Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A bright and colorful picture of impending doom and gloom

As global warming heats the arctic faster than the rest of the
world, vast stores of methane and CO2 are likely to be released.
I've contributed an illustration to a post at
summarizing the mechanisms of greenhouse gas release from the
arctic. My diagram appears in Part 1 of the series:

Subcap Methane Feedbacks, Part 1

Humanity is getting a 2 for the cost of 1 deal on our greenhouse gas
emissions: because the oceans and terrestrial biosphere have been
absorbing half of our emissions, we incur half the environmental
cost of our energy use. Eventually, the ability of the oceans and
biosphere to absorb emissions may become saturated and even
reversed, so that these regions emit greenhouse gases, a process
that's starting in the Arctic.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

TEDx Temecula: Light Pollution

On Oct. 12, 2012, I participated in an independenly organized TEDx event in Temecula. My 12-minute talk on light pollution can be viewed here:


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Solar Prominence on 20 Oct. 2012

Yesterday offered the most stunning prominence I've seen in a small hydrogen-alpha solar telescope. I snapped a couple dozen photos by holding a camera up to the telescope eyepiece and photographing as my eye would view it. I got at least two shots that I was able to enhance to get this image:

The sun is entering it's 11-year peak, so there may be many more of these this year. Note that this was viewed and photographed through a special telescope that allows for safe viewing of the sun.


Monday, October 8, 2012

I Hate Political Season

Six years ago I put a lot of skin into a slate of candidates for our local water board. We were bombed out of the water by outside money and slander, and oddly enough, the opposition was helped by my respresentative to the US House of Representatives. That this representative had a stake in my local Water Board corroborated my conviction that our opposition to the Board's project was justified. I think the project would have died quickly if not for this representative's support.

But who cared? "Oh no, an expensive project will make a few people rich!" was hardly a catchy battle cry -- not nearly as effective as adding a moustache to a photo.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

California Fire Management, Fees, and Taxes

"No one should be penalized for where they choose to live"

This is an approximate quote from a meeting I attended recently. The thought question is Did this quote come from a pro-personal-responsibility conservative or from a we're-all-in-this-together liberal?

Anyone knowing my sense of irony may be able to guess, but let me add more context. The meeting was about a new California State imposed fee (or tax) on residents in California rural areas for funding fire prevention activities.

And the last clue, the meeting was conducted my by representative to the state assembly, whom I quoted.

The statement was made by self-described conservative Republican Kevin Jeffries who opposes the fee, declares it a tax, and was advising the public of it's implications.

Politics are not straightforward. It sounds like this conservative is very entitlement driven when it comes to individuals carving out homesteads among the fire-prone chaparral and dry forests of our urban-wildland interface. I attended the meeting with this bias... but what did I learn:

1. CalFire, the California fire protection agency did not request this fee/tax.
2. The fee/tax applies to residents of California Service Areas (CSA), rural areas managed by CalFire.
3. The fee/tax is for fire prevention actvities in CSAs only.
4. The fee/tax is $150 per livable structure and administered though the Franchise Tax Board. As I understand it, the CSA zones where never designed for use in assessing taxes or fees.
5. I could not locate any scientific analysis to refer to in support or defense of the fee/tax.

And now, I'll speculate a little as to how this fee/tax could happen:

1. Big budget woes hit California at the state level.
2. Republicans stand firm in resisting any new revenue sources.
3. Democrats work around this, reducing the CalFire bugdet by shifting the fire prevention costs of CSAs to the residents of those rural and wildland areas. This is palatable because 1) people can readily believe that there are greater fire prevention and management costs to these areas, and 2) these areas trend Republican.

This is a recipe for further conflict.

Where I  stand? I'm still looking for information on how to assess the costs to the public inherent in where people choose to live. Are they being penalized or subsidized for building homes in fire prone rural areas?

For example, I believe the luxurious homes perched on the ridges of our valley get a disproportionate benifit from public resources used to contain fires; but I, a resident of Wildomar, receive a benefit when CalFire conducts preventative maintenance in neighboring Lakeland/Village. Yet my retired friend in Lakeland Village will be paying an additional $300 a year while I will not.


I'm collecting links to relevent resources here:

My apologies to the Orange County Astronomers

On Sept. 14, I was scheduled to present an overview of the sky this month to the Orange County Astronomers. I allowed myself an extra 1.5 hours driving time, but it turns out I should have allowed myself an extra four hours to make the otherwise hour-long drive. An accident involving a semi-trailer blocked all lanes of I-15 north, and consequently, that route was closed. My dearest apologies, and below is the content of my presentation for those who may be interested.

First of all, there is now an Anza weather station whose data you can see at this link: This will help OCA members to know if weather may scuttle observing plans at their Anza observing site.

TEDx Temecula, an Independently Organized TED Event

TEDx Temecula will be held on Saturday, October 13. I'll be one of over a dozen speakers. My 12-minute talk will be on light pollution in our community.

More information for anyone wishing to attend is here:
TEDx Temecula


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Red, red rainbow

Yesterday at sunrise, I photographed the rainbow on the left. The mild shower and sparse cloud cover made for a red sunrise, and accordingly, the rainbow from this sunrise appears to be refracting only red light, instead of the typical yellow, green and violet of the rainbow on the right. I tried saturating the colors green and yellow but that failed to change the color of the rainbow.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Spiders and Snakes

I'm wondering if we have an abundance of rattlesnakes in Riverside County, CA this year. I hike the snake-invested hills weekly -- have been doing so for over 10 years -- and typically I see a rattlesnake once a year, or less frequently. And all of these sightings are in spring or early summer. This year, however, I've seen five, and during the summer months, with the most recent being four days ago. A friend reports that his network of mountain bikers also have observed an increase in rattlesnake sightings.

I've never felt threatened by a rattlesnake, though I've seen them over a dozen times. The snakes were either quick to get away -- why I have so few good pictures of them -- or they just laid were they were, very passive. Three times (and all were this summer) the snake scurried to the nearest protective crack or bush and then rattled at me. From my experience, I've seen no reason for anyone to attack a snake. You either scare them, or they scare you -- either way, the solution is to back off quickly.

Once I encountered a teen-aged hiker carrying a machete. When asked why, he said it was to defend from rattlesnakes. I commended his watchfulness but pointed out that to use a machete, at least the one he was carrying, he would have to put his hand within striking distance of the snake.

Watching your step and staying on trails or open rocks is the best approach.

Also, don't take bumps on a rock for granite (and old joke but it fits):

How many toads do you see in this picture?

Recent sightings: Two snakes and one tarantula


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Irridium Flare

Below is is an Iridium flare caused by sunlight reflecting off the parabolic dish of a satellite that is part of the Iridium system. This one occurred due north of my location at Sept 1, 8: 25pm PDT. Polaris is the star next to the flare. You can see the little dipper extend up and left from Polaris. The photo was about 30 seconds at F3.2 at ISO 200.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Parhelia at Julian Starfest, 17 Aug 2012

This Friday I'll be presenting at the Julian Starfest. My topic is parhelia, like this circumzenithal arc (below) I observed this afternoon around 5:45. My presentation is at 7:00 pm, 17 August, at the Menghini Winery in Julian. More information about this 4 day event is available at the

This is the first circumzenithal arc I've seen in summer, and it was probably 100 degrees F when I took the photo. Though it was hot on the ground, there was plenty of ice crystals aloft to make this arc.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Perseids: 2 out of 80 per minute

A high end estimate of perseids is 80 per minute. I believe that may have been the case last night for anyone under a dark sky. I counted 32 between 11:15 and 12:15. Of these perhaps ten were bright fireballs like the brighter meteor in my photos. Most were faint and barely detectable from my semi-urban sky. (My--I mean "our" -- sky here in Wildomar isn't too bad, as I could see the Milky Way all the way to Cassiopiea).


Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Coal Sequestration Illustration

I've contributed an illustration (see below) to this post on Skeptical Science:

The post argues that in terms of net energy gained and used, it is impractical to burn coal with the expectation that we can later capture the CO2 and sequester its carbon in a form that is as stable as the coal it came from.


Lake Skinner Star Party cancelled

The star party for Aug 11 at Lake Skinner is cancelled due to thunderstorms. The event will be rescheduled.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Talega-Escondido/Valley-Serrano Interconnect (TV/VS)

For years a small group of entrepreneurs under the name Nevada Hydro have been trying to put up a transmission line through the neighboring Cleveland National Forest. This project began by leveraging the LEAPS application, a pumped storage hydro-electric plant using the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District as a backer. Support for LEAPS has dwindled, largely because the project is unprofitable (On paper it would lose $120-124 million per yer and return only 80 % of the energy it consumed). I've documented much of the history of LEAPS and the TE/VS on a website called

Nevada Hydro continues to promote their transmission line, which would be profitable, for them.

Note that Nevada Hydro is not a utility company and does not have any completed hydro-electric projects to their name. I believe they incorporated for the specific purpose of putting together the LEAPS business arrangement that would have left them with the revenue from the TE/VS transmission line serving LEAPS.

One problem with the TE/VS is that it crosses a fire prone area that has unusual conditions of steep terrain, inflammable ground cover, and proximity to ocean breezes making fire fighting exceptionally difficult as the these conditions can easily redirect fires and trap ground crews in canyons. Aircraft are essential and have been used in most of the recent fires in this region. This is not a good place to add high-voltage transmission lines.

Below are some diagrams I've created summarizing the recent fire history of our region.

Nevada Hydro is offering a public workshop on their proposal this afternoon from 4-8 at Murrieta Community Center, 41810 Juniper Street, Murrieta, CA  92562.


Star Party at Lake Skinner, 11 August 2012

This weekend there will be a star party at Lake Skinner at the amphitheater. A presentation begins at 8:00 pm and star gazing follows till about 9:30. This is also a good night to watch for Perseid metors. Below is a map:


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Climate Sensitivity Illustrations

As part of my revised Earth, Orbit and Climate presentation that I delivered at the Temecula Public Library last week, I created a sequence of illustrations showing the concept of climate sensitivity, as I understand it. These images below are not the complete sequence of climate sensitivity illustration, rather, just key points.

The first image is used to show that each doubling of CO2 produces a warming of about 1.2 degrees C. Each overlaid image doubles the CO2 on the left and the bulb level rises as the graph is drawn. Below is the final image:

Next comes the H2O feedback. I set the CO2 back to one doubling and then describe the water vapor feedback of 1.5 to 2 degrees C:

The combined CO2 and H2O are enough to change ice cover, affecting the ice-albedo feedback, shown here with a reduction of snowcover:

Then I start adding a range of feedbacks such as meltwater affecting ocean currents, CO2 fertilization and rainfall disruptions:

The final image of feedbacks is not meant to be all inclusive nor is it meant to clarify the role of each. It is meant to give the viewer an appreciation that Earth is a knot of complex, inter-related systems, each reacting to changes around it:

 And then last, I show a final climate sensitivity from the combined forcings (CO2) and feedbacks (all others), giving a final climate sensitivity of 2 to 4.5 degrees C.

Other illustrations mention that the greater uncertainty is at the high end. Then I conclude that if we double the CO2 again, we repeat this process.

As with all my projects, I welcome criticism. I hope to have my revised presentation online in a couple weeks.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Earth, Orbit, and Climate Presentation and Lunar Observing, Thurs., June 28

This Thursday, the Temecula Valley Astronomers will provide an indoor presentation followed by some lunar and planetary observing at the Temecula Library. The indoor presentation begins at 6:30 and observing of the moon can begin at approximately 7:45. By 8:15, Saturn will be visible in telescopes. Observing will end before 9:00 pm when the library closes.

I will present "Earth, Orbit, and Climate." My presentation is a illustrated look how the science of astronomy contributes to our understanding of climate change. I cover the Sun, the greenhouse effect, climate sensitivity, paleoclimate data, and Earth's changing orbit. Below is a sample from the section describing the greenhouse effect.

I have given this talk to middle school students, so I hope the illustrated nature and my simplifying of concepts, makes this presentation suitable for a broad range of learners. Some graphs and technical explanations are necessary, but most will have the simplicity of the above illustration.

After the presentation, the Temecula Valley Astronomers will have a few telescopes set up for some observing of the moon and Saturn until the library closes.

Friday, June 22, 2012

American Medical Association reports that night light is a health hazard

The following article describes the AMA's new policy recognizing health and safety hazards of night lighting and recommending further research:

Night Light Can Harm Your Health


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Great group of sunspots

It is June 16 and I'm seeing a spectacular group of sunspots. My photos were taken with a white-light solar filter at about 40 and 100x magnification. I always add a little yellow, though the sun is white. And I applied unsharp masking in Photoshop to sharpen the details.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Venus Transit at Borrego Springs

On June 5, I observed and photographed the 2012 transit of Venus from Borrego Springs. Though the skies were clear, it was quite windy, so most of my photos were distorted. But of these, a few serve to tell the story of this rare siting.

This isn't first contact, but rather, first presentable photo nearest to first contact:

Below shows Venus taking a bite out of the sun:

The teardrop effect can be seen here. Though, I can't claim the effect is a genuine tear drop instead of distortion from the wind.

And another, almost teardrop effect:

A few minutes into the sun:

Here is a close-up of the anti-teardrop effect. A few of my photos at second contact (the point Venus appears fully in front of the sun's disk) showed a bulge of the sun where a teardrop shadow should be. Is it my viewing conditions or something else?

As the transit progressed, the clarity of my images got worse. As of today, I've examined only a third of the photos.

UPDATE: A few more photos added:
This one is my last clear image at this magnification:

As the sun got lower in the sky, I shortened the focal length to get a smaller image. The smaller image showed less of the atmospheric distortion:


Monday, May 21, 2012

Partial report on the partial eclipse

Here are a few photos I took of the partial solar eclipse yesterday. I hope to return to my photos and carefully select the best of the set.

Partial eclipse with sunspot.

 Dappled sunlight will create pinhole projections of the sun. Here you see the tree making pinhole projections of the eclipse.

Maximum coverage from my location.

Sunset with both the horizon and the moon taking a bite out of the sun.

And after a little processing and manipulation (rotating, brighten, sharpening and noise reduction), this one is my favorite:


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Volcanoes, CO2 and Temperatures

A friend has prompted me to post for reference a couple illustrations I've created for on estimates of emissions of CO2 by volcanoes. It is a common belief that volcanic activity produces more atmospheric CO2 that human activity, however, research shows that in the modern era, volcanoes haven't been active enough to account for the steady rise in CO2.

The first chart compares surface temperatures by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies with atmospheric CO2 and stratospheric optical thickness, which is used as a proxy for volcanic activity.

The second illustration summarizes the conclusion of Terry Gerlach of USGS publishing in the Transactions of the American Geophysical Union: Volcanic vs Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide, EOS, 14 June 2011).

In the above diagram, the area of the clouds correspond to the emissions of each source.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Another super-moon comes and goes

Last weekend was another super-moon, meaning the full moon phase occurred close to the point of the moon's perigee (closest point to Earth in the moon's monthly orbit). This happens almost every year where full moon occurs about a day from perigee, but during last week's super-moon, perigee and the full-moon phase were one minute apart. I enjoy the novelty, but the appearance of last week's super-moon is similar to any other super-moon, at least as examined with my photography.

These photos compare the super-moon to the moon one and two days away from perigee.
The apparent size difference above is due mostly to the change in phase. In the following image, I carefully traced the perimeters of each photograph with a circle.

Then I centered and top-aligned my circles:

The thicker line at the bottom shows the difference in size between this super moon occurring near perigee and other super-moons occurring a day or two from perigee. This difference is barely detectable with my method.
So, if you missed the May 5 super-moon, you didn't miss anything other than the novelty of the timing of full moon and perigee being 1 minute apart. 


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Heartland Institute's behavior vindicates Wildomar Elementary

The Heartland Institute has received a lot of attention for their anti-science positions regarding global warming and generous funding from a few major corporations. Even the journal Nature has discussed Heartland's activities and published an admission by Joe Bast of Heartland that the science is not on Heartland's side. Other bloggers (check out Openmind on my blog list) are sharing details of Heartland's recent billboard implying that activists like me have a lot in common with terrorists like Bin Laden and Ted Kaczynski.

Rather than retell this story, I wish to share a local variation. Four years ago a sixth grade class from Wildomar Elementary wrote "shame on you" letters to the Heartland Institute. The Heartland Institute, not otherwise engaged in valid research, found time to criticize the teacher and incite anger through a local paper's community forum. The forum article from Heartland, published in the Press Enterprise on 14 April 2008, is how I know of the sixth grade class's activities.

Maureen Martin of Heartland criticized the students for numerous errors on the science, which fair criticism; for example, quotes from the letters showed confusion between between greenhouse gases and other forms of air pollution. She went on to say the letters demonstrate brainwashing and ended with the statement "If my children attended this school, I would be outraged".

Rather than be outraged, I was impressed that 6th graders were aware that there are organizations who  manipulate public opinion using disinformation. I think Heartland's latest tactic, the billboard, vindicates the teacher, if there had been a need for vindication.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Glacier Status

One of my recent projects has been creating this graph depicting data collected by the World Glacier Monitoring Service. The graph shows the status of glaciers, whether they are increasing or decreasing in mass. The mass change is in millimeters and should be thought of analogous to sea level. E.g., a 1000 mm change means the average surface height of a glacier rose or fell by 1000 mm (or 1 meter). The actual data I used is from Table 3 on the WGMS preliminary mass balance page, last updated 28 March 2012. Note that you'll need to double click the graphic below and download it to see it in its proper size.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Most Mysterious Mushroom

All mushrooms look mysterious. It's their nature. This one is perhaps the 1st or second largest I've encountered. It shown next to my size 12 foot.

And a closeup:


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Star Party, Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, Saturday, 3/31, 7:00 pm

The Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve and the Temecula Valley Astronomers will host a star party for the general public. Children are welcome. A ½ hour slideshow on astronomy begins at 7:00 and will be presented regardless of weather. After the show, visitors can observe the heavens through the telescopes  of the Temecula Valley Astronomers. Highlights will be the moon, the planets Jupiter, Venus, and Mars, and various star clusters and nebula.

Below is a map to the Reserve's Visitor Center where telescopes will be set up from 7-9 pm. The public observing time is 7-9.
The Reserve must charge their standard day-use fee to the general public:
Ages 2-12: $2.00 per person
Ages 13 +: $3.00 per person


Monday, March 19, 2012

Some Contrast

A few photos from my recent stay in the desert provide some delightful contrast of extremes: snow and palms and rainbows:


Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, March 8, 2011

This is a holding place for photos of the recent conjunction of Venus, Jupiter, and sometimes Mercury. The two images at the top are at the same scale, but taken 5 days apart. Mercury as seen on 3/8 is blown up, since reducing the image for the web made it hard to see.