Thursday, August 27, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Global warming is causing four foot snow drifts!

In December of 2010, I wrote this post about the complicated effects on weather that the warming of the planet generates in various places. Those effects continue and are intensifying as the underlying causes of global warming continue to go unchecked.

The effects on the deniers of global warming seem to be intensifying as well. Thus, every winter, as soon as the first snow falls, we can count on the usual suspects to start chortling about all those "liberal lies" about Earth getting hotter, and we can expect some of our elected representatives to throw snowballs around on the Senate floor, claiming that that proves that "global warming is a hoax." 

Of course, these are the deniers that live in the northern hemisphere. They never mention what's going on in the other half of the planet, the southern hemisphere, when there is snow on the ground in Washington. But then perhaps the southern hemisphere doesn't exist in their world - at least not in their consciousness.

As we continue to set records for global high temperatures every month and as 2015 seems certain to become the hottest year on Earth since we started keeping records, here's a blast from the past, something to keep in mind as our half of the planet begins to cool down and edge its way toward winter.


Global warming is causing four foot snow drifts! 

Much of the East Coast is struggling to dig out from under four foot snow drifts. Much of Northern Europe, too, has been stopped in its tracks by giant storms and in some areas people have died as a result of the cold weather.

At the same time, the World Meteorological Organization has just released a report showing that 2010 will be among the three warmest years on record - possibly the warmest on record. Moreover, the decade ending with 2010 will be the warmest decade on record.

How does one resolve the seeming dichotomy between the fact of four foot snow drifts and the fact that the world will be setting a record for heat this year? According to Judah Cohen, writing today in The New York Timesit is all due to the topography of Asia.

The high topography of Asia influences the atmosphere in profound ways. The jet stream, a river of fast-flowing air five to seven miles above sea level, bends around Asia’s mountains in a wavelike pattern, much as water in a stream flows around a rock or boulder. The energy from these atmospheric waves, like the energy from a sound wave, propagates both horizontally and vertically.

As global temperatures have warmed and as Arctic sea ice has melted over the past two and a half decades, more moisture has become available to fall as snow over the continents. So the snow cover across Siberia in the fall has steadily increased.

The sun’s energy reflects off the bright white snow and escapes back out to space. As a result, the temperature cools. When snow cover is more abundant in Siberia, it creates an unusually large dome of cold air next to the mountains, and this amplifies the standing waves in the atmosphere, just as a bigger rock in a stream increases the size of the waves of water flowing by.

The increased wave energy in the air spreads both horizontally, around the Northern Hemisphere, and vertically, up into the stratosphere and down toward the earth’s surface. In response, the jet stream, instead of flowing predominantly west to east as usual, meanders more north and south. In winter, this change in flow sends warm air north from the subtropical oceans into Alaska and Greenland, but it also pushes cold air south from the Arctic on the east side of the Rockies. Meanwhile, across Eurasia, cold air from Siberia spills south into East Asia and even southwestward into Europe.

And so we get the Metrodome in Minneapolis collapsing under the weight of snow, people dying in Poland due to subzero temperatures, and New York shut down for days because of four foot snow drifts. Even here along the humid Gulf Coast, we are not totally immune. We had our first frosts in November, almost three weeks ahead of schedule this year.

But all of this cold weather is not a contradiction of global warming. It is, in fact, confirmation of it. If we don't begin to take steps to walk back our human influence on the climate, we can expect to experience even more severe extremes in weather - both hot and cold - in the future.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Purslane

Common purslane (Portulaca oleracea) grows throughout many regions of the world. It has been so widespread for so long that its beginnings are a bit hazy, but it is believed to have originated on the Indian sub-continent. It is now found in the wild throughout the Old World, and there is evidence that it reached the Americas in the pre-Columbian era. It is now well naturalized in all of these places, including in my backyard.

Purslane is a close cousin of the ornamental succulent called portulaca which many gardeners grow from seed or purchase plants from nurseries. It is known by many common names, such as hogweed, pursley, moss rose, pigweed, and verdolaga. Though it is considered by many to be a weed, it can be quite pretty and it has surprising nutritional and health benefits.

Purslane can serve as a leafy green vegetable, good in salads. It is rich in dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The fresh leaves of the plant contain more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant. Consuming foods rich in omega-3 may help to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease as well as other diseases.

Purslane is an excellent source of vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant and an essential vitamin for vision. It is also a good source of vitamin C and some of the B-complex vitamins.

Although it is primarily used fresh in salads, purslane can also be sauteed or gently stewed and served as a side dish with fish and poultry. It can be stir-fried with other greens such as spinach. In the South Indian region, it is extensively used in soups and curries, often eaten with rice.

Purslane is an annual, but it reseeds itself extensively and I find new plants growing in my garden, sometimes in surprising places, every spring. The flowers are actually quite pretty, although they open only for a few hours on sunny days. They are single blossoms located at the center of a leaf cluster. Most of the flowers in the wild seem to be yellow and I used to have yellow ones, along with the pink, growing in my yard, but over the years, for whatever reason, the yellow seems to have fallen by the wayside. In recent years, I've only seen the pink blossoms.

If you have purslane growing in your garden, don't just reflexively pull it out as a weed. Consider its ornamental possibilities. And by all means, consider its many uses in the kitchen. You might find that you like its slightly sour and salty taste. Moreover, its health benefits are unquestioned. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Born to Run + 40

People who know me well know that I am an unapologetic Bruce Springsteen fan. His music speaks to me, as it does to so many people around the world, in a way that seems to reach right through to the soul.

Today is the 40th anniversary of what might be termed the phenomenon of Springsteen and the E Street Band. Forty years ago today, the album Born to Run was released, and the rest, as they say, is history. Many publications have marked the anniversary with articles about it, including the article which I read.

It wasn't his first album. He had had a couple of them before but neither had made much of a splash.

Born to Run was not a spur of the moment album. Ever the perfectionist when it comes to his music, he took a long time to get it just right. For example, it took him six months during the spring and summer of 1974 to record just one track, the title song. A typical song on a modern album might take up to three hours to get just right. Obviously, Springsteen felt a lot was riding on that song.

It would be hard to choose a favorite Springsteen song. Some of my favorite lines come from Thunder Road, The River, Jungleland, Glory Days, Badlands...well, you name it. But it would be difficult to argue against Born to Run as THE iconic Springsteen song. There's a reason why his fan, Jon Stewart, requested the song for his recent sendoff on The Daily Show.  

The song was so iconic that it even made it to Sesame Street. Sort of.

Let's mark this 40th anniversary with a compilation video of performances by Springsteen and the E Street Band of the song that made them famous. They were all much younger then and some of the faces on the video are no longer with us in the flesh. But in spirit, they will live forever. I dare you to watch the video and not smile at the obvious joy these performers take in the music and in the connection with their audiences.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Maltese Goddess by Lyn Hamilton: A review

The Maltese Goddess (Lara McClintoch Archeological Mystery, #2)The Maltese Goddess by Lyn Hamilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lara McClintoch is the half-owner of an antiques shop in Toronto. One of her customers, an internationally famous architect and world-class jerk, wants to hire her to go to Malta to set up his newly built house there. He wants her to oversee the delivery and placement of furniture and see that the house is ready for a big soiree that he's planning to entertain various highly important people.

Lara, with some misgivings, agrees to take the assignment, but when she arrives in Malta, she finds the house still not completed and workmen in a feverish race to get everything done on time.

Soon after she arrives, strange things start happening. She sees a mysterious hooded figure at the edge of the garden at night. Then a cat is murdered and left on the property. The brake lines on the car she had been given to use are cut. And perhaps creepiest of all, an odd and obnoxious man whom she first saw on the plane keeps turning up everywhere she goes in Malta. It seems apparent that someone is trying very hard to scare and/or warn her.

The architect's housekeeper and her husband and son are on hand to assist Lara, but she feels intuitively that something is not as it should be.

Finally, the furniture arrives and Lara notices that one of the pieces is different from the pieces that were chosen back in Toronto. Instead of an armoire, there is a large chest. She opens it up and inside she finds the body of the architect. Someone has put an end to his jerkitude by murdering him. There seems to be no lack of possible suspects, his wife being perhaps first on the list.

The first question to be settled is, where did the murder happen? Was it back in Canada or when the plane had a layover in Rome? It takes a while to settle this question definitively, but in the meantime, the RCMP sends one of their sergeants over to assist in the investigation since the man killed was a Canadian.

The mystery deepens further when the odd man from the plane also turns up dead. Murdered. Is there a connection between the two murders and does it have anything to do with some allegedly lost treasure on Malta that is somehow related to the worship of the Great Goddess?

Complexities and complications abound and red herrings are strewn all over the place, but Lara manages to assist the local Maltese police and the visiting Mountie in their inquiries.

I liked the fact that the author started each chapter with a brief entry that addressed some aspect of the history of the Great Goddess and of Malta, and I liked the character of the feminist Professor Stanhope who was engaged in teaching her students about the Great Goddess. However, I felt that Lyn Hamilton did this character a disservice in the arc of the story that she gave her. She was very stereotypically described as a dried-up spinster who fell madly in love with the first younger guy who showed up and showed an interest in her. That just didn't mesh with her image as an accomplished historian with a deep interest in and understanding of the Goddess culture.

I felt this book was an improvement over the first entry in the archeological mystery series. Lara seemed not quite as ditsy as she was in the first one and her interaction with the visiting Mountie seemed fraught with possibilities. I wonder if we'll meet him again in later books.

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Poetry Sunday: The Road Not Taken

It has been called the "Great American Poem" and "America's Most Popular Poem," even though those two appellations may be contradictory. David Orr of The New York Times Book Review has now written a new book about it in which he argues that it may also be one of the most misunderstood of American poems. Orr's book, like the poem, is called The Road Not Taken

Many, probably most, readers take Robert Frost's most famous poem at face value. A traveler comes to a fork in the road and ponders which one he should take. Even though they both seem equally fair, he decides to take the road less traveled and that in the end made all the difference to his life.

A closer and more in-depth reading of the poem offers another meaning. It can be read as a joke on the rugged individualist myth, as I pointed out when I featured this poem once before on Poetry Sunday. The traveler chooses at random between two equal roads, but later in his life, when he tells the story of his choice, he will imbue it with greater importance and significance.

Orr's book argues that the poem actually embodies both meanings. As the Times review of the book states, "It doesn’t accept or reject its myth of choice but sets us up to feel the tensions involved in having to choose, as if each reader were the traveler. His ­decision might have been arbitrary, it might have been meaningful. It might have changed him deeply, it might not have." All meanings are possible and exist together.

Or as Yogi Berra put it much more succinctly, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it!"

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

This week in birds - #170

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

Rock Wren photographed at Big Bend National Park.


Earth just keeps on getting hotter. July was the hottest month since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration started keeping records of the planet's temperature back in 1880. Last year was the warmest year on record, but it is now almost certain that 2015 will beat it out for the record.


A trail camera in California has documented the presence of a litter of wolf cubs in the state. Gray wolves historically lived in the state but were extirpated and had not been seen there since 1924 until the now famous wolf OR7 was photographed there in 2011. That wolf is now living and breeding in Oregon, but these pups apparently come from a newly formed California pack.


A rare Philippine Eagle was rescued after being shot three years ago. It was rehabilitated and finally returned to the wild two months ago. Now comes the sad news that it has been found shot again, but this time it was dead.


An update on the Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Effort details information about the group's captive rearing and release of chicks during the 2015 breeding season. The little Piping Plover remains on the endangered list and needs all the help it can get from its friends.


White-nose Syndrome is a deadly disease that has been wreaking havoc on bat populations in North America. Scientists have worked feverishly to try to find some way to help the critters and now they have had some success. They have recently released back into the wild bats that they have successfully treated for the disease and which had fully recovered.


A new study using spectrophotometers reveals that the colors that birds see are radically different from those that humans are able to perceive. They can see a whole range of colors that we, quite literally, cannot even imagine. Thus, if our field guides could depict birds as they appear to other birds - well, suffice to say, we probably wouldn't recognize them. 


The Obama Administration has given permission for some drilling for oil in the Arctic. Hillary Clinton has come out against such drilling.


The Farne Islands, off the Northumberland Coast of Britain, have been a sanctuary for seabirds and sea mammals for 90 years. They are considered the jewel of British conservation efforts.


Mimicry is a survival tool used by many plants and animals. This article in The New York Times tells how it works and why it is so successful.


Nearly a year after President Obama designated the San Gabriel Mountains as a national monument, progress has been slow in cleaning up the area and making it into the cleaner, safer wilderness area promised by that designation.


How do hummingbirds manage to sip nectar as the hover on rapidly beating wings? It seems that their tongues function as pumps that bring the nectar to them.

A hummer pumping gas.


Many coastal towns around the country have built seawalls to try to keep out the ocean. So many have built such walls that fully 14% of the nation's coastline is now covered in cement.


Outside a former chemical plant, now a Superfund site, in Brunswick, Georgia, Least Terns have been found to be contaminated with a toxic chemical that was formerly manufactured there.


As part of the Smithsonian Bird Center's continuing research on the Black-crowned Herons that nest at the National Zoo, scientists have attached radio transmitters to three of the adult birds in order to track their migration.


Researchers have completed the first worldwide survey of non-native flora and have found 13,168 species of plants growing in areas that are foreign to their origins. In some cases, those non-natives are benign, but all too often, they become invasive and have disastrous effects on the native plants with which they compete.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Fotos: Backyard butterflies

Dainty Sulphur

Dog Face Sulphur

Dorantes Skipper

Fiery Skipper

Tropical Checkered Skipper

Gray Hairstreak

Black Swallowtail

Pipevine Swallowtail

Tiger Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail



Soon-to-be Monarch - chrysalis

Variegated Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

Painted Lady

American Painted Lady

Red Admiral

Tawny Emperor