Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ancient Landscapes in Motion

This is the sequel to my Four Corners Free Press article:

Understanding "Ancient Landscapes" of the Colorado Plateau


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Back, in 1979, through a series of serendipitous cross-country hitch-hiking adventures I found myself driving down into Silverton, Colorado (elevation 9,318') and it was love at first sight, the setting, the town, the people, the community. Before I went to sleep that evening I knew it was going to be home for a long time. Indeed, I lived there for six years going strong, when a woman's love proved stronger and down to the "banana-belt" I scampered.

But, it's the mountains and geology I want to write about in this essay. Today I smile thinking back on that young buck looking down his nose at the jumbled mess of rocks that was the Rocky Mountains. Layers going this way and that way, hard layers on top of soft layers, cliff faces that seemed trustworthy, then crumbled and killed. I was unimpressed.

Back then, the Rocky's seemed no comparison to "my" Sierra Nevada Mountains, were I had lived in Yosemite National Park for nearly three years. How I'd rhapsodize about Yosemite Valley, the most magnificent granite cathedral in the world, nestled within California's incomparable "Range of Light."

But, there is a simple reason for the dramatic difference. The Sierra Nevada is the result of a single series of events during a, relatively speaking, single period of time and place.

What happened was that a couple hundred million years ago huge plumes of lava rose through the Earth's crust, but didn't have the oomph to reach the surface, instead they spread along fracture zones that had been created by the "Pacific Ocean Tectonic Plate" plowing into the "North American Tectonic Plate." The plumes clumped together to form a huge "batholith" of relatively homogeneous composition.

This batholith was like the biggest loaf of Challah bread ever, over 400 x 70 miles, but rather than flour, this dough was composed mainly of the elements oxygen and silicon with small percentages of six other elements and trace amounts of another eighty elements. Baked under tremendous pressure and heat, it then cooled and solidified while being slowly pushed towards the surface.

"Slowly" is a key concept here - because while this huge piece of magma dough was slowly cooling, mineral crystals had a chance to keep growing. The final result was a granite light in color with large crystals that reflect sun and moon light as no other mountain range. Add to that the rocks are hard, but between glaciers and weathering have been smoothed to a finish that can be downright sensuous, it's easy to imagine how they might entrance.

The Rockies on the other hand, were an old gnarly mess. You could find 1,800 million year old rock touching 400 million year old rock. The old stuff was once a chain of volcanic islands that billions of years ago traveled across the Pacific Ocean before slamming into our ancient continent, the young stuff forming at the bottom of an inland sea.

As I learned more about the stories each of the Rocky's fascinating rock types tell, it became a bewildering cacophony of countless stages of mountain building and erosion, first oceans, then seas coming and going, rivers flowing one direction only to get disrupted then flowing in an altogether different direction, land subsiding and being filled-in with the eroded remnants of great mountains accumulating to incredible depths only to once again get thrust upward and exposed to the erosional forces of high elevations... sun and temperature, wind, water and gravity.

Whereas the Sierra's tell a simple story that's easy to grasp, the Rocky Mountains are a mélange reflecting billions of years' worth of our continent's evolution through a bewildering variety of stages that I found next to impossible to get straight.

Then my daughter, knowing my fascination with geology, gave me her used and no longer needed geology text book: "Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau" GCA © 2008, by Professor's Ron Blakey and Wayne Ranney, master geology interpreter. It was like receiving the Rosetta Stone. Scattered lessons fell into place and I discovered a coherent understanding for what transpired in my new corner of the world.

The maps in this book are based on hundreds of studies over many decades, where professors and students have gone out to map and officially describe geologic horizons throughout the Colorado Plateau region. Whereas a fraction of such findings were enough to overwhelm me, Professor Blakey had the education, training and vision to know how to organize this cacophony of information.

After painstakingly organizing these studies from throughout the region, not just geographically, but also according to age, Blakey began to construct a new breed of geologic map. Instead of the traditional clinical color banding, loaded with tons of esoteric symbols, Blakey made use of Adobe Photoshop and GeoMap App to inventory and manipulate Earth Observation images.

Remaining true to the scientifically accepted descriptions of each landscape in its prescribed time period, Blakey combed images of modern landforms to find corresponding representative landscapes. Then he cut and pasted those images of rivers, deltas, sand dunes, mountains and prairies, savannas and forests, each in their rightful place.

When finished Blakey created a series of maps that offer a view of ancient landscapes as though taken from a Landsat satellite that had gone through a time-warp. It was amazing and for anyone who has ever wondered about the evolution of our planet and continents, as compelling as anything ever seen, like single frames of a time-lapse movie yearning to be made.

Even better, Blakey hasn't limited himself to 75 time slices of the Colorado Plateau. He's made three more time series of North America, one of Europe and a series of 30 time slices looking at the entire planet. You can find the list at http://cpgeosystems.com/products.html. A search on YouTube brings up a few rough animations based on Blakey's maps along with some excellent lectures by Wayne Ranney and Ron Blakey. 

And now my little story turns into a sales pitch. It seems the dream of getting these images transferred into a Pixar quality HD animation with narration has been stalled for years because of the lack of serious backing. Dr. Ron Blakey is a scientist, he has done his work, Wayne Ranney also a scientist, has done a superb job of explaining how these maps were made and what they are telling us. Now they need the missing producer... (Hello Telluride) to translate this knowledge into a sensational animation.

From my Earth loving perspective, it seems that such a high-quality time-lapse movie 'Ancient Landscapes in Motion' could have an impact, akin to Apollo's 'Whole Earth'... and Voyager's 'Pale Blue Dot' images. But, rather than a single image re-calibrating our sense of space and Earth's place in the Universe, this human achievement would recalibrate our sense of time and place - to better appreciate humanity's tenure on this planet. 

Dear Telluride, when can Professor's Blakey and Ranney expect your call?

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In this lecture Wayne Ranney gives a nice introduction to the 
"Ancient Landscapes" map series.

Part One

Uploaded by the Grand Canyon Association, on Jul 23, 2009
Carving Grand Canyon: Evidence, Theories and Mystery.

The Grand Canyon is one of earth's most recognizable landscapes, yet a definitive answer for how or when it formed has proved elusive — even though geologists have studied the canyon for almost 150 years! The one thing that scientists do agree upon is that the Grand Canyon was carved by the erosive power of the Colorado River. This is known even though the river itself has carried away the evidence for its earliest history. 
Wayne Ranney explains in layman's terms the possible sequence of events that may have given rise to this stupendous landscape.
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For more information, 
or to offer support, visit Professor Blakey's website:

"Reconstructing the planet's past"
Colorado Plateau Geosystems, Inc.

Wayne Ranney has a great website focusing on geology
Earthly Musings - Wayne Ranney's Geology Blog

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

An Essay Concerning Our Weather - 1995 and 2005

Here's an essay I first wrote back in 1995 for the Nov/Dec 1995 issue of 
 "The Humanist" magazine - a decade later I was invited to do a revision in 2005 which I'm reprinting here.  

Considering some of the comments I've written here and there in the blogosphere, I think it's time to bring it back to the top of stack.  

A non-scientist's appreciation: 

An Essay Concerning Our Weather

Printed in The Humanist,
Nov-Dec, 2005
“Katrina and Rita in Context”

There has been something missing from the recent news coverage in the aftermath of 
Hurricanes Katrina's and Rita. No one seems to be reporting on the real story ~ namely the 

These most recent storms should encourage U.S. citizens to recognize that we are facing a 
powerful entity that has only begun to barge into our American way. Look up into that 
beautiful sky overhead and consider its substance, dynamics and might. Our atmosphere is 
the product of more than four billion years of ongoing evolution ~ geological as well as 
biological. It's a tenuous veil of gases that lays upon the surface of our earth, thin as 
the finest silk upon your skin. This veil has a most interesting structure, one that's 
worth thinking about.

Our atmosphere is composed almost totally of nitrogen and oxygen. Interwoven into this 
medium is a gossamer thin admixture of everything else: thousands of different compounds 
that can be grouped into almost two hundred distinct families. Combined, these compounds 
make up less than one percent of our atmosphere's volume. Most of this volume is made up 
of inert compounds and noble gases, so called because they don't react with their 
surroundings very much, if at all. Within this matrix of nonreactive molecules is 
another, yet thinner community of reactive compounds. By volume, these reactive 
components total less than four hundred parts per million. This is where the action is. 
These chemicals are always reacting with each other: they combine, split up, mutate, 
affect neighboring molecules, change characteristics ~ and they do this at nonstop 
hypervelocities. This is the scaffolding over which energy, moisture, and heat perform 
their weather ballet.

What's new is that, over the past two hundred years or so, humanity has been injecting a 
third category of ingredients: human-made and human-generated. By volume, this new genre 
consists mainly of substances already present in the atmosphere, only now they are being 
added to in unfathomable quantities ~ and they belong to the reactive families. Then there 
are the "exotics": creations of science and industry that make up a small but usually 
highly reactive percentage. Many of these compounds are totally new to our atmosphere. 
All told, society has been injecting millions upon millions upon millions of tons of 
these gases and particulates into our atmosphere at ever-increasing rates. So much so 
that the very composition of our atmosphere ~ the weave of our atmospheric veil ~ has been 
significantly and verifiably altered.

This is cause for concern because our atmosphere is in actuality a heat engine. Its 
matrix of gaseous and particulate components are the valves and pistons. This engine is 
powered by the sun’s energetic rays and the result is our weather: the global 
distribution of energy, heat, and moisture. But each compound we've introduced interacts 
with the sun’s energy according to its own unique thermo-hygroscopic-chemical profile. 
Recent weather fluctuations are little more than a physical reflection of our 
atmosphere's composition.

Remember all those environmentalists whining about pollution, global warming, and 
all that? Well, it isn't mere delusion. Scientists have been discovering and recording 
these changes since the end of World War II. For more than forty years now, satellites 
have been visually recording the stains, rips, and acid burns that we continue to inflict 
upon the veil of our atmosphere. The increasingly sophisticated information they gather continues to have ominous implications for the future as well as the present.

While the media discusses global changes in terms of global averages, keep this in mind: 
there is no "average" patch of ground or water on this planet. Pollutants aren't added as 
amorphous averages. They are injected into the fabric of our atmosphere as ribbons of 
varying concentrations and volumes. It's true that today scientists have convincing 
evidence that some global areas are experiencing a warming trend, while others are 
experiencing a cooling trend. There is nothing reassuring about this.

Think about our atmosphere as the heat engine whose role it is to seek a globally 
balanced distribution of energy, heat and moisture. This engine has evolved to a delicate 
state of dynamic equilibrium. Remember, it is the profile of temperature gradients and 
barometric differentials that provide the throttle behind this engine's drive to maintain 
its equilibrium. Inject extremes and it will react in kind ~ it makes no difference to the 
engine. It does, however, make a difference to humans and the biosphere as we know it.

Science has consistently shown that nature is always vastly more complex, interwoven, and 
unpredictable than the human intellect is capable of imagining. Why won't we allow this 
lesson to sink in? Why be surprised when weather continues to become more chaotic? 
Admittedly, no one can accurately predict how weather will change. But who can deny that 
it will continue to change, and at an accelerated rate? We can kid ourselves, but we 
can't fool nature.
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{Note: A previous version of this article was printed in the November/December 1995 issue of The 


Bonus supporting material

~ Our Global Heat Distribution Engine ~ 
Up close and personal,
from space and within the ocean.

A five star video by NASA

Earth From Space (HD)
Published on Aug 20, 2012 Playtime: 1:31:32 Earth Playlist-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qG-rvR-q0ic
Posted by The Brain Power 

Venture on an epic quest to discover the invisible forces and occurrences that sustain life on this planet and - for the first time - see these processes in action in EARTH FROM SPACE.This sweeping two-hour {yippy 29 minutes of commercials we get to miss}  special reveals the Earth’s deepest mysteries, captured in breath-taking detail, and raises profound questions and challenges the old assumptions of how it all works. 
[. . .] 
In consultation with more than 220 scientific experts from 18 international Earth sciences research agencies and academic institutions, highlights from EARTH FROM SPACE reveal:
A hurricane - observed from the inside - is an intricately-organized structure. 
See how it bonds water to atmosphere, and releases heat into space, cooling parts of the Atlantic by 4C.
The Amazon produces 20% of the Earth’s fresh water.Where does all this water go and what is its effect on air circulating around the planet and life across the globe? 
See how solar storms puncturing great holes in the magnetic field raise new questions about the disruptive effect they have on life on a microscopic level. 
Data shows that the top three meters of the ocean stores more heat than the entire atmosphere - overturning the long-held assumptions about how the ocean controls weather and climate. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

You mean, Dr. Mann didn't invent global warming?

A walk down memory lane. 
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This morning I awoke to an interesting article over at HotWhopper.com, it's a reproduction of a 1884 newspaper article in the Australian newspaper "Border Watch" titled "Cold And Heat Near The Poles."  In it the author discusses the discovery of fossil traces of tropical flora in the Arctic and the implication that Earth's climate was variable.

It then went on to discuss Earth's early atmosphere, it's interaction with the lithosphere, and the ability of certain gases to retain heat trying to escape into the cold vacuum of space.  The article ends with:

"... Many ingenious hypotheses have been proposed to account for the warmer climate of earlier times, but are at best unsatisfactory; and it appears to me that the true solution of the problem may be found in the constitution of the early atmosphere, when considered in the light of Dr. Tyndall's beautiful researches on radiant heat. 

He has found that the presence of a few hundredths of carbonic acid gas in the atmosphere, while offering almost no obstacle to the passage of the solar rays, would suffice to prevent almost entirely the loss by radiation of obscure heat, so that the surface of the land beneath such an atmosphere would become like a vast orchid house, in which the conditions of climate necessary to a luxuriant vegetation would be extended even to the polar regions.

ALBERT K. VARLEY, F.R.S. Mount Gambier, June 12, 1884."

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After the article there's a reference to "more flashbacks relating to climate and Earth science from the National Library of Australia," it leads to a section of her blog that links to a collection of articles going back in time.  These articles do a good job of putting the developing science of climate change into a historical perspective.  While also exposing the lie that all this global warming talk is some sort of conspiracy intend on undermining our freedoms.  That list is followed with another one of her posts looking at the mischief making of Anthony Watts and friends.

I'm happy to do my part to help spread this information, so with a big shout out to Sou for all the hard work she puts into her blog, here's a reproduction of her collection of historic newspaper articles that shine a light on the early history of the science of climate change.


Climate history as gleaned from old Australian newspapers 

Flashback to 1884: A few hundredths of carbonic acid gas in the atmosphere...the surface...would become like a vast orchid house

Flashback to 1910 - the Indian Monsoon and ENSO - featuring Sir Gilbert Thomas Walker

Flashback to 1922 - World Growing Warmer - featuring The Weather Optimist from London's Daily Mail

featuring Gordon de Quetteville Robin

Flashback to 1967: The Weather and Air Pollution featuring J Murray Mitchell Jr, Robert A McCormick and John H Ludwig

Flashback to 1972 - Scientists Fear for Arctic Sea Ice - melt may bring irreversible climatic change