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“Reason is the first casualty in a drought”*…

The 100th meridian runs from pole to pole, 100 degrees longitude west of the prime meridian in Greenwich, England. It cuts through six U.S. states, forming a partial boundary between Oklahoma and Texas. Powell identified this line as marking the point where the average annual rainfall dropped from 61 centimeters on the eastern edge to 46 centimeters at the western edge. New research shows a sharp aridity gradient still exists, but it’s moved east a bit, closer to the 98th meridian. Climate models predict it will move farther eastward in coming decades. Credit: National Atlas, modified by K. Cantner, AGI.

n 1878, without benefit of the Landsat program, GPS or Google, and just a decade after the creation of the National Weather Service, John Wesley Powell first advanced the idea that the climatic boundary between the United States’ humid East and arid West lay along a line “about midway in the Great Plains” — almost exactly 100 degrees longitude west of the prime meridian in Greenwich, England. This line, the 100th meridian, runs from pole to pole and cuts through six U.S. states, forming a partial boundary between Oklahoma and Texas. The 100th meridian also corresponds roughly to the 600-meter elevation contour as the land rises from the Great Plains toward the Rockies.

In his 1878 “Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States,” Powell identified the “arid region” as the land west of the 51-centimeter-per-year rainfall line, which closely tracked the 100th meridian. This amount of rainfall per year is about the minimum that permits farming without irrigation, and it also greatly influences the types of crops that can be grown. The line Powell noted as dividing the arid and humid sections of the continent has become known as the “effective” 100th meridian.

Powell’s original goal in describing the effective 100th meridian as a dividing line was to persuade the federal government to bear in mind the greater aridity when planning for settlement and development in the western territories, which would be very different than in the moisture-rich east…

Today, the 100th meridian is still considered a climatic boundary line, but that will likely change in the coming decades: The 51-centimeter rainfall line is gradually moving east due to climate change, according to recent research…

The very middle of the U.S. is becoming increasing drier, with what are sure to be huge consequences: “Dividing line: The past, present and future of the 100th Meridian.”

* Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

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As we ponder parching, we might send environmentally-unfriendly birthday greetings to C. Montgomery Burns; he was (fictionally) born on this date in 1893. A recurring character in the animated television series The Simpsons (voiced initially by Christopher Collins, and currently by Harry Shearer), he is the evil, devious, greedy, and fabulously wealthy owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant and, by extension, Homer Simpson’s boss.

“Excellent.”

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Written by LW

September 15, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Water, water everywhere”*…

 

Miami

 

On November 14, 2016, six days after Donald Trump was elected president, a man named Richard Conlin found an octopus in the parking garage of his Miami Beach apartment building. The translucent creature, which a viral photo showed sitting in a small puddle by a row of cars, had been brought ashore by an unusually large high tide that sent sludgy water rushing through nearby streets. A local biologist speculated that the octopus had found its way inside one of the apartment building’s drainage pipes: the pipes had been positioned well above the waterline when the condo complex was constructed, but rising sea levels meant they were now submerged at high tide, allowing aquatic creatures to make their way inside. (Conlin wrote on Facebook that he spotted a small school of fish swimming in another puddle.)

The octopus makes for an apt little parable not just about the extent to which climate change is already changing daily life in the United States, but about the way in which it is doing so. The cephalopod did not arrive in the parking garage Day After Tomorrow-style, on the crest of an apocalyptic wave, but by means of a crucial yet neglected piece of infrastructure. The alarming fact the octopus represents is not that the ocean threatens to destroy us, but that it threatens to destroy the structures we have built in its midst.

Miami, as you may have heard, is doomed: depending on which study you prefer, the city will be underwater by 2100, 2060, 2050, or whenever the next hurricane hits. It is poised to see two, five, eight, ten, or twelve feet of sea-level rise in the next century. Even numbers on the low end of that range would be enough to inundate Conlin’s apartment building, not to mention billions more dollars of real estate. Tidal flooding events of the kind that brought the octopus ashore increased by more than 400 percent between 2006 and 2013, and the city has only barely been spared by a number of major hurricanes in that same time span. The right storm—The Big One, as they call it in Florida—could raze whole swaths of Miami, send its property market and tourism industry into a death spiral, and spur a mass exodus of domestic climate refugees. Even in the absence of such a storm, the city’s lowest-lying neighborhoods may need to be abandoned by midcentury if the rest of it is to be preserved…

The coming scramble for free space won’t be as bad as it could have been, though, because many of the most vulnerable homes in the city don’t have anyone living in them in the first place. The glistening condo towers that make up the high end of Miami’s housing market serve predominantly as parking lots for foreign capital, much of it of dubious origin. The absentee ownership rate in many of these buildings is well above 50 percent, and even as the streets of Miami Beach begin to flood, the emirs and mafiosi who own these apartments will be somewhat insulated from the crash in the rest of the city’s housing market, since the selling point of these condos is not their view of the Biscayne Bay but their ability to serve as storage units for foreign capital.

For everyone who actually lives in Miami, though, it’s going to get ugly, and there isn’t much the city can do about it. [Journalist Mario Alejandro] Ariza opens the book [Disposable City: Miami’s Future on the Shores of Climate Catastrophe] with the image of an enormous water pump designed to flush out water from the streets in the event of a high tide or a hurricane; the city has installed a number of these pumps in the past few years, financing them with a new climate-oriented municipal bond, and has also endeavored to raise dozens of miles of streets. Even if these interventions always worked out, which they don’t—a former mayor of Miami Beach prioritized installing pumps and raising roads near property he owned, inadvertently increasing flooding in nearby businesses he didn’t own—they wouldn’t be enough to forestall a crisis that is coming sooner rather than later. With enough money from the federal government, the city could in theory move the most vulnerable homeowners out of harm’s way before it’s too late, build green infrastructure to absorb floodwaters, and sponsor high-density affordable housing for those who want to stay, but a hat trick in that regard seems unlikely. If sea level rise reaches nine feet by the end of the century, though, none of these interventions will matter: all of Miami and much of South Florida will be underwater. Even if the city doesn’t sink altogether, hundreds of thousands of Miamians will likely be displaced to Orlando, Atlanta, and other nearby cities, none of which are going to feel exactly like paradise in the year 2100…

Miami’s bleak future on the front line of climate change; “The City That Lived.”

And to put it into a broader context: “2020 Is our Last, Best Chance to Save the Planet” and  “The Great Climate Migration Has Begun.”

* Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

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As we search for a drop to drink, we might spare a thought for a man who successfully manged water in a different physical state, Frank Joseph Zamboni, Jr.; he died on this date in 1988.  An engineer and inventor, he is best known for the modern ice resurfacer, seen at work at hockey games and figure skating competitions; indeed, his surname is the registered trademark for these devices.

220px-Frank_Zamboni source

 

“If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other”*…

 

species

 

The prevailing belief in a separation between humans and everything else is an essential function of a contemporary global economy which has permitted unprecedented levels of unsustainable resource extraction. The increasingly complex challenges human beings face in relation to the non-human world call for a paradigm shift: it is becoming ever more urgent to embrace new stories about ourselves and our relation to each other. This is the aim of ‘Stories on Earth’, Failed Architecture’s project for the parallel program of the Dutch Pavilion for the Venice Biennale 2021. Stories on Earth is an experiment which brings together spatial designers and writers to devise new spatial narratives that accommodate the inherent interrelationship between humans and the non-human. We selected three designers whose works challenge humans’ relationship with nature, and three writers with personal and professional connections with Caribbean storytelling…

Six designers and writers participating in FA’s project for Venice Biennale 2021 speak with one composite voice about nature, humanity, and storytelling at: “Stories on Earth: A Collective Voice for the Human and Non-Human.”

On this same topic, check in with musician and humanitarian Peter Gabriel, ecologist Carl Safina, technologist and novelist Jonathan Ledgard, prominent author and speaker on animal behaviour, Temple Grandin, and others…

We are pleased to announce the Interspecies Conversations Public Event 2020 in collaboration with the Coller Foundation, Google and MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms. We would be delighted if you could join us and contribute to the conversation!

Interspecies I/O’s mission is to encourage, explore and facilitate interfaces for interspecies communication and approaches for deciphering the communication of non-human animals. With the aim to positively impact species conservation, welfare, empathy, compassion, enrichment, sustainability and understanding. It brings together a multidisciplinary group drawn from the sciences, arts and humanities in a rich collaborative forum, to advance the understanding and appreciation of the mental lives and intelligence of the diverse species with which we share our planet…

… at “Interspecies Conversations Public Conference 2020.”

And to complete the hat-trick, Matt Webb’s “On speaking with dolphins.”

* “If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear. What one fears one destroys.”  – Chief Dan George

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As we “Talk to the Animals,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1983 that the first “test-tube baboon” was born; as The New York Times reported

A female black baboon, believed to be the first nonhuman primate conceived in a laboratory dish, has been born at the Southwest Foundation for Research and Education in San Antonio. The baby, named E. T., for embryo transfer, was born July 25, six months after its ”test-tube” fertilization and, coincidentally, on the fifth birthday of Louise Brown, the first human conceived ”in vitro.”…

Screen Shot 2020-07-21 at 11.17.16 AM source

 

 

“In every grain of sand there is the story of the earth”*…

 

Green sand

 

A pair of palm-tree-fringed coves form two narrow notches, about a quarter of a mile apart, along the shoreline of an undisclosed island somewhere in the Caribbean.

After a site visit in early March, researchers with the San Francisco nonprofit Project Vesta determined that the twin inlets provided an ideal location to study an obscure method of capturing the carbon dioxide driving climate change.

Later this year, Project Vesta plans to spread a green volcanic mineral known as olivine, ground down to the size of sand particles, across one of the beaches. The waves will further break down the highly reactive material, accelerating a series of chemical reactions that pull the greenhouse gas out of the air and lock it up in the shells and skeletons of mollusks and corals.

This process, along with other forms of what’s known as enhanced mineral weathering, could potentially store hundreds of trillions of tons of carbon dioxide, according to a National Academies report last year. That’s far more carbon dioxide than humans have pumped out since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Unlike methods of carbon removal that rely on soil, plants, and trees, it would be effectively permanent. And Project Vesta at least believes it could be cheap, on the order of $10 per ton of stored carbon dioxide once it’s done on a large scale.

But there are huge questions around this concept as well…

Scientists are taking a harder look at using carbon-capturing rocks to counteract climate change, but lots of uncertainties remain: “How green sand could capture billions of tons of carbon dioxide.”

* Rachel Carson

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As we contemplate carbon, we might send airy birthday greetings to F. Sherwood Rowland; he was born on this date in 1927.  A chemist whose research focused on atmospheric chemistry and chemical kinetics, he is best-remembered for his discovery that chlorofluorocarbons contribute to ozone depletion– for which he shared the 1995 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

F._Sherwood_Rowland source

 

“We have nothing to fear and a great deal to learn from trees”*…

 

bristlecone

 

About forty-five hundred years ago, not long after the completion of the Great Pyramid at Giza, a seed of Pinus longaeva, the Great Basin bristlecone pine, landed on a steep slope in what are now known as the White Mountains, in eastern California. The seed may have travelled there on a gust of wind, its flight aided by a winglike attachment to the nut. Or it could have been planted by a bird known as the Clark’s nutcracker, which likes to hide pine seeds in caches; nutcrackers have phenomenal spatial memory and can recall thousands of such caches. This seed, however, lay undisturbed. On a moist day in fall, or in the wake of melting snows in spring, a seedling appeared above ground—a stubby one-inch stem with a tuft of bright-green shoots.

Most seedlings die within a year; the mortality rate is more than ninety-nine per cent. The survivors are sometimes seen growing in the shadow of a fallen tree. The landscape of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, as this area of the White Mountains is called, is littered with fragments of dead trees—trunks, limbs, roots, and smaller chunks. Pinus longaeva grows exclusively in subalpine regions of the Great Basin, which stretches from the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada to the Wasatch Range, in Utah. Conditions are generally too arid for the dead wood to rot; instead, it erodes, sanded down like rock. The remnants may harbor nutrients and fungi that help new trees grow. Bristlecones rise from the bones of their ancestors—a city within a cemetery.

Coast redwoods and giant sequoias, California’s gargantuan world-record-holding trees, can grow fifty feet or more in their first twenty years. Bristlecones rise agonizingly slowly. After four or five years, the seedling on the steep slope would have been just a few inches higher, sprouting needles in place of the embryonic shoots. The needles are a deep green, tough, resinous, and closely bunched, in groups of five. On a mature tree, they live for fifty years or more. Decades may have passed before the tree was human height, and decades more before it resembled a conventional pine. Bristlecone saplings grow straight up, with relatively sparse foliage, looking like undernourished Christmas trees. After a few hundred years—by which time the Old Kingdom of Egypt had fallen—it was probably forty or fifty feet in height.

Many tree species live for hundreds of years. A smaller but not inconsiderable number, including the sequoias and certain yews, oaks, cypresses, and junipers, survive for thousands. Once a bristlecone has established itself in the unforgiving conditions of the White Mountains, it can last almost indefinitely. The trees tend to grow some distance from one another, so fires almost never destroy an entire stand. Because only a few other plant species can handle the dry, cold climate, the bristlecones face little competition. Unlike most plants, they tolerate dolomite soil, which is composed of a chalky type of limestone that is heavily alkaline and low in nutrients. As for insect threats, bristlecone wood is so dense that mountain-pine beetles and other pests can rarely burrow their way into it.

Empires rose and fell; wars raged; people were enslaved and freed; and the tree from 2500 B.C. continued its implacable slow-motion existence, adding about two-hundredths of an inch to the diameter of its trunk each year. Minute changes in the tree-ring record make bristlecones an exceptionally useful source of data about changing conditions on earth. When rains are heavier than normal, the rings widen. When volcanic eruptions cause global cooling, frost rings make the anomaly visible. The precision of these records means that bristlecones have periodically butted into other disciplines: geology, archeology, climatology. In the nineteen-sixties and seventies, the trees contributed to the upending of the canonical theory that Bronze Age civilization had spread westward from Egypt and the Near East. Bristlecones have also affected modern political discourse: the famous “hockey stick graph,” which two decades ago raised awareness of human-driven global warming, relied on bristlecone data…

Bristlecone pines have survived various catastrophes over the millennia, and they may survive humanity: “The Past and Future of the Earth’s Oldest Trees.”

[A grateful TotH to PN]

For a rather different look at bristlecones (as a setting): “‘Anne Brigman: A Visionary in Modern Photography’ at the Nevada Museum of Art.” [TotH to EWW]

* Marcel Proust

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As we take the long view, we might spare a thought for Saint Valentine; he was martyred (beheaded) by Claudius II (for performing unauthorized marriage ceremonies) on this date in 269– an annual occasion observed as been observed as the Feast of Saint Valentine (Saint Valentine’s Day) since 496 AD.  From the High Middle Ages, his Saints’ Day is associated with a tradition of courtly love (and more recently, of course, with sickly-sweet candy hearts).

180px-Leonhard_Beck_-_Heiliger_Valentin_(Veste_Coburg)

Oil painting by Leonhard Beck, circa 1510

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Written by LW

February 14, 2020 at 1:01 am

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