Scientific research gets better…always a good time to review older work


Gulf Stream imaged from space

The major currents in the Atlantic Ocean help control the climate by moving warm surface waters north and south from the equator, with colder deep water pushing back toward the equator from the poles. The presence of that warm surface water plays a key role in moderating the climate in the North Atlantic, giving places like the UK a far more moderate climate than its location—the equivalent of northern Ontario—would otherwise dictate.

But the temperature differences that drive that flow are expected to fade as our climate continues to warm. A bit over a decade ago, measurements of the currents seemed to be indicating that temperatures were dropping, suggesting that we might be seeing these predictions come to pass. But a few years later, it became clear that there was just too much year-to-year variation for us to tell.

Over time, however, researchers have figured out ways of getting indirect measures of the currents, using material that is influenced by the strengths of the water’s flow. These measures have now let us look back on the current’s behavior over the past several centuries. And the results confirm that the strength of the currents has dropped dramatically over the last century.

Solid scientific methods always require revisiting prior work when advances in analysis provide more accurate understanding. Bravo!

Fertile Soil Gone From Midwestern Farms


Evan Thaler/NPR

Farming has destroyed a lot of the rich soil of America’s Midwestern prairie. A team of scientists just came up with a staggering new estimate for just how much has disappeared…

The new study emerged from a simple observation, one that people flying over Midwestern farms can confirm for themselves. The color of bare soil varies, and that variation is related to soil quality.

The soil that’s darkest in color is widely known as topsoil. Soil scientists call this layer the “A-horizon.” It’s the “black, organic, rich soil that’s really good for growing crops,” says Evan Thaler, a Ph.D. student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

It’s full of living microorganisms and decaying plant roots, also called organic carbon. When settlers first arrived in the Midwest, it was everywhere, created from centuries of accumulated prairie grass. Plowing, though, released much of the trapped carbon, and topsoil was also lost to wind and water erosion. The soil that remains is often much lighter in color.

RTFA. The history isn’t unknown. The effects are still (sometimes) debated. It takes many tons of additives annually to keep productivity and profitability close to each other. Healthy? That’s another question.

First Arctic Navigation in February


Alexander Ryumin/TASS

A tanker sailed through Arctic sea ice in February for the first time, the latest sign of how quickly the pace of climate change is accelerating in the Earth’s northernmost regions.

The Christophe de Margerie was accompanied by the nuclear-powered 50 Let Pobedy icebreaker as it sailed back to Russia this month after carrying liquified natural gas to China through the Northern Sea Route in January. Both trips broke navigation records…

The experimental voyage happened after a year of extraordinarily warm conditions in the Arctic that have sent shockwaves across the world, from the snowstorm that blanketed Spain in January to the blast of cold air that swept through Canada in mid-February, moving deep into the South as far as Texas.

If the Bloomberg link is acting up, try accessing through Flipboard to Bloomberg.

Getting too warm…sent the Polar Vortex down into North America, Europe and Asia

It was…temperatures high in the stratosphere above Siberia. In the first week of January, they increased from about minus 92 degrees Fahrenheit to 8 degrees Fahrenheit. While these “sudden stratospheric warming” events happen to some extent every year, this one is categorized as a major event and is less common.

The mass of extremely warm air threw the freezing polar vortex out of balance, shoving it off its North Pole axis so forcefully that it in effect split in two, as if growing a pair of legs: one over North America and one over Europe…

The interaction between disruption to the stratosphere and weather in the troposphere is still not precisely understood. But when the vortex in the stratosphere is disrupted—split, displaced, or elongated—it can push the jet stream below it south, bringing Arctic air into cities in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

What this article was predicting over a week ago has landed in our lap. And many others in the Northern Hemisphere. Read the article for the complex and predictable parts of the process that dropped Arctic temperatures in lands further south.

Felt [just a bit] like spring, today

I love when it gets warm enough that I don’t need a big knit hat to keep my noggin warm. That’s what kind of a day it was, today, here in northern New Mexico.

Yes, I know a bunch of the GOUSA and Canada were dealing with piles of snow falling from the sky. Here in La Cieneguilla, it was 50 degrees F, barely a southern breeze. I hauled out my headphones and did all my exercise walking with nothing more on my head than my Mister Robot cap and, as usual – to start the walking musical season off – Aerosmith.

What’s happening to the bees?

Researchers at the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET) in Argentina have found that, since the 1990s, up to 25% of reported bee species are no longer being reported in global records, despite a large increase in the number of records available. While this does not mean that these species are all extinct, it might indicate that these species have become rare enough that no one is observing them in nature. The findings appear [in January 22, 2021 issue of] the journal One Earth.

“With citizen science and the ability to share data, records are going up exponentially, but the number of species reported in these records is going down,” says first author Eduardo Zattara…“It’s not a bee cataclysm yet, but what we can say is that wild bees are not exactly thriving.”

While there are many studies about declining bee populations, these are usually focused on a specific area or a specific type of bee. These researchers were interested in identifying more general, global trends in bee diversity…

“It’s not really about how certain the numbers are here. It’s more about the trend,” says Zattara. “It’s about confirming what’s been shown to happen locally is going on globally. And also, about the fact that much better certainty will be achieved as more data are shared with public databases…”

“Something is happening to the bees, and something needs to be done. We cannot wait until we have absolute certainty because we rarely get there in natural sciences,” says Zattara. “The next step is prodding policymakers into action while we still have time. The bees cannot wait.”

I second that emotion!

Globally, ice is melting at a record rate


Meltstream cuts through Greenland ice sheetIan Joughin

The rate of global ice loss is speeding up, according to new research. And the findings also reveal that the Earth lost 28 trillion tonnes of ice between 1994 and 2017 – equivalent to a sheet of ice 100 meters thick covering the whole of the UK…

The research team, led by the University of Leeds, found that the rate of ice loss from the Earth has increased markedly within the past three decades, from 0.8 trillion tons per year in the 1990s to 1.3 trillion tons per year by 2017.

Ice melt across the globe raises sea levels, increases the risk of flooding to coastal communities, and threatens to wipe out natural habitats which wildlife depend on.

From nation to nation, we confront a core problem reacting to this disaster-in-motion. How many governments have the good sense to pay attention to scientific study? How long will a global response take to roll forward at speed – if a significant number of politicians continue to stick to policies leaving real solutions in the hands of future generations. Essentially, continue to do little or nothing.

We’re getting a politico on the payroll to keep an eye on UFO’s

When President Donald Trump signed the $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief and government funding bill into law in December, so began the 180-day countdown for US intelligence agencies to tell Congress what they know about UFOs.

No, really…

It should…describe in detail “an interagency process for ensuring timely data collection and centralized analysis of all unidentified aerial phenomena reporting for the Federal Government” and designate an official responsible for that process…

The submitted report should be unclassified, the committee said, though it can contain a classified annex.

1. My position on UFO’s is unchanged. Especially in light of the behavior of Looney Tunes like Trump. Given the science required for travel between solar systems much less galaxies, why would we expect species that advanced to want to deal with human beings?

2. If the choice of political hack falls before Trump leaves, we only get someone the Fake President can beat on the golf course. Daffy Duck, maybe?

Post-Pandemic travel survey

Post-pandemic traveling: A new poll shows that just over half of Americans (53%) say they will travel more to see loved ones they did not see during the pandemic compared to nearly half of Americans who say they will travel less because they are cautious of being exposed to other people after the pandemic is under control. That’s according to the survey of 2,200 adults by National Geographic and Morning Consult. The survey (highlights below) also found 1 in 3 respondents expect to travel more to make up for not traveling as much during the pandemic.

Considering future travels, the poll found that Americans would feel safer traveling to wilderness areas, such as state parks (42%) compared to urban areas (22%). Curiously, people age 35–44 favored urban areas, but all other age groups opted for the wilderness. Americans also consider familiar places, such as destinations they have traveled before or which regularly host tourists (47%) safer than unfamiliar places, such as off-the-beaten path or remote destinations (19%). Men responded by a 7% margin over women that they would feel safer in familiar places. Based on income, more affluent respondents were even more likely to opt for familiar places over remote destinations.

The sort of permanent lockdown experienced during this pandemic hasn’t changed our family lifestyle at all. We’re stay-at-homes, anyway. Go to town (usually) once a week, shopping. That’s it. Retirees.

Younger days, I wandered the Western World fairly thoroughly. Eastern Canada (visiting kin), bits and pieces of the GOUSA, Scotland, the Highlands and the Hebrides, most of Europe from France to Poland. Mostly on foot or a bicycle. I’m pretty happy doing my traveling, nowadays, online.