Category Archives: Dark Mountain

Unintentional Cascades

I climbed the La Luz trail on the west side of Albuquerque’s Sandia Mountains on a mid-Summer Sunday in 2007. I’d been taking the Sandia Tram up above the 10,000′ mark nightly for a couple of weeks prior, getting ready for my third attempt on Colorado’s Mount Elbert. I came up short two years prior, getting altitude sickness at about the 13,000′ mark.

I thought, having spent hours above 10,000′ in the preceding weeks, I was ready to climb up, but at 8,850′, about nine miles in, I hit the wall. Every step upward felt like the worst hangover I’d ever had. so I turned back. I ran out of water three miles short of the tram station and stumbled in the lot dangerously dehydrated. I have not felt right since that day.

 

Looking Down La Luz From 8850'

Looking Down La Luz From 8850′

A year later, on June 11th, while being tested for multiple sclerosis, I was told I had Lyme disease antibodies. Four day later while hiking Chapel Falls, I was bit by a deer tick, I developed a spiral rash on my thigh, and since I had the sense to photograph how it progressed during my first course of antibiotics, I don’t have to spend too much time arguing with doctors about it.

Coming undone from polite society has been a rough ride, but in many ways I’ve been lucky to be discarded. I have gone where I wanted, photographing, writing, and digging into topics I’d have never mastered had I remained in the workforce. The cascade of changes has been … interesting, to say the least.

Chapel Falls 1st Cascade

Chapel Falls 1st Cascade

 

I owned a small engineering consulting firm and I was in New Mexico due to a network implementation for a Metaswitch customer. My business was voice, video, and data for small to medium service provides. I still employ the skills I developed during the decade I did that sort of thing, but the world has changed, so now it’s cloud hosting, VPNs, and Adversary Resistant Computing that fill my time, at least on the technology front.

Chapel Falls 2nd Cascade

Chapel Falls 2nd Cascade

I first got interested in counter-terrorism science in early 2009, thanks to Chet Uber, the founder of Project VIGILANT. That only lasted six months before that organization’s reckless operations became too much for me. But ever since then I’ve kept an eye on that area, developing a practice in the analysis of social networks and infrastructure.

Chapel Falls 3rd Cascade

Chapel Falls 3rd Cascade

I thought I could close the door on that unfortunate episode, now that Chelsea Manning is to be freed, but a month ago I published Fact Checking @LouiseMensch On @Wikileaks and this has led to one of those cascades of unintended consequences. A few days ago I made a California Legal Research Request and thanks to this someone with a big civil case noticed me, and after years of hourly engagements I just received my first big contingency case.

I’m still very interested in Dark Mountain’s Eight Principles Of Uncivilization, but constantly looking over my shoulder on behalf of our species is putting a crick in my neck. It’s time to focus on what’s in front of me and see if I am actually in a position to dig out from a decade of poor health.

 

I never approve comments from any of you to protect you from unwanted attention, but I want to take a moment to acknowledge the value of those occasional whispers, and the changes they bring.

 

East Beringia Genetic Continuity

Genetic Continuity In East Beringia

Genetic Continuity In East Beringia

Study reveals 10,000 years of genetic continuity in northwest North America is an interesting article, but I’d quibble with the regional description – because it overlaps with East Beringia.

We also know that we’re A Hundred Centuries Off – humans have been in this area for 24,000 years, not the 14,000 year number previously cited. That’s a massive gap between the oldest human fossil and the tiny snippet of human activity from 22,000 BC – some linear cut marks inside the jaw bone of a horse, made during the butchering process.

 

Time matters and so do names. Alaska? Less than sixty years old. Canada? A century and a half. United States? Less than two and a half centuries and given what I see on the news I wonder if we’re going to make that mark, or if internal pressures are going to cause us to fly to bits.

But cultures have been going extinct here from the minute our species first crossed from Asia. We know less about the Americans because five hundred years ago their network contacted the Europeans, and when two large networks collide one will come to dominate the other. Among writing systems that were here, we’ve only managed to decipher Mayan.

Europeans have left marks on the Americas that time will find difficult to erase, at least not without another planet wide glaciation, and that would take the right combination of plate tectonics and Earth orbit, perhaps one we’ll never reach again.

Examples include the Panama Canal, which isn’t a natural waterway, so it won’t fill with sediment.  Bingham Canyon Mine‘s pit is three square miles and over half a mile deep, with no natural explanation. But whomever our successors might be, they will marvel over the Crazy Horse Memorial. I saw this in person nearly forty years ago and from this satellite image it seems they’ve made some progress.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial

 

What enduring mark(s) have I left on this planet?

Certainly not any of my writing; this is all electronic ephemera, nothing I’ve done in this century has been committed to print. A vast majority of our culture exists as ones and zeroes on magnetic media. As the size and speed of the internet grow, more and more of the central material lives in dynamic ram. Pull the plug, say with an electromagnetic pulse from a high altitude multi-megaton warhead, and it’s just gone.

Taking a few moments to think on it, the only thing that’s really going to outlast me are unnecessarily durable goods from our consumer society. How many plastic bags have I received and promptly discarded in my fifty years on this planet? Certainly one a day, till we all got hip to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a few years ago. This concept of discarding first came up in a symbolic fashion in Societal Simulacra’s Rest Frame.

Maybe I should give up this blogging and teach myself flint knapping. I can start making Clovis points and tossing them into random caves in the area, putting my own spin on archeology here.

Ellef Ringnes Island’s Fossil Methane Seeps

I often mention Wrangel Island, the last redoubt of the mammoths, and tonight I found another interesting article about a different location in the Arctic – Ellef Ringnes Island. Roughly 1,400 miles apart, this Canadian island holds fossils from the Cretaceous, the geological period ended by the Chicxulub Asteroid.

Wrangel & Ellef Ringnes Islands

Wrangel & Ellef Ringnes Islands

Ellef & Amund Ringnes Islands

Ellef & Amund Ringnes Islands

Isachsen Station

Isachsen Station

The only sign of human activity is a rough half mile runway, the remains of an Arctic weather station effort operated during the Cold War.

But there are much older things to be found here …

Fossil Methane Seep

Fossil Methane Seep

There are 130 fossil methane seeps scattered over 10,000 square kilometers, a legacy of a rapid release of methane about 110 million years ago. The formations are carbonates from the shells of animals that grew there, which are more durable than the shale that makes up the rest of the area.

Preserved evidence of methane outgassing at the same time over an area this size, combined with knowledge of the overall size of this shale layer, provides some sense of the scope of the sudden injection of a greenhouse gas 20x as potent as carbon dioxide. There are multiple instances where sudden releases have changed Earth’s climate dramatically in a geological blink of an eye, most notably the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maxium 55 million years ago.

 

This ancient event matters because it’s further proof that large areas can suddenly produce lasting flows of methane. Scientists have been fretting over methane hydrates and the Atlantification of the Arctic could create conditions for another massive outgassing. Signs of this already exist on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Similar events have started in the Pacific and there are 500 methane plumes on the U.S. east coast. The East Siberian Shelf’s outgassing has been a concern for a while now.

It’s been a long time since a single species changed the atmospheric and oceanic chemistry to the point that it passed into history. The Great Oxygenation Event is clearest. Vascular plants and bacteria that couldn’t attack lignin are defining characteristics of the Carboniferous period. Other dramatic changes are attributed to large volcanic provinces and impact events.

What is happening now seems like it will be the beginning of something as disruptive as the PETM. The Quarternary had consistent 180ppm – 280ppm CO2, and now we’re at 400+ ppm and no way to predict how far that is going to go.

 

We’ve had four hundred generations in villages and just two to start considering what the climate change our species has induced is going to mean. I am in no way certain that Dark Mountain‘s ideas, the Eight Principles of Uncivilization, are going to work. I have spent a decade, one fifth of my life, pondering this progression, trying various ways to resist what I have come to accept is an unstoppable set of causes and conditions.

I shouldn’t be awake at 2:22 AM, but once I start down rabbit holes like this, I have a hard time finding my way back to the surface.

Salting Down Our Lakes & Streams

While the Persian Gulf is dealing with a 25% increase in salt concentration due to half a dozen desalination dependent states on its shores, the car crazy U.S. is salting lakes and streams as a result of clearing ice and snow. And this comes on top of wrecking groundwater with ill advised fracking for oil and gas.

Global Water Insecurity Cartogram

Words can not describe how maddening it is to watch us wreck a resource that, in the case of aquifers, will require another glaciation to cleanse.

I grew up in the far northwest corner of my home state, the region known as the Iowa Great Lakes. Wikipedia thinks it’s just Dickinson county but there are lakes in Clay, Emmet, and Palo Alto, too.

Marble Lake

Marble Lake

Among the over one hundred bodies of water in the four county area there are seventeen permanent islands. Four of those are in Virgin Lake, three are drowned bits of shore, one is an enormous pile of glacial erratics. This lake formed due to meltwater draining through a glacier, depositing the rock as it left.

Virgin Lake

Virgin Lake

Five Island Lake #4 Erratics

Five Island Lake #4 Erratics

The pile of glacial erratics in Virgin Lake is maybe two acres but it’s hard to photograph. This postage stamp sized island in Five Island Lake has less cover and shows its glacial erratic composition.

Ingham Lake Island

Ingham Lake Island

I can’t write without including a few pictures. I can’t write about fresh water without cruising my Flickr account. And once I do that my attachment to California’s mild climate melts away like Iowa snow in April. I want to go home, not just back to the farm, I want this ramp, that kayak, a second boat with camping gear to pull behind, and that island.

 

Erratic Wall

Erratic Wall

Most Iowa farm buildings are wood, but the farm where I grew up is now a century old and its buildings are clay block. This wall is a barn well off the main roads and it dates to the late 1800s. This 1895 farmhouse is now part of Peterson Point state park, just a few hundred yards from the ramp pictures above.

Peterson Point Farm House

Peterson Point Farm House

 

The kame and kettle topography of my home is less likely to change than other parts of the world, thanks to a large amount of water and a limited supply of people. The paved roads get salt in the winter but the vast majority are gravel laid out in Louisiana Purchase one mile grids.

There are wonders there, an oasis of some sort in every mile of gravel that spans the corn desert, but you’d need a native to find them, despite the regularity of the roads.

Tilted

Tilted

Eating, Thinking, Diverging

A few days ago I noticed an article about TimeTree, and I promptly did the all important comparison of our two most common companion species. The 56 million year old split lets the system show significant changes in solar luminosity, carbon dioxide, and oxygen levels. The line of red dots are asteroid crater diameters in kilometers, the large one near the bottom is Chicxulub.

Dogs & Cats Divergence

Dogs & Cats Divergence

Humans are a bit trickier, I tried our temporal cousins and our immediate ancestor, which caused the system to balk:

  • homo sapiens

  • homo sapiens altai (41kya – 400kya)

  • homo floresiensis (12kya – unsure)

  • homo neanderthalensis (24kya – 600kya)

  • homo rhodesiensis (125kya – 300kya)

  • homo heidelbergensis (200kya – 700kya)

I dialed back a step and tried Hominidae, which was slightly less frustrating. Pan are chimps and bonobos, Pongo are orangutans.

Hominidae Timeline

Hominidae Timeline

Our species has never had much of an issue due to asteroid impact, the volcanic timeline is much more important, but TimeTree doesn’t provide that information yet. I happened to come up with a nice map from the Quarternary Volcanic Eruptions page.

Quarternary Volcanic Activity

Quarternary Volcanic Activity

 

I wouldn’t have written this, but for Food For Thought, Diet Helps Explain Unique Human Brainpower. The study suggests that humans think hard about what they eat, and this is a self-reinforcing spiral that drives our intelligence. We’re now at a point where we can think ahead for our entire species in a global fashion, which I covered in Good News In Small Doses. We may survive Atlantification & Other Horrors, but that will involve some Functional Triage.

This whole situation is made more interesting by the advent of AI. Workplace diversity will soon include Artificial Intelligence isn’t a Popular Science title, that’s a legit Phys.org story. What will we do in terms of Functional Triage when decision making is AI enabled? If we don’t humanize it … eugenics is the first word that comes to mind, but that’s not quite right, as survival will be more location based that any notional racial attributes.

Dark Mountain‘s Eight Principles of Uncivilization doesn’t seem to anticipate an Age of Ultron style battle between human and AI. I think they’re right; when societies break down their supply chains break down. We may have AI for a while, maybe even long enough to assist the evolution of what comes next.

Maybe …

Atlantification & Other Horrors

Our species evolved from homo erectus, starting about 1.9 million years ago. That was 680,000 years into the Quarternary Period, which has featured glaciation on roughly hundred thousand year cycles and a number of impressive volcanic eruptions.

Quarternary Volcanic Activity

Quarternary Volcanic Activity

We are Children of Ice and Chaos

The defining characteristic of our species is flexibility; some of us land on our feet no matter how and where we get dropped. We turn up in the strangest of places, A Hundred Centuries Off, because we are collectively unstoppable. We walk around or through fire, ice, and wild beasts a hundred times our sizes, unless we stop to eat them.

And we’re about to experience some chaos of our own making, thanks to the Atlantification of the Eastern Arctic Ocean. The Arctic Ocean gets warmer the deeper you go, the inverse of every other ocean in the world. Only now this has happened:

In studying the data from the moorings, the researchers found that from the Atlantic, which has traditionally been separated from melting ice because of the halocline layer—a barrier that exists between deep salty water and fresher water closer to the surface—has been penetrating the barrier, allowing ice to melt from below. It has also led to the water becoming less stratified, like the Atlantic. They describe the changes as a “massive shift” in the ocean that has occurred over an extremely short time frame. These new findings may explain why the extent of ice coverage has been shrinking so dramatically—at a rate of 13 percent per decade.

Repeat after me: Whoops. We’re going to see the Last Of The Laurentide very shortly and Arctic summer sea ice seems likely to precede it into the land of fond memories much sooner.

 

We’ve had some epic last stands, none more so in our 200,000 years as modern humans as the Toba bottleneck. It hurts me a little to point at this near extinction of our species circa 70,000 BC and to not have the clean explanation of the Toba eruption. There is evidence in India that our species shrugged off the Toba effects, continuing to leave behind the same stone tools that appear before Toba’s ash layer. So something happened back then that nearly ended us, but we don’t really know what.

This time, here at the dawn of the Anthropocene, we’re going into another population bottle neck with at least some of our eyes wide open. We’re storing seeds and ice cores in safe paces and Dark Mountain has brought us Eight Principles Of Uncivilization. Love it or hate it, our species is getting ‘right-sized’.

I see some signs of hope. Graphene desalination. Perovskite solar cells. And a geo-engineering effort that isn’t total mad scientist material – Africa’s Great Green Wall. Simple, durable things are going to carry the day after the day our global supply chains are finally, irrevocably collapsed. I wrote Once & Future Cavemen but I don’t see Mars serving as Wrangel Island did for the mammoth.

 

We’re going to experience greater distances in the future, but it’s not going to be due to climbing out of our gravity well. Instead I see the Earth’s surface functionally stretching as oil supplies become more dear and climate change forbids any more carbon exhumation. We could afford epic battles spanning the Pacific seventy years ago. Let that much time pass again and we may be doing things more like the 1947 Kon-Tiki Expedition.

We only just figured out why Clovis points are so cool, despite the fact that our species literally rode into the Americas on the back of this durable style of arrow and spear head. We have so much to remember, both in the sense of rediscovering things like that, as well as not forgetting the massive cache of knowledge we now possess.

I promised horrors in the title, didn’t I? Just look at the sidebar and you’ll find some of the worst:

  • Yemen is a humanitarian crisis which we show no intention of every trying to solve, I believe this is an instance of Functional Triage.
  • We had a warm up for Yemen right at the end of the Cold War, in Somalia. Look to this country as the model for what can happen, and why we will prefer to steer clear.
  • The biggest word in the cloud, Syria, is also the biggest problem. Yemen is worse in environmental terms, but Syria is just right there in the middle of everything.
  • Libya is a primo example of the need to reign in NATO. This is a mess that didn’t need to be, much like the one caused by Bush’s adventure in Iraq.

To be completely clear, the problem isn’t Muslims, it’s western imperialism, religious fanaticism, and what that drives us to do. Maybe one day the U.S. will melt down its enormous carrier fleet to make gardening tools; our policeman of the world shtick has gotten really stale, and if we’re going to lead we should do it by example here.

 

Not that we’re going to do that mind you, our species learns the hard way, with handfuls of survivors studying the wreckage a bit, before they limp off to try something new.

A Titanic Problem

104 years ago the Titanic became synonymous with disaster, taking 1,500 lives when she sank after striking an iceberg.

Titanic

Titanic

Yesterday I noticed that there are 400 icebergs loose in the area where Titanic went down, a fivefold increase above normal, and this is the fourth year in a row this has happened. I wouldn’t normally cite Daily Mail but this article actually provides a lot of science regarding the events of 1912.

Greenland Glaciers

Greenland Glaciers

This map from the Daily Mail piece shows the path icebergs take once the exit Jakobshavn Isbrae, which I recently mentioned in Greenland’s Icy Collar & Hollow Core. The currents haven’t changed, the articles indicate that winds are to blame for the summer density of icebergs showing up in early spring. We won’t have a disaster like the Titanic the International Ice Patrol hasn’t lost a single ship since it was formed in response to the 1912 disaster.

 

This decade has seen Snowmaggedon(2010), Winter Storm Nemo(2013)Winter Storm Juno(2015), and another Snowpocalypse(2016), all extratropical winter cyclones that shut down the eastern third of the U.S. While not unprecedented, what had been hundred year storms and now happening nearly back to back, with polar air squatting far south of its normal haunts, driving previously unseen levels of precipitation combined with bitter cold.

Curiously these phenomena, driven by a warming world, are used as anecdotal evidence by the climate change denial crowd. “Hey, look at all that global warming on my driveway, gonna have to hire the neighbor kid to shovel it!” We’ve all heard comments like this from the alternate facts crowd. We long ago crossed the threshold where this stuff became an article of faith, part of the identity politics of the American right. We’ll hold to this until Mother Nature smashes us flat.

 

I was already thinking about these hundred year storms, I mentioned the Great Flood of 1993 in Massive Tree Extinction. I think some of the activity in the 90s can be attributed to Mount Pinatubo. Another all time record event, Greenland’s 2012 melt, was partially attributed to wildfire soot, in addition to the warm air ‘dome’ mentioned in that article. Climate change can be abrupt, happening not in millennia, but in a few short years. That last Wiki on Abrupt climate change lays it out – we had lots of single events the last fifty years, but we don’t know what happens when two of them overlap.

That we know some of this is merely because we’re paying closer attention, but when the inevitable overlap of events happens, we may transition to some brave new world we’re completely unprepared to face.