Thursday, September 18, 2014


“Global warming” is just a newspaper tag for headline writers.  The real story is almost too complex to grasp.  I’ve pulled together a little link sequence that might help.

The snow in Greenland is black this year.
black (sooty) snow

The Polar Vortex is a phenomenon of the the polar cyclonic air stream (jet stream) that is evidently generated by open seas near Russia. 
Polar Vortex with Southern Excursion

If, like my cousin, you are busy remodeling your bathroom and don’t have time to read links, the bottom line is that the small changes in air temp over ice masses darkened by volcanic ash and soot from huge arctic forest fires (black ice) plus the energy made active by the loss of ice cover on Russian seas are the cause of our thirty-six degrees below zero winter last year and probably this year.  Maybe from now on.

But the air is not all that’s writhing.  Just as African countries keep changing their names, and groups of atypical people keep finding their old name pejorative so they have to invent a new one (“gay” is now “men who have sex with men” or MSM  and handicapped people are now "differently abled") what we’ve been calling a “polar vortex” is actually a "southern excursion" of the vortex.  As we learn more, the terms become more “granular.”   So “autism” turns into “autism spectrum” and then we all learn to say “Asperger.” 

Jin-Ho Yoon
“Normally, sea ice keeps heat energy from escaping the ocean and entering the atmosphere. When there's less ice, more energy gets into the atmosphere and weakens the jet stream, the high-altitude river of air that usually keeps Arctic air from wandering south, said study co-author Jin-Ho Yoon of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. So the cold air escapes instead.”

Bottom line:  my cousin had better think about more insulation in his bathroom or all his work may be undone by frozen pipes.

But here’s a line of thought and particles that is opposite in direction, a flow of air farther south that moves from Africa to the Caribbean and the Amazon.  “Dust in the atmosphere is associated with dry air. Obviously, dry air prevents moisture from gathering ultimately leading to a significantly lesser opportunity for convection, or vertical development of clouds. This dry, sinking air can sometimes cover a large area of the Atlantic Ocean, and sometimes, even more of the Atlantic Hurricane Basin.

“When that dry, Saharan dust is present, its sinking air would prevent a storm from developing. If a tropical storm or hurricane moves into an area of Saharan Dust then that dry air could get wrapped into the storm and eventually fall apart.”

Saharan dust

They say that soil analysis shows that the fertility of the Amazon forests is dependent on the nutrients stored in Saharan dust.  Smaller than a butterfly and not more powerful than the ax and fire.  Is this a new idea?  No, Darwin noted it!

“Ever since Charles Darwin noted "the falling of impalpably fine dust" while crossing the Atlantic during his famous scientific voyage aboard the Beagle, seafarers and researchers have observed African particulates far out to sea.”  and, worse, “Researchers have since found a variety of live bacteria and fungus in dust hitting the Caribbean, defying conventional wisdom among microbiologists that microbes could not survive a five-day trip three miles up in the atmosphere.  Disease travels in dust.

The Windward Islands in the Caribbean

"Swarms of live locusts made it all the way across alive in 1988 and landed in the Windward Islands," Shinn says. "If one-inch grasshoppers can make it, I imagine almost anything can make it." A 2001 study by USGS researchers found that the number of viable fungus and bacteria in Caribbean air is two to three times higher during dust events than during normal weather conditions.”  Bugs are disease vectors.  Climate changes mean new territories for bugs.

I’m beginning to reconsider my tolerant attitude about dust, esp. since it’s probably carrying industrial poisons from the surrounding fields.  Everything is now so "Roundup Ready" that the farmers are turning to paraquat, much more poisonous to humans.  If they treat it as though it was Roundup, people will die.

Fukushima fallout

Some worried a lot about radioactive Japanese fallout from Fukushima, since people in Oregon know that everything from Japan finally reaches the Pacific shore on the ocean current gyres, but maybe we should be more worried about “China haze” from the industrial explosion there.  I remember my aunt, who was a WWII army nurse stationed in Oxford, talking about smog there (from coal smoke particles plus moisture) so thick that at Harrod’s one could not see the counter tops clearly.  What did that do to the children born in those years?

China haze, industrial progress
Before she enlisted, my aunt was the head surgical nurse in one of the Great Falls hospitals and said the ice was often an inch thick at the base of the operating room windows. These are not new issues.   But now we wonder whether the dust of outer space, the dust of meteorites and comets, might not be carrying bacteria.

“Life is thought to have arisen in the Archaean aeon, some 4 billion years ago, when Earth was blanketed by a thick noxious atmosphere tinged orange with hydrocarbon smog. The seas and the land were both barren then, and the raw materials of life – water, air, rocks – were bathed in lethal ultraviolet radiation. The planet’s surface was marred by a steady stream of violent volcanic eruptions, asteroid bombardments and icy comet impacts. How could that alien, volcanic, comet-battered globe produce living molecules? The story is that minerals – quartz, pyrite, clays, and the like – must have provided the safe, shielded environments that spawned life.” 

. . .most minerals (two out of three, in fact) arise as a result of biological processes.” . . .

iron in sediments -- the reason blood is red

“The earliest microbes were ‘chemolithoautotrophs’ – a fancy name for cells that get their chemical energy from minerals, in order to make their own biomolecules from scratch.” . . .

“ . . .the Great Oxidation Event (GOE), [was] the single most dramatic event in Earth’s mineral evolution.”  Oxygen in the atmosphere went from 2% to 20% and that changed everything.

“Life arose from minerals; then minerals arose from life. The geosphere and biosphere have become complexly intertwined, with numerous feedback loops driving myriad critical natural processes in ways that are only now coming into focus.” . . .

“Microbial weathering greatly enhances clay mineral production, and enhanced production of slippery clays has ‘lubricated’ down-going plates of rock and accelerated tectonic events – at least, that’s how the story goes.” . . .

So it comes down to gumbo!  Caleche!  The stuff that is so slippery that the builders of the Pyramids used it slide those huge blocks of stone up ramps.  The stuff that makes my house change shape.  The stuff that traps all wheels and makes progress impossible.

What a metaphor for our slippery, shape-changing, clogging cultural beliefs!  Everything is connected.  Everything is significant.  Everything signifies.

No comments: