Saturday, December 26, 2015

Paleo Peach Pits

Domesticated peaches
Scientists have discovered fossilized peach pits in southwest China. The fossil endosperms date to more than 2.5 million years ago ― ancient pits resembling pits from today's domesticated peaches.

Prehistoric ecological systems are imagined and hypothesized from terrestrial and aquatic plant fossils by paleobotanists. From the scientific disciplines of paleobotany and paleobiology, it's possible to explore the evolutionary history and interconnectedness of living organisms.
Earth is a vast cemetery where the rocks are tombstones on which the buried dead have written their own epitaphs.
Louis Agassiz
Macrofossils, microfossils, trace fossils, and DNA and RNA samples are studied for clues and connections to present day organisms.

Fossilized peach pit
source: Tao Su
This finding suggests that peaches developed through natural selection long before homo sapiens domesticated peaches.

The domestication of the peach likely occurred some time after homo sapiens appeared some 200,000 years ago.

It's plausible that extinct hominid species like homo erectus, whose earliest fossil record dates back to about 1.9 million years ago, might have eaten peaches similar to the ones we eat today.
Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.
Alice Walker, from Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology


Saturday, December 19, 2015

El Niño

The strongest El Niño since 1997-98 will likely emerge as 2016 unfolds. The 2015-16 El Niño is expected to impact the distribution, intensity, and frequency of precipitation, tropospheric ozone, and wildfires around the world.

NASA satellites have been monitoring the impact of El Niños over the past 15 years.

Deviation from mean surface water temperatures
17 December 2016
source: NOAA

El Niños occur when equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures warm up over a prolonged period of time. NOAA defines this period as a 3-month increase in the mean surface water temperature of 0.9 °F (0.5 °C) or more in the east-central tropical Pacific.

Increased surface water temperatures feed heat and moisture transport into the atmosphere by intensifying convection. Convection occurs as heat from the ocean warms the air as it flows over the ocean surface. The warmer air expands, becomes less dense, and rises. This process creates a conduit of heat and moisture that fuels storms.

Contrasting higher than mean temperature deviations in an El Niño event, a La Niña event is characterized by a lower than mean temperature deviations.

Scientists analyze data to determine how it fits with reasonably well-understood physical models of some aspect of a weather system whether it's convective heat flow, fluid transport, gas transport, or other phenomena. Weather systems are notoriously complex. Weather has far-reaching, often unforeseen impacts.
"Big whirls have little whirls,
That feed on their velocity;
And little whirls have lesser whirls,
And so on to viscosity."
Lewis Fry Richardson

Storm swell attributed to 2002-03 El Niño
Ocean Beach, San Diego
source: PD


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Breathing Planet

Humans recognize the period from about 1760 to 1840 as the industrial revolution where we transformed from hand-made to machine production.

Since the beginning of the industrial age, the mean concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million.
"We're running the most dangerous experiment in history right now, which is to see how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere... can handle before there is an environmental catastrophe."
Elon Musk
Over the past year, NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 has been collecting global measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide:

A Year in the Life of Carbon Dioxide
Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration
NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2

Carbon dioxide concentrations were much higher a half a billion years ago because Earth was a rocky planet bereft of carbon sequestrating plant life. During the Devonian period 420 to 360 million years ago, Earth's atmosphere underwent a 15-fold decline in carbon dioxide.
"The decline is thought to be primarily attributable to carbon sequestration caused by the evolutionary emergence of large forest trees."The Forest Primeval
Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have been rising steadily since the industrial age:

Actual and projected atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations
source: Hannes Grobe

Much, if not most of life on Earth has an existential and symbiotic relationship with Earth's atmosphere. Animals must inhale and exhale to maintain life. Trees must sequester atmospheric carbon to grow a woody skeleton.

The word respire comes from the old French respirer or the Latin respirare meaning:
‘breathe out,’ from re- ‘again’ + spirare ‘breathe.’
Earth is planet of respiration. Earth is a breathing planet like no other planet we know.
What we call ’I’ is just a swinging door, which moves when we inhale and when we exhale.
Shunryū Suzuki


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Light and Dark

Light is life. The Sun is one star among a continuous and distinctive band of stars called the main sequence. Carl Sagan reminds us that when we look up at the night sky, each shinning star light is generated by nuclear fusion.

Fusion powers the stars.

Regions of star formation. Carina Nebula, the Eagle Nebula, and IC 2944.
source: ESO

The Sun like other stars, generates energy in its core by fusing hydrogen atoms into helium. The dense core of the Sun fuses 620 million metric tons of hydrogen per second.

The Sun gives us light. As it happens, light is a precious commodity.
...astronomers have been forced to confront the possibility that most of the universe is invisible, and that all the glittering chains of galaxies are no more substantial, no more reliable guides to physical reality, than greasepaint on the face of a clown.
Dennis Overbye
Atoms are the stuff of stars and of starlight. Yet as chance would have it, atoms constitute a mere 5% of the universe by weight. Some 20% of the universe is made up of mysterious invisible particles called dark matter. An unknown form of energy called dark energy constitutes the remaining 70% of the universe.

Arctic light
Frank Olsen

“let me die
from having been drunk on
indigo skies, my liver...
overflowing with stars.”

Sanober Khan