video by Al Boardman illustrates the visual essence and characteristics of Earth's most extraordinary mountains from Everest to Monadnock:

For the Love of Mountains by Al Boardman on Vimeo.

EverestHighest Mountain in Altitude
K2Hardest Mountain to Climb
Annapurna IMost Dangerous Mountain
Gangkhar PuensumHighest Unclimbed Mountain
Ojos del SaladoHighest Active Volcano
KailashMost Sacred Mountain
LoganMountain with Largest Circumference
KilimanjaroHighest Free Standing Mountain
Mauna KeaTallest Mountain from Base to Summit
MonadnockMost Climbed Mountain

John Muir wrote,
"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn."
John Muir, Our National Parks
Sacred places are physical and mental loci we return to for solace, well-being, peace and good tidings. On returning to climb in the Sierra Nevada after 31 years, Gary Snyder wrote,
“Range after range of mountains.
Year after year after year.
I am still in love.”
Gary Snyder


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fall Meditation

Perception passes mostly unnoticed from the present into a carousel of snapshots in memory. The repetition of seasons, while predictable, predictably come to an end for every life.

Early Autumn
Qián Xuǎn (钱选 /錢選), 13th Century, Ink on Paper

The imagery in Qián Xuǎn's drawing Early Autumn above, and the words in J.R.R. Tolkien's poem below, express a bittersweet recognition of the repetition and finality of living and the melancholic passage of time.

I sit beside the fire and think
Of all that I have seen
Of meadow flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
In autumns that there were
With morning mist and silver sun
And wind upon my hair

I sit beside the fire and think
Of how the world will be
When winter comes without a spring
That I shall ever see

For still there are so many things
That I have never seen
In every wood in every spring
There is a different green

I sit beside the fire and think
Of people long ago
And people that will see a world
That I shall never know

But all the while I sit and think
Of times there were before
I listen for returning feet
And voices at the door

J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien repeats the line, "I sit beside the fire and think" to mirror the repetition of the seasons. Then in the closing lines, deftly coaxes the reader to experience our senses by listening for returning feet.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Playing to a Packed House

Kierkegaard advanced the idea that a person — not society, culture, or religion — is responsible for finding meaning in life and for living authentically, with passion and sincerity.
Life has its own hidden forces which you can only discover by living.
― Søren Kierkegaard 
Meaning begins and ends with consciousness. We sense and process while immersed in stimuli. We find our tribes and we make life-long connections.

We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.
Annie Dillard
The summation of all consciousness is inestimable, if not infinite. If for nothing else but the will to live, the collective perceptions of all living organisms is a rapt audience. Nature, in the course of continuous unfolding, plays to a packed house.

Our home is the Earth. Our house is the universe.

According to the second law of thermodynamics, things fall apart. Structures disintegrate. Buckminster Fuller hinted at a reason we are here: By creating things, by thinking up new combinations, we counteract this flow of entropy. We make new structures, new wholeness, so the universe comes out even. A shepherd on a hilltop who looks at a mess of stars and thinks, ‘There’s a hunter, a plow, a fish,’ is making mental connections that have as much real force in the universe as the very fires in those stars themselves.
Annie Dillard
Humans entertain the notion of counteracting the flow of entropy by creating things, by imposing temporary order, and by identifying and naming patterns in apparent replication and reoccurrence, but human purpose is disappointingly singular, like a mayfly hatch.

Consciousness is best not squandered. It ends in an instant.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Submarine Volcano Identified

Last Thursday the discovery that a submarine peak known as Tamu Massif is a single volcano was reported by geophysicists in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Tamu Massif is a Shield volcano about 900 miles off the coast of Japan. Shield volcanoes have a low vertical profile resembling that of a warrior's shield because of how they are formed.

Mauna Kea
13,803 ft above sea level
The genesis of a shield volcano involves fluid lava flows of low viscosity magma that travel farther horizontally than vertically explosive volcanoes.

Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii is an example of a shield volcano expressed above sea level.

Tamu Massif erupted for a few million years during the early Cretaceous period. It has been inactive since then.

Tamu Massif is is 400 miles wide and 2.5 miles high and considered by some geoscientists to be the largest known volcano on Earth. By comparison, Tamu Massif is 25% smaller by volume than Mars' Olympus Mons volcano.
Olympus Mons, Mars
Tamu Massif , Earth
Olympus Mons is the largest volcano discovered in the solar system.

"A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." Albert Einstein


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Silences of Millenniums

General Sherman Tree
Largest living organism in the world
Sequoia National Park
Giant sequoia trees cannot readily reproduce in their native habitat because their seeds will only grow under full sun and in mineral rich soils.

The biogenesis of sequoiadendron giganteum is precariously dependent on several phenomena including sunlight, moisture, and fire. Successful regeneration requires periodic wildfire to clear competing vegetation.

The oldest known sequoia is believed to be 3,500 years old based on ring count.
"The sequoias belong to the silences of millenniums. Many of them have seen a hundred human generations rise, give off their little clamors and perish. They seem indeed to be forms of immortality standing here among the transitory shapes of time."
Edwin Markham
That these enchanting giants have a lifespan 20 to 50 times that of our maximum lifespan arouses our imagination.
The power of imagination makes us infinite.
― John Muir

Saturday, August 24, 2013


For keen observers chaos and order converge like tributaries join into one river. For keen observers imperfection becomes perfection and moments spiral into the eternal.

1. Utility & Purpose
Nature does nothing uselessly.
- Aristotle

2. Surface & Depth
Nothing is rich but the inexhaustible wealth of nature. She shows us only surfaces, but she is a million fathoms deep.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

3. Imperfection & Beauty
In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they're still beautiful.
- Alice Walker

4. Moments & Timelessness
There's nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it's sent away.
- Sarah Kay

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Flows In - Flows Out

Much of the poetic phenomena observed in nature are traceable to fundamental principles.

A water balance is an equation describing the flow of water in and out of a defined system much like an accountant's ledger of income minus expenses.

Catchment hydrology is the study of water in a drainage basin that uses a water balance to account for surpluses and deficits.

Water balance is based on the principle of continuity. Like a water budget, it considers:
Flows into a volume in a period of time minus the flows out of that volume in that time.

The Palisades of the West Gallatin, 1874
by William Henry Jackson
Water either accumulates, or is depleted, which follows from the law of conservation of mass.
No river can return to its source, yet all rivers must have a beginning.
— Native American Proverb
Fundamental laws abound in nature. Carl Sagan wrote, "The Earth spins because it did so as it was formed and there has been nothing to stop it since", which is an expression of Newton's laws of motion.

As mortal yet permanent passengers on Spaceship Earth, might we ever-so-slightly pay down whatever debt of gratitude we might have, at least during the conscious leg of our journey, by seeking to understand these phenomena in the context of fundamental principles?
"These woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

— Robert Frost


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Views Toward Home

Views of the Earth recorded from interplanetary spacecraft are relatively rare.

Images made from space looking back towards Earth give us a culturally unprecedented perspective on the vast space and flash of time in which we exist.
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us."
Carl Sagan
Earthrise, 1968
from Apollo 8

Earthrise is the name of an iconic photograph of the Earth taken during the Apollo 8 moon mission in December 1968. This photograph was made by astronaut William Anders seven months before the first lunar landing.
"The most influential environmental photograph ever taken."
- Galen Rowell, wilderness photographer
This image, recorded at a distance of 240,000 miles, is the first view of earth from an interplanetary spacecraft.

Pale Blue Dot

Pale Blue Dot, 1990
from Voyager 1
Pale Blue Dot is the name of a photograph of Earth taken from a record distance of 3.7 billion miles from our planet by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1990.

The primary mission of Voyager 1 was to leave the solar system, but the unmanned spacecraft was commanded by NASA to turn its camera back to photograph the Earth at the request of cosmologist Carl Sagan.

This photograph shows earth as a barely perceptible dot travelling in the dark expanse of space.

Some Perspective

At some distance, the Earth becomes barely perceptible. Humans, along with all other living organisms, are temporary voyagers in a vast, expansive system.

From cosmologist Carl Sagan:
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Large Earthquakes

The magnitude of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake has been estimated at 7.9 (Moment Magnitude Scale). The 1906 San Francisco earthquake was the first natural disaster of its magnitude documented by photography and motion pictures.

San Francisco Earthquake aftermath on Market St.April 18, 1906

Seismologists describe earthquake size in the Moment Magnitude Scale. The largest earthquakes recorded between 1900 and 2013 are:
Location Date UTC Magnitude
1. Chile 1960 05 22 9.5
2. Prince William Sound, Alaska 1964 03/28 9.2
3. Off the West Coast of Northern Sumatra 2004 12/26 9.1
4. Near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan 2011 03/11 9.0
5. Kamchatka 1952 11/04 9.0
6. Offshore Maule, Chile 2010 02/27 8.8
7. Off the Coast of Ecuador 1906 01/31 8.8
8. Rat Islands, Alaska 1965 02/04 8.7
9. Northern Sumatra, Indonesia 2005 03/28 8.6
10. Assam - Tibet 1950 08/15 8.6
11. Off the west coast of northern Sumatra 2012 04/11 8.6
12. Andreanof Islands, Alaska 1957 03 09 8.6
13. Southern Sumatra, Indonesia 2007 09/12 8.5
14. Banda Sea, Indonesia 1938 02/01 8.5
15. Kamchatka 1923 02/03 8.5
16. Chile-Argentina Border 1922 11/11 8.5
17. Kuril Islands 1963 10/13 8.5
Last Updated: 2012 April 11

Many large earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire:

Ring of Fire, from USGS

For tracking earthquakes around the world in near real-time, follow GrokEarth's @SeismicPing feed on Twitter. To track earthquakes within a 300 mile radius of San Francisco, follow GrokEarth' @SeismicPingSF feed on Twitter.
“The poetry of the earth is never dead.”
John Keats