Monday, December 21, 2009

Signal from Noise, Part 5

Subtitle: On Falsifying Everything I know; or, Am I Getting only Liberal Science?
This is the fifth in my series explaining how I, an ordinary, moderately technical and scientific person had a climate change epiphany with ramifications for education, politics, personal relationships and dread for the future.
Warning: This post exposes the private correspondence between me and a climate scientist.

In the fall of 2004, while I worked on rewriting my un-publishable essay (see part 4) I noticed a lot of amateur commentary on climate science. This uptick was probably no coincidence in that this was the time leading up to the Buenos Aires climate talks.

At my workplace I was known as the guy with some hot buttons. So coworkers would share with me various news stories on climate, such as these quotes from glaciologist Lonnie Thompson. The first was from Steven Milloy’s Junk Science Judo on Fox news:
“Any prudent person would agree that we don’t yet understand the complexities with the climate system,” said Thompson. It’s too bad he didn’t deliver that message in Buenos Aires.
And then another version came my way from Space and Earth Science News:
“Any prudent person would agree that we don’t yet understand the complexities with the climate system and, since we don’t, we should be extremely cautious in how much we ‘tweak’ the system,” Thompson said. “The evidence is clear that a major climate change is underway.”
It was clear that quality of reporting is at issue; both could be wrong, but not both right.

I’ve also understated the competence of my local newspaper. It did run a variety of climate science reports, and it did have one exemplary reporter (Bradley Fikes). In December 2004, shortly after the release of Crichton’s Climate of Fear, Fikes wrote:
[Fikes:] At least Crichton's motivation for faking science is obvious: He is out to sell books and make money. Others who spread fear, uncertainty and doubt over the evidence of climate change are far more insidious and despicable.
It wasn’t long before an engineer from my community rebutted in the community forum (the same format I couldn’t get published in). His essay, “Global warming science far from settled” followed the formula that 1) warming might not be happening, 2) but if it is, it’s natural; 3) if it’s bad, corrective measures would be worse economically; and last, the hype appears politically motivated, for example:
Like so many in the media, Mr. Fikes has apparently accepted without much independent thought the prevailing view of global warming and its causes in human activity…

But is the Earth's atmosphere actually warming, and if it is, what is the real cause?

Recently released reports … suggest an alternative explanation: fluctuations in solar radiation. The Ohio State study, authored by professor Lonnie G. Thompson, whose area of expertise is earth system science, paleoclimatology, glaciology, and polar geology, showed that there was a sudden climate change approximately 5,200 years ago….
He went on to say Thompson’s work supports the solar link and recited the talking points about the Little Ice Age and Maunder minimum (real events, but since I’ve been cautious around people who seem to know only of these).
He ended with this gem:
The worst part of the current debate is the fact that it is no longer a scientific debate but a political one. A scientist working in most universities today who argues against the politically correct point of view will see his grant money dry up, as well as his future if untenured. I find it also very curious that those opposed to globalization and the free market capitalism have such a convenient argument against modern industry and business.
I decided to contact Professor Thompson and ask his opinion. My letter to Professor Thompson was the climax in my climate science discovery, not only for his answer and that he took the time to reply, but I set up my question so that he could easily falsify what I thought I knew.

First, I did my due diligence, background research on Thompson, and found this quote from his website (a superset of the quote on Fox News):

"The climate system is remarkably sensitive to natural variability," [Thompson] said. "It's likely that it is equally sensitive to effects brought on by human activity, changes like increased greenhouse gases, altered land-use policies and fossil-fuel dependence. Any prudent person would agree that we don't yet understand the complexities with the climate system and, since we don't, we should be extremely cautious in how much we 'tweak' the system."
I crafted my email. I explained that I intended to use his reply to rebut an article in the newspaper. Since I asked to use his answer, it is only for this reason that I feel at liberty to share the response I received. I’m also motivated by a desire to share with others how a brief response from a scientist can be so influential to me and so appreciated.

I asked the following:
Does this paragraph [cited above] support your current views?
Second I asked about the political angle:
“A scientist working in most universities today who argues against the politically correct point of view will see his grant money dry up, as well as his future if untenured". Do you have any observation that this is true or false?
And last, (here’s my most scientific moment) I was willing to accept the possibility that my take on climate science is slanted by the one journal I read (Nature), so I asked:

My understanding of climate science comes from the journal Nature, in which I study every climate-related article, often by drawing diagrams. Assuming I understand what I read correctly, I could be biased by having Nature as my primary source. Is there another journal you would recommend to give me a more balanced view of climate science?
Let’s appreciate what I was asking. Professor Thompson was cited by a writer whom I disagreed with--let’s call him Ronald, because that’s his name. For all I knew, I was contacting Ronald’s expert, and laying out everything his expert needed to shake my house of cards.

Within an hour of sending my email, I got this reply:
Dear John: Thanks for interest in our research and question[ing] press releases is always a wise thing to do.
Question 1. The real point here is that the climate system is really sensitive and the abrupt event 5200 years ago confirms that as well as do other high resolution ice core records from many parts of the world. The real take home message is that if the system is sensitive to natural forcings of the past then it is just as likely to [be] sensitive to human driven forcings like greenhouse gases and thus we should be very, very careful how much we perturb the system as the response might be much greater than what model predictions suggest.

Question 2. I have never seen at the University nor from funding agents a prejudice in funding only research that suggests the climate is warming. In fact, if anything is true it would be tendency for agencies not to fund such research due to political pressures from Washington DC. [my note: recall Bush II was president] Fact is, to justify drilling ice cores for example in the tropics one only need to document that fact that this very important archive of past variations in El Nino or monsoons is disappearing from the surface of the earth due to warming temperatures. They are melting and it really does not matter whether the driver is humans or nature.

Question 3. Nature is a good journal. It has a good peer review section, so does Science, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the Journal of Geophysical Research. Fellow scientist love to point out the weaknesses in fellow scientist’s research so it is an effective process. It is the balance of evidence that makes the global warming story so compelling from temperature records, to melting glaciers, to increasing ground temperatures to reduced sea ice, they all point in the same direction and is simply the earth is getting warmer. There was a very good article in September 2004 National Geographic entitled "Global Warning: Bulletins from a Warmer Earth, it gives a 72 page summary.

Hope this helps!
In my letter to the paper, I used answer 1 to show that there are liabilities in “independent thought”, especially when speaking outside one’s field. Answer 2, rhetorically, amounted to using my expert to rebut Ronald’s expert, an argumentative tactic that doesn’t prove anything, but in this case, my expert was his expert.

My letter was published with only my link to cut out. Within a week someone rebutted me, saying, for a second opinion readers should see the website of the Cato Institute, and provided a link (what!) to a press release. So I followed the link. Not only did I find Patrick Michaels and other notables of the anti-global warming campaign, but I found Steven Milloy. I had missed this connection earlier. So here is the complete epiphany, the air from which beliefs are created:

An activist spins research. Pundants and locals parrot the talking points in letters and community forums. I contact the original researcher (a basic research skill) and show the information trail has been corrupted. And then local believers complete the circle saying one should ignore me and instead refer to the original propagandists. And I’ve seen this pattern repeated many times: e.g., CO2 lags warming; variations in sunspots and cosmic rays; climatologists flip-flopped from global cooling; water vapor overwhelms CO2; we’re bouncing back from the little ice age.

All of these balloons are subjects that people have used to argue with me in person, through correspondence, or in published letters. People just cant resist grabbing these balloons as they drift past.
We often look for support, or more fairly, we remember a news story or rumor that's compatible with our beliefs, but how well do we set up tests that would challenge the basis of our knowledge, that would falsify what we know? This is what science practices; this is a technique I adopted from reading peer-reviewed scientific literature.

I have to add that parts 1-5 of my essay includes everything I had planned to say on Oct. 29, 2009, when I posted the first part and listed these follow-up topics:

• Saving the planet one buoy at a time (part 2)
• JG calls his ultraconservative representative to support greenhouse gas legislation and gets called something in return (part 3).
• Five scientific terms you're not allowed to say in local news media (part 4)
• On falsifying everything I know; or, am I getting only liberal science? (part 5)
• So what do I really think will happen? Or get your buns over here and bring the cat! (not written)

While I was writing these, another rather large balloon flew over: Climategate--hacked emails expose fraud, conspiracy, and scientists subverting peer review and intimidating opposition.

Let’s consider one of these emails, in which someone was “tempted to beat the crap out of [Patrick Michaels]”. (Patrick Michaels, a climatologist with the Cato Institute, is the same person I become suspicious of in 2001, which I described in (see part 4).

Anyone following the link to the Cato Institute cited in rebuttal to my letter in 2004, would have found this statement from Michaels, Singer, and Douglass:
After four years of one of the most rigorous peer reviews ever, Canadian Ross McKitrick and another of us (Mr. Michaels) published a paper searching for "economic" signals in the temperature record. …. The research showed that somewhere about half of the warming in the U.N. surface record was explained by economic factors, which can be changes in land use, quality of instrumentation, or upkeep of records. ….

…. The science is settled. The "skeptics," the strange name applied to those whose work shows the planet isn't coming to an end, have won.
What happened to the most rigorously peer reviewed paper ever? Tim Lambert, writer of the blog Deltoid, revealed a unit-conversion error, that when corrected, kills their hypothesis. (See, which I recommend not only for it’s “peer-rebuke”—my wife’s phrase, not mine; but also for some insight into the other claim that scientists subverted the peer-review process.)

Note that I didn’t judge the authors by their hypothesis, nor by the error in their paper. Rather, I judged them by their premature press release.

Over the past 10 years, while I, an amateur, essentially, a nobody in the science world, was becoming aware of the disinformation tactics being used to confuse the public and discredit climate science, a real scientist, someone who could immediately recognize what the propagandists were doing , said privately that he was tempted to beat the crap out of one. Oh the collusion! Oh the conspiracy!

Happy ballooning,

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Five scientific terms you can't say in local news media

(Part 4 of my climate change epiphany. See also part 1, part 2, part 3, part 5)

In 2001 I observed a contradiction: a climatologist of the Cato Institute said in a press release that a study in the Feb 8 issue of Nature undermined the basis for an anthropogenic greenhouse effect. How convenient. I subscribe to Nature, and I examined the article expecting proof that there were two sides of the global warming debate. This would fit with my bias that there must be two sides to everything.

The Cato climatologist said the study showed that black carbon (soot)—an aerosol--had a net warming effect. But the computer models summarized by the IPCC assumed aerosols impart a net cooling effect, and this assumed cooling effect was thought to be masking some of the expected warming. But according to the Cato climatologist, the Nature article showed that aerosols could not account for the missing warming, therefore, CO2 must have even less of a warming effect.

But reading the Nature article, I noticed:
  • It was a computer modeling study, so Cato was using a modeling study to refute other computer modeling, which may be defensible, but then why not mention that it too was a modeling study?
  • The modeling was done for only one (black carbon) of several types of aerosols.
  • The article made no claim that their work undermined the IPCC reports. I, still a science paper neophyte, wondered if the Nature authors were aware of the IPCC. I checked the references, and there was mention of the previous IPCC report.
Soon after, I received my own copy of the IPCC Third Assessment Report (you can follow along by opening up to page 48) where a graph summarizes the warming and cooling effects of various components of the climate system. And on this graph (remember the report was released Jan 20; Nature article appeared Feb 20), black carbon from fossil fuel burning is shown to have a slight warming effect with a large margin of error. The Feb 20 Nature report was merely addressing the range of the error, not undermining the assumptions on aerosols. It appeared that the article had been spun before an audience that was unlikely to read it for themselves.

The summer of 2004 was noticeably cooler than what is typical in our region. A regular columnist in my local paper noticed the cooler weather, and after calling computer modeling “junk science”, he linked the cooler weather to Republicans. No joke, he said, “Republicans control California’s governorship, and Congress. Yet this summer has been cooler and air pollution levels are down throughout southern California”.

It’s a common error, to confuse weather and climate, and an even more common error to publish such nonsense. Long term energy policy will affect climate indirectly, but no turn over in membership in government affects a season’s weather, despite the fact that we had cooler weather after electing Republicans.

I countered with an essay for the Community Forum column. I’ve included the essay below, but I think this paragraph represents most of what I was trying to do, show that climatology is a continent, not an island, in the scientific world:

“Climate models merge the work of many specialties: paleoclimatology (the study of past climate inferred from coral, tree rings, gases in ice cores, and chemical isotopes in fossil-forming plankton in ocean sediments), atmospheric chemistry (how gases, aerosols, and particulates are formed, interact, and are removed), hydrology (water cycles), oceanography (currents, heat, salinity, photosynthesis). There are so many specialties, scientists, and publications involved that we must be skeptical of anyone claiming to understand these well enough to call them junk science.”

I received a polite letter from the editor. He encouraged me to write on this issue, but what I submitted was too technical for their audience and may be better suited for a science journal. (No. I got this from a science journal; it needs to be in the paper!) Also, considering the length of my words, I should consider aiming for fewer.

And I tried. I struggled with several drafts but each time I omitted key areas or misled through over simplification. I even asked if I could use illustrations. No.

We hear of media bias, especially liberal media bias. But I could not get my rebuttal and explanation published because of an anti-technical bias. Their columnists can say “junk science” and that it’s “hot air”, but I can’t say “chemical isotopes in fossil-forming plankton”. Worse, so many of these articles, letters to the editor, and community forum columns cite credible scientific papers or scientists, but use an interpretation fabricated by various institutes. Naturally, I was incensed a few months later when a Community Forum article cited the work of a well-known glaciologist to discredit anthropogenic global warming. I’ll write on this next in “Am I getting only liberal science?"


My unpublishable essay from August 2004; if anything is insightful, I credit my reading of Nature:

If climate research demonstrates an unambiguous human-caused greenhouse effect, implementing appropriate corrective action will remain controversial. For example, it may be unfair and unscientific to limit fossil fuel consumption and not cement manufacture; or government regulations may be costly, too restrictive, or misguided. If mitigation solutions are market-based, objections to the unpleasant conclusions of climate scientists will decrease. But for the market to mitigate human-induced climate change, it will need better information, starting with the correction of numerous misconceptions about climate science.

One misconception is the belief that climate models are junk science: As in chemistry, physics, and weapons testing, computer models are our best chance of understanding phenomena that too complex to solve on paper and beyond controlled experimentation. Climate models merge the work of many specialties: paleoclimatology (the study of past climate inferred from coral, tree rings, gases in ice cores, and chemical isotopes in fossil-forming plankton in ocean sediments), atmospheric chemistry (how gases, aerosols, and particulates are formed, interact, and are removed), hydrology (water cycles), oceanography (currents, heat, salinity, photosynthesis). There are so many specialties, scientists, and publications involved that we must be skeptical of anyone claiming to understand these well enough to call them junk science.

Another misconception is the notion that a regional or short-term weather trend supports or discredits climate models. Climate models do not have the resolution to tell what's in store for a specific region, whether it's a good time for a drive among the vineyards, or not. They calculate general trends, such as averages of temperatures, precipitation, and wind direction, with resolutions varying between 200 km and 50 km. Finer resolutions will result as scientists continue to test their models against real phenomena. Climate researchers state their models' limitations, and the field has a well-published timeline projecting milestones for improvement.

Climate models are used in a variety of studies besides global warming. For example, in India scientists are trying to use them to predict their monsoons. Other scientists use them to examine natural effects hindering the recovery of over-exploited fisheries. Brief progress in the acceptance of climate models occurred in 2001 when the models showed that North America acts as a net carbon sink, meaning its forests, soils, and peat lands were absorbing more CO2 than North Americans were emitting. This lent support for rejecting the Kyoto protocol, which was doomed regardless, but I suspect these results-oriented skeptics failed to grasp the complete scenario described by the carbon sink modeling: the climate models showed North America to be a net carbon sink in wet and cool years; in dryer and hotter times the stored carbon gets metabolized by soil microbes and animals and North America becomes a net emitter of CO2. By 1999, the northern hemisphere went back to being a net carbon source.

Finally, changes in greenhouse gas concentrations affect more than climate. Oceanographers and ecologist are studying the effects of known increases in CO2. Rising CO2 levels may be changing species composition of pristine rainforests, preferring softwood species and vines (commercially and ecologically less valuable) over the densest understory trees. The pH of seawater is changing as the oceans absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere. Oceanographers are examining what this change portends for the ocean's food chain. Paloeoclimatologists are searching the geologic record for evidence of times when atmospheric CO2 and ocean pH reached levels similar to levels projected for the near future. Should they find these layers, they will learn whether the CO2 levels, ocean pH, and rates at which these changed, created conditions favorable to the agriculture, aquiculture, and economy needed today by six billion humans.

In 2001 president Bush exercised his right of a scientific review of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The National Academy of Sciences confirmed that the science was sound and the conclusions valid with some qualifications. Their reply was a definitive act, like the Supreme Court choosing a president, which should be cautiously accepted so we can examine the implications.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Climate Change, Part 3 of 5 or 6: JG calls his conservative representative...

...and gets called something in return.

(This is the most political topic in my series on how an ordinary, moderately technical and scientific person can have a climate change epiphany with ramifications for education, politics, personal relationships and dread for the future. See also part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5)

My notebooks show the start of my intense science learning curve beginning in 97 or 98, and this was also the time where I was becoming the most partisan in politcal outlook, largely for environmental reasons. I distrusted economics and minimal regulation to protect things like redwood forests mainly because, these mechanisms need only fail once and then we're left with how to re-grow a 3,000 year old forest. At this time I was studying science to balance views from environmental groups. If properly balanced, environmental groups serve a function that I as an isolated citizen cannot perform. I cannot track, read, and understand the torrent of legislation at local, state, and federal levels. I’ve tried. It needs to be a full-time job, so this where I’ve relied on organizations like the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity and Union of Concerned Scientists. They can alert me to legislation, and if the cause is consistent with what I read in science journals, then I will sign on to the cause. Some examples: my science journals were less passionate about the threat from genetically engineered crops than the Union of Concerned Scientists is; much less worried about nuclear power than Greenpeace is (though highly concerned about nuclear weapons proliferation), and very much in line with many groups on the needs to reduce CO2 emissions.

So in late spring of 2002 I get the alert from the Union of Concerned Scientists that AB 1058 (later be become 1493 on regulating greenhouse gas emissions) is before the state assembly (California’s equivalent to the House) and can I call (call, not write, or email) my representative?

Let me go back a couple years. I love my community, but I feel I'm in the unpleasant situation of being needed to help with balance. Upon moving here, I made a number of discoveries:
  • Liberal was a bad word. Once branded a liberal you are the problem of all our ills.
  • Evolution didn’t happen.
  • Jesus would have driven an SUV; for many others, he rides in one.
  • Climate change is liberal junk science, in which the word liberal is redundant. (I take this up in topics 4 and 5)
What type of representative would you expect this community to elect? How would he take to an opposing view of climate change? But this is what I trained for. In 2002, my 200-page notebook contained around 60 different research papers covering CO2 emissions, effects on oceans and biology, climate models, palaeoclimate events, satellite observations…. These were papers from peer-reviewed scientific literature. The Union of Concerned Scientists’ position was consistent with what I could glean from the 60 papers I studied over the past 18 months. I will make that call.

I do not enjoy confrontation. It raises my blood pressure. I get nervous and red in the face. At this time, I would much rather call Feinstein or Boxer, but it was Hollingsworth (now State Senate Republican Leader) who represented me in the bill before the Assembly; it was Hollingsworth who would get the phone call from a concerned citizen who follows the scientific literature on climate change.

I called my representative’s local office, spoke only to a staff member, and have no reason to believe that any of my concerns were shared with my representative.

The call went about like this:
JG: I’m a constituent of H and urge him support AB 1058

Staffer: He’s hardly going to do that.

JG: What special interest does he answer… (or words to that effect). My words were partisan and confrontational, but I stopped in midsentence and switched to a conciliatory tone, saying something like “may I know the reasons for his position?”

What ensued was a discussion during which I shook with anxiety while explaining my views in a cracking voice and the staffer confidently stomping on anything I had to say. He said:
  • There is no scientific study linking the automobile to greenhouse gases
  •  The majority of scientific research is disproving any human-caused greenhouse gas induced global warming or climate change.
  •  And that I had been put up to making this call by an extremist environmental organization.
Well,  some truth on the last one in that I was prompted to make a call, but how does one nearly out of breath, anxious with anxiety over calling his elected representative, argue with this person?

I tried the following:

JG: What scientific literature does the assemblyman read? Nature? Scientific American (my sources).

Staffer: Ha!

I have since wondered whether these people know that Nature is a pre-eminent peer-reviewed science journal, or whether they hear “Bird and Bloom” or “Furry Friends” when I say “Nature”.

Eventually, the staffer and I were able to find common ground. He agreed that the current tailpipe emissions regulation was good. Clean air was good, but he insisted that AB1058 was written by a non-technical legislature completely out of their league in trying to design legislation to curb a new brand of emissions. I commented that somehow a non-technical legislature managed to write good legislation on tailpipe emissions. This was my one point in a debate that most observers would see me as the loser of (loser of the debate, not necessarily the argument), and I believe it angered him. Though the conversation moved to a polite agree-to-disagree mode, it ended badly.

As a closing to our conversation, I decided to model the best kind of behavior that I  had expected from him, so I said, “I will consider Hollingsworth’s position; can you recommend any sources?”

Staffer: “Well, if you haven’t studied this issue before making this call, clearly you were put up to the call by an extremist environmental group.”

I puzzled for some time as to how this person could be so confident that the scientific literature was on his side? Am I getting only liberal science? Is there perhaps some gray area I need to understand? Sometime later, I learned of anti-global warming advocacy groups targeting legislators. For example, the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (note that any of us can form an “institute”) created a petition, recruited many signatures, and bombarded offices with their literature that in format resembled publications of the National Academy of Sciences. In hindsight, I consider my representative a victim of this effort, and I, a victim of gerrymandering.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

thousand one...thousand two...thousand three....

It was only a matter of time till the CRU hacked email story was addressed by local letter writers from my community (Climate change nonsense ), and likewise, it was only a matter of time before I stuck my neck out and invited a discussion. I make the offer in openness (I've provided a means to find me here) and friendship (I left out any personal attacks). I'm posting this topic as a welcome, should any readers of the Californian accept my offer.

I did imply that the letter writer was ignorant of the scientific literature, but this is not a personal attack, rather a description of the writer's lack of knowledge on one subject, the science of climate change. I appeal to the conservative notion that we should avoid political correctness and call ignorance what it is. We should also call theft what it is. Computer hacking and information theft is theft and we must be careful when using information from such means. And we all make judgment calls on when an end justify its means. Lets be sure we know what the ends are.

Here are two videos addressing the CRU hacked emails. Both take a swipe at the intellectual impoverishment of those crying foul over the contents of the emails, but both show how ridiculous such claims are.

CRU hack

Deltoid on stolen emails (...and I highly recommend this blog)

Additionally, the writer of the letter asks "What happened to 'peer review?'" Should my post recruit any interest in understanding the science, I offer the following chart as a starting point. This chart of temperatures was created by a scientist who performs peer-review; that is, he's the person who looks at papers, finds errors, makes suggestions, and evaluates methodology and veracity, all of which determine whether the paper merits publication. I recommend his blog (openmind):

For more on this: Openmind, riddle-me-this

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ignoring Friction

In researching my astronomy presentation on Saturn's newly discovered ring, I started relearning the concepts behind black body radiation as described in my high-school level textbook. "Ignoring friction" harps back to my high school physics textbooks that qualified most problems with "you may ignore friction in your calculations."
I have ignored reality in applying idealized black body radiation curves to understand what Bob Grumbine is saying about sea ice and earth's surface brightness in these posts:
(Subtext: any one reading me should definitely be reading Grumbine's blog; see blog roll.)

I sent Bob Grumbine an earlier draft of this illustration and I'm grateful for his answer (click to enlarge):

If I were to type to publish private correspondence from climate researchers (don't want to go there), it would be easier to explain what I learned and have yet to learn.

The illustration is both right and wrong. It is right in that it portrays idealized black body concepts; from these concepts, I was able to conclude that satellite-based measurements of ice would be nearly impossible if earth's surfaces were true black body emitters. (And now I'm reminded of someone who claimed he could disprove global warming using only high school physics.) And it is wrong in that earth's surfaces, especially ice, are way off from the ideal black body emission curve.

I'm sharing my learning process in part to thank Bob Grumbine. I don't want make more work for him, but he tries to explain science to readers at a high school level, and more impressive, took the time to review my illustration and direct my next steps in where to study.

The other reason I share is to exploit the unique learning opportunity we have with the Internet. There may be others at my level who can assist or learn from my work. For example, it appears my graph showing the attenuation of Earth's atmosphere is off. I've supplemented it with a slightly different version from wikipedia, but am still looking for a definitive reference.

I welcome comments and suggestions.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Phoebe ring, part 2

Second image in a set of illustrations I'm working on to make astronomy interesting to middle school students (and their parents), while connecting it to broader concepts (e.g., the rf spectrum and visible light's place within). (Part 1 illustrates the size and shape of the phoebe ring.)

I have two print references on the RF spectrum. One shows shorter wavelengths to the left; the other, to the right. I suspect Gamma-left/radio-right is the standard, but am curious to know if there is a standard.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Liberty Quarry and Lighting

Granite Construction is trying to win approval to operate a rock quarry next to Temecula, CA, and within 18 miles of Palomar Observatory. I suspect the need for construction material is genuine, but so is the opposition by a broad coalition residents, businesses, and organizations of Temecula. The deadline for commenting on the project's Environmental Impact Report was yesterday, and I submitted comments on lighting with only hours to spare.

As much as a detest when commercial operations use names like "Liberty", "Freedom", or "True believers in God" quarry, the English language is public domain and the project applicants have a right to manipulate perception through their choice of name. Flipping the coin, citizens have the right to consider any impact on the region's hydrology, waterways, nightsky, scenery, and thin blanket of biology as an impact on the public domain. This right is protected in state (CEQA) and federal (NEPA) law. Anyone may comment on a project subject to these laws and will be treated as a stakeholder. Receiving a letter from the approving agency that begins "Dear Stakeholder" is to me one of our greatest freedoms and liberties.

I've reviewed Granite Construction's lighting plan. It is good in regard to protecting Palomar Observatory and the night sky -- almost too good. Therefore my comments, though awknowledging the virtues of the plan, focussed on the failure of the EIR to address reasonable circumstances that would encourage a mining operation to deviate from the plan. Essentially, if shopping malls and restaurants have trouble following the lighting regulation, why should I expect the same of an industrial operation using explosives and earth moving equipment?

My submitted comments are shown below, and as with all posts here, I welcome comments and criticism.

As an amateur astronomer, I promote astronomy-related activities in schools throughout the Temecula Valley. I'm trying to make our communities more aware of lighting and reawaken an interest in preserving our night sky both for our enjoyment and for the protection of research opportunities at Palomar Observatory.

I have been lobbying Riverside County to update their lighting ordinance (655) to
  • address changes in population density,
  • address advances in lighting technology,
  • fix weaknesses in the ordinance.
I’ve also tested the County’s lighting code enforcement and have some observations that are relevant to the proposed Liberty Quarry.

General CommentThough the Liberty Quarry Lighting plan (Aug 2007) is excellent in regard to minimizing light pollution, there are some inconsistencies that combined with weaknesses in enforcement of County Ordinance 655, could lead to Liberty Quarry’s using significant quantities of white light should safety, trespass, or liability concerns emerge during and after the lifetime of the quarry.

My comments are based on my reading of these documents:

  • Lighting Plan for the Proposed Liberty Quarry Project, Rainbow, California (Aug 2007), referred to here as Lighting Plan and in the Liberty Quarry EIR as Appendix M.
  • Analysis of Potential Light Impacts for the Proposed Liberty Quarry Project, Rainbow, California (Aug 2007), referred to here as Lighting Analysis and in the Liberty Quarry EIR as Appendix M-1.
Specific Comments
Excellent qualities of Liberty Quarry’s lighting plan
The lighting plan describes only fullcutoff Low Pressure Sodium (LPS) and High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lights for Liberty Quarry. LPS is transparent to research at Palomar Observatory (see Figure 1). HPS does pollute some of the wavelengths that Palomar conducts research in, but it is a reasonable alternative to white light, especially when used within full cutoff fixtures.
Figure 1: The above diagram compares broad spectrum white light to a picket fence that can obscure the wavelengths of light being observed. By ignoring data from wavelengths corresponding to narrow band of Low Pressure Sodium light, the observatory effectively ignores light pollution in these wavelengths

Can Liberty Quarry conduct night-time operations safely with the lighting they’ve described?In the case of any contractor providing a generously low bid, it is fair to ask whether Granite Construction can conduct mining operations with only the minimal lighting they propose. This is not an accusation of misrepresentation, but there may be extenuating circumstances that would understandably divert an operations manager from protecting the night sky to minimizing legal liabilities.

For example, how will Granite Construction respond to any of the following circumstances?
  • evidence of trespass, such as beer bottles in the quarry, suggesting that juveniles have hopped the fence and are climbing on the excavation walls at night
  • a worker blaming an accident (or his or her own negligence) on the lighting
  • workers hear the rumble of rock fall from the mostly unlit portions of the quarry
    Figure 2 shows the portion of the quarry that will have the steepest walls after final excavation.

Figure 2: Contour maps from the Lighting Plan show a step dropoff 50 feet from the quarry boundary line. The red triangles are the only quarry workface lighting described in the Lighting Plan.

With the creation of walls this steep, it is reasonable that safety issues will arise. I believe that the EIR is deficient in not addressing the extenuating circumstances I’ve cited.

In addition to the extenuating circumstances, there are some inconsistencies and ambiguities in the lighting documents:

Page 5 of the Lighting Analysis says

The proposed project is a Class I use for which color rendition is important due to the task work required in a quarry…

Yet there is no mention of white light in the Lighting Analysis, nor in the Lighting Plan. This suggests three possibilities:
  • White light is really not needed for the work. Therefore, this is an editorial error and the proponent’s environmental impact report should specify that the quarry is not to be considered a Class I use.
  • The proponents intend to modify their activity so as to not need white light. If so, the modified procedures should be clarified in the environmental impact statement.
  • The proponents intend to supplement their lighting with sources that are not regulated under Ordinance 655, such as floodlights on mining equipment or temporary lighting typical of that used in construction sites.

Note that the Lighting Analysis on page 12 says:

portable lighting will be used to illuminate the approximately 100 to 150-foot wide segment of quarry face that will be worked at any one time.

Figure 3 shows a hillside comparable to the walls of the quarry being lit by portable lighting.

Figure 3: Portable lighting offers an easy means of blanketing high walls with light.

Presumably, the lighting for the quarry face would be the LPS and HPS lights cited in the Lighting Plan, but considering the mention of portable lighting for this white-light application, it would be more comforting to have a lighting limit described in the Lighting Plan. Instead, the quarry lighting described in the Lighting Analysis appears to be a baseline:

The most likely scenario for the excavation lighting using this light fixture setup is to have
the light source approximately 15 ft. to 25 ft. away from the face of excavation requiring
lighting and to have these sources spaced approximately 100 ft. apart if additional light
sources are required.

County Ordinance 655 may not offer sufficient protection from light pollution
In 2007, I submitted the observation below to Riverside County Code Enforcement:

The code enforcement officer acknowledged that the observation appears to be a clear violation and also admitted that he had no experience in enforcing the ordinance. The code violation has not been corrected.

It is my fear that excess lighting from the quarry will be equally difficult to control for the following reasons:
  • Enforcement is complaint driven, meaning a citizen needs to visit the quarry at night to document the lighting violation.
  • Ordinance 655 regulates lighting fixtures and lacks a scientific standard of sky quality and therefore it cannot cap lighting pollution
  • Enforcement is done under a building construction code violation, which is not a strong way of addressing temporary lights likely to be used at a quarry site

The Lighting Analysis relies on compliance with the county ordinance and relative comparison to other light sources as proof that their operations do not affect the night sky; this is not a correct assumption. Ordinance 655 is a regulation not a scientific determination, and all light contributes to light pollution, including their HPS lights.

Monday, November 16, 2009

An Illustration of Saturn's largest ring

This illustration is based on information given to me by Dr. Anne Verbiscer answering my question about the orientation of Saturn's newly discovered ring (Dr. Versbiscer is the lead author in the 22 Oct 09 Nature paper reporting the discovery). I'm working an animated sequence of illustrations on this topic to add to presentations I give on astronomy to local schools. Click the picture to enlarge.
(See also part 2, which illustrates the infrared wavelength measured to observe the ring)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Saving the Planet, One Buoy at a Time, part 2 of 4 or 5

(This is the second in my four or five part series explaining how a common person, with little scientific training but a lot of science enthusiasm, can confidently assess the scientific literature on climate change;  Part 1: My climate change; Part 3: JG calls representative, part 4, part 5)

Approximately 18 years ago, and I’m guessing at the time, I was fortunate enough to help with the calibration of NASA’s TOPEX satellite used to measure sea level. This is possibly my only contribution to science. I was invited to help launch a buoy 10 miles off of the San Diego coast. My qualifications? I knew a member of the team and they needed an extra hand as menial labor. Something about helping them hoist a 400-lb buoy into and then later out of the water, and that they’d have me back by morning.

This was a two night project in which the team had to get a buoy into the scanning footprint of TOPEX as it passed over. Jim, the GPS specialist (and my contact), was to ensure the buoy was in the right place. Chris was the lead scientist. I recall at least one other person because he made himself memorable as the driver, and it’s likely there was another, because I think it took more than four people to get the buoy launched. All of us were young, 20s or 30s. It was a time when an offer to be on a boat all night was worth a little disruption to my schedule.

The buoy was 40 feet of 8-inch PVC pipe filled with foam for floatation. The bottom end was ringed with a three- or four-hundred pound stack of weights and on top sat a three-foot wide half-dome of transparent plastic covering some type of radio signaling device. With the buoy mounted on the ship’s starboard rail, the ship looked like it was carrying a battering ram. When launched, the buoy would float with its top 6 feet out of the water. With the other 32 feet below holding the ballast, the buoy would float motionless against the waves. Onboard GPS would tell us where we were. Radio triangulation from two places ashore would identify sea-level as reported by the buoy. As TOPOX passed over, it would measure sea level around the buoy and then the scientists could calibrate the satellite by comparing the ground-based measurements to those of the satellite.

I recall that we went to a restaurant before setting sail. During dinner, Jim spoke of the purpose of the mission, “to study climate change” with some emphasis on “change”. He was checking if I used the same terms as he: “climate change” instead of “global warming”, for at this time careful scientists used climate change to acknowledge that increased warming from greenhouse gases could change climate in ways that may not be a global warming. I say this because I’ve heard propagandists and their faithful accuse scientist who say “climate change” of back peddling on global warming. “Climate change” has always been in use. I used it for a very long time till one of my friends assured me I can say “global warming” around him. After the confirmation that our sense of the science was mutual, much of our conversation turned more outward, to the tables around. This was our time to announce to any women within earshot that we were “saving the planet.”

After dinner, the driver became memorable. We were running behind and therefore in a hurry to get to the boat when the driver of the van backed out and hit a parked car. I assured him none of us would think less of him for taking the time to leave his contact information (which he did; thus risking being late). I say this because we often think of the person who smashes our taillight as that careless jerk, but sometimes it’s the young scientist, who drives a computer not a truck, rushing to launch a buoy, that will help calibrate the satellite, that will measure global sea-rise, and thus help us save the planet.

The captain hired to take us out was a perhaps your typical sea-salt mariner. He had been running his boat for many years and told us everything we needed to know about pirates, weather, and even how to be sea sick. He made it very clear that we were to hang over the front or side of the boat and get sick there. It will be worse if we went below (for whom I wondered). We left near sunset on a very calm evening, and it was dark by the time we reached the launch point.

Lowering the buoy was work but when smoothly with the numbers on hand. Once the buoy was floating motionlessly, I was invited to help record dry and wet bulb air temperatures and sea surface temperature. The buoy drifted away, becoming fainter, but in truth it was the boat moving, and sporadically, the captain would fire up the engine and edge closer so that we were never more than 50 yards away.

I don’t recall being the first to make this observation, but Jim later insisted I was the first. As I watched the faint buoy in the dark I thought it was getting lower. Finally, I got the nerve to ask if it could be sinking. I remember incredulous protests that it can’t be sinking. But these were scientists, and soon all of them were standing by me watching as I was, trying to tease out any indication that the buoy was getting lower in the water. Finally, Chris declared “It’s sinking!” The captain fired up the motor and by the time we reached it, the rate of sinking had increased. We pulled up beside it while the electronics were still a couple feet above the water, removed the radio dome, and secured the rest of the bulk to be hoisted back on board.

TOPEX hadn’t passed over yet, so the group improvised a work-a-round. We put the dome onto an inner tube the captain had on board and floated it tethered behind the boat. It was assumed that the experiment that night was a failure but it was still worth trying. In other words, they weren’t going to assume that the data would be worthless and therefore collected what they could. Later, after the satellite passed over, I sketched the apparatus, showing the dimensions and distance between the transponder and water line on the inner tube should this be helpful in interpreting the data.

The following night went better for the experiment, though not for me.

The buoy was sealed in every possible leak point when I arrived the following afternoon. They were ready, and good thing too, as this night was different. There was a good wind and the waves were easily two feet high between peak and trough. (At the time I thought the waves were three feet high, but in hindsight I have trouble believing that.)

When launched, the buoy was motionless against the waves lapping by it. It was almost like watching a pendulum: the waves swung high and low, but the buoy continued its stance like a dock pole. I, however, soon succumbed to the relentless up and down motion of the boat. Though this was the night of success, and I helped launch and retrieve, and I believe recorded temperatures at intervals, I remember only the sickness during the endless return to shore. Simply put, following the captain’s orders, I hung on the side rail. I tried port and starboard. I hung over the front letting the waves splash me. Eventually, I knew I had nothing left to share with the ocean, and I went below and collapsed. I woke maybe an hour later to the gentle hum of a motor on calm water, and physically I was restored. If not for the clothes I had been wearing, one would never know that anything had been wrong.

Jim reports that a paper was published on this experiment and offered to dig it up. So, I have a feeler out for more information and will correct anything I’ve recalled incorrectly.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

La Cresta Grill calling batman

La Cresta Mexican Grill, in Wildomar, has a new bat signal:

Wildomar is within the 45-mile radius defined under Riverside County Ordinance 655 as Zone B, where light pollution is regulated for the protection of Palomar Observatory (and I must add, for our own enjoyment of the night sky). The ordinance has been adopted by The City of Wildomar as ordinance 8.80. Section 8.80.080 Prohibitions, 4E says "Operation of searchlights for advertising purposes is prohibited in Zones A and B.

As with all critiques I make of business's lighting, I am implying no judgment toward the products and services nor of the patrons. In fact, I would prefer that patrons attend the restaurant and ask its management to comply with local codes and ordinances and protect science being conducted locally. I would like the see the restaurant successful and secure so that it doesn't have to use advertising like this.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

My climate change, part 1 of maybe 4 or 5

October 15, 2009, was Blog Climate Action day, a day where bloggers registered at spoke to the issue of anthropogenic global warming. I didn't sign up because 1) I didn't want to answer the application form's question "how many RSS subscribers do you have" (is null the same as zero here?) and 2) I can't commit to any deadlines.

Recently, I reconnected with a high school friend who asked how I got obsessed with climatology. Answering her question retraces a path of discovery that has some scientific methodology worth sharing:

My earliest climate science memory is from the 1980s: I recall joking with a friend that greenhouse gases could lead to warming or cooling (some confusion over aerosols that cool, gases that warm, and negative feedback effects that cool after being triggered by warming). I wasn't deriding the science; rather, I was demonstrating what I call the NASA space pen effect. When I first heard the joke that NASA spent millions on a pen that writes in space while the Russians used a pencil, I didn't care if it was true or not; I just liked the humor, and NASA can take a joke. And, in a way I was laughing at myself because I have two "NASA" space pens. There are always surprises in any scientific endeavor, many of them humorous, and scientists are the ones who deserve the credit for discovering and sharing these surprises, often revealing excellent senses of humor about their work. However, by the late 90s, the humor about climate change had taken a different tone, a tone I'm glad I haven't participated in.

In the mid-90s I read a book by John Emsley, The Good Chemicals Guide, in which one chapter heaps scorn upon global warming activists. I soon forgot most of the caustic verbiage he laid on environmental groups, but his argument that there was a saturation point for the warming effect of CO2 did stick. I felt some relief that global warming can't be as bad as some environmental groups say. Also in the later 90s I remember a statement from scientist that anthropogenic climate change has sufficient evidence to warrant concern. At this time I became uneasy taking information from secondary sources, so I decided to subscribe to the primary scientific literature, that is, to see what they really say in respectable journals like Nature or Science. Why Nature or Science and not some book published by the Cato Institute, the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, or some other think tank? But for the grace of God, there go I.

Nature and Science were the most frequent sources for articles I read in Scientific American and Science News or heard on public radio. I also worked for a publisher of science journals where we kept Nature on hand as a reality check. Somehow, I knew to look to reputable sources, and this is a key decision point that many climate enthusiasts (or global warming denialists and alarmists) fail at.

Ten years of Nature: I started my first issues of Nature back in 1999 and haven't missed one since. At first, it was clear that I had been away from any science training for too long. I slowly absorbed the articles on natural sciences; and climatology, to my delight, drew upon many of these areas: oceans, atmosphere, astronomy, chemistry, geology. My goal in reading was to punch holes of deeper understanding and eventually connect the space between. For example examining a paper on temperature reconstructions I learned of using isotopes of oxygen to estimate temperatures; then I would recognize this technique when cited in other articles. Eventually, I become well-versed on how this was done and could use this knowledge to assess the credibility of writers in popular media.

Most striking about the scientific literature, however, was how un-striking the tone in a scientific paper is. Scientists speak cautiously about their findings, about what can be inferred or not from their results. For example, I read the paper that claimed the first observational evidence of a greenhouse effect and they didn't pronounce the global warming denialists as conclusion driven, ignorant, politicized, wrong; rather they said, should further studies corroborate our results then ours is the first observational evidence of the greenhouse effect, and then went on to say how further studies could address the weaknesses in theirs – this is a key point. Scientists try to anticipate all the criticism they will get and explain how it affects the robustness of their findings. Hence, every paper includes it's own devil's advocate.

So, when writers in popular media dismiss climate science, saying things like, "scientists are in it for the grant money," our attributing CO2 for rising temperatures as a "nice guess", or calling the whole endeavor "junk science", I knew one thing for sure: the writers of these phrases do not read the primary scientific literature.

There's a lot for one post. Later I'll cover the following, but not necessarily in the order shown here:


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Light Pollution in Wildomar, Cornerstone Church

Topic: Local Light Pollution

(Update 1/14/10: Cornerstone Church withdraws its application. See The Californian.)

Two weeks ago I learned that a local church was making a significant expansion to their facilities, an expansion that would include night lighting. Though rushed, I submitted comments that I'm posting below. But first, I regret that I haven't directly contacted the Church. I've been asked twice by members of the community if I'm aware of Cornerstone's apparent violation of our lighting ordinance. The second time was in a public meeting attended also by a member of the church. This member spoke up, said the pastor would be receptive, and offered to talk to him. I gave this person some of my handouts, but I never followed up -- my regret.

Learning that the Planning Dept was considering the Cornerstone expansion, I realized that this hearing was my opportunity and obligation to submit comments. I also believe any well-intentioned group serving the community would use such a hearing to invite comments and concerns from their neighbors.

My comments were as follows:

I am pleased at the attention the initial study gives to lighting and will be eager to review the electrical plans described under sections V.2 and V.3. While I applaud these measures, I wish to question the scope of section V.3, which asks if the project will “create a new source of substantial light or glare that would adversely affect day or nighttime views in the area” (emphasis mine). I assert that Cornerstone’s existing lighting already violates County Ordinance 655 (and Wildomar ordinance 8.80) and is an unnecessarily substantial source of light pollution and glare. As it is common practice to correct existing code violations before issuing new permits, so I would like the City of Wildomar Planning Department to review Cornerstone’s existing impact on the night sky.

In the above photo, the white entrance lights should be fully shielded (and may exceed the lumens limit), the Cornerstone signs (one of two on the building is shown) should be backlit with low pressure sodium lights, and the up-lit cross should also use a low pressure sodium light sources.

The photos below shows Cornerstone’s existing impact on aesthetics as well as the sky:

The above photo shows Cornerstone from Grand Ave, near David A. Brown Middle School (at least 1 mile distant). The sign is prominent, and the lower lights are temporary lights supplementing their parking lot lighting.

Below, in this attempt to capture dusk on San Jacinto Mountain, the Cornerstone sign (lower right) becomes the dominant intrusion into the scene. It gets worse as one takes longer exposures to capture the night sky.

I think this photo (below) shows how the sign and fa├žade lights overwhelm the cross. The cross would be easier to see with a darker background.

My request is as follows:
1. The City of Wildomar should use the permitting opportunity to achieve all minimal impacts possible, especially where changes to existing lighting violate County and City lighting codes.
2. Consider improvements to the lighting plans that will pre-empt a temptation to over-light the new parking lot. For example, if the parking lot has too few low pressure sodium lights, there will be a temptation to use temporary flood lighting. Well-shielded, low-profile landscape and walkway lights from the parking lot to other areas can minimize the perceived need for extra lighting. (Note added here: that with this comment, I'm trying to offer a compromise that considering the number of people served by Cornerstone and that many activities will occur at night, I'm open to variances that ensure that their visitors feel safe).
3. Set a standard that uses contrast instead of brightness to emphasize sacred and patriotic imagery. (Note added here: I'm not objecting to their uplit cross; rather, I'm offering a standard that this is the object that they should want most prominent and the best way to achieve this is to reduce the other lighting).


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Striped mystery beetle

I found this bug while I was raking leaves. I put him on a desert mallow for safe keeping. I have no idea what species this is.


Update: Icesign adds this link:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Color on the Web

Several years ago I killed the grass and put in a native plant garden. This garden continues to surprise me. In this case, it was the color transmitted through a dry spider web that amazed me. I emphasize that there was no moisture to create the irridescent effect. I hope the photos below show on your computer the colors I saw. Click the photos to see the colors better. I made no enhancements to the photos.

And last... no butterflies were harmed in the taking of this photo:


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Crepuscular and anti-crepuscular rays

Crepuscular rays are the beams of light we see near sunrise or sunset when clouds or mountaintops are well-positioned to cast shadows or provide gaps that beams of light shine through. (Note that the beam radiating from the above photo at about 1:00 shows a light ray that is then superceded by a shadow.) I have read that there are anti-crepuscular rays too. These are the rays you'd see if you looked in the opposite direction. I haven't noticed any till recently, when I saw these:

These were barely discernable, so below I enhanced the contrast to make them obvious. I made no other changes:

The illusion of separating or converging beams is a great reminder of how perspective affects perception. The rays and shadows are parallel, just as with meteors in a meteor shower, but they give the impression of radiating from a single point.
As much as a look at this crepuscular ray, I can't convince myself into seeing it as a horizontal beam:

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Venn diagram, field of view

OpenMind (see blog roll) is inviting charts.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Viewshed protections

City or county ordinances that protect viewsheds would prevent the construction of the homes shown here at the top of the valley slopes, but considering the recent fire that scorched the slopes on the left, it would be a good idea to prevent such construction. The vegetation on these slopes is collectively referred to as chaparral, which has it origin in the Spanish word chamas, for fire. Burning vegetation combined with the steep slopes creates a chimney effect, pulling hot air in, heating it, sending it upward, carrying heat and flames with it.

Chamise, a dominate plant in the chaparral is also called "greasewood" for its tendancy to burn. Fire is common. It has shaped the chaperal biome. It will continue to occur and will have to be managed. But the only way these few homes on top of slope will be safe is to eliminate the chaparral below them, which alters the view of the this slope as seen by thousands of residents in the valley. Remaking the vegetation would also displace many animals and elimate the plants that grow here and this portion of the hillside will stop serving as a corridor for the movement of species and genetic diversity between fragments of the Cleveland National Forest.

I'll be watching this hillside to see if it recovers naturally or preventative measures are taken for the sake of the few houses on the top.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My own menagerie

Here are some of the animal photos I've taken while on local hikes:

Grey Fox: I met his creature chasing a rabbit. (He was chasing the rabbit.) Both lept out of the bushes beside me and the rabbit disappeared. The fox looked at me (posing) and lurched off into the bushes.

This is known as a Jeruselum Cricket. The inset on the left shows my foot (men's size 12) next to the cricket for size. (This is as close I as got to the creature.)

I don't know which species this hummingbird is, but I think the red marking on the throat will be obvious to those who do know. I was impressed that I could unwrap my camera and get shot in time to catch its wings in motion.

When encountering a snake on the trail, I usually scare it away with my almost involuntary foot shuffling (a natural and beneficial panic reaction that I've never cured myself of), but this rosy boa stayed put. Though rosy boas are common in our region, seeing one is rare. Since seeing this boa obstructing the trail, I've contemplated what it would be like to see the boa from 58 million years ago reported in the journal Nature. The authors describe a boa that was a meter wide, that would be like a meter wide log laying across the path.

And... according to an interpreter at the ecological reserve (where all of these photos were taken), this above insect is Manroot Borer (Melittia gloriosa). They are found from Kansas and western Texas to southern California and up through Oregon. The caterpillar bores into the wild cucumber root (Manroot) and overwinters in a silken cocoon beneath the soil. It is highly prized by collectors. Probably for its attractiveness (note the species name) but also because it's rare. They are in flight during the months of May through October and they become more active as the temperature increases.


Getting people into your astrophotography

My grandmother once chided me saying, "You really should include people in your photographs, otherwise, how am I to know who's there?" It has been difficult accommodating her in my astrophotography. This photo is one exception. There are people in the object making the streak across the sky, as it is the International Space Station, possibly at its brightest (as of July 6, 2009).

Double click the photo to enlarge.

Photo: July 6, 8:14pm PDT, 100 ISO, F5, 28mm lens, 109 seconds.

Friday, July 3, 2009

CO2 and diffuse light fertilization

Above is a new illustration summarizing a recent article in Nature about the effect of aerosol-induced diffuse lighting on the terrestrial biosphere (click to enlarge the picture; or click here to see the interactive version). Below is an update to a summary on carbon fertilization that includes references to all sources I portrayed in the illustration.

The two are part of an extended, interactive demo I'm creating on how the biosphere will respond to global warming, rising CO2, and other perturbations.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Engleman Oak with Poisen Oak and Shadow

I took the above photo because I like the back lighting of the poisen oak climbing up the trunk, but as I looked through the camera's viewer, I realized the real photo was the shadow complementing the overall shape of the tree. I made no changes to the photo other than to reduce the size and image quality for the web.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Perfect lighting, plus a little saturation

Using Photoshop, I raised the saturation value of the above photo, hoping to give the online version the same beauty that made me want to photograph this rocky hill near The Living Desert. The sunlit reddish rock made a impressive contrast with the shadowed foreground rock and the peak. The unique lighting effect was caused the shadow of Mt. San Jacinto covering the foreground, with the top in the shadow form a cloud above the peak:

Also in the first picture one can see an excellent light fixture. The Living Desert's sense of environmental awareness extends to protecting the night sky.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Personal Pangea

I've just added this picture of Pangea to the planet viewer on

The picture is my drawing mostly based on a version of Pangea shown in May 2009 issue of Astronomy (which in turn was based on a map shown here: I have no qualms about borrowing from Astronomy, as the same issue has a diagram of JPL's Madrid 70-meter radio telescope that was modelled off of one of my illustrations. So borrowing is not an issue, but accuracy is. In my drawing I'm trying to stretch the map into a 2x1 ratio that my planet viewer turns into a globe and animates its rotation:

You can click and drag the image to view any angle of the globe. For example, here's a view of the southern pole:

But I've never seen a map of Pangea Earth's southern pole, so I have no idea how accurate this is, and I welcome any references and corrections to this or any part of the drawing. I'll share the result too.
Though it would be careless to assume, I feel I probably have the ocean view of Earth at the time of Pangea fairly correct:


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Moon and Pleiades

I collect Moon and Pleiades shots. At least once a year, the Moon and Pleiades align for a close-up at a reasonable hour. This one, taken 26 Apr 09, clearly challenged my telescope's field of view.

The photo was taken with a digital camera. Had I felt like loading film, I would have been able to include more space outside the moon and Pleiades. Below is another photo. Same camera but with a telephoto lens:


Friday, April 24, 2009

Earth, Orbit, and Climate

I'm spoofing myself with the above illustration. On 4/23, I had the pleasure of showing my illustrated and animated presentation, Earth, Orbit and Climate to a local middle school . The presentation loosely follows the first chapter of Ray Pierrehumbert's book, Principles of Planetary Climate, but also illustrates radiative balance as described in Trenberth et al.'s Earth's Global Energy Budgets. In addition to these main courses, the presentation also compares and contrasts atmospheric CO2 to water vapor, and ends with my attempts to understand how orbital forcing plus changes in the carbon cycle create and destroy ice sheets. The presentation celebrates the various scientific disciplines that reveal the global warming story, and doesn't call for specific action, but in clarifying the behaviour of CO2, I'm supporting the call for changes in our energy production and other activities that contribute to global warming.

About ten minutes before the presentation, our region suffered a power outage. The irony wasn't lost on me.

Power was restored shortly after, and I presented to two groups.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Blocking my View of Venus

I've been assured by the Justice Department that holding a crouching position for the time needed to capture this series of images did not induce any long term physical damage or emotional distress. My legs are still tired from my sustained crouch, but it was worth it. The mosaic above shows the moon occulting Venus from about 5:08 - 5:10 am on 4/22 (as viewed from Southern California).

All photos were taken with a Canon Digital Rebel, 200 ISO and shutter speed of 1/160 shutter speed. Lens used was a 3-inch APO refractor with focal reducer, producing a focal ration of ~F5.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Dark skies and CO2

A friend from the International Darksky Association just sent me the following, which I'm posting verbatum:

Many of you may already know that on Friday, April 17th, EPA declared CO2 to be hazardous.

This finding will require a 60 day public comment period.
(Instructions for submitting a Public Comment, see

Since outdoor lighting uses energy, and since energy generation, in most cases, results in C02 emission, a very strong case can be made to reduce wasteful levels of outdoor lighting. Each 100 watt dusk-to-dawn streetlight requires the generation of electricity that will result in 500 lbs of CO2 emission per year. With an estimated 50 million streetlights, that's 12.5 million tons of CO2 emissions...

Some significant areas of opportunity that the EPA could cover might include EPA regulations:
1) limiting streetlight use to only hours when necessary (Programmable photocells, Photons on Demand)
2) removing streetlights from service where streetlights are nonessential for public safety
3) mandating the use of motion sensors for all outdoor and indoor lighting.
4) requiring utility regulators to include rates for midnight shutoff streetlights
5) requiring utility regulators to include rates for lowest energy consuming lamps commonly available in the market for street and area lighting
6) setting light trespass standards to reduce energy waste.

What it takes: A coordinated effort to influence EPA on the carbon footprint resulting from outdoor lighting, and the significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that can be attained by adopting regulations to control light pollution.

Who needs to make a public comment to EPA on the need to regulate outdoor lighting?:
Federal agencies and regional offices (EPA Boston, National Park Service)State legislators
Members of Congress
State agency administrators
Municipal administrators
Dark sky advocates

This EPA public comment period could be the most significant opportunity so far to raise the light pollution issues at the federal level.

Please consider submitting a comment to EPA advocating the regulation of street and area lighting, both in commercial and residential applications, and circulating this email to others who might have an interest in submitting a comment of their own...