The Big Melt is Getting Bigger

Several big news dailies featured top-of-the-fold photographs of the most recent evidence of greater than expected ice melt in the arctic, which will lead inexorably to rising oceans and population dislocation of massive proportions.

One story is about new discoveries in the east antarctic.  A major glacier, characterized as the bath plug for much of the continental snow and ice is melting faster than previously known, from below.

Climate Change totten-infographic

Read all in Washington Post

The other story was at the opposite end of the globe, in Greenland where a team of scientists has been dropped in to take measurements of the size and flow of an enormous snow-river

in the  the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, one of the biggest and fastest-melting chunks of ice on Earth, [which] will drive up sea levels in the coming decades. The full melting of Greenland’s ice sheet could increase sea levels by about 20 feet.

Very good graphic display of what is happening and why knowing more about it is so important.

Coral Reef Bleaching Continues Apace

Corals are turning chalk white and dying on reefs stretching from the Florida Keys to Palm Beach County, in what experts call one of the worst episodes in two decades of coral bleaching.

Climate Change fl-coral-bleaching

Under stress from unusually warm water, the corals are expelling the tiny bits of algae that give them their fiery streaks of red, orange or green color and that provide the coral with nutrition.

That’s today’s news from the SunSentinel similar to that of December, 2011


Here are comparison photos from America Samoa taken two months apart.


And in Hawaii, everybody’s favorite paradise?

Water temperatures around Hawaii are currently about 3 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, Chris Brenchley, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Honolulu, told the Associated Press.

According to the AP, [coral] bleaching has been spotted in Kaneohe Bay and Waimanalo on Oahu and Olowalu on Maui. On the Big Island, bleaching is reported from Kawaihae to South Kona on the leeward side and Kapoho in the southeast.

Courtney Couch, a researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, told the AP that an entire mile and a half of reef on the eastern side of Lisianski Island was essentially dead.

Read more:

Science, Civic Life and Religion

A nice article in the New Yorker by Lawrence Krauss, motivated by the Kim Davis refusal to grant marriage licenses because her religious faith forbids it.

I see a direct link, in short, between the ethics that guide science and those that guide civic life. Cosmology, my specialty, may appear to be far removed from Kim Davis’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, but in fact the same values apply in both realms. Whenever scientific claims are presented as unquestionable, they undermine science. Similarly, when religious actions or claims about sanctity can be made with impunity in our society, we undermine the very basis of modern secular democracy. We owe it to ourselves and to our children not to give a free pass to governments—totalitarian, theocratic, or democratic—that endorse, encourage, enforce, or otherwise legitimize the suppression of open questioning in order to protect ideas that are considered “sacred.” Five hundred years of science have liberated humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance. We should celebrate this openly and enthusiastically, regardless of whom it may offend.

More on Krauss

And as to the First Amendment, which Davis and her team of lawyers is basing her claim on, seems they know neither how to read, nor to accept decisions over several centuries which speak directly to her argument.

“Freedom of religion means freedom to hold an opinion or belief, but not to take action in violation of social duties or subversive to good order,” In Reynolds v. United States (1878), the Supreme Court found that while laws cannot interfere with religious belief and opinions, laws can be made to regulate some religious practices (e.g., human sacrifices, and the Hindu practice of suttee). The Court stated that to rule otherwise, “would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government would exist only in name under such circumstances.”[27] In Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940), the Court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applied the Free Exercise Clause to the states. While the right to have religious beliefs is absolute, the freedom to act on such beliefs is not absolute.[28]  See more Right  Here.

The Internet of Things, Hacked

Count me as one who thinks this will soon be a big deal, if not by being hacked by being tracked.  We have already all voluntarily signed on the “track me anywhere” line, just promise me a 5% discount…

A hacked Chrysler Jeep Cherokee speeding along the highway, its engine shut down as an 18-wheeler truck rushed towards it, is a high-profile example of what can go wrong with the coming Internet of Things — objects equipped with software and connected to digital networks. The selling point for these well-connected objects is added convenience and better safety. In reality, it is a fast-motion train wreck in privacy and security.

The early Internet was intended to connect people who already trusted one another, like academic researchers or military networks. It never had the robust security that today’s global network needs. As the Internet went from a few thousand users to more than three billion, attempts to strengthen security were stymied because of cost, shortsightedness and competing interests. Connecting everyday objects to this shaky, insecure base will create the Internet of Hacked Things. This is irresponsible and potentially catastrophic. [NY Times]

Hacked autos and refrigerators may be a bit down the road, but hackers helping insider trading is already here.

From their suburban homes in the United States, dozens of rogue stock traders would send overseas hackers a shopping list of corporate news releases they wanted to get a sneak peek at before they were made public. The hackers, working from Ukraine, would then deliver how-to videos by email with instructions for gaining access to the pilfered earnings releases.

In all, 32 traders and hackers reaped more than $100 million in illegal proceeds in a sophisticated and brazen scheme that is the biggest to marry the wizardry of computer hacking to old-fashioned insider trading, according to court filings made public on Tuesday. One of the men, Vitaly Korchevsky, a hedge fund manager and former Morgan Stanley employee living in a Philadelphia suburb, made $17 million in illegal profits, the indictment said. [NY Times]

AND, if you have been thinking that passwords would and should soon be replaced by finger print recognition — more secure, etc.  Hold on!

While fingerprint scanners have become a popular way to avoid using a password or PIN, especially on mobile devices … research highlights some of the potential pitfalls of the tech: As a biometric marker, fingerprints are impossible to change.

They’re also public. You leave fingerprints on, well, almost everything you touch. And researchers have even been able to spoof fingerprints based onpublic photos — all of which makes fingerprints  a pretty hard sell as the future of authentication to some experts. If someone else can make a copy of your prints, they stop being an effective security mechanism. [WaPo]

How Was Life Almost Wiped Out on Earth? Acid Oceans

One of the symptoms of rising CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing acidity of the oceans. Measurements have shown such a rise for several decades now, leading to coral die-off, changes and diminishment of fish spawning. Now, we begin to know how bad it could become.

Acidic oceans helped fuel the biggest mass extinction in the history of life on Earth, a study says.

The Permian-Triassic mass extinction, which took place 252 million years ago, wiped out more than 90% of marine species and more than two-thirds of the animals living on land.
Its causes have been much debated.

Now, studies of rock in the United Arab Emirates, which were on the ocean floor at the time, are providing a detailed record of rapid changes in ocean acidity — linked to massive volcanism in the Siberian Traps. Massive amounts of CO2 can not be absorbed by the atmosphere alone so much is ‘dumped’ into the oceans, leading to acidification too rapid for marine life to adapt.


“This is a worrying finding, considering that we can already see an increase in ocean acidity today that is the result of human carbon emissions.”

It’s not just geology, folks.  It’s the future.

“Natural” Means What, Exactly?

Timothy Eagan brings a valuable addition to the rising discussion about vaccinations. The doubts raised about them come from a perplexing behavior in this land of boasted individualism: we often don’t think through and evaluate as best we can. We do what those around us do. In a herd mentality, the glue of which is narcissism, the first line of defense against a threatening world is people like ourselves. If people like us tell us something, with energy and certainty,  it must be true.  Those who sow doubt will lose the protection of the believers. The belief against vaccines is the flip side of the coin of belief in all manner of untested, unproven and unknown “natural” cures.  Those who entirely distrust big pharma and big government swallow claims and “dietary supplements” of equally big industries with equally big war chests and armies of lobbyists.

“If you want to know how we came to be a nation where everyone is a doctor, sound science is vilified and seemingly smart people distrust vaccinations, come to Utah — whose state flower should be St. John’s wort. Here, the nexus of quack pharma and industry-owned politicians has produced quite a windfall: nearly one in four dollars in the supplement market passes though this state.

We’re not talking drugs, or even, in many cases, food here. Drugs have to undergo rigorous testing and review by the federal government. Dietary supplements do not. Drugs have to prove to be effective. Dietary supplements do not.

These are the Frankenstein remedies — botanicals, herbs, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, dried stuff. They’re “natural.” They’re not cheap. And Americans pop them like Skittles, despite recent studies showing that nearly a third of all herbal supplements on the market may be outright frauds.”

Read all

Marin County Makes the Daily Show!

Led-ites in Copenhagen

On a day of otherwise ghastly leading news — The Senate summary of their CIA Torture Report –– take a moment to applaud one city’s efforts to reach a carbon zero stage by the year 2025: Copenhagen.

COPENHAGEN — On a busy road in the center of town here, a string of green lights embedded in the bike path — the “Green Wave” — flashes on, helping cyclists avoid red traffic lights.

On a main artery into the city, truck drivers can see on smartphones when the next light will change. And in a nearby suburb, new LED streetlights brighten only as vehicles approach, dimming once they pass.

Aimed at saving money, cutting the use of fossil fuels and easing mobility, the installations are part of a growing wireless network of streetlamps and sensors that officials hope will help this city of roughly 1.2 million meet its ambitious goal of becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.

Eventually, the network will serve other functions, like alerting the sanitation department to empty the trash cans and informing bikers of the quietest or fastest route to their destinations.  NY Times

The city is also testing systems to prioritize buses or bikes over cars at intersections during certain hours, and has already installed one that flashes a warning to truck drivers in a right-turn lane when cyclists are present. ….

Good stuff and other cities are seeing the light, Los Angeles, for example

…has almost completed the switch to outdoor LED lighting and is using sensors embedded in the pavement to detect traffic congestion and synchronize signals.

Flipping Out

Super interesting: the North and South poles could flip one of these days… Article doesn’t speculate about what that means for the topology of the whole gravitational envelope or, for instance, the effect on bird migration [birds somehow interpret gravity to find their way over long distances,] much less how weather systems and therefore climate change might react.

Earth’s magnetic field has the potential to reverse within less than a century, and scientists say there is evidence the poles are now moving toward such a flip.

[sediment] layers reveal the last magnetic reversal occurred approximately 786,000 years ago, long before humans walked the planet.

The flip happened after more than 6,000 years of instability, including two intervals of low magnetic field strength that lasted about 2,000 years each.

Such a quiet period in modern times could expose Earth’s surface to harmful levels of solar radiation, possibly increasing the rates of cancer and disrupting electrical power grids, scientists caution.


Altruism, Yes!

Interesting study at University College London picked up by Amina Kahn of the Los Angeles Times.

The experiment set up a scenario in which “deciders” were paid increasing amounts to increasingly shock either themselves, or a randomly assigned “receiver.

The researchers found that people were “hyperaltruistic” — that is, the deciders were less likely to harm the receivers for a little more cash than they were to harm themselves. While they were willing to take a few more shocks themselves to earn a higher payoff, they were less likely to raise the number of shocks for those extra bucks if it was the receiver getting zapped instead.


Matches my own experience decades ago when I put up with months of college hazing myself but got ulcers when I saw it happening to others.

Now if we could just get the feeling shared by trigger-pullers, knife wielders around the world.

Or, in the interim, learn what it is that enhances altruism and what diminishes it.