Apocalyptic Planet-Part Six: Cold and Ice


In spite the current global warming, Earth’s past and perhaps distant future is ice.  This past winter, much of the Midwestern and Eastern United States thought it had already returned.  A friend, forced to attend a mandatory training session, reported that the trainer from Minnesota made fun of those who claim we are warming.  Even though it was March, Minnesota remained a frozen land.  I kept thinking to myself, wait until the heatwave hits this summer.  Then what will he think.

Craig Childs likes adventures most of us would avoid even if we feel rather adventurous.  He flies into a camp in Greenland where scientists, all men, study ice.  Ice does not encourage a lot of life.  No animals, no plants, nothing here–the Greenland Ice Sheet.  The weather remains dreadful most of the year.  On the few days when they can leave camp, these scientists go out to take readings on remote sensors stuck in the ice.  These sensors enable them to determine how the ice changes.  They get to the camp by ski plane during the windows of clear weather which sometimes do not occur for days.  What kind of scientists go here?  Physicists, chaos researchers–yes there is such a thing as chaos research, climate change scholars, ice climate researchers, and an occasional adventurer.  The chaos guy’s interests focus on what cannot be predicted.  He records creaks, snaps, ice sounds.  These giant glaciers emit considerable noise.

This Greenland Ice Sheet is nothing like the ordinary ice we think of.  It’s dry and hard.  Shovels do not work very well.  They use chisels to break off big chunks.  The wind shrieks over the ice, sometimes at 80 miles per hour. It is twenty below in the summer.  Not twenty below Fahrenheit, twenty below Celsius.  To urinate, a guy has to wear parka, mittens, the works, and goes out to the pee pole far enough from camp not to contaminate the drinking water made from melted ice.  Now and then some poor bird gets lost or blown off course.  They don’t last long usually.  Here holes drilled find bedrock thousands of feet below the ice sheet.  One drill came up with spruce tree needles.  Once this very same location was a forest.  Greenland was green!

What happened?  One driver is solar radiation changes caused by the earth’s tilt.  Over tens of thousands of years, Earth swings away from the sun and then back.  These are nearly imperceptible changes.  It takes only a little.  The opening and closing of the Bering Strait also affects climate change.  Current warming aside, Earth’s recent past  (the last 60 million years) is an ice age, partly caused by teutonic plates moving and mountain building which reduced carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, making it colder.  All this points to human behavior as a factor in the current change to warmer. When Childs asked these scientist if they thought another ice age was on the way, they all laughed.  One noted that change in and of itself is unpredictable.  As one of my students might say, “Duh!”  On its own Earth makes quick climate jumps.  They did make a point to say , “We are tinkering to the point we could initiate a jump on our own.” Some computer models say global warming can lead to another ice age by disrupting climates.  One scientist indicated that humans may be preventing or delaying the next ice age by warming the earth.

Who knows what the future may bring even one thousand years from now.  In the long distant past the entire Earth was covered with ice.  At other times the poles were forests.  Maureen Raymo, a paleoclimatologist at Columbia University says, “My feeling is that there is never going to be another ice age as long as there are humans on the planet.”  Some scientists think we will develop a technology to control the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Raymo notes, “If they (meaning humans) were smart, they’d get their act together.”

Apocalyptic Planet-Part Two: Hadley Cells, Weather and Drought


Hadley cells, the wind systems in each hemisphere , form patterns of atmospheric circulation in which warm air rises near the equator, cools as it travels poleward at high altitudes, sinks as cold air, and then warms as it travels back to the equator.  They are named after George Hadley, an English scientific writer.  Tropical regions receive more heat from solar radiation than they radiate back to space and such areas have constant temperatures.  More simply, warm air rises (heat rises) and then flows poleward at high altitudes, cools, drops, and flows back toward the equator at lower altitudes.   Then the process repeats itself.  When the air rises and leaves these tropical areas, it loses moisture as it heads to subtropical areas.  The majority of the worlds large deserts lay in these subtropical areas.

Hadley cells are expanding.  Precipitation has declined in tropical areas since 1970.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Southern Asia, the Sahel, Southern Africa, the Mediterranean, and the US Southwest are getting drier and drier.  Even wetter areas now experience long dry spells between extreme events of rain and snow.  Examples in the US include the cold and snowfalls in the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard this past winter.  Texas and New Mexico continue to experience a prolonged drought.  In the next thirty years scientists predict a 30 per cent decline in water resources.

In some places both governments and individuals create innovative and sometimes simple measures to counteract desertification.  In India near the Thar Desert, the government mandated the dispersal of grass seed to hold the ground.  Studies indicate that the grass seed grew better when planted by hand than when dispersed from airplanes.  Also in India orans, small sacred groves, have helped preserve shrubs and grasses and even trees, a genetic bank that would otherwise have been lost.  Childs describes how his friends who live on the outskirts of Tuscon have coaxed their water table fifteen feet higher, using ordinary shovels and hard work.  They built contour traps and “massaged” the ground.  Hardly worth noticing except when it rained, the rain sank into underground catches.  Their properties now look like small areas of refuge in the vast desert.  In some areas of the Sahel people have been able to plant and nurture trees in such a way that areas of green exist where they had disappeared.

Archeologists and geologists know that periods of drought occurred repeatedly for millions of years.  For humans and the animals we know, drought has never been easy.  Large areas of civilization cannot exist without water.  We can affect our future in positive ways and prepare ourselves if we choose.

Gypsies, Deserts, and Random Thoughts on a Cold Sunday Morning


In less than 15 hours, it has dropped from low 70s to 9 here on my canyon rim–one of the joys of living in the Panhandle of Texas where a mere change in wind direction can dictate the weather.  Yesterday afternoon, I was helping my daughter clean her back yard and ready the ground for planting some shrubs and a tree and now 60 degrees colder.  This type of drastic weather change has occurred repeatedly in the last few weeks.  Perhaps it has muddled my brain which keeps hopping back and forth from this to that.  First, the “this”.

Mostly, I read Latin American, American Indian, and Middle Eastern authors.  When I recently stopped by the library, I could find none of these that I had not already read so I picked up a book from a Dutch author of whom I had never previously heard, Margriet de Moor.  The book, a novel, The Duke of Egypt, tells the tale of a Gypsy man who meets this young Dutch woman.  They marry and lead a quite unusual life:  in the winter he lives with her on the family horse farm; in summer he leaves and lives with the Gypsies, wandering around Europe in their caravans.  When he is “home” with her, in the evenings he tells her tales of his Gypsy family and friends, centuries of history.  These tales shocked me:  centuries of discrimination, hangings–even Gypsy women hanged publicly for no other reason than they happened to be Gypsy in the wrong country at the wrong time, sick children whom no doctor would treat, starvation, driven from country to country.  Of course, like many people I have heard stories about Gypsies:  as a child my grandmother telling me that Gypsies stole other people’s children, a friend telling me the police said it was Gypsies when someone stole some silverware from her house, but I never really believed it.  Reading this book caused me to delve a bit more into Gypsy/Roma history only to learn even more tales of horror.  Hitler and his Nazis hated Gypsies almost as much as they hated Jews.  It is estimated that the Nazis sent at least ten per cent of the Gypsy population in Europe to the gas chamber.  On the positive side, I learned that many Gypsies were hired by people who raised horses to help them with their horse care because Gypsies were considered expert horse trainers and traders.  In addition, some hired them for their music to play for social events and festivals.

When several friends came over for dinner, I mentioned the book to them and my shock.  I wondered aloud as to why so many hated the Gypsies.  The general response was this:  Gypsies consistently live as they wish and refuse to follow the social norms of the rest of the population.  They refuse to settle down and live in one place, they enjoy life, dancing, drinking, roaming.  If you refuse to live like everyone else, the rest of the world will  punish you.

Then I moved on to the book I am reading now, Apocalyptic Planet:  Field Guide To The Future Of The Earth.  I am only on page 27 of 327, and already I have learned:  “Deserts generate most of the world’s airborne dust, contributing to a global migration of surface minerals.  Dust blowing from the southern Sahara is the single largest producer of iron for the mineral-poor soils of the Amazon in South America.  Half of this dust originates in the Bodele Depression north of Lake Chad, which produces about one hundred storms a year, each sending 40,000 tons of dust across the Atlantic to South America.”  And a bit further in the book:  much of the fertile High Plains here in the US (Kansas, eastern Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, basically from Canada to Mexico) sit on top of a desert, e.g. the Sand Hills.  Currently, these sand hills remain stabilized by miles and miles of grass–our native short grass steppe.  It does not take much to imagine what would occur if drought continues and the grass disappears.  Once desertification occurs as it is now occurring in many places in the world, e.g. the Sahel, deserts consume.  Jonathan Overpeck, a leading climate researcher claims, “…we are significantly underestimating the severity of drought we could get in the future.”  He predicts many places now inhabited will become uninhabitable unless we initiate drastic changes in our water management.  People will be forced to move from places of little to no water to places “wherever there is no desert”.  He adds, “We are contributing enough change to the planet that we are moving toward more droughts instead of away from them.”  In the Sahel alone it is estimated that 500 million people will have to move to survive.  I think over this information and about the current drought here and look at the beautiful place where I write and live, wondering will it be habitable in one hundred years.

Now on to the “that”:  grateful I live here in the United States in spite of all our “problems”.  I could have been born in Ukraine, Syria, Central Aftican Republic, any of those places experiencing turmoil, fear, religious hatred, genocide, torture–the list goes on and on.  Instead here I am happy, relatively safe, warm in spite of the 9 degrees outside, well fed–you get the picture.

Snowbound


This prose poem recently appeared in the latest “Story Circle Journal”.

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They’re young; they’re handsome; they’re mine for six months.

Two seventeen year old South Americans.  The Brazilian has never

seen snow.  It snows two feet in less than twenty-four hours, wind

shrieking along the canyon rim, drifts piling four feet high, roads

closed.  Even the snow plows give up.  We’re house and barn bound.

Horses need food.  We all pitch in, climb through drifts, shovel.

Schools never closed are closed; offices closed.  No lights on the road.

Two days later it takes us an hour rocking back and forth in the green

Off Road 4X4 truck to go the one eighth  mile to the main road.  After school

and work we leave the truck near the road  and trudge down the long hill

to the house.  By flashlight we struggle  back up the next morning, trying

not to fall.  Even boots fill with snow.  That evening, the boys insist

we drive all the way down to the barn.  I start to fix dinner.  They tell me,

“We’ll be back in an hour.  We aren’t going through that again!”

They shovel tracks for the truck all the way from the barn to the main road.

I miss them, especially in winter.

The Blizzard


Looking through the window.

Looking through the window.

The steps climbing up the hill to the barn.

The steps climbing up the hill to the barn.

Outside the office window.

Outside the office window.

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My patio which I will have to eventually shovel--afraid to do so today because the wind is so strong.

My patio which I will have to eventually shovel–afraid to do so today because the wind is so strong.

The barn door before I shoveled my way in.

The barn door before I shoveled my way in.

The view out the double barn door.  All this is actually under a roof.  The wind is blowing the snow everywhere.

The view out the double barn door. All this is actually under a roof. The wind is blowing the snow everywhere.

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The view from the front door after digging it out twice from reoccurring drifts.

The view from the front door after digging it out twice from reoccurring drifts.

The new assignment arrived for my prose poetry class.  In the last couple of hours I have read poems by Baudelaire and Rimbaud as examples of some of the first prose poems.  While I read them, I listened to “The Unicorn, the Gorgan, and the Manticore” by Menotti, a piece I am supposed to be singing in 1 1/2 months.  Work shut down today because of a massive blizzard.  The wind literally shrieks down the canyon where I live–gusts they say to 70 mph.  It piles up drifts four to six feet high.  Twice today I have donned my boots, gloves, heavy coat, and gone shoveling and to feed the horses.  For the first time since the barn has been there, snow is actually inside, driven by the wind, and the horses are standing in snow drifts that blew under the overhanging roof of the outside runs.  Even getting to the barn door necessitated shoveling through drifts taller than I.  The snow continues, predicted for another twelve hours or so, maybe as much as twenty inches.  Living alone fails to daunt me, but I cannot concentrate well today.  My drive is long and climbs up a steep hill.  Even my four wheel drive truck may not make it.  I keep thinking it may take days for me to shovel out even if, when the snow and wind cease, my neighbor brings over his tractor to help.  A friend, several miles away, remains without electricity.  I filled my wood burning stove with wood and started a fire just in case.  It seems a perfect day to write and cook and practice music.  And here I sit unable to concentrate long enough.  The wind keeps rushing through my brain.