Winter on Lake Ontario

Solitary
Charlotte, Rochester, NY

It really looks like the far North for a short while here on America’s north coast. Since fresh water begins to freeze at 32º F, you can get what looks a lot like Arctic ice, as shown in the first photo of Charlotte pier at the mouth of the Genesee River.

People love to build along the water, so clearly evident with the large estate in the second photo.  Although the lake-level can be somewhat controlled via international agreement (see my earlier post  about Great Lakes flooding) this house is vulnerable to flooding, due to changing climatic conditions. Nevertheless, it looks like a pretty nice place to be in June through September.

Really Big House
Entrance to Braddock Bay Marina

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If you’re interested in photobooks about the natural environment and climate change, you can preview these at my bookstoreNunavik, Exploring Maine’s Coast, and Shrinking Bird Populations contain wonderful photos examining these topics, each in their respective settings.

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Winter’s Simplicity

You might recall from my post of March 12, 2017 that I returned to film using my old Yashica TL-electro 35 mm camera. It has been a slow process looking for good photo labs, being disappointed in their results and costs, then learning to develop my own film (originally with Mark Watts). The latter included loading the film developing reels in the dark and using film chemistry. At first, I was producing poorer quality negatives than the labs, many full of spots and chemistry blemishes (my negatives still are not perfect, but I am almost there.) I also had to relearn to use a manual camera effectively—no auto-advance, no autofocus, no zoom, no semi-auto exposure, no adjustable ISO or exposure meter. Yikes!

Therefore, with this camera in hand I recently shot some snowscapes this past February (some on a 15° F day). I take the social constructionist view that the photograph does not convey one objective impression; rather, each individual can see it differently (though there are some photos where the majority of people have the same impression, as with Alfred Eisenstaedt’s Winston Churchill. Of course, the then leaders of the Axis powers would not have had the same impression.

Having said this, I will give you my reason for shooting this particular subject along with my interpretation of these photographs. Photographically, winter displays form and texture–essences; it is a time

Silo

when nature converts to monochrome. Foliage is gone, most animals are gone or hibernating, and many plants are dormant. The natural environment, simplified, becomes a metaphor for reflection. For me, the reflection is on life. Although much of life dies with winter, it feeds the next cycle of spring growth. And it all begins with massive stars. All life forms are born of the physical elements originating in stars at least 8 to 15

T

times the solar mass of our sun. At the end of their relatively short lives (the larger the star the shorter its life) they cast the heavy elements they produced in their cores into the universe with supernova explosions. Stardust containing these elements eventually begin to coalesce around new or existing stars, creating planets, some of which are in the “Goldilocks zone” (i.e., not too hot, not too cold, thus providing for the possibility of liquid water) opening the potential for the evolution of life.

Among animals, adults teach their young, except in the case of humans, the young also build on the social, cultural, economic, and scientific ideas of past generations. Winter reminds me that, in these respects, we are no fundamentally different from any other animals (though we like to think so). Clearly, this view is partly shaped by my training as a social scientist and my readings in the natural sciences.

So how does all this play out for me in the following photographs? With Silo I see the “dormancy” of a winter farm. The farm animals mostly inside,

Loose Bark

the fields bereft of crops. However, it is not at all dormant. The farmer is planning the next season with equipment maintenance or replacement, placing orders for seeds and fertilizer, and applying for loans or federal agricultural grants. Unfortunately, recent seasons have seen heavier than average rainfall resulting in many lower lying fields flooded or made marshy during critical growing periods. I see this in ‘T‘ with the cattails in the middle of a several acre field. They do align in a somewhat pleasing T formation, however. Agricultural fields across the globe are under threat, due to climate change that results in precipitation, temperature, and insect variations; soil erosion and contamination from mining and fracking pose additional threats.

Loose Bark shows me a dead tree in Washington Grove within Rochester’s Cobbs Hill Park. During its life, it sheltered birds, mammals, insects,

Snowbound

mosses, and other life forms. It absorbed atmospheric carbon, gave off oxygen, and kept the ground beneath it cool in the summer. Eventually, high winds will knock it down where upon various fungi, worms, ants and termites will feed, decay it, leaving its remaining elements to be absorbed into the soil to one-day support new life. I see the culmination of this process in Snowbound where a baby tree grows in a picnic area at Hamlin Beach. It absorbs the nutrients from the soil of its plant, animal, and massive star predecessors, where perhaps one day a picnic table will be placed beneath it.

I would greatly appreciate receiving your interpretations, different as they might be.

“Climate change” added to my blog’s subtitle

We are truly entering Orwell’s age of doublespeak ( i.e., language used to deceive, usually through concealment or misrepresentation of truth). One such example is the Trump Administration’s  deletion of the term climate change from government websites (and funding agencies are suggesting that applicants do the same in their federal grant proposals), so it is up to the rest of us to keep this term in the public’s eye. Yes, the vast majority of us believe that climate change is occurring as we witness extreme weather events and fires in the west.

 

Allegheny Petroleum

Long before producing hydro-electric power, the Allegheny was one of our original producers of petroleum.  The Bradford oil field was founded in 1875. By  1881 it was the world leader in oil supply, producing over 90% of U. S. oil (26 million barrels per year); oil production

The first well

continues to this day (750,000 barrels per year, compared with 24 billion barrels worldwide). As I hiked along the North Country National Trail, I came upon an oil well. At first, I thought it was an abandoned relic until I noticed a modern electrical panel and motor. You could smell crude oil around the area. As I continued hiking I came across yet another, also with the smell of crude.

The second well

Today, a large refinery sits on Route 6 in Warren with large tankers coming and going. Given that the river wraps around two sides of the refinery, and busy Route 6 on the third side, the only vantage point for a photograph was at the west end. Unfortunately, with employees coming and going, and the security related to refineries, I felt pretty uncomfortable taking photos (I’ve previously been approached by security people photographing other facilities). The Kinzua Dam was an exception since it accommodated visitors and photos outside its gates.

Even if we had known early on how burning fossil fuels would change the planet, given that evolution has wired us to pursue short-term benefits for survival, and our transition to an industrialized economy enabling a higher standard of living for some, I suspect that we would have continued down this road, just as we have done over the past 40 years.

Our intelligence and our technology have given us the power to affect the climate. How will we use this power? Are we willing to tolerate ignorance and complacency in matters that affect the entire human family? Do we value short-term advantages above the welfare of the Earth? Or will we think on longer time scales, with concern for our children and our grandchildren, to understand and protect the complex life-support systems of our planet? The Earth is a tiny and fragile world. It needs to be cherished. (Carl Sagan, Cosmos, New York: Random House, 1980, p. 103)

I will show some photos of the flora I encountered along the North Country trail in my next post.

 

Trump As the “Destroyer of Worlds”

On reflection of the first detonation of an atomic bomb at New Mexico in 1945, the then head of the Los Alamos Lab, J. Robert Oppenheimer, remarked that this event brought a passage from Hindu scripture to mind, "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." Today, In an interview regarding North Korea, Trump remarked that if North Korea continues missile launches it will see fire and fury from the United States. Such rhetoric can only escalate a volatile situation putting people across national borders at risk.

As if this doesn't pose enough risk to humanity there is his failure to address climate change, in fact, promoting policies that will speed it up. A draft Federal climate change report made available by the Internet Archive and reported by the New York Times is awaiting approval by the Administration. The report presents detailed data showing that the average U.S. temperature has risen rapidly since 1980 and recent decades have been the warmest in the past 1500 years.

The most vulnerable and first to die as a result of climate change will be the poor in undeveloped nations. Eventually, all will suffer as global populations plummet.

This is not an issue of liberal versus conservative, it is an issue of the survival or non-survival of our children and subsequent generations.

Amerika First

A little while ago President Trump announced that the U.S. will be pulling out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. By so doing, we join Syria and Nicaragua as the only non-participating countries to this agreement. As the U.S. is the second largest global polluter, other countries might be discouraged from putting long-term considerations of climate ahead of short-term considerations of economic growth. Alternatively, China might take the lead and thus increase its global leadership over the course of this century. However, Trump’s decision might be offset by states such as New York and California, along with many cities that are implementing their own sustainable energy policies. Governor Jerry Brown of California has even stated that California will do all it can to encourage other states and businesses to go with renewable energy, something that is clearly underway (U.S. coal is in structural decline, due to its higher cost than competing energies and foreign competition).

So, although today’s decision may not have much effect on the future of climate change (scientists say it’s nearly too late to avoid catastrophic change), it reinforces the already sent signal that the U.S. is receding from the western alliance. As our global influence comes to rely more on our military might we risk becoming perceived more as a global threat. It also sends the signal that the U.S. cares more about protecting multinational corporations and the one percent that reap most of the former’s profits and less about future generations. The sixth extinction of species will likely accelerate.

In the meantime, it is more important than ever to photograph the changing landscape so future generations can better assess what we are doing.

Great Lakes Flooding

After a spring of unusually heavy rain throughout the Northeast, many lakes and streams have risen to flood level. This is particularly

Durand-Eastman Beach; Sept. 16, 2015

problematic along the southern shore of Lake Ontario when there is a strong North or Northeast wind. Although I could not get to the exact same position, due to flooding, the photos show Durand-Eastman Beach is essentially gone for most of this season. This flooding event is politically controversial because it pits U.S. Lake Ontario and Canadian Montreal residents, and conservationists against each other. As reported in Rochester’s City Newspaper, Lake Ontario’s level was 33.1 inches above its long-term average on May 17, according to the IJC. However, in Montreal Harbor the water was 55.5 inches above average, causing evacuations of several neighborhoods. Although wider opening of the Moses-Saunders Dam’s  floodgates would have lowered Lake Ontario a little faster, greater flooding would have resulted in the Montreal area.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and environmental scientists say that

Durand-Eastman Beach; May 27, 2017

heavy rain is the major contributor to flooding. However, U.S. Lake Ontario residents do not accept the scientific data. Instead, they claim flooding is the result of Plan 2014. Scientists project a $20 million loss under this plan, compared with $18 million under the previous Plan 1958DD. Therefore, if Plan 1958DD was still in effect, it would only reduce shoreline damages by 5%.

The primary reason for implementing Plan 2014 was to restore the lake shore habitat. The wetlands developed over centuries, through constant shifts in the lake’s water levels. However, in the late 1950s, U.S. and Canadian public power utilities built a large hydroelectric dam (the Moses-Saunders Dam) between Lake Ontario’s eastern outlet and the St. Lawrence River to minimize fluctuations in water level. The result is that Lake Ontario cattails have taken over vital coastal wetlands, leaving important species such as muskrat and northern pike without critical habitat.

The Nature Conservancy predicts that healthier wetlands will improve fishing, hunting, and other outdoor activities, along with greater economic returns. Healthier, diverse wetlands, especially healthy ones that are not overcrowded, filter nutrient pollutants – animal waste and all fertilizers – out of the water. Those pollutants encourage algae and bacteria growth in the waters near the Lake Ontario shore. Research indicates that healthier, more diverse wetlands could help reduce pollution, something that cattails are less effective at.

Even though property losses have dropped since the introduction of the dam, the IJC has to balance the need for environmental conservation with the needs of lake and river shore landowners. Unfortunately, landowners in each environmental area feel their property should be fully protected—an impossible task. When I discussed this with people I know, one said the shipping interests are the ones the governments are trying to protect, another said, you can’t believe what the government tells you. Although it is generally true that laws and regulations typically favor the moneyed interests, in this case the primary concern for governments is to balance the environment, commercial, and landowners’ needs based on what the current environmental science tells us about the shores of the Great Lakes. Ignoring this risks our grandchildren’s generation.

As I write this, the Trump Administration has not included monies for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Although it has been reported that his budget proposal is “dead on arrival”, it remains to be seen whether this initiative will continued to be funded at an adequate level.

Little Ice on the Lower Great Lakes

Lake Ontario coastline near Sodus, NY Bay
Lake Ontario coastline near Sodus, NY Bay, Feb 2017 (Courtesy: Robert DePuyt)

As we flew along the Lake Ontario shoreline near Sodus Bay, NY this past Friday, we got a quick shot of the shoreline using a mobile phone. As you can see there is no evidence of pack ice along the shore. Compare this with the second photograph showing the more typical ice pack, taken on January 2015 from Durand-Eastman Beach. It is only about thirty miles west of this location; you can see a dramatic difference.

Lake Ontario pack ice
Lake Ontario pack ice, Jan 2015

Year-to-year ice levels will almost always vary. However, the overall trend is for less Great Lakes ice. You can the view graphics showing change over the years, based on scientific data at NOAA’s website.

The Day After . . . in Rochester, NY

Cities across the country held rallies today in opposition to the incoming presidential administration. About 2,000 turned out in Washington Square img_4059Park with signs showing their concerns for social issues they see as threatened under Trump.

The underlying issue is the growing inequality across industrialized countries and the failure of governments to more evenly distribute the “shrinking pie”, due to labor-saving technologies, declining resources, and climate change.

You can see more photos of the day at my online gallery.

Please share your thoughts during this historical time.