Climate Change, Whirligig Icebergs

Climate change is still in the news. Don’t worry, I won’t rant about impending doom, or say that Earth’s climate isn’t changing.

This planet’s climate has been changing for several billion years. I’d be astounded if it stopped changing now.

How much we know and understand about our own past, and Earth’s, is also changing. I’ll be talking about that, and why I’m not upset that we’re learning.

I’ll also take a look at (real) climate change, why I think we are not doomed, and choices we must make soon. “Soon,” in this case, is somewhere in the next millennium or so. My opinion. We really do not want to make these decisions hastily.

The Once and Future Ice Age

The coming ice age1 was a moderately big deal for science geeks, back in the 1950s and 60s.

Journalists talked about “global cooling” in the 1970s, based on data collected since the 1940s. The data was real, the analysis was dubious. Apparently most scientists figured global temperatures had been falling, on average, and would continue doing so.

Maybe some journalists figured “Coming Ice Age” made a cooler headline. I don’t know.

I’d missed the first “global cooling” scare, in the 1920s and 30s. The National Geographic Society sent someone to check on glaciers, and at least one scientists opined that Earth would cool off again: eventually. I agree, and I’ll get back to that.

If we’d known more, earlier, we might have had pre-20th-century ‘ice age’ scares.

As it is, Pierre Martel noticed oddly-paced boulders in 1742. A couple years later, he wrote that they might have gotten there when glaciers got bigger, and then melted.

He was right, but maybe scientists were still getting used to the idea that Aristotle might have been wrong about the universe. I’ll get back to that, too.

Anyway, other folks made similar educated guesses to explain rocks that had been shoved out of their original positions.

Eventually, Louis Agassiz did some field work, analyzed the results, and published “Study on Glaciers” in 1840. Several decades later, most scientists agreed: Earth’s glaciers and polar caps had been a whole lot bigger than they are now.

Meanwhile, Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” had started giving some folks conniptions, and I’ve talked about that before. Often.

We’ve learned that the ice age Agassiz studied is the most recent of several major ones:

The Manure Crisis, 1894

We had the Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894 next. Folks at a 1898 international urban planning conference in New York City couldn’t find a solution.

I don’t know why they didn’t think of using Bollée’s steam-powered trolleys.

They’d been in production since 1873, and England’s parliament had been passing and repealing Locomotive Acts since 1861. (February 5, 2017)

I don’t think steam power and automobiles saved civilization, or that they’ll destroy it.

I give humans credit for having some practical intelligence. Not that we consistently seem eager to use our brains. I’m reasonably confident we’d have worked out some way of digging out of the manure crisis.2

The problem of manure disposal isn’t a problem any more, exhaust fumes are. So, apparently, is global warming. Because, we’re told, of the exhaust fumes. And it’s not “global warming” any more. We’re supposed to call it “climate change.”

Icarus, Lord Kelvin, and Aerial Navigation

I talked about Earth’s atmosphere and one of Lord Kelvin’s famous mistakes last month. (April 14, 2017)

He was wrong about heavier-than-air flight, too. When the Royal Aeronautical Society, formed in 1896, asked him to join, he didn’t see a point in their research:

“I have not the smallest molecule of faith in aerial navigation other than ballooning or of expectation of good results from any of the trials we hear of.”
(William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, in a letter to Baden-Powell (1896)) via Wikipedia)

He had a point. Folks have wanted to fly for millennia. Our story of Daedalus and Icarus goes back to Publius Ovidius Naso, we call him Ovid.

Ovid was born a year after Roman Senators tried to save the Republic by killing Julius Caesar. Their Senate had mismanaged the Republic beyond repair by then, so their efforts ended with the Final War of the Roman Republic.

Augustus sorted the mess out about a decade later. He was a tad more successful, by at least one measure. The Pax Romana lasted over two centuries. The Roman Empire kept going, and that’s another topic. (February 5, 2017; October 30, 2016)

Otto Lilienthal wasn’t the first to build a working glider. But he was the first to make one that flew more-or-less successfully, document his results, and survive the process.

Lord Kelvin would have known about Lilienthal’s work, and his final flight in 1896. It ended when Lilienthal’s glider crashed, fatally injuring Lilienthal.

Evening Post: the July 30, 1898 Saturday Supplement

The other famous Kelvin quote, that “there is nothing new to be discovered in physics now,” didn’t happen.

It’s close to something Albert A. Michelson said in 1894.

I’m not sure why or how Lord Kelvin got a reputation for having the imagination of a rock and a talent for not seeing what’s coming next.

Being a high-profile public figure who talked to journalists probably didn’t help.

William Thomson’s early scientific work showed that Carnot’s analysis of heat and mechanical work was was right, partly.

A whole bunch of other scientists eventually defined the second law of thermodynamics, and that’s yet another topic.

Someone asked Thomson to look at how Faraday’s experiments related to the proposed transatlantic telegraph cable.

Thomson came up with results that didn’t match what Whitehouse, the project’s chief electrician, said.

Thomson’s analysis discussed the cable’s potential data rate, how that would affect profitability, impressed quite a few folks, and upset Whitehouse.

William Thomson got elected to the board of directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company. Eventually he became Lord Kelvin, 1st Baron Kelvin, and helped define what we hadn’t learned yet about physics. We’re still working on that.

Lord Kelvin didn’t invent 20th-century physics, but he helped make it possible. That’s why a material, water dropper, wave, instability, a few theorems, and the SI unit of temperature, are named after him.

Lord Kelvin’s analysis of Earth’s oxygen supply and industrial use of fossil fuels was accurate, as far as it went.

If we’d learned everything there is to know about photosynthesis and the oxygen cycle in 1898, we’d now have a bit less than three centuries of breathable air left. That would be a real crisis.

We’re not seeing a more-or-less-continuous stream of “Oxygen Crisis” and “Save Our Air Protest” headlines because we didn’t know everything there is to know in 1898. I’m quite sure we still don’t.3

We have, however, learned quite a bit.

What’s the Point?

The point is not that we will live in a utopia, just as soon as everyone’s properly educated and starts using solar power: or whatever the cool new tech is.

I don’t think we’re living in the last days of humanity, either. I also think we’re dealing with issues that didn’t exist a few generations back, and many more that we’ve had from day one.

This is nothing new. The manure crisis wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been learning how to keep our cities from burning at intervals. New agricultural tech and improved medical practices helped: or doomed us, according to disciples of Malthus.

I don’t see avoiding famines and plagues as a bad idea, but realize that not everyone shares my views.

I think the now-unfashionable notion that science and technology will solve all our problems was as silly as fearing that we’re doomed because we’re smart. (October 30, 2016; November 18, 2016)

That quaint idea may get trotted out again, probably when another international “climate change” conference is in the news.

Fear that our brains will kill us is based on facts. And whacking great assumptions.

Our brains have been getting bigger over the last few million years. They’re not just bigger.

The basic architecture is the same as other primates, but our wiring is significantly different at microscopic levels. (February 3, 2017; January 13, 2017; September 23, 2016)

Today’s human brain takes up about 2% of our total body mass. Right now, my brain is burning about 25% of my glucose, 20% of my oxygen, and uses around 15% of my heart’s output; assuming I’m about average. Let’s call it 20% net energy consumption.4

My guess is that a species as big as we are, with our metabolism, and brains the size of ours, might not last long if the critter’s brain was wired like, say, a kangaroo’s.

Our brains don’t just burn energy. We’ve been using them to find and process food, and develop technology.

That’s arguably what’s kept us alive over the last couple million years. Earth’s climate has has been even less stable than usual, ever since the current ice age started.

I don’t see using our brains as a problem, or a threat; and I’ll get back to that.

1. “The Apocalypse is Still Ticking Along Nicely”

(From AP, via Gizmodo, used w/o permission.)

The Doomsday Vault Isn’t Flooded But We’re All Still Going to Die
Rhett Jones, Gizmodo (May 20, 2017)

“It was a story that was too good to pass up. The Svalbard ‘doomsday’ seed vault had flooded because of global warming-induced high temperatures melting the surrounding permafrost. But according to one of the vault’s creators, the reports are pretty overblown and everything’s fine. Well, the vault’s fine. The apocalypse is still ticking along nicely….”

Gizmodo is a design, technology, science and science fiction website. They’ve got political content, too, but I don’t know if they’re conservative, liberal, or something else.

Their slogan is “We come from the future.” I’m quite sure that’s not strictly accurate, but their writers do seem rather more interested in what’s coming than average: and surprisingly free from the panic and despair I’ve come to expect from “serious” thinkers.

The “Apocalypse” op-ed isn’t as thoroughly tongue-in-cheek as the lead paragraph suggests. Jones took the trouble to get some facts. So did Popular Science, which Mr. Jones uses as his source.

Basically, the Svalbard ‘doomsday’ vault is at the end of a hundred-meter tunnel that slopes uphill most of the way. The front door isn’t watertight, and isn’t meant to be.

Water gets under the door pretty routinely, which is why there’s a short downhill slope just inside. Water flows down the slope, collecting where the tunnel starts sloping up again. Two sump pumps then take the water back outside. They were supposed to, that is.

I don’t know if they’re the sort you find at Home Depot.

When humans came to check on the vault last year, they found frozen water inside.

It’s a “crisis,” since the vault is supposed to be completely autonomous, and apparently the water froze before the pumps removed it. The folks who operate the vault say they’re working on an upgrade, but maybe they’re really stumped and won’t admit it.

And we’re all gonna die.

See? Panic is an option. Not a sensible one, though. I’m pretty sure about that.

2. Svalbard Global Seed Vault: No Damage

(From Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“The Svalbard Global Seed Vault took 12 months to build and opened in February 2008”
(BBC News))

Norway to boost protection of Arctic seed vault from climate change
BBC News (May 20, 2017)

Norway is boosting the flood defences of its Global Seed Vault on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard after water entered the entrance tunnel last year.

“The storage facility, deep inside a mountain, is designed to preserve the world’s crops from future disasters.

“Unseasonably high temperatures last year caused the permafrost to melt, sending water into the access tunnel.

“No seeds were damaged but the facility is to have new waterproof walls in the tunnel and drainage ditches outside….”

About “unseasonably high temperatures,” I’ll repeat what I said earlier. Earth’s climate is changing. At the moment, it’s warming up.

I think paying attention is a good idea.

The Svalbard globale frøhvelv, Svalbard Global Seed Vault in my language, is on Spitsbergen, an island in the Svalbard archipelago.

The Nordic Gene Bank, NGB, has been storing seeds there since 1984. As of February of this year, the vault holds 930,821 seed samples. Each sample is 500 seeds from a particular plant.

The idea is to be a backup for national gene banks. That’s a good idea, since accidents happen. Also mismanagement, funding cuts, natural disasters, and wars. Flooding damaged the Philippines seed bank, followed by a fire that wiped out the rest.

Afghanistan and Iraq had seed banks before some folks started running terrorism headquarters on their territory. Folks in other parts of the world, including my country, didn’t approve. I can’t say that I blame them. Us.

I’d like to live in a world where St. John Paul II’s “civilization of love” existed. Small wonder that informed Catholics and the Catholic Church scare some folks spitless. All this talk about competence and love threatens a great many status quos:

“…As long as the danger of war remains and there is no competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the international level, governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defense once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted….”
(“Gaudium et Spes,” Pope Bl. Paul VI (December 7, 1965))

“…The answer to the fear which darkens human existence at the end of the twentieth century is the common effort to build the civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty….”
(“To the United Nations Organization,”5 Pope St. John Paul II (October 5, 1995))

We’re not there yet, but we’re working on it. Maybe we’ll have the job done by the 42nd century. Sooner, if enough folks decide it’s important. (January 22, 2017; November 29, 2016; October 30, 2016; September 25, 2016)

Spitsbergen: Good Place for a Seed Vault

((C) British Broadcasting Corporation, used w/o permission.)

Svalbard Global Seed Vault started as a coal mine, and is a reasonably good location for a seed bank.

Spitsbergen is geologically stable at the moment, and well above worst-case scenarios for high sea levels if Earth’s polar caps melt.

The area’s permafrost makes maintaining cold storage easier, and the vault is refrigerated. Since the vault’s main function is to keep backup copies of seeds from other vaults safe, being halfway between Norway and the north pole isn’t an issue.6

If the vault’s purpose was giving humanity a fighting chance to recover from a global catastrophe, I’d be concerned.

At the moment, Spitsbergen is habitable: by polar foxes and bears, reindeer, tough birds, and humans. we tried stocking the island with arctic hare and muskoxen, but apparently the foxes, bears, and cold, were too much for them.

Island life can’t be all that difficult, though. At least one luckless southern vole arrived in 1960, hitching a ride with a hay shipment to Grumant.

The town was established in 1912. Humans abandoned the site in 1965, but descendants of the voles are still there.

Where was I? Glaciers, oxygen, seeds, Svalbard. Right.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault is about 1,300 kilometers from Earth’s north pole, well north of the arctic circle.

With today’s technology and economy, it’s quite accessible.

If we were dealing with a global or regional catastrophe, I’m not so sure. Even today, with a moderately healthy global economy, Spitsbergen is a tad remote.

Reducing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide: What if We Succeed?

(From Lisiecki and Raymo (2005), via Wikimedia Commons; under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later; used w/o permission.)

Journalistic enthusiasm for the ‘doomsday vault’ angle started me thinking about what we could be facing, if the ‘coming ice age’ of my youth had panned out. And was imminent.

I don’t think it’s an immediate threat, but a little speculation shouldn’t do any harm.

Svalbard’s fjords, valleys, and mountains, owe their shape to massive ice sheets that form during each of the current ice age’s glacial periods.

The current cycle of continental glacial advance and melting started about 2,580,000 years ago. The most recent interglacial cycle started roughly 12,000 years back.7

The warm spell won’t last. There’s no reason to panic, though.

We don’t fully understand what starts ice ages, why they end, and why glacial periods come and go during an ice age — but we think we’ve found some of the answers.

How much carbon dioxide is in Earth’s atmosphere is almost certainly one factor.

Remembering the Killer Fog

(From Robert A. Rohde, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere: the most recent 400,000 years.)

Carbon dioxide is the carbonic acid gas Lord Kelvin mentioned. That graph shows a pretty good match between how much carbon dioxide is in Earth’s atmosphere, and how small Earth’s polar caps are.

I’m a bit dubious when someone plots data from a complex system, and one end looks like an asymptotic curve.

In this case, though, I figure the curve is fairly accurate.

As for how we know exactly how much carbon dioxide was in the air before we were taking measurements: we don’t.

Not exactly. But we have increasingly-accurate estimates, based on analysis of rocks, fossils: and, of course, coal.

That spike in carbon dioxide levels corresponds pretty well to when we started burning coal and oil in wholesale lots. London’s killer fog doesn’t, I think, tell us that technology will kill us all and we should stop using it.

It’s the sort of thing that happens when we forget that part of our job is taking care of this place. (February 10, 2017)

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, so we’re pretty sure that Earth gets warmer when there’s more in the air. It’s not that simple, though.

Estimates and the Little Ice Age

(From Robert A. Rohde, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(A reconstruction of recent temperatures, from tree rings and other data.)

I don’t know where the scientific consensus is today on Milankovitch cycles and how they relate to long-term climate change.

I’d be mildly surprised if fluctuations in Earth’s orbit didn’t affect our planet. The connection(s) aren’t particularly obvious, though. Not yet.

Earth’s continents keep shifting around, which affects ocean and air currents. There’s a pretty clear correlation between the Tibetan plateau growing and the current ice age.

Having a large land mass over one of the poles is almost certainly a factor, too.

Volcanoes, a major source of effluvia, aren’t going off at a constant rate. A single eruption might not have a big effect. But lots of eruptions, over geologically-significant periods, probably would.

As if all that wasn’t enough, our star is slightly variable.

It may be pure coincidence that the Maunder Minimum happened during the Little Ice Age’s coldest years. My guess is that there’s a connection, and it’s hard to imagine that a prolonged cold spell on Earth would affect our sun.

Current estimates are just that: estimates. We’ve started learning what makes Earth’s climate work, and we have a very great deal left to learn.

It looks like we have between about 15,000 to 50,000 years before the next round of glaciers starts. How long we have is partly up to us.

The low estimate assumes that we succeed in pulling carbon dioxide in the atmosphere down from its current 400 parts per million (ppm) to 210 ppm.

The high estimate assumes boosting the number to 750 ppm.

Nobody seems eager to push atmospheric carbon dioxide up to what was normal 100,000,000 to 200,000,000 years ago, perhaps understandably.

Or maybe that’s what it it’ll take to keep continental glaciers from grinding over Europe, Siberia, and North America.

Doomsday Vaults: A Suggestion

(From Robert A. Rohde, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

Since earnest folks say they want to drop carbon dioxide levels, 1,300 kilometers from the north pole is not where I’d want a “doomsday vault.”

Happily, that’s not what NGB has in mind.

My choice, if we were looking at either melting ice caps or onset of the next glacial period, wouldn’t be just one location.

Either way, I’d want the vaults to be above the highest predicted shoreline, easy to reach, and on fairly stable ground. Earthquake-prone locales like coastal California or Nepal would be poor choices. And, in the case of Nepal, one of the first places we’d lose.

If we were closer to the next glacial period, I’d say our best bet would be to put vaults in Tanzania, India, Brazil, and China. Setting something up in North America would probably be a waste of resources.

A major design issue, I think, would be making the vaults self-contained and self-maintaining on a scale of centuries to millennia.

Once that’s done, I’m not sure how we’d make them safe from folks looking for a quick meal and nothing more: and not so secure that folks with no power tools couldn’t get in.

Finally, making durable records shouldn’t be difficult. Baked clay and stone carvings are very stable. The trick will be to have the records in languages that folks can understand, a few millennia after literacy is a nearly-lost skill.

I’d suggest something along the lines of a picture-story, carved onto a rock at least ten meters on a side. That way it’s not likely to get lost or buried.

Based on what happened in the last glaciation, the Old South would have some of North America’s best climate: taiga. Hunting and trapping would probably be the best bet for folks who couldn’t get out.

In any case, we’ve got a long time to get ready. Considering how much we need to learn and set up, that’s probably just as well.

I’m not terribly serious about this, but it was an interesting exercise in planning. I strongly suspect that we will decide that preventing the next glaciation makes sense by the time it’s an issue. We may know how to do it safely.

3. Antarctica’s Glaciers: (still) Cracking

(From T.Ronge/AWI, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Ice giants of Antarctica: The Polarstern research vessel is almost 120m in length”
(BBC News))

Decoding Antarctica’s response to a warming world
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (May 19, 2017)

A tangle of tubes, cables, and actuators – Mebo looks as though it could morph at any moment into one of those Transformer robots from the movies.

“The 10-tonne machine is in fact a seabed drilling system, and a very sophisticated one at that.

“Deployed over the side of any large ship but driven remotely from onboard, it’s opening up new opportunities to take sediment samples from the ocean floor….”

I don’t think the Antarctic ice cap is about to slide into the sea, triggering city-killing tsunamis, flooding Uckfield in East Sussex, and loosing mere anarchy upon a doomed world.

I talked about a cracking Antarctic ice shelf in January. At the time, I thought it was interesting. Also that moving Halley base made sense. (January 20, 2017)

Getting flustered by a recurring natural phenomenon doesn’t seem reasonable. Learning more about how Earth’s climate works does.

Like I said, I don’t think we’re looking at an impending global catastrophe. Glaciers have been sliding into the ocean since before fire was the latest thing in domestic technology. But there’s no sense in ignoring what’s happening.

Aristotle, God, and 1277

From Eric Gaba, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.Aristotle — I said I’d get back to him — wasn’t wrong about everything. He wasn’t always right, either.

He argued against the possibility of a void, for example, in “Physics.”

He had a point, given his views about the nature of reality. And he was wrong. But not entirely.

We produced the first artificial vacuum in the 1600s. The Magdeburg hemispheres are still shown in physics textbooks.

On the other hand, we’re learning that a vacuum state isn’t empty, and quantum fluctuation is yet again another topic.

Book VIII of “Physics” argues, quite reasonably, that the universe must have always existed. Again, that made sense, given what Aristotle knew and how he thought reality worked. He figured matter must have always existed.

Otherwise matter would have come into existence and begun to move, or have existed in an eternal state of rest before beginning to move. Aristotle thought either option was impossible, because he defined coming into existence as a “motion.”

About a millennium back, the Church reminded overly-insistent academics that God decides how the universe works: not Aristotle. Proposition 27/219 of 1277 is among my favorite examples of common sense. (May 5, 2017; December 2, 2016)

Reassuring as a steady-state, unchanging, eternal, universe might be: that’s not what we’ve been discovering.

Sampling a Climate Archive

(From T.Ronge/AWI, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“An operator onboard the Polarstern directs MeBo’s actions at the seabed”
(BBC News))

“…The goal was to retrieve seafloor sediments that would reveal the behaviour of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) in previous warm phases. To read the future in the past.

“‘Has the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed before? Is that the scenario we should expect in the next couple of hundred years?’ pondered project leader Karsten Gohl from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI).

“‘Perhaps in some of these warm periods it has only partially collapsed, just a few portions of it. Or maybe the WAIS was hardly affected in those times. We hope we can understand this better by collecting samples because basically the sediments are a climate archive.’…”
(Jonathan Amos, BBC News)

“We hope we can understand this better” expresses what I think is a healthy attitude.

I’m a Christian and a Catholic, so I don’t worship nature. That’d be a bad idea. Recognizing nature as something we can study, learning more about our home is a good idea. It’s part of being human. Or should be. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 282283, 21122114, 22932295)

I don’t “believe in” climate change, global cooling, or isostatic rebound. Not in the sense that I expect any natural process to give me meaning and purpose. I do, however, think that reality is real: and that using our brains is better than the alternative.

4. Whirligig Icebergs

(From Atlas of Submarine Glacial Landforms, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Ploughmarks formed by unusually flat-bottomed icebergs in the central Barents Sea (Red is 240m water depth; purple is 248m)”
(BBC News))

Iceberg ‘doodles’ trace climate history
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (April 25, 2017)

It is as if a child has been doodling with large coloured crayons.

“What you see are actually the great gouge marks left on the seafloor when the keel of a giant block of ice has dragged through the sediments.

“The arcs and loops record the movement of the berg as it turns about, caught in the wind, currents and tides….”

Is this atlas the work of more than 250 scientists from 20 countries, as BBC News claims?

Or is it a cunning snare for the unwary, yet another plot by the shape-shifting space-alien lizard-men who rule the world?!!!!!

Sorry about that. I haven’t been sleeping well this week, and it’s catching up with me.

I’ve talked about conspiracy theories, space-alien reptilians, and getting a grip, before. And no, I do not think England’s royal family are aliens. (May 14, 2017; December 23, 2016)

Still, those squiggles look a (very) little like some Asian scripts. Gouges on the Barrent Sea floor reminded me of crop circles, and that’s still another topic.

Seriously, Though

(From Atlas of Submarine Glacial Landforms, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“An iceberg ploughmark showing rotation, from the central Barents Sea (Red is 240m water depth; purple is 252m)”
(BBC News))

“…’We now have a critical mass of high-resolution imagery, of the imprints left by the action of ice,’ explained Dr Kelly Hogan, one the collection’s editors from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

“‘We can see where the ice has been and what it’s done, and this allows us to compare and contrast. Looking at what has happened in the past can help us understand what may happen in the future with modern ice sheets as they respond to climate change.’ …”

“…And flicking through the book, it is clear that not all ice action has been constrained to today’s polar waters…..”
(Jonathan Amos, BBC News)

I think Dr. Hogan is right. This is some of the most detailed imagery of Earth’s seafloor we’ve made. I’m sure that studying it will “…help us understand what may happen….”

Some images show features made during the most recent glaciation. At least one set, in Libya’s Murzuq Basin, are about 450,000,000 years old: made when what’s now north Africa was over Earth’s south pole.

The BBC News article has more pictures from the atlas. Quite a part from their scientific value, I think they look cool.

Literacy: a Luxury for a More Civilized Age

(From Lommes, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(The Late Bronze Age Collapse: destroyed cities and refugees, about 32 centuries back.)

We don’t know what triggered the Late Bronze Age Collapse.

Theories include climate change, volcanoes and drought.

Ironworking, a new technology, may have disrupted traditional economic and military systems. Infantry equipped with mass-produced bronze weapons may have made military chariots obsolete.

Illiteracy became common, which may help explain why tales of the Trojan War are a mix of fact and imagination.

Like I said, we don’t know what went wrong. My guess is that there wasn’t just one cause.

Whatever happened, the results were catastrophic. Unburied corpses littered the burned-out ruins of once-thriving cities. Survivors were on the move, hoping to find new homes. Trade routes were abandoned.

Troy was destroyed at least twice. My guess is that we have so few records from that era, and before, because most folks were busy trying to not die. Literacy was a luxury for a more civilized age. (April 30, 2017; November 4, 2016)

A genetics study of subsaharan African populations showed that quite a few folks moved there around that time. I think it’s likely that quite a few refugees didn’t stop running until they’d gotten past Egypt, and either couldn’t or wouldn’t go back.

We haven’t endured anything quite like that since, happily.

Change and Frost Fairs

I strongly suspect that coping with the unexpected depends on a willingness to drop the ‘we’ve never done it that way’ attitude, and use our brains.

The Little Ice Age, about five centuries back, could have have been very bad news.

As it was, folks in China changed Jiangxi Province’s agricultural practices, and life went on.

Europeans decided to have fun ice skating, making events like the River Thames frost fairs possible.

It wasn’t all fun and games: but we adjusted without a civilization-breaking collapse. We didn’t have the social and political issues plaguing the Roman Empire, a thousand years before that.

Those were the ‘good old days’ when barbarians — an ancient-Mediterranean view of folks like me — moved east and south. We had really bad weather during 535-536.

My ancestors may have been among the barbarians who took over Roman land. More likely, they were the folks pushing them south.

The “barbarians” eventually started building Gothic cathedrals, steam engines and spaceships, and I’m wandering off-topic again.

Another climate shift, the 4.2 kiloyear event, wreaked havoc. So did the 5.9 and 8.2 kiloyear events.

Getting back to the Late Bronze Age collapse — It was – – –

– – – the End of Civilization As They Knew It

Quite a bit changed after the Late Bronze Age collapse. Mostly for the better, I think, on average. And after much rebuilding.

I’m pretty sure many folks weren’t happy about the changes. Not at the time.

Egypt’s Twenty-second and Twenty-third dynasties were immigrant families. New smelting tech made iron tools and weapons affordable, King Wu of Zhou founded the Zhou dynasty, and Saul became the first king of of a united Israel.

Folks on the Aegean peninsula re-learned writing from the Phoenicians, They eventually formed self-governing communities which would give us Plato, Socrates, and the Peloponnesian War, although not in that order.

Folks running the Roman Republic got fed up with Greek politics, starting around the time Empress Lü Zhi set off the Ying Bu rebellion by having Han Xin killed.

Greece would have become part of the Roman Empire shortly after Rome ended the Third Punic War by obliterating Carthage, but Rome was still the Republic.

Carthage was on a good site for a city, so Romans built a Roman Carthage, and other folks built Tunis, currently home to about 2,700,000.

Augustus sorted the Roman Empire out of a mess made by the Roman Senate, my view. The Empire dissolved about fifteen centuries back, that brings me back to today.

About the Late Bronze Age Collapse, the eastern Mediterranean was a mess for some time.

Kaskians, Phrygians and Arameans roamed and raided where the Hittite Empire had been. Great cities like Hattusa, Mycenae, and Ugarit in ruins. It’s no surprise that many farmers moved back to Africa, and stayed there.

The University of Cambridge’s Dr. Andrea Manica says that about a quarter of the folks living in East Africa back then were immigrants: mostly from western Eurasia.8

Weather Modification: Uncertain Results

(From National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.)
(Black Hills Flood of 1972: jumbled cars.)

In the early 20th century, some “experts” were sure that weather modification was a foolish waste of time — or a fraud.

I can see their viewpoint. They hadn’t learned how to make it rain when they got their degrees. How could these young whippersnappers and bunko artists possibly be right?

Objections weren’t entirely of the ‘not invented here’ variety. Folks like Wilhelm Reich and his cloudbuster made weather modification seem less than plausible.

Around 1960, even “experts” started acknowledging that cloud seeding might work. Large-scale weather modification in the near future was a real possibility when I went through high school.

Living in the upper Midwest, I took notice of plans that focused on bringing rain to growing crops — and keeping the fields dry during planting and harvest.

Then the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences tested a newish cloud seeding technique on a storm west of Rapid City, South Dakota.

The experiment’s results were — legally unverified.

The storm grew. Torrential rain filled Rapid Creek and other waterways past their banks. Water backed up behind the Canyon Lake Dam: which underwent catastrophic failure during the night of June 9, 1972.

Rescue and recovery teams eventually found most of the bodies, and the debris has long since been cleared away.

The flood killed 238 people, injured 3,057, destroying more than 1,335 homes and 5,000 automobiles.

It wasn’t all bad news. We reviewed what happened, and why.

That led to new disaster response procedures, and today many municipalities won’t let folks build houses or motels where a flood will eventually happen.

Another bit of good news: Nobody hunted down and lynched the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences folks.

The last I heard, there wasn’t enough evidence that their cloud seeding experiment made the storm get nasty. It was a remarkable coincidence, though.

As I recall, public discussion of weather modification stopped — rather abruptly. Understandably, I suppose. It didn’t help that the earlier unthinking optimism about science and technology was rapidly morphing into the current angst.

Not Lords of Creation: Stewards

(From Adam Varga, via, used w/o permission.)

I think both unconsidered optimism and its morose opposite are unreasonable: and a bit silly.

That’s partly because I remember the ‘good old days,’ and have been living in ‘the future’ for quite a while.

The ‘world of tomorrow’ is not nearly as shiny and perfect, or dreadful and brown, as some folks hoped or feared.

But for all the unfinished business we deal with, I would rather live now than in some earlier era.

We have learned a great deal. Many are eager to learn more.

I think this is a good thing.

We’re rational creatures whose nature includes curiosity. We’re supposed to notice the world’s beauty and order, learn its natural laws, and use that knowledge: wisely. (Genesis 1:2627, 2:7; Catechism, 16, 341, 373, 1704, 17301731, 2293)

Part of our job is managing this world and its resources: for our reasoned use, and for future generations. (Catechism, 24152418, 2456)

Some folks, at least from the 19th through early 20th centuries, acted as if we were the ‘lords of creation,’ able to do what we like with the natural world.

The attitude had a tiny measure of truth.

4 What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor.”
(Psalms 8:46)

but “little less than a god” isn’t “God.”

Our “dominion” is not ownership.

God owns this place. We’re stewards. We have the authority — and responsibilities — attached to that position. (Genesis 1:29, 2:15; Catechism, 306308, 2293)

Increasingly-effective tools made the Green Revolution possible: and killer fog.

Like I said, we don’t know if a weather control experiment caused the lethal 1972 Rapid City flood.

We don’t know that it didn’t, either, which I think has led to a sensibly-cautious approach. We haven’t given up on weather modification, which is why several international agreements made since then deal with sharing research results.

We’ve learned quite a bit about weather, and Earth’s long-term climate changes. We have a very great deal left to learn. I suspect, and hope, that researchers will remember that we’re living on the only planet where we can field-test climate modification technology.

Miscalculating the effects of climate modification tech could, in principle, cause a lot more trouble than the Rapid City storm.

However — fearing science and technology isn’t reasonable. Learning wisdom is. (February 10, 2017; January 20, 2017; August 5, 2016; July 22, 2016)

We have much more to learn:

1 Earth’s ice ages:

2 The manure crisis:

3 Still learning:

4 Brains and energy:

5 A civilization of love:

6 The “doomsday vault” and Spitsbergen:

7 The current ice age, and Earth’s atmosphere:

8 Ancient refugees:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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2 Responses to Climate Change, Whirligig Icebergs

  1. irishbrigid says:

    ‘Known’: “If we’d know more, earlier, we might”

    Capitalization: “Eventually He became Lord Kelvin”

    Punctuation: “but he helped make it possible That’s why a material”

    That last comma seems out of place: “but apparently the foxes, bears, and cold, were too much for them.”

    Misspelling and incorrect article form: “looks like a assymptotic curve.”

    ‘defined’: “Aristotle thought either option was impossible, because he define coming into existence as a “motion.””

    The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

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