Earth Day 2021

There was time when we believed that we were the center of the universe and that we should have dominion over the Earth. But then Copernicus came along who asserted that the Sun is indeed the center of our solar system, the Moon being the only body that revolved around the Earth. I’m sure you know that this resulted in a bit of an uproar. As for the dominion idea, our use of resources, over-hunting, and factory farming of animals have contributed to climate change and the current sixth extinction. Watch Marvin Gaye’s video, Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology), released in 1971.

The following two photos show a contrast between Greenland’s Tunu Glacier in 1933 and 2013. This melt-back is characteristic of ice all around the world, though melt-back varies widely, depending on location.

Source: The Greenland Ice Sheet – 80 years of climate change seen from the air. / Bjørk, Anders Anker; Kjær, Kurt H.; Larsen, Nicolaj Krog; Kjeldsen, Kristian Kjellerup; Khan, Shfaqat Abbas; Funder, Svend Visby; Korsgaard, Niels Jákup. 2014. Abstract from 44th International Arctic Workshop, Boulder, Colorado, United States.

It wasn’t so long ago that Carl Sagan and climate scientists started sounding the alarm that we were going down a dangerous path. Subsequent climate data has revealed that those early projections vastly underestimated what was happening, since we now know that climate change is not a linear but an exponential process. That is, it happens faster and faster over time.

Via Voyager 1

The now famous photograph of Earth as a pale blue dot was taken on February 14, 1990 by the deep space probe, Voyager 1, from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles). The more recent

Via Cassini

photograph was taken by the deep space probe, Cassini. Though more striking with Saturn in the foreground, it also shows how Earth is but a spec in the cosmos. As Sagan said in his book: Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. (Carl Sagan, The Pale Blue Dot, 1994)

People often say we have to save the Earth. Not so! The Earth will go on just fine without us. The issue is preserving the current biosphere that supports us and the other higher vertebrates. There will always be life on the planet so long as there’s liquid water. As I present every year, here is my fictionalized account of our worst scenario. Let’s do better!

Popham Beach State Park

I am still experimenting with video settings, so my videos are not yet of the best quality. I also have to release even more friction on my tripod head since there are still some places where the head catches, as seen with the jumpy areas as I pan the camera. You do, however, get a sense of the general beach environment (with commentary), if you click on the following link: Popham Beach 360 Video

This park is far more photogenic than Reid State Park. The beach is S-shaped and about a couple of miles long. It also has some rocky Islands close-in that provide some interesting backdrops. As with Reid Beach last week, there were just enough people walking about, adding interest to some of my shots.

I used my tripod to stabilize the camera for all my shots. I also stopped my aperture down to f/32 in order to use slower shutter speeds to somewhat blur the waters. However, this resulted in a slight softening of the overall images, except for the two driftwood photos where I used f/8.

I plan to return to another area of the beach later this week.

Going to the Beach

With this, and some future posts, I’m experimenting with short videos. Videography differs from photography in that it requires different skills and equipment. For example, whereas photography emphasizes seizing the best moment for subject, angle, and lighting; videography requires seeing over a span of time. Engaging cinemaphotography/videography (such as we see in movie production and PBS’s Nature series) requires far more lighting equipment, expensive video cameras, views from multiple angles (sometimes aloft with drones ), multiple takes, and camera rails for smooth camera movements, etcetera. All this edited and spliced together into the final product. Did I mention expensive? Well, I have none of these. I do, however, have a good still camera that can shoot video, and a tripod. So, you can let me know if these videos add anything engaging.

Sandy beach at Reid State Park, Maine

Although I have been out with the camera a few times this past winter, cold and the pandemic have limited my forays. Now that temperatures have moved into the warmish 40s, my fingers suffer far less. So, this past week-end I went to Reid State Park to see what I could find. I also brought my 35mm camera loaded with B&W film. The temperature was about 45o F and windy. I arrived shortly after 9:00, by noon the parking lot was about half full.

I thought all the sandy beaches were further south, but this park combined both sand and rock. Plate tectonics and erosion work in marvelous ways, giving us a planet with great scenes.

What interesting pics might you have from around Maine?

Stuck In the Suez: A Normal Accident

Normal you say? What’s so normal about this? It’s never happened before. It all harks back to Charles Perrow’s Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies. A normal (system) accident involves complexity and tight coupling that sometimes results from unforeseen system interactions. In this case, a relatively narrow canal accommodating heavy traffic and a ship about a thousand feet long weighing 200,000 tons likely aided with modern, computerized, navigational equipment in a high-wind environment. Taken together, these create a highly complex system.

Tight coupling means that if any one thing goes wrong within that system the result is a catastrophic failure. This is illustrated with the loss of the S.S. Transhuron in the Arabian Sea in 1974:

When the Transhuron was reconditioned, air conditioning was installed. It was put on a level that was directly under the propulsion switchboard. This occasioned no comment from the Coast Guard inspector [who could not have foreseen a catastrophe], because while piping should not be “in the vicinity” of the switchboard, this piping was separated by a steel floor from the switchboard, and ran to a nearby condenser.

After installation, engineers found that they needed a by-pass valve installed so that they could use the cold water system when the cooling pump needed repair. An iron nipple was installed on the bronze condenser head to hold a gauge, and the dissimilarity in metals slowly created corrosion [this is a long-known problem to avoid]. Unfortunately, when the unit was cleaned a few years later, this obscure addition was neglected. At sea, it failed and sprayed water into the propulsion switchboard 6 feet above it through an opening in the deck through which cables from the switchboard passed, and that shorted the switchboard out. Since the system had, at this point, 2,300 volts and 1,000 amperes, it was a big short, and it started a large fire. The crew failed to disengage another system on the panel, and that system also failed. (Perrow, pp. 224-225)

After some failed efforts the fire was extinguished. However, as a result of a poorly designed land-based marine radio communication system and miscommunication with the ship’s home office in New York, the ship languished in rough seas for several days and suffered structural damage as a result (the ship was lost, though everyone was rescued). All this was the result of a series of cascading events in a tightly coupled system, any one of which would  not be  catastrophic.

Returning to the Ever-Given, stuck as of this writing in the Suez Canal, let’s consider the high winds reported at the time of the accident. Okay, so now I’m going out on a limb and speculate

© Provided by Live Science An Airbus-built Pleiades Earth-observation satellite captured this view of the Ever Given container ship stuck in the Suez Canal on March 25, 2021.

what might have caused the ship to pivot, run aground, and block the canal. If the ship was battling a cross-wind then it would have had to turn slightly into the wind and/or reduce power to its upwind propeller and maintain or increase power to its downwind propeller to prevent the ship from drifting downwind. The stronger the crosswind, the greater these corrections would have to be. But what if the wind suddenly shifted more to the ship’s upwind rear flank or dropped off? This could have caused the ship to pivot, sending the ship towards the upwind side. While captains and helmsmen are certainly aware of handling ships in high wind conditions, that this type of accident has never happened within the canal would probably have been seen as highly unlikely.

Could these winds have been higher than previously experienced outside of storm conditions? If so, would these winds have been the result of climate change? In this case, we can’t know. But it might portend a new threat in the age of climate change. An analysis of this accident will reveal the likely cause(s) sometime in the future. We’ll have to wait and see.





China ’95

My late wife traveled to China with some of her family in 1995. China was then in its second decade of rapid industrialization. Coal was the predominate source of electrical power, as evidence by the smog seen in these photos. China was and is the largest consumer of coal. Although it is now making great strides towards renewables, coal is still burned in vast quantities.

You can see Susan’s tourist photos at my on-line gallery. If you have any comments about your travels to China, do send them to me.

Low Tide At Higgins Beach

It’s the first day of March, overcast, and 35oF in Southern Maine. What better to do than to go surfing. Well, for some of us older folks the better thing was doing a vigorous walk up and down the beach. However, the parking lot was loaded with young people running around barefoot in wet suits to use the facilities before venturing out. One of us asked the silly question, Aren’t you guys cold?

We stopped at this beach last summer and early fall on group cycling rides when the beach was loaded with sunbathers–there were no surfers. So, I’m thinking surfing is only permitted during the colder months so swimmers don’t get hit by surfboards. This beach (much less parking space) is not long enough to accommodate a separate surfing area.

These young people are getting exercise and they are doing an activity that doesn’t pollute or emit greenhouse gases. A pretty good combination.

Let’s go surfing now, everyone’s learning how . . . .

The Window for Action to Safeguard Our Planet Is Closing Fast

According to the latest UN Climate Press Release, the world is way behind in meeting the climate emergency. 2021 is a make or break year  . . . . The science is clear, to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C, we must cut global emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels.  Today’s interim report . . . . shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. You can see a video summary here.

As I have discussed earlier, climate change will lead to micro-industrialization as the result of the loss of habitable and arable lands. These will contribute to greater mass migrations, famine, illness, and political conflict. Along with population growth and the eventual decline of natural resources, they will foster the sixth extinction and a drastic decline in human population, starting as early as 2070.

You can find the latest, in-depth climate data at the IPCC.

#ItsPossible #FaceTheClimateEmergency

Pilots of the Caribbean

Originally published January 15, 2021

Update: PBS aired “When Disaster Strikes” about climate change and the impact of Hurricane Dorian on the Bahamas in 2019.

In February 2014 my pilot friend, Jerry, suggested I meet him in Florida for a flight to the Bahamas to do some volunteer work with Bahamas Habitat to help restore local housing damaged by Category 3 Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Bahamas Habitat organizes several of these flights each year to aid housing restorations. Hurricanes are becoming more frequent in the Bahamas, due to climate change.*

Dubbed the “Pilots of the Caribbean” (got that Johnny Depp?), many of us flew to Eleuthera for this four-day project. Getting there was a long, tight turn-around day. I caught a morning

Southwest flight out of Rochester, NY (KROC), with a stop in Charlotte, NC. From there it was on to Orlando International (KMCO) where I took a 45-minute taxi ride to Orlando Executive Airport (KOEA). I was late but caught the tail-end of lunch. There, I met everyone where we received a flight briefing before going to our planes. Jerry had pre-flighted our plane, a state-of-the-art Cessna 182 with a 230 HP engine, a Garmin 1000 glass panel, and air conditioning! The afternoon was wearing on and we had to be at Eleuthera before 5 PM to meet Customs (and to arrive before dark as Eleuthera’s airport is not lighted).

This would be the most challenging flight I had ever flown (I flew the right seat). Fuel planning was critical since we were going well out to sea with few alternative airports. I wouldn’t have agreed to do this if it were not for the fact that Jerry had extensive experience flying in the Bahamas and elsewhere in the Caribbean (even airline captains are not allowed to command a scheduled flight to an airport they haven’t previously flown to).

You can see our approximate route, shown on the map. Departing KOEA, we flew down the coast toward Ft. Lauderdale, before turning east. From there we stayed as close as possible to the

The return trip was via Ft. Lauderdale, due to customs.

Bahamian atoll in case of engine problems. Still, we were beyond gliding distance from land for much of the three-hour flight (I could never imagine Lindbergh flying nearly 3,000 miles across the Atlantic with a then less reliable engine). It was after 5:00 PM when we landed. Customs said we would have to pay an extra $50 (which we thought was not official but they had us over a barrel).

Having cleared Customs we got on Habitat’s bus and they drove us to our accommodations (with a plethora of noseeums biting our exposed legs) where we had dinner and later turned in for the night. The next day we were taken to our respective assignments after breakfast to work with our supervisors. Unfortunately, we got very little done the first day, since there was little coordination with some homeowners. In one case we learned that the owner was still sleeping and not likely to be up until noon. The next three days went much smoother.

We had great lunch breaks on the beaches, particularly on the last day. Unbeknownst to us, the Bahamas are awash in plastics from tourism and ocean currents. You can see the efforts underway to address this problem in the Bahamas, here. You can also see and hear Marvin Gaye’s music video, Mercy, Mercy, Me (sung 50 years ago) about the growing problem of environmental degradation from pollution.

At the end of our tour of

duty, they drove us back to the airport to pre-flight our planes for the return to the mainland. Since we did not have enough fuel for the return trip (there was no fuel facility at Eleuthera) Jerry had planned we fly to the Leonard Thompson International Airport on Great Abaco Island to refuel, returning to Florida the next day. This island was

Hope Town, Bahamas

a tourist destination with wonderful accommodations and attractions. We took a limo from the airport to catch a ferry to our hotel on Hope Town. The driver gave us  his calling card for the return trip. After checking into our hotel we walked about the area before going to a restaurant for dinner. You can see an evening view of the harbor  from our restaurant table in the left-hand photo.

Back at the airport the next morning we each tried to file our flight plan electronically, to no avail. So we tried it the old-fashioned way with the telephone. Bahamas Flight Service (BFSS) said that they could not accept our flight plan for reasons that I didn’t understand and can no longer remember. We could still depart under visual flight rules but we could not approach the U.S. mainland because of the air defense identification zone (ADIZ) and expected instrument conditions.

Jerry took this all more calmly than I did, saying that the BFSS seems to operate a bit differently than its U.S. counterpart. Okay, as a sociologist I embrace social and cultural differences; however, as a pilot (neither of us had planned a longer stay) I like things being done according to established flight regulations. Although many of us complain about the FAA, without the bureaucratic regulations (which don’t always make sense under current circumstances), safety would suffer. Without that clearance, we could not fly back to the U.S., even with clear weather, lest we be met by military interceptors and forced to land where we would be met by law enforcement, which would be less than desirable.

With all this in mind, Jerry said we should depart and attempt our clearance in the air. Then, if we could not file our clearance with BFSS, we could likely get a “pop-up” clearance via Miami Approach. Failing this, our out would be to return to Great Abaco Island and sleep in the pilots’ lounge, if necessary.

Once airborne we contacted BFSS who instructed us to contact Miami Approach. The Miami frequency was busy so we had to wait several minutes for a break in the calls before making our request (not good circumstances for requesting a pop-up clearance). Meanwhile, we could see the cloud bank about thirty miles ahead, not to mention the beginning of the ADIZ on our GPS. We finally got through to Miami and requested an instrument clearance to Ft. Lauderdale (where we would go through Customs). Miami told us to standby (most instrument clearances have to be entered into the national flow-control system, sometimes coming back amended). The clearance didn’t come a moment too soon, as we were approaching the clouds.

After landing at Ft. Lauderdale and clearing customs we went back to the plane and headed north to KOEA where we got a taxi to our hotel at KMCO. Did I mention that our legs were bitten by noseeums and that we were experiencing severe itching? We asked our driver to stop at a pharmacy along the way where we asked the pharmacist to give us the strongest OTC meds possible for bug bites. We got pills, cream, and spray—they helped!

The next day I was on a Southwest flight back to KROC, my friend staying at his rental for the time being. All in all, it was a pretty good trip—doing a little good and having a wonderful time, overall.

*— 1932: The Great Abaco Hurricane, Category 5, struck the Bahamas at peak intensity. More than a dozen people were reportedly killed and hundreds injured.

— 1965: Hurricane Betsy, Category 4, caused an estimated $14 million in damage across the Bahamas, primarily to crops.

— 1992: Hurricane Andrew, Category 5, made landfall on Eleuthera at that strength but weakened to Category 4 while traversing the archipelago. It destroyed hundreds of houses in the Bahamas and reportedly left four dead.

— 1999: Hurricane Floyd peaked at Category 4 and caused extensive material damages.

— 2004: Hurricane Frances, Category 4, knocked out power, damaged homes in the Bahamas.

— 2005: Hurricane Katrina later became a Category 5 storm but earlier traversed the Bahamas as a tropical storm causing minimal damage

— 2005: Hurricane Wilma, Category 5, passed by the Bahamas, producing hurricane-force winds and a powerful storm surge, leading authorities to order evacuations.

— 2011: Hurricane Irene, Category 3, made four landfalls in the Bahamas, causing widespread material damages but no reports of fatalities.

— 2012: Hurricane Sandy, which peaked at Category 3, passed over the Bahamas before reaching the United States.

— 2015: Hurricane Joaquin, Category 4, meandered over the southern Bahamas, battering its islands for over two days. Joaquin caused extensive devastation and its storm surge trapped hundreds in their homes. Offshore, the American cargo ship El Faro and her 33 members were lost to the hurricane.

— 2016: Hurricane Matthews, Category 5, caused massive destruction in Haiti and damaged several islands in the Bahamas.

— 2017: Hurricane Irma, Category 5, passed over Inagua and South Acklins islands where it downed power lines, knocked out communications and damaged homes.

— 2019: Hurricane Dorian, Category 5, damaged 13,000 homes and caused 20 deaths.