22 April 2016

This Week in Water

Earth Day, 2016. Greetings! Let's see what's happening these days with our planet's most precious resource.

As much as 93% of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the largest living structure on Earth, is experiencing coral bleaching—the worst on record—due to increased ocean temperatures.

Experts in the field are predicting that if earth's temperatures continue to increase, unprecedented rising sea levels and devastating superstorms from melting ice in Antarctica and Greenland will have destabilizing effects on climate and civilization. Current models appear to be far too conservative.

Arctic sea ice levels are lower than they've ever been after a historically warm winter.

Melting ice sheets are causing the position of Earth's axis to shift—which could magnify the effects of climate change as global temperatures get hotter, weather events become more extreme, and sea levels rise.

Some are suggesting to pump seawater to the surface of Antarctica to increase the size of the ice sheets and, theoretically, slow or even halt rising sea levels—at a tremendous cost.

One of the strongest typhoons on record, Fantala, struck the Indian Ocean.

More than 80% of the water in rural China is unfit for drinking due to contamination from industry and farming.

Are whale sharks dying out?

Pacific bluefin tuna population has dropped 97% from historic levels due primarily to overfishing.

Nearly 40% of the population of Somalia is suffering from an extreme drought that is fast becoming a humanitarian crisis. Ethiopians are feeling its effects as well.

Criminal charges—purportedly the first of many—have been filed in the ongoing Flint, Michigan, drinking water crisis, though remediation has yet to happen.

An Italian team has arrived to help repair the Mosul Dam in Iraq which threatens to collapse, potentially killing millions.

Is the most important river in the Western U.S., the Colorado River, dying a slow man-made death?

The level of Northern India's groundwater is dropping approximately one foot per year due to overuse.

The White House held a summit meeting on March, 22, 2016, to raise awareness of water issues and potential solutions in the U.S., including crumbling water infrastructure.

Can a biodegradable, algae-based bottle help end the world's plastic addiction?

And finally, the U.K. science minister "torpedoed" 'Boaty McBoatface' as the name of its new $300 million Arctic research vessel much to the chagrin of the thousands of people who voted for the name in a much-ballyhoed internet poll.

04 April 2016

The Geometry of the Imagination

For you creative types or for those of you who find your imaginations limited, here's a formal exercise* to help you stretch your brain.

Imagine a point. In geometry, a point is merely a location. It has no size or dimension. Let's call it P.

Simple enough. Now, imagine a point moving from one location to another. Two points describe a line that extends through both of them infinitely in two directions; it has length. Call it Line AB. Length is the first dimension.

Add a third point that is not in line with AB, call it C. Or, imagine Line AB moving in a perpendicular direction through Point C. That describes a plane which, like the line extends infinitely in two dimensions: length and width. Call it Plane ABC:

So far so good. Now, imagine a fourth point which does not lie on Plane ABC. Visualize Plane ABC moving as a whole through this point. This fourth point adds the element of depth, describing the third dimension of space.

So far, our little formal exercise has been fairly intuitive. Every school kid understands how this works because, for one thing, our bodies describe a space—as does our expanding universe. Now, however, things become less obvious.

Imagine another point, a fifth point through which this three-dimensional space itself (which, I must remind you, like its subsidiary dimensions is infinite in every direction) moves as a whole. This is difficult to do because we have no way of formally representing this motion.

Let's simplify. The most efficient description, or model, of a finite space (or a solid) is a tetrahedron, a three-sided pyramid. Four points.

Imagine holding a solid tetrahedron in your hand and tossing it in the air and catching it. See it tumbling through space, up and back down. Now, visualize the entire tumbling arc, from toss to catch. This describes an event in time, the fourth dimension.

Of course, we must expand our model as we have each of our other dimensions and recognize that time is infinite and unbounded. And, as with our other dimension defining points, lines, and planes, we recognize (a) that time exists both within and throughout space and (b) that infinite three-dimensional space also moves through eternally extended time—much like our odd-shaped triangular ball above.

Have we stretched our imaginations? Yes. Are our brain muscles feeling sore like our arm muscles after lifting weights or our leg muscles after running? Sure. Dare we dare to imagine more? Let's.

We've imagined a model of infinite space moving through eternally extended time. The first thing we intuit about this space-time model, though, is that time seems to move in only one direction. Forward. Even sitting still, perfectly motionless, we move forward through time (and, technically, space! See my serial post entitled Being v. Becoming under Pages in the right-hand column). We time-travel (the relevant post from my series) at a relative rate towards what we call the future, never backwards toward the past. Why is this? It is for the same reason a point moving from A to B defines only a line, or a moving line describes only a plane, or a moving plane delimits space. As spatial beings, our experience of time is dimensionally limited. We exist in space-time and our perceptions are limited by its geometry.

But (and the "but" is always the engine of the imagination, isn't it) can we imagine what might exist outside of time? Can we conceive of a fifth dimension? A further point that we cannot intuit, one beyond space, time, and space-time, but through which infinite space and eternally extended time might move as whole?

Let's go back to our model: the tossed and tumbling tetrahedron. We've watched as it grew from a mere point through the dimensions to a line to a plane to a space. Now we've seen its arc from beginning to end describe an event in time. We've noticed that this event only happens in a forward sequence from toss to catch. (And we recall that it is at once happening in space-time and, for our purposes, is a finite model of infinite space moving through infinite time.) If we press a bit and let our imaginations run, we can theorize what a dimension beyond this event might have to be like. This would be a dimension where the toss has not yet happened and yet it has already happened and, what's more, that it is always already happening—forward and backward.

Just as a point dissolves into a line, and a line into a plane, etc., time dissolves into an eternal now (to borrow a phrase [but not a concept] from 20th Century theologian Paul Tillich). As we've noted, there is an infinite length of time: as space expands infinitely, time extends eternally. But this is different from an eternal now in which this infinite extension has already happened.

In this fifth dimension, space does not exist, yet it is infinite and everywhere. Time has not yet begun, yet it extends eternally, and is always already happening—forward and backward.

Now, to try to keep our feet on the ground, we must ask whether such a fifth dimension exists, or is it only something we've imagined? Well, if it's something we can only imagine, then our exercise has been successful! We've expanded our minds, and opened new dimensions of thought.

The question whether there is some sort of fifth dimension beyond time and space and space-time is probably not one we can answer. We must leave it to our imaginations. Though it is fair to say that such a dimension is a possible inference from the geometric argument of dimensional expansion. (As are further dimensions in which eternities themselves dissolve.)

It could be, however, that we're asking the wrong question. Existence might be something that can happen only within the limits of the space-time dimensions. It is not a relevant category of the eternal now. It obtains only where there are limited durations of concrete spaces. It pertains only to realms where what we know as dimensions happen. Existence itself only exists where there is, in fact, geometry.

Imagine that!

*  FN. I was fortunate in college to attend a master class in creative writing conducted by Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs at my university (UNC-Chapel Hill). Mr. Ginsberg led off the session with a meditation encouraging us to breathe deeply and while doing so ply our imaginations in a similar manner as described above.

28 March 2016

Mono Lake (This Week in Water, Kinda' Sorta) Pt. 4

This is the last batch of Mono Lake photos I'll post. I may post some others from my trip way out west, but I took them with my iPhone camera and the resolution is not as crisp. Enjoy.

As always, click pic to embiggen slide show or right click to open an enlargeable, downloadable pic in a separate window.

Oh, and you might not be surprised to learn that the artwork of at least one Yes album (from the '70s, yo!) and one Pink Floyd album were inspired by the scenes at Mono Lake. Mountains come out of the sky, and they stand there

25 March 2016

Mono Lake (This Week in Water, Kinda' Sorta') Pt. 3

More photographs from my visit to that picturesque, high desert oasis by the Inyo National Forest called Mono Lake for you to enjoy. There is just so much happening in each shot, and the character and color of the water seems to change by the moment.

But first, true story: the other night I was scrolling through the movie channels on my electric teevee machine, and my eye alighted on the opening of Clint Eastwood's 'High Plains Drifter', and I was like "Wha?" And sure shootin', it was filmed almost entirely at Mono Lake. Fortuity? Serendipity? Who knows. Naturally, I couldn't NOT watch.

(as always click pic to embiggen slide show, or right click to open expandable, downloadable, desktop quality photo)

23 March 2016

Mono Lake (This Week in Water, Kinda' Sorta') Pt. 2

As promised, more photos from my shoot at Mono Lake (as always, click to embiggen slideshow, right click for expandable, downloadable page):

I apologize if some seem repetitious, but lighting, line, color, shape, texture, form, or pattern seemed to change almost by the moment. Enjoy!

FYI: I have new lockscreens on my iPhone and a new desktop on my iMac now!

21 March 2016

Mono Lake (This Week in Water, kinda' sorta') Pt. 1

This is not really a new #ThisWeekInWater, but it sorta' is.

Sometimes you get lucky. We all know people who are photogenic. They may look undistinguished in real life, but when you see them in a photograph they look amazing. There are also places that are photogenic, and I stumbled on one of them last week.

A little backstory: A couple weeks back, Wisdoc & I went with our neighbors, Chris & Ginger, to the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, GA, to see a terrific photography exhibition entitled "Ansel Adams: Before & After." There, I saw some striking photographs of a place I'd never heard of called Mono Lake (Wikipedia article here) and wondered where it was.

The next weekend, Wisdoc & I flew out to the Left Coast to take Wisdaughter skiing for Spring Break at Mammoth Lakes, California. As long-time readers may recall, last year, while skiing at Deer Valley, Utah, I fell, hit my head, and nearly wrecked my shoulder. This year I decided to treat the time as a writer's retreat. (And yes, if you're interested, I managed to get some good work done.) But when I began studying the map of the Eastern Sierras and Yosemite and the Owens Valley, I discovered that Mono Lake was only about a half-hour drive from Mammoth. So I borrowed Wisdoc's pretty good digital camera and decided to make a day of it.

The result? Several posts worth of photographs. The thing is, when reviewing them, there was hardly a bad shot in the hundreds I took. And, for the most part, it had nothing to do with my own skills at framing and shooting. This place just happens to be one of the most photogenic places on earth. I mean it! If you love to take pictures, grab yourself a decent camera and go to Mono Lake. (Heck, some of my faves I took with my paltry iPhone camera). You'll start thinking you're not a rank amateur shutterbug.

Prepare to be wowed! (or not). Here's the first batch.

And, as always, click pics to embiggen slide show or right click thumbnail for expandable pic.

Algae near the shore

More to follow.

10 March 2016

This Week in Water

Oh, Jim H., what further and on-going depredations of our planet's most precious resource will you aggregate (much to our general annoyance) this week?

Flint, Michigan news. Still no remediation. Still no accountability.

Seas have been rising faster the last century than at any time in the past 2800 years, much of it due to global warming.

Locally, tidal flooding closed Tybee Island, GA.

Cyclone Winston, the worst storm ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, left tens of thousands homeless in Fiji.

El Niño storms have brought billions of gallons of water into California's parched reservoirs. Snowfall in the Sierras is way above average.

Coral reef islands provide hospitable habitats for phytoplankton production and thus for healthy ecosystems in otherwise barren oceans. Some fear coral may not survive into the next century. Excess acidity in the oceans is warping the skeletons and bleaching young coral, a result of carbon dioxide emissions.

They had to truck in snow for the ceremonial start of this year's Iditarod sled-dog race in Alaska.

Radiation from Japanese nuclear reactor Fukushima has now contaminated as much as one-third of the world's oceans.

Indian Point, New York City's nuclear power plant, is leaking 'uncontrollable radioactive flow' in the Hudson River.

After Flint, water testing methods are coming under increasing scrutiny.

Delhi, India is experiencing a severe water crisis. More here.

U.S. tech leaders are calling for a comprehensive innovative strategy to map a secure water future for the country and the world.

Iraq's largest dam is at risk of bursting, threatening millions of people around Mosul downstream.

Is China building a powerful radar on a disputed island in the South China Sea?

@FloridaMan: A scuba diver survived after apparently being sucked into a nuclear power plant intake pipe in South Florida.

Giant, and I do mean GIANT, waves shut down a 12-mile stretch of the Kamehameha Highway on the North Shore of Oahu. Who would want to go there, you might well ask? Well, Eddie Would Go! And, indeed, Eddie Aikau went. And so did his 66 year old brother Clyde. [Full Disclosure: That's one of my favorite beaches in the world. In summer, the water is as calm as a lake. You can stand in the water up to your neck and never get any up your nose. Oh, and the water's so clear you can count your toes 5' below the surface. Babies play in the gently lapping waves. Not winter!]

18 February 2016

This Week in Water

Yes, it's that time again. Let's get to it, shall we?

The on-going crisis in Flint, MI, is...well...on going. Follow it here.

Members of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Native Americans have become the first community of official climate refugees in the U.S.

Greenland's melting ice sheets, besides adding huge amounts of water to the world's oceans, may be releasing 400,000 metric tons of phosphorous every year.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's yacht destroyed 80% of a protected coral reef in the Cayman Islands.

The growing risk of worldwide water shortages may be worse than scientists originally estimated, affecting upwards of 4 billion people for at least one month of the year.

Hedge fund managers are not simply investing in water assets but are buying up water rights in the Western U.S. Is Wall Street the answer to the water crisis in the West? (Gives a new meaning to the term 'liquid assets', no?)

New Jersey Governor and failed U.S. GOP Presidential Candidate Chris Christie has privatized his state's water supply.

Better water management techniques could halve the world's food gap by 2050 and buffer some of the harmful effects of global warming on crop yields.

It looks like this year's El Niño, one of the most potent on record, may be winding down.

A giant iceberg stranded and killed up to 150,000 Adélie penguins in Antarctica.

The Atlantic Ocean is absorbing 50% more carbon than it was a decade ago.

Microscopic, mixotrophic organisms may have an impact larger than previously known on the ocean's food web and the global carbon cycle.

After six years of planning, NOAA has had to scrap its proposal to expand the size and focus of Hawaii's Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

How much water is there on Planet Earth? It's shockingly less than you might imagine. Here's a visualization.

Scientists have discovered a legendary boiling river in the Peruvian Amazon.

There's a massive underworld of lava tube caves with permanent ice inside 14,000ft. Mauna Loa, one of the Big Island of Hawaii's volcanos.

New Horizons Spacecraft discovers even more water ice on Pluto than previously thought.

25 January 2016

This Week in Water

I'm sure no one on the U.S. East Coast needs to be told what's happening this week in water, but here goes:

A massive, historic winter storm (named 'Jonas') smacked the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard with snowfalls over 30 inches and blizzard winds up to 60 mph and coastal flooding affecting nearly 80 million people and leaving at least 27 dead. You might have heard about it.

In other news:

Hurricane Pali, an extremely rare winter hurricane, swept through the Pacific. Meanwhile, Hurricane Alex, the first January hurricane since 1958, formed in the Atlantic Ocean. More here.

The amount of man-made heat energy absorbed by the world's oceans has doubled since 1997.

Canada's ice roads are melting, resulting in food and water shortages to many of that country's remote northern First Nation communities.

Warming trends are affecting Greenland's ability to store excess water and, thus, more melting ice may be running off into the ocean than previously believed.

Research suggests that farmlands in more developed countries that rely on climate stability for high yield agriculture may be more vulnerable to changing conditions—such as increased drought—affected by climate change.

Drought conditions and water shortages are now a threat to what was once the world's wettest place—Cherrapunji in northeastern India.

Though El Niño storms are replenishing many California lakes and aquifers, some scientists fear the state may never fully recover from its historic drought.

Continuing winter flooding along the lower Mississippi River may prove to be among the costliest in history.

The toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan, continues. Criminal investigations are being initiated and the National Guard has been summoned, yet people still do not have sufficient lead-free water to bathe and cook and drink. The ramifications of this colossal political miscalculation by Gov. Rick Snyder may continue for generations.

President Obama rejected an attempt by congressional Republicans to gut the Clean Water Act and overturn landmark federal regulation seeking to ensure that water used for drinking, bathing, recreation, and energy development is protected.

Some fear that by 2050 there will be more discarded plastic in the ocean than fish.

Restoration of coastal wetlands may play a crucial role in slowing climate change. Saltwater ecosystems of seagrass and marshes and mangrove promote healthy fisheries, sequester carbon in their soils, stave off erosion, and provide defenses to powerful storm surges.

Chile is attempting to harness seawater and solar power in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth.

Scientists still don't fully understand why water is such a unique liquid, e.g., why ice floats or how it absorbs and releases a large amount of heat without undergoing huge changes in temperature.

Is there water ice on Pluto?