GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Books accompanying travelers to the Park since 2002

What’s the difference between global warming and climate change?

What’s the difference between global warming and climate change?

Recently I decided to trace why we seem to read and hear the expression “climate change” more often these days than “global warming.” I’m not the only person who has noticed that the global changes we are seeing do not trend uniformly in the direction of warming. What about the many snow storms this winter, reaching farther south than usual in the U.S.? What about the apparent increase in the number of hurricanes? What about the thick air over the Grand Canyon in Arizona, not to mention the un-breathable air much of the time in Beijing, China?

I decided to Google this exact question: When did “global warming” become “climate change”? It turns out this was not the best way to word my question. I went through the first four pages of answers, some helpful but many rants by people who don’t “believe” in either global warming or climate change. But here’s what I learned.

The entire history of these two expressions is available on those pages in two or three versions. I noted an article in the New York Times on Oct. 15, 2011, that seemed to use the two terms more or less interchangeably. However, an earlier NASA article (12/04/08) preferred “global climate change” because: “Global warming refers [only] to surface temperature increases, while climate change includes global warming and everything else that increasing greenhouse gas amounts will affect.” This was an Aha! moment for me.

The articles I read or scanned quickly show a gradual evolution in preference for using the word “change” over “warming” in the 1980s and 1990s. Maybe we can trace this to the fact that it was in 1988 that an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up by the United Nations.

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Continuing interest in the Anthropocene

Since I find it quite fascinating, I may be following up on my January 22 through February 4 series on the Anthropocene for a while yet. For other people who would like to know more about this still rather unfamiliar word and its implications, webmaster/daughter Beth has found a short and succinct video.

And for people who are willing to invest twenty minutes or so watching a mini-lecture from the point of view of a Swedish anthropology professor, try this.

Then, as if we didn’t have enough syllables in the word already, there’s a long technical article on Science Direct with a new twist, The Palaeoanthropocene.

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Montana’s wolves on National Public Radio

Since wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species list in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, all three states have developed plans to drastically cut back their wolf populations. Idaho wants to eliminate 60% of theirs, and the other states have large quotas, too.

Last Saturday I heard a short segment on Weekend Edition, where the voices and the scenes described took me back to my Montana childhood—even though I always lived in town. It began with the news that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims the scientific research is insufficient to make a national decision about wolf delisting. Take a listen and note a great idea near the end. Can you really teach cattle to herd or group up like bison?

I have one small complaint: the Native American Indian name still used for the beautiful mountain range to the east of Yellowstone should be pronounced ab-SAR-o-kas, not ab-sa-ROKE-as.

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Please keep calm about Yellowstone Caldera activity!

Here is another good article by a knowledgeable person striving to calm down Internet hysteria about what may be happening in the Yellowstone Caldera:

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2014/02/think-yellowstone-erupt/

The lovely picture at the head of the article is of Porcelain Basin at Norris Geyser Basin.

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Living in the Anthropocene, Part IV

Many nonprofit organizations are making a difference in how we use and affect Earth. They are offering programs that train young people to value and care for our special lands and resources. In the U.S. these include the Nature Conservancy, NatureBridge, and the Student Conservation Association.

Individuals are also making a difference in mitigating the changes humans have brought to Earth. I have come up with three small examples. Stanford University graduate student Mike Osborne and friends have set up a series of podcasts and a website they call Generation Anthropocene [1]. They have interviewed and posted essays by scientists and others who are working full time on the big problems. A quote I like from their website goes, “If humans are the force that has harmed the Earth, we are responsible for turning it around.” Osborne is ultimately optimistic: Humans “thus far have demonstrated that we’re perhaps the most adaptable organism in the history of the planet. We are amazing innovators, and you have to believe that we’re an evolutionary success. . . .“

On Hawaii’s island of Oahu, a land and town planner named Bruce Tsuchida runs a small planning company that creates land and water conservation plans for numerous native Hawaiian organizations, including educational components for high school students. The goal of the high school program is “to protect this very important cultural landscape and see that it is used in culturally appropriate ways. . . .” [2]

Karen Chapple backyard cottage in Berkeley My daughter Karen Chapple is a University of California—Berkeley associate professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning and the faculty director of their Center for Community Innovation. In connection with her concern that many more units of affordable housing are needed in the San Francisco Bay area, she has built a tiny “green” cottage at the back of her Berkeley property. She says it “helps people understand how they could reduce their material possessions and carbon footprint” [3].

Maybe the new word Anthropocene or the question of declaring a new epoch are not important to everyone, but the human-caused problems are the concern of us all. We can try to understand, ponder, and discuss the implications of the Anthropocene, and we can contribute in our smaller or larger ways to the goal of allowing Earth to support human life for as long as possible.

References

[1] Generation Anthropocene podcasts and essays
[2] The Ka’ala Farms project that planner Tsuchida is involved with: Cordy, Ross. “Archaeology: How the land tells its story,” Ka’ala Farm blog, April 17, 2013.
[3] Dr. Karen Chapple’s backyard cottage featured: Maclay, Kathleen. “With streamlined regulations, in-law units could boost East Bay affordable housing stock and economy, study finds.” UC Berkeley News Center, September 13, 2011.

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Giantess Geyser erupts!

After a dormant interval of 2 years and 139 days, on this snowy Thursday one of Yellowstone’s most powerful geysers awoke and put on a show for the few Yellowstone visitors in the Upper Geyser Basin. Giantess erupts in spurts of various durations interspersed with roaring steam periods. It may go 200 feet high above Geyser Hill but gives no warning before it starts.

The last eruption of Giantess was on September 13, 2011. It had erupted two or three times per year for the quarter century or so before that.

I got lucky only once in the dozens of times I’ve been in the park. That was on September 5, 2001—note the proximity to 9/11—and our flight home from the park touched down in Rhode Island on the evening of September 10! My friend and map-maker Linton Brown was able to shoot the picture now gracing page 98 of Yellowstone Treasures.

Go Giantess!

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Living in the Anthropocene, Part III

stratospheric ozone hole images

Is the stratospheric ozone hole recovering? (Click for larger version.)

Can humans slow or counteract all the damage we’ve done? I recently learned about one bright spot (and there are probably many others). An AGU press conference in December explained why the ozone hole in the atmosphere over the Antarctic was found in 2012 to be the second smallest it had been since the 1980s. I barely remember the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone, but it was an important document [1]. Ratified by all 197 countries of the United Nations, it took effect on January 1, 1989. Since that time, controlling the production and release of substances like carbon tetrachloride, methyl chloroform, and many others has measurably slowed the shrinkage of the ozone hole. NASA scientists expect it to recover fully (with some bumps) by 2070.

The 21st century has seen a proliferation of individuals and groups interested in studying the Anthropocene and many others who are trying to mitigate its effects. There are scientific, governmental, and intergovernmental organizations working to turn around the effects brought upon us by our own actions. Although the idea of a new epoch began with geoscientists, anthropologists are getting into the act, too. The Working Group on the Anthropocene that I mentioned in Part I of this series wants to determine whether the Anthropocene should be considered another epoch in the Quarternary period or an age of the Holocene. This group is also charged with the task of deciding when the epoch or age began. The exact date may actually be arbitrary, but many people would place it at or before about 1800 A.D.; James Watt’s steam engine went into production in 1776, and the industrial age soon followed. Or did it begin when hunter-gatherers became farmers several millennia earlier? There are many options in between those extremes.

Why does a researcher and writer about Yellowstone Park care about the Anthropocene? And, more importantly, why should you care? I’ve enjoyed learning about science since childhood and, with two very different geoscientist husbands, I’ve been able to continue that interest for over half a century. I like to think about the big picture. Anyone who has children and grandchildren certainly cares what will happen to the younger generations.

Identifying a new epoch is one thing, but saving Earth from human destruction is a much larger challenge. Scientists and other scholars are looking at the problems and developing and interpreting the data. However, most solutions have to be left to governments and international cooperation. The Montreal Protocol was a step in the right direction. Now an alphabet soup of groups (GWSP, IHDP, IGBP, for three examples) work toward other solutions; there are dozens of such organizations.

Did you know there is a United Nations University? I didn’t until this month. They have groups working on aspects of Earth’s human-caused problems, such as the Global Water System Project and the International Human Dimension Programme on Global Environmental Change. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is studying how much of the world’s land is really arable. The International Council for Science has created a brief video about their Future Earth vision.

My next post in this series will give examples of how individuals are making a difference.

References

[1] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the Montreal Protocol: http://www.epa.gov/ozone/intpol/ and a New York Times article about the protocol’s effectiveness from December 9, 2013.

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Landing room reservations in Yellowstone Park

Yesterday I found an excellent article by Kurt Repanshek about booking rooms in prime locations in various national parks, with an emphasis on Yellowstone and its wonderful Old Faithful Inn. Agreeing with everything I read there, I was going to write a short comment to say so and found that the well-known environmental historian Alfred Runte had written essentially what I would have commented.

I have had very much the same experiences as these two men have had and can only add that, especially for Old Faithful Inn, you should book a year or more in advance of your visit. However, I’ve sometimes had good luck calling a day or two before I needed a room and learning that a cancellation has created an opening.

The entire article and comments are on the National Parks Traveler site.

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Living in the Anthropocene
Part II

What is the rationale for creating a whole new epoch called the Anthropocene? Is there any reason to think Earth has changed or is changing so much or so fast that we are in a span of time different from the Holocene?

terms for geological time divisionsThe geological time scale was first developed in the 19th century to divide up geological time. This time scale continues evolving as new methods of determining the dates of the rock strata allow for more and more precision. The broadest division of geological time is the era—the Archean is the oldest, and the Cenozoic the youngest. Eras are divided into periods: the Cenozoic is divided into the Paleogene, Neogene, and Quaternary. The Quaternary is currently divided into two epochs: the Pleistocene (pleistos is Greek for “most”) and the Holocene (holo- is for “whole, complete”). The smallest category is the age: the Pleistocene epoch includes four ages—the Holocene, being relatively short, has not been divided into ages. The latest stratigraphic chart (updated in January 2013) [1] places the beginning of the Holocene at 11,700 years ago; that date reflects the end of the last major glacial epoch. Considering that Earth has now been found to be 4.57 billion years old, the Holocene seems a mere blink of an eye.

What has led scientists to consider declaring a new epoch? Why should this be done soon and not a few centuries or millennia from now? After studying the subject, I will try to answer my first question, but I am not sure anyone can answer the second, unless the answer is that humans may not be around long enough to care about such things.

The first half of the 19th century was an important time for people who cared about Earth and how it may have been changing before they were born. Georges Cuvier (1769–1832) helped start the discipline of paleontology, which establishes units of geological time by studying the differences in fossil remains. He also recognized as early as 1812 that some thing or things (presumably floods) had caused mass extinctions. Another Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829) developed the theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics. Later, two English friends, geologist Charles Lyell (1797–1875) and Charles Darwin (1809–1882) had the strongest influence on scientific thought for some hundred years, both believing that changes occurred gradually and extermination of species had always been a slow process. Still, the fossil record clearly showed there were periods when flora and fauna of certain types had quite suddenly disappeared, and very different types of critters had appeared practically overnight.

By the latter part of the 20th century, stratigraphers and other geoscientists had proven that major and quite sudden mass extinctions had occurred five times between about 440 million years ago (mya) and 65 mya, and there were many less-drastic extinctions. Now geoscientists and anthropologists are pondering whether we are plunging headlong into a sixth extinction. If so, what is causing it? How fast is it happening? Is it inevitable or can we act to slow, halt, or reverse it? If we are in a new epoch, just when did it begin? These are some of the questions that must be answered.

Let’s look at evidence of how humans have “altered the course of Earth’s deep history,” as expressed by paleontologist Jan Zalasiewicz of the University of Leicester, U.K., and his colleagues [2]. Take human population: huge increases have occurred in a short span of time (about the last two hundred years); with the consumption of fossil fuels, megacities have grown larger and larger; world population may reach 9 billion by 2050. In a record trapped into Antarctic ice that is almost a million years long, we can trace the recent rapid acceleration of chemical and biological effects on Earth. The increase in worldwide temperatures is causing changes that are unprecedented in their extent, severity, and speed, such as the rise of sea levels, species migration and extinction, and ocean acidity.

To name two of the chemical effects lumped together by Zalasiewicz, there are the well-known effects of excessive carbon dioxide on the atmosphere and the fact that black carbon particles, falling out of the air continually and appearing even in Arctic ice, are now classified as a major human carcinogen, in addition to their effect on climate. These were mentioned by Sybil Seltzinger of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) when she spoke at AGU.

I had been pondering these subjects for some time, but a very accessible article related to such questions fell into my hands late last month and precipitated my writing this essay. I read the two articles titled “The Lost World,” by the excellent New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert [3]. To Zalasiewicz’s list of effects on Earth traceable to human actions she adds another of his favorite subjects—rats. Rats “have followed humans to just about every corner of the globe, and it is his professional opinion that one day they will take over the earth.” Kolbert has expanded her 2009 article, “The Sixth Extinction,” into a book of the same name to be released next month.

My next post in this Anthropocene series will continue on from pointing out some ways humans have changed the Earth to whether we can counteract any of these effects and why we should care.

References

[1] The stratigraphic timescale: http://stratigraphy.org/index.php/ics-chart-timescale
[2] Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M., Steffen, W., and Crutzen, P. “The New World of the Anthropocene,” in Environmental Science and Technology: www.pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es903118j
[3] Kolbert, E. “The Lost World,” in two issues of the New Yorker, December 16 and 23/30, 2013.

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Special alert!

Here’s our chance to listen to one of the foremost authorities on what’s under Yellowstone explain what is known about the volcano.

Jake Lowenstern, U.S. Geological Survey scientist-in-charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, will talk tomorrow evening, January 23rd, at 7 pm PST about the latest understanding of earthquakes, uplifting ground, and steam explosions in Yellowstone’s caldera.

He will also talk about the amazing geological history of Yellowstone National Park and how scientists are monitoring the area in order some day to be able to forecast eruptions.

Tune in to: online.wr.usgs.gov/calendar/live.html

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