Thoughts on the ocean, the environment, the universe and everything from nearly a mile high.

Panorama of The Grand Tetons From the top of Table Mountain, Wyoming © Alan Holyoak, 2011

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

10 for 10 - Arctic Sea Ice Melt Trend Continues

Every year in October the National Snow and Ice Data Center ( releases a report on the minimum sea ice extent for the current year.  This year the NSIDC announced that the minimum summer sea ice extent for 2014 was 5.02 million square kilometers.  OK, so what?

NASA satellites started monitoring sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean back in 1979.  Satellite data are downloaded each day and sent sent to the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, for analysis.  Thirty-five years of these data are now painting a sobering picture.  Though there is a significant amount of year-to-year variability among the data, a strong trend is emerging.
Average Monthly Sea Ice Extent September 1979-2014.  
Data courtesy of

The data show that there is significantly less sea ice in the Arctic now than there was only a few decades ago.  The upper end of the trend line tops out around 7.9 million square kilometers of sea ice, and the bottom end of the line reached about 4.9 million square kilometers of sea ice.  The difference?  About 3 million square kilometers of sea ice gone missing.  How much is that?  That's about the same surface area as India, the 7th largest country in the world.

NSIDC also reports that we are currently losing on average 13.3% of sea ice cover per decade and that the ten Septembers with the lowest extents happened in the last ten years!  

Bottom line?  We are progressively losing more sea ice in the Arctic.  

10 for 10?  The last ten years, the ten lowest sea ice extents, and sadly at this rate it's not likely to get better before it gets even worse.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ACL operation update #4

OK, I'm now 5 weeks post-op.  I had a therapy session this morning and my first post-op follow-up visit with my doctor since I went in and got my Baker's Cyst drained (which happened only once).

There are two pieces of fantastic news to report.  First, I am done with formal physical therapy sessions, so I'm on my own from now on to continue exercising, etc.  The second piece of good news is that I no longer have to wear a knee brace for day-to-day activities.

My doctor was pleased and surprised at how well recovery is going.  He says that I'm a number of months ahead of schedule for range of motion and leg strength...maybe those years of running really are paying off!

There is a down side to this doctor said that the risk of a rapid recovery like this is that there is sometimes a tendency for someone to push their recovering knee too hard too early.  I assured him that I was more than willing to take it easy, i.e., be lazy.  Oh, I don't mean lazy, I mean not doing things I shouldn't do before I get the go ahead to do them.

If you are recovering from this kind of surgery, remember that recovery includes three things: 1) recovery of range of motion; 2) recovery of leg strength and balance; and 3) biological healing and vascularization of the grafted new ACL.  It will take at least 3 months post-op before I will be given the go-ahead to start jogging, etc.  So in the meantime I'll take it easy and give my reconstructed ACL graft a chance to fully attach.

No more brace, no more physical therapy sessions...just exercise on my own.  Woot, woot, woot!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Quick Arctic Update - 15 Sept 2014

We are near the traditional end of the Arctic sea ice melt season, so I thought I'd check in and post a quick update.  Two years ago, 2012 set the the all-time recorded sea ice melt record (so far) with a minimum sea ice extent over 3 million square kilometers below the 1981-2010 average.  By comparison the 2014 Arctic sea ice melt season looks fairly tame, but don't be fooled, the current sea ice extend is creeping up on 1.5 million square kilometers below the long-term average, and it's still declining.  

This year's minimum sea ice extend will almost certainly not reach the record set in 2012, but it was a significant melt all the same.  This melt qualifies 2014 to be the 6th largest Arctic sea ice melt year on record, exceeded only by 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2012.  The other years, 2009 and 2013 were just shy of this year's mark.  This also means that the eight years with the greatest Arctic se ice melt were the past 8 years.  It looks like a trend is forming....the bottom line, the sea ice melt is becoming more extensive as time goes on. 

(Graphs courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Univ of Colorado at Boulder,

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

ACL reconstruction operation Update #3 (9/9/2014)

I'm celebrating my operation two-week anniversary today.  The stitches are out and I've had 1.5 weeks of physical therapy.  If you recall from my previous posting I had a Baker's (a.k.a. popliteal) Cyst on the back of my knee that was causing some problems so the doctor was able to drain it.  Fast forward to this morning, well, yesterday morning.

BTW, the image below shows a Baker's Cyst located about where mine is.  It's about the size of a medium egg when it's full.  It is filled with excess fluid from the knee that is produced by irritated tissues there.

I knew that the cyst was slowly refilling after it was drained a week ago, and while I was at physical therapy (PT) yesterday morning I pushed my knee hard working to increase my range of motion.  I accomplished that (150 degrees - mission accomplished) but also forced additional fluid back into the cyst.  Pain was present but bearable and mainly irritating so I got an appt. to have it drained again.  

This morning the doctor and I discussed the condition and he recommended that we not continue on a path where the cyst is drained over and over because of the (small) chance of infection.  He says that once the knee settles down and recovery is complete that the cyst will take care of itself.  So instead of draining it again he recommended that I increase my use of anti-inflammatories (e.g., ibuprofen) and continue to ice it after activity and/or in the evenings.  So pills and ice it is.

The good news is that I can now go up and down stairs with minimal pain and only a modicum of pressure and stretching in the knee.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not ready for the racquetball court or anything, but it's coming along.  

Modern medicine is awesome!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

ACL reconstruction operation Update #2 (9/4/2014)

When you left off with my last riveting post I was having trouble with a swollen Baker's Cyst.

I went back to the orthopedic doctor's office this afternoon for a scheduled visit to have my stitches removed, plus I wanted to see could be done about the Baker's Cyst.

If this is you, be advised that the small stitches around the knee cap are a snap, but when they say that it will hurt when they need to remove the stitches along the long incision along the front of the knee below the knee cap, well, they aren't lying. But buck up, if I can do it so can you.

After saying sayonara to the stitches our attention turned to that darned Baker's Cyst.  The doc said he could drain it, and I replied, "That would be awesome!"  So a quick alcohol swab, a shot of that icy cold stuff that numbs the skin, a large needle and syringe later he'd pulled 30cc of fluid out of that cyst.  Yes!  The pressure and pain were largely gone.  Of course a cyst of this type could refill, but I'm hopeful that it won't for at least a little while.

I also had a couple of other updates: 1) I am supposed to wear my knee brace most of the time for the next 6 weeks or so; 2) I am also supposed to use a crutch for that long as well.  Oh well, it's all part of the price of beauty, er, running again.

And this means that I'll be back in physical therapy again tomorrow.  With any luck my next visit to the orthopedic surgeon's office will be in a month.

Cheers everyone!

ACL reconstruction operation Update #1 (8/26 - 9/4/2014)

OK, a little background.  I'm an active person in my mid 50s and I've been blessed with good health all my life.  My right knee gave out on me in late April 2013 while playing basketball with my son and nephew.  I started to make a cut to my left and my knee kept on going to the right.  I crumpled in a heap on the court but was able to limp off.  My knee remained sore but I just didn't have the time then to do anything about it. I got it checked out about a month later and I learned that I had a cartilage tear and possible ACL failure.  

This image shows the anatomy of the knee.  

In my particular case, I had a torn meniscus (the cartilage that serves as a pad between the femur and the tibia and fibula) and the ACL (the anterior cruciate ligament, the one that attaches the center of the base of the femur to the head of the tibia) pulled loose from its attachment, i.e., my ACL was blown out.  The loss of an ACL means that the knee loses lateral stability.  

I had one other knee-related thing going on as well.  During the 16 months between my injury and operation I also developed a Baker's Cyst behind my right knee.  It never caused pain or inconvenience.  This kind of cyst is formed commonly when there is a meniscus tear and the irritated knee produces excess fluid.  This fluid leaks out of the knee and pools in the soft tissue behind the knee.

We did an MRI to get a better view of what we were looking at, and luckily my meniscus tear was minor...occasionally painful but minor.  All it needed was a trim.  The ACL, however, needed to be reconstructed.

My operation took place on 8/26/14, nine days ago.  I was in the operating room only 1.5 hours (BTW, generally speaking the shorter a knee operation is the better for recovery because you have to have a tourniquet while the operation takes place).  Man was I groggy coming out of anesthesia - then again, who's not?  

I saw my doctor the next day and he removed the drain from my knee.  He was amazed to see that I could easily lift my leg and had close to complete lower leg extension.  Pain was not a major issue for me, perhaps a function of short operation time?  I have been able to handle the entire event using only ibuprofin for pain and swelling and baby aspirin (to minimized the already low risk of blood clotting).

Two days after the operation was my first day of physical therapy (PT).  I guess that loss of muscle tone is common during surgery, but I lucked out and still had much of mine.  By the end of my first day of PT (leg lifts, side lifts, electrical muscle stimulation, etc., the therapist said I was probably about a week ahead of normal recovery schedule.  The therapist gave me a set of exercises to do at home, which I did faithfully.

There are really two major goals of ACL PT - recovery of range of motion and recovery of leg strength.

At the end of my second PT session, now three days after surgery I was able to achieve a 120 degree range of motion.  The PT goal of ACL recovery is to achieve a 145 degree range of motion.  The therapist just shook his head when he saw 120 in three days and said I was a month ahead of schedule.  Woot!

I continued to do my exercises over the weekend and I returned to PT the following Tuesday.  During the weekend I noticed that the back of my knee was getting swollen and sore.  My Baker's Cyst was acting up and swelling.  The therapist didn't seem concerned about it and I proceeded with my session.  My Tuesday night (a week after surgery) I was hardly able to put weight on that leg due to pain and pressure from the Baker's Cyst that had swollen to literally the size of a medium sized egg or golf ball.  

The pain was so intense that I contacted my doctor's office and I was advised to hold off on PT sessions and exercise until I could have my knee checked out.  That's the plan for this afternoon (9/4/2104).

So that's update #1.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Rexburg Idaho Flood of July 15 2014 - What happened!?

During the late afternoon of Tuesday July 15, 2014, scattered showers accompanied by hail started to fall in Rexburg, Idaho.  It wasn't long before the showers became a full-blown thunderstorm of Midwestern or Great Plains proportions!

It is unusual for rain showers in this part of the state, even heavy ones by local standards to last more than 5-10 minutes before prevailing winds push them farther up the Snake River Plain.  This time, however, the storm which was extremely localized and extremely heavy stalled out right above the city of Rexburg for about 40 minutes.

Weather radar (see below) showed that the storm was located directly above Rexburg, and areas just a few miles north and south of the city received no measurable precipitation.  Official reports from an automated weather station at the Rexburg Municipal Airport reported a total of 1.14" of precipitation, but unofficial reports from higher elevations at the south end of town suggest that over 2" of rain probably fell during the storm.

The downpour produced flash floods through the city and immersed low-lying intersections and residential areas.  The massive amount of water that fell also produced back pressure in city storm drains and sewer lines that caused water to gush upward through drains and toilets into buildings and homes.

This was by all accounts a once-in-a-generation weather event for the city.  I moved here in 2002 and in all that time we never had a downpour like this one.  Life-long residents say that you have to go back over 30 years before you would come across a comparable rainstorm.

Click on this link to see images of the aftermath:

You might be thinking, "Come on, one or two inches of rain doesn't sound like all that much," especially to people who live in areas where this kind of storm is relatively routine.  So why all the flooding?  What happened!?

Here are a few basic facts:
  1. Rexburg is located in eastern Idaho, an area that typically receives only about 15" of rain annually.
  2. Most of Rexburg is built on level ground at an elevation of 4850', while the SE quarter of town is built on a gradual rise topping out at 5150'.
  3. Because Rexburg is built in a semiarid area, it is not engineered to accommodate large amounts of rain runoff from a storm like this one.  It is, however, designed to accommodate significant amounts of water from snow melt runoff in the spring that are released more gradually.  Ironically, the city was in the middle of installing an upgraded storm drainage system in the SE corner town designed to reduce surface runoff when the storm hit.
  4. A significant amount of new residential building in Rexburg has occurred at the higher elevations, thus greatly increasing the proportion of area covered by roads, driveways, sidewalks, parking lots, etc., and reducing the amount of green space that is good at soaking up precipitation.  
OK, back to what happened...why the flooding?

This is a topographical map of Rexburg, Idaho (click on the map for a larger view):

The arrows on the map below show two of the tracks where water flooded most severely - remember, surface water run-off is mostly going to follow roads in a situation like this (click on the map for a larger view):

If you look at the topographical map below, the bottom-right corner has the highest elevation, and the hill slopes off to the NW.  OK, find the circular water tank located just south of the center of the photograph.  The four houses on the south side of the road, just east of that water tank, were among the most heavily damaged in the city.   Why?  (Click on the map for a larger view.)

I admit that I'm no hydrographer, but I watched this storm develop and watched the water flow from my house, which is just around the corner from those houses.  

This is probably what happened, at least in this localized area.

First of all, the storm was extremely intense, dropping a significant amount of water in a very short time - more than this area hardly ever sees in a single storm.  If you follow the topographic map's contour lines you will see that they run generally from the SW to the NE corners of the map.  Unless otherwise constrained, surface runoff water will flow downhill perpendicular to those lines.  

Rain that fell on the upper part of town quickly filled the storm drains so lots of the water moved as surface runoff.  Look at the housing development just north of the "5150" contour line marker.  This housing area slopes downward to the NW, and all roads in in converge at a low spot where the road seems to bulge upward toward the NW.  There is a walking path easement there that passes between that housing area and a neighboring apartment complex.  Water from the housing development was forced through the narrow opening along that path between neighboring houses and joined water that fell on the apartment complex's lot.  I walked that area again last night and saw that grass there was literally abraded down to nearly nothing by flowing water, sand, gravel, etc., as the water swept through in sheets across the parking lot.  The vulnerable houses were located directly in at the path of this flooding water.  Water flooded down into these houses' back yards, into basement window wells, broke those windows inward, and flooded the basements all the way to the ceiling before also breaking out basement windows on the sides and front of the house.

Of course this water was not done moving was subsequently channeled largely along streets and roadways in the northerly and westerly directions.  The next thing all this water hit was the BYUI-Idaho campus where water gushed along sidewalks and walkways, streets, into quads, and even through some buildings.  This closed campus for the rest of that evening, but it reopened the next day.

Water continued to flow downhill to the lower part of town, flooding out virtually all of Main Street and many low-lying areas and intersections as water from the hill joined water that fell over the rest of town.

In the meantime, a second area hit with intense flooding was the "Hidden Valley" housing development.  This development is indicated by the blue arrow along the right side of the image above.  There's a reason it's called "Hidden Valley"'s built up into the mouth of a valley.  That valley exists because water from fields above drains through there.  Of course this area was hard hit because water from the entire area above that development was channeled right down through the middle of the valley!  A friend who lives there has a home that backs onto a shallow drainage depression designed to channel moderate amounts of water away from homes there.  He said that by the end of the storm that the depression had been eroded into a gully seven feet deep! I heard secondhand reports that many families were displaced from their homes in that development.

Then while all of this was going on many of the student apartments around town also suffered significant flooding.  This stems largely from the fact that for whatever reason, it's been a tradition to build the first floor of student apartments so that their first floors are partially below grade.  This way walkways along these apartments put a person about 3-4' below grade (the level of the ground).  I saw MANY photographs posted showing flooding to the doorknob-level in these apartments.

Suffice it to say that this was a mess.

Interestingly, the overall attitude associated with this flood appeared to be a mixture of partying, fun, horror, and depression, depending on how you were affected.

As soon as it became clear just how bad things were in some areas and for some people, however, the community really pitched in to start to clean up.  The community response to this flood has been an inspiration to me.  As soon as the rain was gone and the floodwaters were passed, people were out all over town checking on one another to make sure everyone was all right and to see if there was any damage and pitching in to help.    

Sadly, people in this area do not have flood insurance.  Sure, if a pipe breaks and you get flooding or water damage that way in your home then homeowners insurance will cover it, but that kind of insurance will not cover things like this freak storm/flooding, since it falls under the category of "Acts of God" for which insurance companies are not accountable. 

There you have it...what happened during the Rexburg storm and flood of July 15, 2014. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Holy Cow! Look at that decline in Arctic sea ice!

I haven't posted anything about much here lately, though there has been a lot going on.  For example the launch of the Carbon Observatory Satellite (, but I just had to place a short post when I checked the Arctic sea ice extent today at the site.

The graph below shows the relationship between the current sea ice extent (blue line) and the extent in 2012 (green dashed line), the year that generated the smallest sea ice extent so far, and the long-term average sea ice extent (dark gray line).  The rate of sea ice melt through mid-June 2014 wasn't really much out of the ordinary, just 500,000 km2 below the long term average (just!?), but over the past couple of weeks the sea ice extent has plummeted!  It's now about 1.2 million km2 below the average extent for this time of year.  


If this sea ice melt rate keeps up we could see another record low extent or close to it.  And yet another indicator from the high Arctic that the effects of climate change are not going to be going away anytime soon.

This is also the second month running where the atmospheric carbon dioxide level did not dip below 400 ppm, the second month it's ever been this high in human least for the last several hundred thousand years.

Hang on, it could get interesting and exciting to see just how far things will go before there is general acceptance and outcry that something be done, at least in the USA.

Think green!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Politically disenfranchised in Idaho

Yesterday was the 2014 primary election.  For Madison County and Rexburg City, Idaho, this means that this was THE election that matters.  Now that the primaries are done the election in November is, for us, largely a formality where GOP candidates proceed to steamroll over the opposition, if any, in a tidal wave of "red" voting.  I'll get back to this later.

Idaho is politically inconsequential to most people in the United States.  Its population is so small and its political leaning is so overwhelmingly red that even Presidential hopefuls generally don't bother stopping by during their election years.  Republicans skip a visit to Idaho because they know they have the state all sewn up, and Democrats skip it because, well, it's largely a lost cause to them.

This brings us to yesterday's election and I'll use one race as the focal point of this posting:

Ron Nate vs. Doug Hancey (incumbent) for the State House of Representatives seat for Idaho District 34A.

Doug Hancey is a member of the GOP and a business man who knows what it takes to run a business, work with employees, etc., and who has a proven track record of working with house members on both sides of the aisle to get things done in the Idaho State Legislature.

Ron Nate is a also GOP, but with a stronger Tea Party flavor, who sells himself primarily as "the more conservative choice."  He is a professor of economics, and though he has been active in local political organizations he had never been elected to office.

During yesterday's primary election, as of midnight last night, Ron Nate earned 2710 votes to 2190 for Doug Hancey.  A story in today's Idaho Falls Post Register newspaper Doug Hancey said that he was disappointed, but that he was most likely hurt by low voter turn out.  Local reports also commented that voter turnout was low, and that they are at a loss about why this was so.

Why a low voter turnout?  This is no mystery.  A few years ago the Idaho state GOP voted to close all GOP primary elections.  Only registered GOP members are therefore allowed to vote in GOP primary races in Idaho.

I started thinking about this and I did some research.  District 34 includes Madison County and the northern rural part of Bonneville County, which does not include the cities of Idaho Falls or Ammon.  Rexburg is therefore the largest population center in this district.

According to the web site (, in 2010 Rexburg had a population of 25,484 with 20,289 over the age of 18 and therefore at least potentially eligible to vote.  Again, according to this is the breakdown of registered GOP and Dem voters in Rexburg in 2010:
  • Republican 4, 944 
  • Democrat 208
These numbers indicated that though this district votes overwhelmingly for GOP candidates, only about one quarter of eligible voters are registered as either Rep or Dem.

If we look at the voter turnout for the Nate v. Hancey GOP contest, we see 2,710 to 2,190 votes for a total of 4900 votes cast.  Is this a low turnout?  It appears to be when you compare this number to the total number of potentially eligible voters in the district (>20,000 of them), but it is probably an extremely high voter turnout when you consider the number of people would were ALLOWED to vote in yesterday's GOP primaries.  From the data above we know that about 1/4 of eligible voters in Rexburg are registered Republicans.  If we accept the assumption that about the same proportion of voters in the entire district are similarly registered we would probably see 6,000 to 7,500 registered GOP voters.  When we compare the number of votes cast in the Nate v. Hancey race to this number, the registered voter turnout is between 65% and 81%.  This is an incredibly high voter turnout.

What does this mean?  This means that the state GOP maneuvering to close its elections disenfranchises all but the faithful few in the state, and thus guarantees that at least in my part of the state that the few are deciding who the leaders will be for the many.

I wanted to vote, but it was illegal in Idaho for me to do so in the election that mattered to me - the GOP primary.  I am not a registered affiliate with any political party.  I'll say that was illegal for me to vote.

As a political independent, formerly associated with the GOP, I am now disenfranchised and prohibited from voting in elections for my state and local political leadership.  Is this still America?  It doesn't feel like it.  At least it doesn't when less than 25% of the eligible voters are allowed to decide who sits in city, county, and state elected offices.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The goal of 350 ppm is now a pipe dream

Researchers at the Global Monitoring Division of NOAA recently released a report that the atmosphere has for the first time in modern history maintained 400ppm for an entire month.

The old goal of trying to limit atmospheric carbon concentrations to only 350ppm is now LONG gone!

That's what ongoing inaction will do when America, one of the two largest carbon emitters in the world, failed to act.

Is this all America and Americans' fault?  No, but we as nation sure didn't do hardly anything to stop it.  This makes me sad.

This is sad, sad, but somehow appropriate news for Earth Day.

The 2014 Arctic Sea Ice Melt is ON!

Every summer some of the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean melts.  And, it's once again that time of year.  The Arctic sea ice melt is on! 

There is no way to know how much sea ice will be left at the end of any melt season, but there's one thing we can be pretty sure of, and that's that there will be less sea ice up there at the end of this melt season than the 1981-2010 average of 6.3 million square kilometers.  

2001 was the last year the sea ice minimum was greater than long-term average.  

The data below show the annual minimum sea ice extent for the Arctic Ocean between 1979 and 2013 (data courtesy of the  There is a lot of variability in the data (which is normal for any natural system), but the interesting and worrisome thing is that on average the amount of sea ice remaining at the end of the summer melt season is dropping at an increasing rate (see the trend line through the data).   

The increasing steepness of the slope is what worries me.  These data indicate that not only do we have a trend of increasing sea ice melt in the Arctic, but that the rate ice is melting is accelerating.

Climatologists have long projected that the effects of global climate change will be observed earliest and most clearly in the Arctic.  The rate of melting sea ice is just one of those indicators, but it's a powerful one!

Global warming is not just some wild-eyed idea; the reality of global warming is a scientific conclusion based on decades of multiple lines of evidence.

Will we see a new record Arctic sea ice minimal this summer?  No one can know this, but science can with a high degree of confidence predict that there will be less ice on average this summer than we've seen in the past.

The data below show the current sea ice extent and recent extent history comparing 2014 and 2012, the year with the current minimum sea ice extent) so far.

So what!?

The answer to the so what question is this.  Global warming is real, and unless we get busy doing what we can to mitigate the effects of climate change we are in for some serious trouble.

America...the alarm clock is ringing.  Are you waking up?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

2014 Spring Climate Outlook | NOAA

NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just released it's annual Spring Climate Outlook report.  You see a video highlighting major expectations by clicking the link below.

What will Spring mean this year?  That depends where you happen to live.

2014 Spring Climate Outlook | NOAA

Welcome to Spring!  It's been a long winter, and it's about time we started to warm up.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

New statement on climate change from the AAAS - 2014

There is a new statement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, also known as the AAAS, on what we know about climate change.

The AAAS is the leading scientific body in the United States, represents the best of our scientific community, and is the largest scientific community in the world.

For one thing, multiple lines of evidence support the statement that 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are affecting the climate...I encourage you to take time to read the entire statement by clicking the link below.

The link below is a 5 minute video in which the question of scientific consensus among other topics are touched upon.  It is also from the AAAS.

This statement and video do not represent the wild-eyed ramblings of some fringe scientific element, it reflects the mainstream scientific conclusions of the world's leading body of scientists on the topic of climate change, as well as an effort to disseminate information about what we know about it.

The AAAS is working deliberately to help people understand what we know, and calls upon governments to end the debate on a topic for which the science is settled, and move on to identifying  best approaches for dealing with the problem of climate change.

The debate is's time to act.  What will you do?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Spring in the west, and deep freeze in the east

The Arctic Ocean usually reaches its maximum sea ice extent about this time of year, and we as start observing the annual spring/summer sea ice melt up north the sea ice extent is about 1,000,000 square kilometers below the 1981-2010 average.  Wow!   

This has also been a wild winter ride, and it's not over for people in the midwest.  As I type this entry schools including universities across that region are closed or running on a weather-impacted schedule.  Out here in the mountain west though it looks and feels like spring has already sprung.  We did have a dose of snow over the weekend...I had to shovel twice on Saturday and once on Sunday, but later on Sunday temperatures shot back up to 40+oF and it's headed back there today.

Normally where I live in SE Idaho is only starting the annual spring snow melt by now, but this year the snow is already all gone, except for small patches along the north sides of homes and buildings.  Wild!

Other signs of spring around here include daffodils and crocuses pushing up through the soil, motorcycles appearing in parking lots, and students walking wearing sweatshirts and even short-sleeved shirts.

 Why the early Spring-like conditions?  Well, the radical swing of the jet stream this winter has stayed north of us while it's swung far to the south over the Great Plains and Midwest.

The map below shows the current jet stream track.  Idaho is south of it, and the entire eastern part of the USA, except for the Everglades and Miami are north of it and still freezing.  Yikes!

Will this madness never end?


Thursday, February 13, 2014

What is going on!? Early snow melt in Rexburg, Idaho

I live in Rexburg, Idaho.  For anyone who has lived here, gone to school here, or maybe even just visited, the word Rexburg often elicits a bodily chill.  OK, it can be a very cold place.  For example, the record cold temperature for Rexburg for the month of February is -36oF.  The average monthly high temp is 33oF and the average low is 16oF (for the month of February).

So what?

This is the sight that greeted me as I walked home from work yesterday around 5pm.  This is a full-blown snow melt.  The gutter was completely full.  OK, this in and of itself is no big deal.

Rexburg, Idaho, 5:15pm on February 12, 2014

We can have occasional warm days, even warm enough to cause a melt like this, but the thing that really blew me away was what I saw this morning...

...around 7:30am I reversed my path and headed back to work, and this is what I saw (see below).  My phone showed a temperature of 36oF and the gutter was STILL full of snow run off.  This is very, very, very strange.  To have a warm day and melt some snow during the day in Rexburg is no big deal, but to have overnight temperatures that do not drop below freezing and to see snow melt all night long in mid-Feb is strange, strange, strange.  Did I mention that this is strange?

Rexburg, Idaho, 7:30am on February 13, 2014

Was this one-day event caused by global climate change?  No, it's virtually impossible to link a specific one-day weather event like this one directly to climate change.  But, what you can say with a high degree of confidence is that the current global trend of warming makes weather events like this one more likely to happen.

Stay tuned, life is interesting.

It's a bit early for the Arctic sea ice melt, but...

It's been a while since I posted anything about the state of the Arctic, but when I checked the National Snow and Ice Database website this morning I thought it was worth a few words.

The graph below shows the Arctic sea ice extent between Nov 2013 and Feb 12, 2014.  There are a couple of notable things here.  First, the ice extent has been between 250,000 and 500,000 square kilometers below the 1981-2010 average the entire time.  This doesn't come as a shock to anyone who follows the Arctic, but it's just an ongoing confirmation of a warming Arctic.

BTW, did you know that according to the National Climactic Data Center (NCDC) of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that the last time that an annual global average temperature was cooler than the 20th century average was in 1976?  Yep, that's 37 years ago (  I shared this with one of my classes of university students yesterday and realized as I said it that all of them were born well after 1976, so they have known only a warming world.  That's a sobering thought.

The second thing the graph shows that's interesting, though not yet significant is what happened over the last week or two.  If you notice the average sea ice extent usually reaches its maximum coverage around the end of February or early March.  The extent does show some ups and downs, as clearly shown in the 2011-2012 (dotted) line.  This year's data are shown on the blue line.  Anyway, so what?  Data of the last week or two show a leveling off and then decline in sea ice cover.  If this continues, and I'd be extremely surprised if it did this early in the season, we could really be in for a doozie of a sea ice loss year in the Arctic.  It's much more likely that this is just a temporary blip.  

Stay tuned.  Life is interesting.  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ken Ham and Bill Nye to Debate Each Other on Creationism vs. Evolution TONIGHT February 4th

UPDATE:  Their (long) debate is now over, but you can stream it from the following site:

Bill Nye and Ken Ham Debate Evolution vs Creation Science -

Bill Nye - a well known television personality, proponent for science and science education, and CEO of "The Planetary Society" - and Ken Ham, CEO of the ministry "Answers in Genesis" and "The Creation Museum", will debate each other on Creationism vs. Evolution this evening.

For more information click the link below.

Ken Ham and Bill Nye to debate Creationism vs. Evolution TONIGHT (2/4)

It'll be interesting and entertaining to hear what these two have to say.

This debate fascinates me because so many people in the world contend that someone cannot be a person of faith AND a person of science.  I disagree.

I am a person of faith, an active, devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons), I'm a person of science, a university professor with a PhD in Biology (University of California, Santa Cruz, 1992), and I'm an evolutionist.

You may wonder how I pull this both without living in perpetual inner conflict.  Simple.  I believe that this life is, among other things, a quest for truth and understanding.  Science provides useful and powerful explanations about how our bodies, the world, and the universe work.  Religion is at the same time a complementary not competitive approach to obtaining truth through inspiration and revelation.  Science is good at explaining the what, how, and when, and religion is good at explaining the why of things.

My bottom line?

Evolution is a true theory that explains many things and is a central unifying theory of the field of biology.  Religion is a means to coming to a deeper understanding who I am, who God is, and about our relationship.  Science and religion expand my view and understanding of the universe and of my place in it. They both have the earmarks of truth.  And, if they truly are both truths, they cannot inherently be in conflict with each other.  There may be apparent conflicts, but when this happens I have found/believe that it's almost certainly because we lack sufficient scientific information or revealed truth on the subject to allow us to see through the apparent conflict.

Truth is truth, and it cannot contradict itself.

That's my 2 cents' worth.

Best wishes.