Thursday, May 15, 2014

Man-Made Mountains and Earthquakes

Water is heavy.  Groundwater actually weighs down the Earth's crust as it floats on the mantle.

When you remove the water, the crust gets lighter, and floats higher.

Research by the University of California - Berkeley shows that the weight of water pumped from California's agricultural heartland, the Central Valley, over the past 150 years is enough to allow Earth's crust to rebound upward, raising surrounding mountain ranges, the Sierra Nevada and Coast Ranges, some six inches.

The rising seems to be causing more small earthquakes along the San Andreas fault.  

In addition, even a 6 inch rise in the mountains can affect winds and rain.  Tall mountains create deserts.

In other words, by pumping vast amounts of water from the ground, we are decreasing the amount of water that falls from the sky over California.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

International Migratory Bird Day.

Or something.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Anyway, I woke up this morning to the beautiful singing of some red-breasted grosbeaks at my feeder.  They were taking turns with the goldfinches.

Least Sandpiper

Then Rebecca and I drove out to Maple Hollow in New Hartford, a wonderful spot for migrants.  I hoped to find flycatchers, but there were none to be
Maple Hollow Road
Instead we found orioles and tree swallows and tanagers, and a gnatcatcher nest and yellow warblers and many other birds.  It was a good day.



More reasons for not using poisons on my lawn:

Monday, May 5, 2014

Please Don't Exhale

When I started teaching at Hall High School, I found an exercise to help students practice their graphing and analysis skills.

Using data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center's sensors on Mauna Loa in Hawaii, the exercise had students graph the monthly average level of CO2 from 1990 through 1995, then consider the changes.  What they saw was that while the CO2 levels went up and down every year (plants draw CO2 from the air during the growing season), every year the averages increased.

When I first used the activity in 2005, I decided to use more recent data - and had to create a new graph form.  The original form only went up to 370 parts per million.  By 2004, levels were already reaching 379 ppm.

In the pre-industrial world, the average CO2 level was around 280 ppm.  In 200 years of burning fossil fuels, from 1800 to 2005, we brought it up to 380.  It took only 8 more years to bring it up another 20 ppm.  The average rate of increase is just under 2 ppm/year.

My last year of teaching, the level reached 400 ppm for the first time (based on studies of glacial ice and ocean sediments) for one day during the month of April 2013.

This year the average CO2 levels for the entire month of April were 401.33 ppm.  

This is not good news.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Warmth and Opportunity

Clearbrook Road in Burlington
Ferns unfolding
Today the temperature reached 70.  It felt really wonderful to walk along Clearbrook Road by the Nepaug reservoir.

Ferns are unfolding, skunk cabbage is in full bloom, wood anemones are blooming along the streams, and wild strawberries are starting to bloom!
Skunk cabbage blooming

The spring migration is in full swing.  Birds that spend the winter in South America have started swarming
Wood anemones
Wild strawberries are blooming!

 north.  They will spend the summer stuffing themselves and their babies with insects before heading back south for the winter.  Most of "our" birds only spend 5 months here each year.
Yellow birch flowers

Usually the birds don't reach us until the leaves are out.  Then they jump around in the tops of the trees, hiding behind the leaves and taunting us.

Yellow-rumped warbler, exposed.
This year the polar vortex has kept the leaves from opening.  That means that the migrating birds are exposed as they hop around in the branches.  What an opportunity to see them!