Category Archives: Environment

Heavens above!: A time-lapse meteoric capture

Catch a falling a star and put in your camera, never let it go away. . .

—With apologies to Perry Como.

We’ve spent a lot of night in the Mojave Desert of Southern California, a place where you can see the Milky Way in all its glory, gazing up at the stars and watching for meteors in the spectacular celestial panorama overhead, free of the pollution of city light.

One photographer did the same thing, but armed with a camera and shooting still images to use in making a time-lapse video, and came away with a wonder, captured in full 2160p resolution [just click on the YouTube gear tool and set it to your screen’s maximum resolution; you’ll be glad you did].

From PetaPixel, out favorite spot for photo news and dramatic videos:

Photographer Nao Tharp of Los Angeles, California, just released this short video that shows something neat he captured on a freezing cold winter night back on December 12th, 2015. While shooting a time-lapse of the Geminid meteor shower at Red Rock Canyon State Park in California’s Mojave desert, his camera caught a bright meteor explosion and a resulting orange glowing plume that lingered for about 40 minutes.

The video shows the same explosion at different magnifications and playback speeds.

And the video itself from naotharpstudio:

STARBURST 4K -Geminid Meteor Shower 2015

Program notes:

On a freezing cold winter night on December 12th 2015 at Red Rock Canyon State Park in Mojave Desert, California, I managed to capture an extraordinary astronomic phenomenon: a meteoroid explosion.

I was out there all by myself in pitch-dark desert shooting astrophotography time lapse hoping to capture a few frames of light streaks from Geminid meteor shower which had peaked a few days prior to that night. It was indeed a great night with dozens of sightings of sparking meteoroids, but the result of time lapse sequence was overwhelming and mind blowing. It was a bright spark illuminated the entire rim of eroded sandstone canyon, followed by orange fume floating in the sky.

According to my calculations based on the time lapse setting and EXIF data from the resulting images, the glowing orange fume floated in the air for a matter of 38.5 minutes until it framed out.

As the icy particle of the meteoroid about the size of a sand grain enters the Earth’s stratosphere at a such high speed, it explodes and turns into plasma due to atmospheric friction. The energy of the plasma stimulates molecules of the air and forces them emit photons, resulting in the glowing fume-like particle that floats in the sky.

I am in awe and honored to be able to share this rare astronomical event with you. Thank you for watching and your support.

Licensing Inquiries:

PetaPixel has stills at their site, and links to more.

And that initial reference is to a song that hit the number one spot back when esnl was still in grade school, sung the original Mr. Smooth, Perry Como:

Map of the day: Flattening Appalachian mountains

From Duke University, a dramatic animation [WordPress won’t permit a resize, so we’ve substituted a before-and-after comparison instead; the animation is available here] of the coal industry’s impact on the ancient Appalachian mountains by the environmentally devastating process known as “mountaintop removal,” in which the tops of ranges are leveled and the spoils, often toxic-laden, are dumped into surrounding valleys:


The hillside slope of West Virginia’s Headwaters Twentymile Creek watershed pre- and post-mining, calculated from elevation maps. Images from Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Matthew Ross, Duke University.

The hillside slope of West Virginia’s Headwaters Twentymile Creek watershed pre- and post-mining, calculated from elevation maps. Images from
Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Matthew Ross, Duke University.

So how do they get away with it?

Consider this chart from economist Karam Kang of the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, published last year [PDF] in a report in the Review of Economic Studies:

BLOG Coal lobby

Note that while Big Oil sales dwarf those of Big Coal by more that twenty-to-one, Big Oil’s lobbying expenses are only slightly larger than those of Big Coal. Clearly Big Coal wouldn’t be shelling out that much of their profits on plying legislators if they weren’t getting a lot of bang for their bucks.

More on the mountaintop removal study via the Duke University newsroom:

Forty years of mountaintop coal mining have made parts of Central Appalachia 40 percent flatter than they were before excavation, says new research by Duke University.

The study, which compares pre- and post-mining topographic data in southern West Virginia, is the first to examine the regional impact of mountaintop mines on landscape topography and how the changes might influence water quality.

“There hasn’t been a large-scale assessment of just the simple full topographic impact of mountaintop mining, which occupies more than 10 percent of the land in the region we studied,” said Matthew Ross, an ecology PhD student and lead author on the study.

“[We found] the impact is deep and extensive,” Ross said. “It is locally large and more wide-ranging than other forms of mining.” The study is published online in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

In mountaintop mining, bedrock is blasted away to uncover coal seams below the surface. Excess rock is deposited in nearby valleys, creating what are called valley fills.

By comparing digitized topographic maps from West Virginia before mountaintop mining became extensive with elevation data collected by aircraft in 2010, the researchers found that the mines and valley fills could range anywhere from 10 to 200 meters deep. Across the region, the average slope of the land dropped by more than 10 degrees post-mining.

As part of the study, Ross collaborated with Duke University’s Data+ program to develop a web-based app that allows users to toggle between pre- and post-mining topographic maps in each watershed of the study. The app dramatically visualizes how the landscapes have been flattened by the transfer of rock from mountain peaks to mountain valleys.

“We tend to measure the impact of human activity based on the area it affects on a map, but mountaintop mining is penetrating much more deeply into the earth than other land use in the region like forestry, agriculture or urbanization,” said Emily Bernhardt, a professor of biology at Duke and co-author on the study. “The depth of these impacts is changing the way the geology, water, and vegetation interact in fundamental ways that are likely to persist far longer than other forms of land use.”

Of particular interest to the team is how the conversion from solid bedrock to porous valley fills changes the way water moves through the area, and whether this increases the likelihood that water will pick up alkaline mine pollutants.

“You go from having shallow soil that is between half a meter and two meters deep, to something that is like a soil that is a hundred meters deep. The way the water moves through those two different landscapes is really different,” Ross said. “There are valley fills that are the size of an Olympic swimming pool and then there are valley fills that are 10,000 Olympic swimming pools, so there is a huge range in the capacity they have to hold water.”

Ross says the data from this study indicates a correlation between the total volume of displaced rock and the concentration of certain pollutants, like selenium, downstream.

“We have data that the water quality impacts can last at least 30 years, but the geomorphology impacts might last thousands of years,” said Ross. “Once you have these flat plateaus, it sets up a whole new erosion machine and a whole new way that the landscape will be shaped into the future.”

Bernhardt said the findings should also inform planning in the region. “Even if we stopped mountaintop mining tomorrow, what kind of landscape is going to be left behind, and what are the constraints on what the landscape can be used for?”

Other authors include Brian McGlynn of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. The web-based visualization tool was developed in collaboration with Aaron Berdanier, Tess Harper, and Molly Rosenstein.

Zika update: Spread, fears, semen, and maps

We begin and end today’s post with maps. First, from the Centers for Disease Control, the latest map of the extent of countries where cases of the virus have been contracted locally:

Countries and Territories in the Americas with Active Zika Virus Transmission

Countries and Territories in the Americas with Active Zika Virus Transmission

And we follow with another CDC map, this time showing U.S. cases, all contracted from travel abroad  rather than locally, except in the case of Puerto Rico:

Laboratory-confirmed Zika virus disease cases reported to ArboNET by state or territory — United States, 2015–2016 [as of February 10, 2016]

Laboratory-confirmed Zika virus disease cases reported to ArboNET by state or territory — United States, 2015–2016 [as of February 10, 2016]

While U.S. News & World Report focus on the inevitable:

With Zika, U.S. Hospitals Head Into the Unknown

To get ahead of potential transmission in the U.S., hospitals are reminding their staffs to ask patients whether they have traveled recently, and they are working with public health officials to track where and how Zika is spreading. Mistakes of past epidemics are part of the conversation, and officials stress the importance of following protocols.

The Orlando Weekly covers a measure in the state with the most cases reported [20 as of Friday]:

State of Florida creates Zika Virus hotline to keep panic at bay

Gov. Rick Scott announced that there’s a new Zika Virus Hotline where people who are worried about Zika can call and talk to a real live person about what’s going on with the virus in the state.

Live Science covers the most-impacted U.S. territory:

30 Cases of Zika Now Confirmed in Puerto Rico

Healthcare workers have confirmed Zika virus infections in 30 people in Puerto Rico since November, according to a new report. The first locally transmitted case of Zika was reported there in late December.

From ABC News, another development:

Two US Women Miscarry After Zika Infection, CDC Says

CDC officials confirmed to ABC News that the women who miscarried were being monitored by their doctors after they were diagnosed with the Zika virus. In total, at least three women in the U.S. have been infected with Zika after returning from abroad with the virus.

From New York Times, clearing the decks for action:

Prepare for ‘Guerrilla Warfare’ With Zika-Carrying Mosquitoes, Experts Warn

Nearly a year after the first cases of Zika were diagnosed in Brazil, the virus, which is suspected to cause birth defects and other neurological problems, is bearing down on American shores. It is already in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. There have been more than 50 cases of Americans infected abroad, and most experts believe that by summer, the continental United States will have some of its own homegrown cases, meaning that domestic mosquitoes will have the virus.

Next, the inevitable call for another czar, via the New York Daily News:

Sen. Chuck Schumer calls for ‘Zika czar’ to stop the spread of the mosquito-borne virus

Even though mosquito season is months away, Sen. Chuck Schumer called on the White House Friday to appoint a “Zika czar” who would help halt the virus’ spread.

Another precaution, from CNN:

Hawaii governor signs emergency proclamation on Zika, other illnesses

Gov. David Ige signed the declaration Friday as “a preventative measure” to guard against Zika, dengue fever and other diseases, his office said in a statement.

And from the Ottawa Sun, angst north of the U.S. border:

Could Zika come to Canada? Scientists don’t have an answer – yet

Canadian scientists, who were “blindsided” by the Zika virus outbreak in South and Central America, are scrambling to answer the question: could the virus come to Canada?

From Deutsche Welle, that ounce of prevention slowly approaches:

WHO: Zika vaccines at least ‘18 months’ away from testing

The World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned that it will be months before Zika vaccines are trial ready. The announcement came amid rising health concerns ahead of the Olympic games in Rio which start in August.

BBC News covers a Brazilian measure:

Zika virus: Brazil soldiers deployed to warn of risks

More than 200,000 soldiers have been deployed across Brazil to warn people about the risks of the Zika virus.

From CTV News, certainty asserted:

Brazil health minister ‘absolutely sure’ Zika linked to birth defects

Brazil’s health minister said Friday that authorities were “absolutely sure” that the Zika virus is connected to devastating birth defects and rejected criticism that the government was slow to investigate the surge of cases that set off international alarms.

The Washington Post has a related development:

Brazil reports explosion of dengue, a bad omen for spread of Zika virus

Brazil on Friday reported a nearly 50 percent jump in cases of dengue fever reported over a three-week period in January, a worrying finding because the disease is carried by the same mosquito that spreads the Zika virus.

And a mortality report from BuzzFeed News:

3 Zika Deaths In Venezuela

Although the Zika virus normally causes only mild symptoms, Venezuela is reporting hospitalizations and three deaths as the virus linked to birth defects spreads

BBC News covers alarms:

Colombia: A nation in panic over Zika

Colombia is one of the countries at the front line of the Zika crisis. It has also seen an alarming number of cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome – which can cause devastating paralysis. Scientists are cautious of making a direct connection between the two, but on the frontline the panic is real – and growing.

Another development from Fox News Latino:

Honduras reports 1st case of Zika-linked birth defect

The director of the Gabriela Alvarado Hospital in the eastern city of Danli, Dr. Gonzalo Maradiago, told reporters that the baby was born at 3 a.m.

The bad seed, via PBS NewsHour:

Zika virus may persist in semen for months, scientists say

British researchers have reported the case of a man whose semen tested positive for Zika virus 62 days after the onset of his illness. It is the second report of the virus being found in semen. In addition, there have been two cases where sexual transmission of Zika virus is thought to have occurred.

Another hopeful development, this time from Time:

Commercially Available Test for Zika Virus Only Weeks Away, WHO Says

Only a select few labs can currently test for Zika and a commercial test would improve the ability of researchers to track the disease’s spread. Ten biotech companies and 10 other companies are at various stages of developing such a test, according to WHO.

And the not unexpected, via the Christian Post:

Church Leaders Reject UN’s Call to Increase Abortions to Combat Zika Virus

Roman Catholic Church leaders in Latin American countries dealing with the outbreak of the Zika virus are pushing back against groups that are promoting abortion for women who are pregnant.

Finally, from Travel Weekly, that last map — and note that the disease is now present in a Mexican state not far from the Texas border:

Mexico draws map indicating location of Zika cases

In an effort to help travelers understand precisely where in Mexico cases of the Zika virus have been found — and that they are not in the country’s traditional resort areas — the Mexico Tourism Board on Friday released a map indicating where Zika has been reported.

And here’s the map:


Headline of the day II: It should come as no surprise

From Grist:

Guess who’s funding the Bundys’ crazy land-grab movement? The Koch brothers

As reporters pack up and locals try to get back to normal, questions remain. Is this just be beginning of a larger rebellion against the federal government? And would such a rebellion have any powerful backers? To that last question, we may have an answer: the Koch brothers.

UPDATE: More Kochquettishness from Rolling Stone:

The Koch Brothers’ Dirty War on Solar Power

All over the country, the Kochs and utilities have been blocking solar initiatives — but nowhere more so than in Florida

DroughtWatch: A tiny part of Cal is drought-free

The latest report from the United States Drought Monitor charts continued declines on California’s drought categories, and for the first time in weeks, a small part of the state in the extreme Northwest [0.22 percent] is no longer in any stage of drought, while the worst category [Exceptional Drought] has dropped by 0.93 percent, the second worst [Extreme Drought] has dropped 2.5 percent, Severe Drought by 4.31 percent, Moderate Drought by 0.49 percent, and the lowest level, Abonormaly Dry, has dropped by that 0.22 percent:

BLOG Drought

Jerry Brown completes his corporate sellout

In California the Democratic Party has usually sided with the forces of corporate development, even while hiding behind the pretense that their efforts are all for the common good rather than private profit.

Here in Berkeley, that facade is embodied by Mayor Tom Bates, who built his career on the blue side of the state legislature, then, when forced out by term limits, found his calling as the developer’s friend here in Berkeley.

Bates has run an administration under which he and his allies have purged city boards and commissions of those who either called for restraint or insisted that the city follow its own ordinances and demand that builders of apartments and condos build fixed quotas of units for low-income tenants.

On countless occasions while covered land use politics for the late print edition of the Berkeley Daily Planet, the saw the city council and the planning and zoning board grant exemptions allowing builders to cut the quotas and substitute funds which wouldn’t begin to cover the actual costs of replacements.

As a result, the city’s poorer residents, many of them people of color, are being driven out, their residences turned over to one percenters and those who aspire to joining their ranks.

Bates and his friends have profited handsomely for their actions, with folks from the development and real estate industries providing the lion’s share of their campaign contributions, as we documented in numerous reports.

And when a specially appointed commission created to propose a new downtown plan came up with proposals that didn’t hand over the keys to developers, Bates and his allies simply tossed it out.

City staff have done well, too. Two of the biggest projects in decades are being headed by the city’s former land use planning manager, who spun through the revolving door with a platinum handshake awaiting him on the other side.

Another Democrat, Jerry Brown stormed onto the scene [albeit with a little help from some shady folks] back in the 1970s, loudly proclaiming himself an apostle of British economist E.F. Schumacher, whose seminal work, Small is Beautiful: A study of Economics as if People Mattered, argued that development needed to be restrained, the environment preserved, and community values nurtured.

Brown’s devotion to Schumacher began to wavered, in large part because his then-girlfriend met with a rebuff from the California Coastal Commission, agency created to protect the natural wonder that is the Golden State’s coastline.

Brown declared the commissioners were nothing less than “bureaucratic thugs” for denying a permit to Linda Ronstadt to expand her Malibu home.

More from the New York Times:

The commission was voted into existence under California’s ballot proposition system in 1972, and it was made permanent when Mr. Brown signed the California Coastal Act of 1976 during his first of two consecutive terms as governor.

But he grew critical of the commission in the late 1970s after it denied an application by the singer Linda Ronstadt, Mr. Brown’s girlfriend at the time, for work on her home in Malibu. Mr. Brown was elected governor again in 2010 and 2014.

And now, with Brown back in the governor’s office four decades later, he’s sitting back contentedly as his now pro-development commission fires its executive director, a man who scrupulously followed the commission’s enabling ordinance and its charge to protect the coastline from rapacious speculators.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The California Coastal Commission’s decision late Wednesday to fire its executive director, Charles Lester, after closed-door deliberations sparked outrage by environmentalists and is expected to leave deep divisions.

Many of the more than 100 Lester supporters awaiting the decision broke into tears or reacted angrily.

During an emotional meeting before the vote, many speakers warned that replacing Lester would send a powerful signal to staff to be more accommodating to development.

“It’s disgraceful that the commissioners voted in secret to fire Dr. Lester,” Steve Jones, oceans communications specialist for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a written statement. “This isn’t over.”

The Sacramento Bee’s Jack Ohman precisely captures the moment in an offering he titled “The Lifeguard”:

BLOG Ohman

So much for Small is Beautiful.

So if you haven’t seen the California coast yet, come quick, before you view is blocked by an endless sprawl of condos.

At least until they’re either leveled by the Big One or drowned beneath rising seas.

And now for something completely different. . .

Love a good conversation? You know, one in which two people approach each other with respect and talk about the things that give meaning to their lives?

If so, then you’ll enjoy this meeting of two minds, one a highly respected essayist and novelist, the other a classically trained musician.

There’s a natural affinity between musicians and writers, or at least that’s been the case in our own experience. Both mine the world for experience, then interpret what they discover through their own inner creativity, working with the tools of the respective callings.

In this video from University of California Television, the conversation is between Steven Schick, Distinguished Professor of Music and holder of the Reed Family Presidential Chair at the University of California, San Diego, and essayist, author, and short-story writer Barry Lopez, who has held teaching appointments at several leading universities:

Music and Nature: Barry Lopez and Steve Schick — Helen Edison Lecture Series

Program notes:

National Book Award-Winning author and environmentalist Barry Lopez joins UC San Diego’s Steve Schick, a world-renowned percussionist, to explore the intersection of music, words and the natural world.

Lopez’s description of the writing process, from the initial process of selection and immersion in the subject of the world to the act of setting the words down on paper [a process greatly enhanced by music], brought repeated smiles of our lips.

Sit back, pour a nice glass of red, and enjoy. . .