Tag: Scientific American

Sharing our emotions

Good people, ran out of time yesterday but wanted to republish the following.

It first appeared in October, 2015. The pictures are no longer available online.

Exploring the range of emotions felt and displayed by our dogs.

Like so many bloggers, I subscribe to the writings of many others. Indeed, it’s a rare day when I don’t read something that touches me, stirring up emotions across the whole range of feelings that we funny humans are capable of.

Such was the case with a recent essay published on Mother Nature Network. It was about dogs and whether they are capable of complex emotions. Better than that, MNN allow their essays to be republished elsewhere so long as they are fully and properly credited.

Thus, with great pleasure I republished the following essay written by Jaymi Heimbuch.

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Are dogs capable of complex emotions?

Joy, fear, surprise, disgust, sadness. These are the basic emotions dogs feel that are also easy enough for humans to identify. But what about more complex emotions?

Many dog owners are convinced their dogs feel guilty when they’re caught misbehaving. In the same way, many owners are sure their dogs feel pride at having a new toy or bone. But it gets tricky when you assign these sorts of emotions to a dog. These are definitely emotions felt by humans, but are they also felt by dogs?

(see footnote)

Why we question the presence of complex emotions is wrapped up in the way we get to those emotions. The American Psychological Association explains, “Embarrassment is what’s known as a self-conscious emotion. While basic emotions such as anger, surprise or fear tend to happen automatically, without much cognitive processing, the self-conscious emotions, including shame, guilt and pride, are more complex. They require self-reflection and self-evaluation.”

Essentially we’re comparing our behavior or situation to a social expectation. For instance, guilt comes when we reflect on the fact that we’ve violated a social rule. We need to be aware of the rule and what it means to break it. So, can dogs feel guilt? Well, exactly how self-reflective and self-evaluative are dogs?

Among humans, children begin to experience empathy and what are called secondary emotions when they are around 2 years old. Researchers estimate that the mental ability of a dog is roughly equal to that of an 18-month-old human. “This conclusion holds for most mental abilities as well as emotions,” says Stanley Coren in an article in Modern Dog Magazine. “Thus, we can look to the human research to see what we might expect of our dogs. Just like a two-year-old child, our dogs clearly have emotions, but many fewer kinds of emotions than found in adult humans.”

In other words, if 18-month-old children can’t yet experience these emotions, and dogs are roughly equal to them in cognitive and emotional ability, then dogs can’t feel these self-reflective emotions either. At least, that’s what researchers have concluded so far.

Is that guilt or fear?

The evidence for primary emotions like love and happiness in dogs abounds, but empirical evidence for secondary emotions like jealousy and guilt is sparse. And this is partially because it’s difficult to create tests that provide clear-cut answers. When it comes to guilt, does a dog act guilty because she knows she did something wrong, or because she’s expecting a scolding? The same expression can come across as guilt or fear. How do we know which it is?

Scientific American explains it further:

“In wolves, it is thought that guilt-related behaviors serve to reinforce social bonds, as in primates, by reducing conflict and eliciting tolerance from other members of the social group. The same could be true of dogs, though their social groups would primarily include humans. The problem is that the display of the associated behaviors of guilt are not, themselves, evidence of the capacity to emotionally experience guilt… It may still be some time before we can know for certain whether dogs can experience guilt, or whether people can determine if a dog has violated a rule prior to finding concrete evidence of it.”

Guilt, and other secondary emotions, are complicated. That’s exactly why cognitive awareness and emotional capacity in dogs is still a topic under study. In fact, it’s an area that has grown significantly in recent years. We may discover that dogs have a more complex range of emotions than we’re aware of today.

Dogs are highly social animals, and social animals are required to navigate a range of emotions in themselves and those around them to maintain social bonds. It wasn’t so long ago that scientists thought that dogs (and other non-human animals) didn’t have any feelings at all. Perhaps our understanding of dog emotions is simply limited by the types of tests we’ve devised to understand their emotions. After all, we’re trying to detect a sophisticated emotional state in a species that doesn’t speak the same language.

There’s a lot we don’t know

Marc Bekoff makes the argument for leaving the possibility open. In an article in Psychology Today he writes, “[B]ecause it’s been claimed that other mammals with whom dogs share the same neural bases for emotions do experience guilt, pride, and shame and other complex emotions, there’s no reason why dogs cannot.”

Keeping the possibility open is more than just an emotional animal rights issue. There is a scientific basis for continuing the research. A recent study showed that the brains of dogs and humans function in a more similar way than we previously thought.

Scientific American reports that “dog brains have voice-sensitive regions and that these neurological areas resemble those of humans. Sharing similar locations in both species, they process voices and emotions of other individuals similarly. Both groups respond with greater neural activity when they listen to voices reflecting positive emotions such as laughing than to negative sounds that include crying or whining. Dogs and people, however, respond more strongly to the sounds made by their own species.”

Until recently, we had no idea of the similar ways human and dog brains process social information.

So do dogs feel shame, guilt and pride? Maybe. Possibly. It’s still controversial, but for now, there seems to be no harm in assuming they do unless proven otherwise.

ooOOoo

Footnote: At this point in the MNN article there was a link to a series of gorgeous photographs of dogs. If you dear readers can wait, then I will publish them this coming Sunday. If you can’t wait, then go here!

Starting Out on The Meditation Journey

If meditation really works then we want to engage in it.

Those who watched the video that was the central component of yesterday’s post will not have missed the references by Ted Meissner that scientific, double-blind evidence shows that meditation offers benefits for us humans.

Both Jean and I are especially interested in learning more and, hopefully, finding an appropriate meditation group in our nearest town, Grants Pass.

We would also welcome feedback and advice from any of you good people who have trod this path before.

For example, when one conducts a quick internet search into the different forms of meditation there are dozens of websites that are returned in the search findings. Almost choosing one website at random, the Visual Meditation website declares there are 7 Types of Meditation.  As in:

  • Transcendental Meditation (TM)
  • Heart Rhythm Meditation (HRM)
  • Kundalini
  • Guided Visualization
  • Qi Gong
  • Zazen
  • Mindfulness

To my uneducated eye, not one of those types seems to accord with the type supported by the American Meditation Society:

OUR MISSION

  • To provide instruction in meditation as taught by the founder of AMS, Gururaj Ananda Yogi.
  • To preserve and share the universal teachings of Gururaj with integrity and wisdom.
  • To provide a place where those who wish to unfold the inner self may do so in the company of other like-minded people.

Back to the plot! For this post is about the science.

The following video seemed worthy of sharing with you.

I watched the first 10 minutes before deciding it should be shared. By the time this post is published Jean and I will have watched it to the end. [20:45 yesterday evening. Jean and I have just finished watching the Bob Roth video below. It was both fascinating and very helpful!!]

The Aspen Institute

Published on Jun 26, 2016

Published studies have documented the many physical and mental health benefits of meditation, including decreased pain, better immune function, less anxiety and depression, a heightened sense of well-being, and greater happiness and emotional self-control. Google Scholar turns up almost 700,000 research documents on meditation, among them imaging studies that show increased activity in brain regions associated with attention, a higher volume of grey matter, and lessened amygdala response to emotional stimuli. What actually happens in the brain when we meditate? Why is meditation so nourishing to the mind, body and spirit?

Perri Peltz, Interviewer
Bob Roth

But a search of the YouTube website using the search term “meditation science” brought up many other links to shorter videos.

I selected the following (2:23 mins) because it is presented by Ferris Jabr who is an Associate Editor with Scientific American magazine.

Bottom line to my way of thinking is that this is something worth committing to once we know much more about engaging in meditation.

Your experiences most welcomed.

(And, of course, when it comes to chilling out for hours regularly each day then there’s another thing we can learn from our beloved dogs! No better demonstrated than by Brandy yesterday morning in the following photograph!)

The science of understanding between dogs and humans.

How our dogs process what we say to them.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post Talking to One’s Dog. Many of you stopped by and left your comments, all of which was to confirm how much speaking to your dogs (and cats) is part of normal life for you.

I finished that post writing:

Let me close by reminding all you good people of yet another wonderful aspect of the relationship between humans and dogs. In that we all know the dog evolved from the grey wolf. But had you pondered on the fact that wolves don’t bark! Yes, they howl but they do not bark.

There is good science to underpin the reason why dogs evolved barking; to have a means of communicating with us humans.

Every person who has a dog in their life will instinctively understand the meaning of most, if not all, of the barks their dog utters.

Anyway, I was going through some websites yesterday and, quite by chance, came across that science that I referred to above. It was in a Care2 article published last September and I am republishing it below.

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Yes, Dogs Apparently Do Understand What We’re Saying

By: Laura Goldman, September 5, 2016

About Laura Follow Laura at @lauragoldman

You might want to start spelling out some words around your dog. According to a new study, not only do dogs comprehend what we’re trying to tell them by the tone of our voices, but they can also even understand what it is we’re saying — sort of.

Neuroscientist Attila Andics and his fellow researchers at the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest discovered that just like human brains, a dog’s brain reacts to both the meaning of a word and how it is spoken. Just like us, the left hemisphere of a dog’s brain responds to meaning, while the right hemisphere responds to intonation.

The study, published August 30 in the journal Science, shows that even non-primate mammals who cannot speak can still comprehend the meanings of words in a speech-filled environment. This suggests that the ability of our brains to process words is not unique to humans, and may have evolved much earlier than previously thought.

Not only could these results help make communicating with our dogs more efficient, but the study sheds new light on the origin of words during language evolution. “What makes words uniquely human is not a special neural capacity, but our invention of using them,” Andics said in a press release.

While previous studies have observed dogs to see how they understand us, this is the first one that took a look inside their brains using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The 13 participants were all family pets. They included six border collies, five golden retrievers, a Chinese crested dog and a German shepherd.

To be tested, the dogs were first trained to lie still for eight minutes in the MRI machine while wearing headphones and a radio-frequency coil. (Based on the wagging tail of a Golden Retriever in the video below, this didn’t seem to bother at least one of the participants.) Their brain activity was recorded as they listened to a recording of their trainer saying, in both positive and neutral tones, words of praise – like “Good boy!” and “Well done!” – as well as neutral words like “however” and “as if.”

Not too surprisingly, the positively spoken positive words got a big reaction in the reward centers of the dogs’ brains. The positive words spoken neutrally and neutral words spoken with positive tones? Not so much.

Regardless of how they were spoken, the dogs processed the meaningful words in the left hemisphere of their brains. They processed intonation in the right hemisphere.

“There’s no acoustic reason for this difference,” Andics told Science. “It shows that these words have meaning to dogs. They integrate the two types of information to interpret what they heard, just as we do.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean dogs understand every single thing we say (although a Border Collie named Chaser understands over 1,000 words, which is pretty doggone remarkable).

Julie Hecht, a Ph.D. student studying canine behavior and cognition at City University of New York, offers this advice in Scientific American: “Before discussing this with your dog — ‘I knew you could understand me this whole time!’ — the caveat to this research is that a dog processing words — registering, ‘Ah! That’s familiar!’ — and a dog understanding words as you intend are not necessarily the same thing.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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I have recounted this example before about how well our dogs listen to Jean and me.

For we take our dogs out for some playtime each day after our lunch. Years ago we used to chat about whether or not to have a cup of tea before taking the dogs for a walk. But pretty quickly once they heard the word “walk’ spoken aloud they were all crowding around the front door.

Then it was a case of spelling out the word: “W – A – L – K”. That lasted for, oh, two or three days.

Then it was using a variety of phrases that we thought would be meaningless to the dogs. That didn’t work!

And on and on.

Now, as soon as we are finishing up our food they are at the door. Jean and I now delay our hot drink to later on!

The most beautiful human – animal relationship in the world!

First puppies born through IVF.

There’s more to this than initially meets the eye.

I’m back to another ScienceAlert article although this story has been widely reported including by our local newspaper, the Grants Pass Daily Courier.  This is about in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Now I am sure that I share with countless others a poor understanding of what IVF is. Here’s a Wikipedia extract:

In vitro fertilization or fertilisation (IVF) is a process by which an egg is fertilised by sperm outside the body: in vitro (“in glass”). The process involves monitoring and stimulating a woman’s ovulatory process, removing an ovum or ova (egg or eggs) from the woman’s ovaries and letting sperm fertilise them in a liquid in a laboratory. The fertilised egg (zygote) is cultured for 2–6 days in a growth medium and is then implanted in the same or another woman’s uterus, with the intention of establishing a successful pregnancy.

Obviously that applies to women.

A quick web search revealed that the IVF procedure is commonly used in livestock. Here’s a graphic example of that (literally):

IVFProcedure

All of which leads nicely in to the Science Alert story.

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ivf-dogs-1_1024

These are the world’s first puppies born through IVF

Cutest science ever.

PETER DOCKRILL 11 DEC 2015

The world’s first litter of puppies born through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) represents the culmination of decades of research and has resulted in seven adorable pups called Cannon, Red, Green, Cornelia, Buddy, Kiwi and Ivy le Fleur.

But the achievement goes beyond almost intolerable cuteness. The researchers say successfully breeding puppies via IVF opens the door for saving endangered canid species and using gene-editing techniques to eradicate heritable diseases in dogs.

“Since the mid–1970s, people have been trying to do this in a dog and have been unsuccessful,” said Alex Travis, a reproductive biologist from Cornell University.

To develop the litter of pups, the researchers had to fertilise eggs from donor mothers with sperm from donor fathers in the lab, before transferring the embryos to a host female. 19 embryos were transferred to the host female in total, who gave birth to seven healthy pups.

Credit: Cornell University
Credit: Cornell University

Two of the pups came from a beagle mother donor and a cocker spaniel father donor, and the other five came from two pairings of beagle mothers and fathers.

The team had to overcome a number of challenges to make the process work. Picking the right time to collect mature eggs from the female oviduct proved difficult, as dogs’ reproductive cycles occur only twice per year typically. The researchers found delaying the egg collection by one day resulted in greater fertilisation than previous attempts.

An additional barrier was preparing the sperm for fertilisation, which is normally performed by the female tract. But the researchers found they could simulate these conditions by adding magnesium to the cell culture. “We made those two changes, and now we achieve success in fertilisation rates at 80 to 90 percent,” said Travis.

The researchers’ IVF process, described in PLOS One, will enable conservationists to store the semen and eggs of endangered canids and also help protect rare dog breeds.

Credit: Cornell University
Credit: Cornell University

“We can freeze and bank sperm, and use it for artificial insemination,” said Travis. “We can also freeze oocytes, but in the absence of in vitro fertilisation, we couldn’t use them. Now we can use this technique to conserve the genetics of endangered species.”

The IVF process should also lead to better genome-editing techniques in the future. This issue is particularly pertinent in light of the way that humans have bred dogs over many centuries. With the paired selection of mates for desired traits leading to detrimental genetic baggage due to inbreeding, this gives researchers a chance to eliminate diseases that certain breeds are now predisposed to.

“With a combination of gene-editing techniques and IVF, we can potentially prevent genetic disease before it starts,” said Travis.

We don’t always hear a lot about endangered canid species, but here are five candidates that this research will helpfully be able to help sooner rather than later.

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If you are like me and rarely follow the links in online stories then let me alert you to the last one. It’s an article in Scientific American that opens, thus:

The 5 Most Endangered Canine Species
By John R. Platt on May 9, 2013

Domesticated dogs are some of the most popular animals on the planet, but their cousins in the wild aren’t always as beloved. For thousands of years humans have persecuted wolves, jackals, dingoes, foxes and other members of the family Canidae, pushing many species into or close to extinction. Here are five of the most endangered canine species and subspecies, three of which only continue to exist because a few people and organizations have taken extraordinary efforts to save them.

I don’t have copyright permission to offer more. So all I will do is to list the names of those five most endangered species:

  • The Ethiopian wolf
  • The Mexican gray wolf
  • The red wolf
  • Darwin’s fox
  • Island fox

Do go here and read the full article. And let’s not forget that our lovely dogs are not the full canine story.

The emotions of our most beloved animal friend: our dog.

Exploring the range of emotions felt and displayed by our dogs.

Like so many bloggers, I subscribe to the writings of many others. Indeed, it’s a rare day when I don’t read something that touches me, stirring up emotions across the whole range of feelings that we funny humans are capable of.

Such was the case with a recent essay published on Mother Nature Network. It was about dogs and whether they are capable of complex emotions. Better than that, MNN allow their essays to be republished elsewhere so long as they are fully and properly credited.

Thus, with great pleasure I republished the following essay written by Jaymi Heimbuch.

ooOOoo

Are dogs capable of complex emotions?

Exactly what emotions do dogs feel, and are they capable of all the same emotions as humans? (Photo: Pressmaster/Shutterstock)
Exactly what emotions do dogs feel, and are they capable of all the same emotions as humans? (Photo: Pressmaster/Shutterstock)

Joy, fear, surprise, disgust, sadness. These are the basic emotions dogs feel that are also easy enough for humans to identify. But what about more complex emotions?

Many dog owners are convinced their dogs feel guilty when they’re caught misbehaving. In the same way, many owners are sure their dogs feel pride at having a new toy or bone. But it gets tricky when you assign these sorts of emotions to a dog. These are definitely emotions felt by humans, but are they also felt by dogs?

(see footnote)

Why we question the presence of complex emotions is wrapped up in the way we get to those emotions. The American Psychological Association explains, “Embarrassment is what’s known as a self-conscious emotion. While basic emotions such as anger, surprise or fear tend to happen automatically, without much cognitive processing, the self-conscious emotions, including shame, guilt and pride, are more complex. They require self-reflection and self-evaluation.”

Essentially we’re comparing our behavior or situation to a social expectation. For instance, guilt comes when we reflect on the fact that we’ve violated a social rule. We need to be aware of the rule and what it means to break it. So, can dogs feel guilt? Well, exactly how self-reflective and self-evaluative are dogs?

Among humans, children begin to experience empathy and what are called secondary emotions when they are around 2 years old. Researchers estimate that the mental ability of a dog is roughly equal to that of an 18-month-old human. “This conclusion holds for most mental abilities as well as emotions,” says Stanley Coren in an article in Modern Dog Magazine. “Thus, we can look to the human research to see what we might expect of our dogs. Just like a two-year-old child, our dogs clearly have emotions, but many fewer kinds of emotions than found in adult humans.”

In other words, if 18-month-old children can’t yet experience these emotions, and dogs are roughly equal to them in cognitive and emotional ability, then dogs can’t feel these self-reflective emotions either. At least, that’s what researchers have concluded so far.

Is that guilt or fear?

This little puppy might feel guilty for chewing on clothes, or he could just be worried about getting in trouble. The two aren't the same emotion. (Photo: InBetweentheBlinks/Shutterstock)
This little puppy might feel guilty for chewing on clothes, or he could just be worried about getting in trouble. The two aren’t the same emotion. (Photo: InBetweentheBlinks/Shutterstock)

The evidence for primary emotions like love and happiness in dogs abounds, but empirical evidence for secondary emotions like jealousy and guilt is sparse. And this is partially because it’s difficult to create tests that provide clear-cut answers. When it comes to guilt, does a dog act guilty because she knows she did something wrong, or because she’s expecting a scolding? The same expression can come across as guilt or fear. How do we know which it is?

Scientific American explains it further:

“In wolves, it is thought that guilt-related behaviors serve to reinforce social bonds, as in primates, by reducing conflict and eliciting tolerance from other members of the social group. The same could be true of dogs, though their social groups would primarily include humans. The problem is that the display of the associated behaviors of guilt are not, themselves, evidence of the capacity to emotionally experience guilt… It may still be some time before we can know for certain whether dogs can experience guilt, or whether people can determine if a dog has violated a rule prior to finding concrete evidence of it.”

Guilt, and other secondary emotions, are complicated. That’s exactly why cognitive awareness and emotional capacity in dogs is still a topic under study. In fact, it’s an area that has grown significantly in recent years. We may discover that dogs have a more complex range of emotions than we’re aware of today.

Dogs are highly social animals, and social animals are required to navigate a range of emotions in themselves and those around them to maintain social bonds. It wasn’t so long ago that scientists thought that dogs (and other non-human animals) didn’t have any feelings at all. Perhaps our understanding of dog emotions is simply limited by the types of tests we’ve devised to understand their emotions. After all, we’re trying to detect a sophisticated emotional state in a species that doesn’t speak the same language.

There’s a lot we don’t know

Dogs experience a range of emotions, but researchers are still trying to figure out exactly what those emotions are. (Photo: Hysteria/Shutterstock)
Dogs experience a range of emotions, but researchers are still trying to figure out exactly what those emotions are. (Photo: Hysteria/Shutterstock)

Marc Bekoff makes the argument for leaving the possibility open. In an article in Psychology Today he writes, “[B]ecause it’s been claimed that other mammals with whom dogs share the same neural bases for emotions do experience guilt, pride, and shame and other complex emotions, there’s no reason why dogs cannot.”

Keeping the possibility open is more than just an emotional animal rights issue. There is a scientific basis for continuing the research. A recent study showed that the brains of dogs and humans function in a more similar way than we previously thought.

Scientific American reports that “dog brains have voice-sensitive regions and that these neurological areas resemble those of humans. Sharing similar locations in both species, they process voices and emotions of other individuals similarly. Both groups respond with greater neural activity when they listen to voices reflecting positive emotions such as laughing than to negative sounds that include crying or whining. Dogs and people, however, respond more strongly to the sounds made by their own species.”

Until recently, we had no idea of the similar ways human and dog brains process social information.

So do dogs feel shame, guilt and pride? Maybe. Possibly. It’s still controversial, but for now, there seems to be no harm in assuming they do unless proven otherwise.

ooOOoo

Footnote: At this point in the MNN article there was a link to a series of gorgeous photographs of dogs. If you dear readers can wait, then I will publish them this coming Sunday. If you can’t wait, then go here!

Rivers in the sky!

California’s recent rain storm.

The recent rain storm that has affected much of the Western seaboard of the USA; albeit primarily California.  The BBC News reported online that:

Storm pounds northern California

Streets were heavily flooded in the town of Healdsburg, California.
Streets were heavily flooded in the town of Healdsburg, California.

More than 220,000 people are without power after heavy rains and high winds slammed northern California.

The storm brought rainfall of more than an inch an hour in San Francisco and winds gusts of 140mph (225km/h) in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Flooding has already closed two major motorways in the area, delayed public transport, cancelled 240 flights and shut ferry services.

The rain is much needed in the drought-hit state but mudslides are a concern.

Power cuts were widespread, from the suburban area south of San Francisco to Humboldt, near the Oregon border.

Thus the morning afterwards, it was wonderful to receive an email from Dan Gomez that put not only this last storm into context but also a long history of very significant deluges.  Bet you will be as surprised as I was when you read it!

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What Is This “Atmospheric River” That Is Flooding California?

By Mark Fischetti | December 11, 2014

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

——————-

SA1The San Francisco Bay Area is getting flooded with relentless rain and strong winds, just like it did a week ago, and fears of rising water are now becoming very serious. Major news stations, weather channels, Web outlets and social media are all suddenly talking about the “atmospheric river” that is bringing deluge after deluge to California, as well as the coast of Washington. What is this thing? How rare is it? And how big of a threat could it be? Here are some answers. And see our graphics, below, taken from a brilliant and prescient feature article written by Michael Dettinger and Lynn Ingram in Scientific Americanin January 2013.

Not interested? In 1861 an atmospheric river that brought storms for 43 days turned California’s Central Valley into an inland sea 300 miles long and 20 miles wide. Thousands of people died, 800,000 cattle drowned and the state went bankrupt. A similar disaster today would be much more devastating, because the region is much more populated and it is the single largest food producer in the U.S.

So maybe 1861 was an oddity. Not really. Geologic core samples show that extreme floods like the one in 1861 have happened in California about every 200 years, since the year 200 A.D. So the next disaster could be coming around the bend. The West Coast has actually been slowly constructing large, specialized, meteorological observatories that can sense atmospheric rivers as they develop, so forecasters can give early warnings.

An atmospheric river is a conveyor belt of vapor that extends thousands of miles from out at sea, carrying as much water as 15 Mississippi Rivers. It strikes as a series of storms that arrive for days or weeks on end. Each storm can dump inches of rain or feet of snow. Meteorologists sometimes call small occurrences “pineapple expresses,” because they tend to flow in a straight line from around Hawaii toward the U.S. West Coast. The graphic below explains the details.

SA2

Several regions of central California have been frequent targets in the past two millennia. Here’s the record from core samples showing that every 200 years or so a catastrophic atmospheric river many times greater than any pineapple express occurs.

SA3

The flow pattern of the atmospheric river now battering the West Coast is classic. The University of Wisconsin at Madison maintains a terrific Web site that shows the flows in real time, updated every five minutes. A snapshot from last night is below. The dark red swath across the equator is the tropical rain band that is usually present; the atmospheric river is the sweeping jet of water vapor (blue in the image) that shoots off towards the U.S.

SA4

If you want to know more about these monster storms, check out the feature articleby Dettinger and Ingram. Dettinger will also be speaking at the American Geophysical Union annual conference in San Francisco next week. I’ll be there, too—with 22,000 scientists, right in the thick of the storms, should they continue.

Top image courtesy of the University of Wisconsin at Madison

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Maybe those fluffy white clouds aren’t quite as innocent looking as one might imagine! Oh, and a cubic metre of water is one tonne! A 1,000 kgs! (Just a little short of a ton in old money.)

Finally, here in rural Southern Oregon, we received 1.70 inches of rain on Thursday and were grateful that it wasn’t more.  Nonetheless, it had the creek levels raised, as the following pictures reveal.

A small creek that only flows during periods of heavy rain. The creek is on the boundary between our property and our neighbour's to the North.
A small creek that only flows during periods of heavy rain. The creek is on the boundary between our property and our neighbour’s to the North.

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This the raised water flowing over the irrigation dam on Bummer Creek, that flows North-South through the woods on the Eastern part of our land.
The raised water flowing over the irrigation dam on Bummer Creek, that flows North-South through the woods on the Eastern part of our land. Bummer Creek flows year-round.

The Natural order – life and death.

Nature imposes herself on us humans in absolute terms.

I do not believe in any form of life after death.  Jean is uncertain.  Many good people do believe in some form of spiritual afterlife.

However, one thing is sure. Our living mind and body will die.

These few words are an introduction to the first essay under the broad title of The Natural order. On the 23rd April I introduced the idea of writing a regular essay “about the past, present and future of man’s relationship with Nature.

Thus it did seem entirely appropriate to ‘kick off’ the essays with reflections about life and death.

Alex Jones of The Liberated Way blog recently wrote a post under the title of ‘The circle of life and death‘.  I am republishing it in full with Alex’s kind permission.

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The circle of life and death

Posted on April 27, 2014 |
Nature reminds me life and death is a circle.

The circle of life and death.
The circle of life and death.

I visit a house, the noise of hungry little birds emanating from a nest hidden in the roof, busy parents flying in and out feeding their brood. Less than a week before summer (1st May) I encounter life all about me, like a vast fountain of creativity, as plant and animal erupt into growth and creation. I feel a sense of joy at the life all about me, like dipping my feet in crystal clear spring waters.

Amongst this carnival of life a reminder that with life there is also death. Helix our cat is an effective hunter, a blue tit is found dead upon the ground. I feel no sadness for the death, it is a natural part of the cycle of nature, my animistic viewpoint is of a small spirit returning to the source, and from then renewing. No anger for Helix, since this is the nature of cats, despite being fed, a cat must follow the primal instinct of its nature to hunt. I carry the dead blue tit to an overgrown spot of trees and grass, here I place the blue tit to decay and thus become part of the life of plant and animal of that place, such is the circle of life and death.

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There can’t be a single person on this planet who does not understand that our human life is finite.

Life span of early man: Until fairly recently, little information existed about how long prehistoric people lived. Too few fossilized human remains made it tough for historians to estimate the demographics of any population. Anthropology professors Rachel Caspari and Sang-Hee Lee chose instead to analyze the relative ages of skeletons found in archeological digs in eastern and southern Africa, Europe, and elsewhere. Comparing the proportion of those who died young, with those who died at an older age, the team concluded that longevity only began to significantly increase (that is, past the age of 30 or so) about 30,000 years ago – quite late in the span of human evolution.

In an article published in 2011 in Scientific American, Caspari calls the shift the “evolution of grandparents”, as it marks the first time in human history that three generations might have co-existed. ( Source: Longevity Throughout History.)

Thus given that living much past the age of thirty years is a relatively recent experience, it baffles me beyond comprehension that we, as in mankind, have become so short-sighted about reinvesting in the one and only natural planet that sustains us.

Beautifully expressed in another wonderful essay from John Hurlburt.

ooOOoo

 Notes on the Human Dilemma

The metanexus of Faith, Nature and Science form an integral vision of the reality in which we exist. We are components of Creation living in an emerging universe. As consciously aware life forms we are each and all responsible to the Nature of God in a steadily emerging universe. Change is both constant and inevitable. Species that don’t adapt, do not survive.

Our human problems are obvious.

The essential growth of human conscious awareness remains questionable.

There is a blatant disregard for Nature. The rate of Natural disasters is increasing everywhere on Earth

Civil unrest is bordering on a second Civil War and is already in that state in many other nations of the world.

Imminent economic collapse remains probable as long our world economy is based on a foundation that has been leveraged at least twenty-five times above any realistic material foundation on Earth.

Are we a moral species?

A steady increase in natural disasters worldwide is inevitable until we change in response to Nature’s warnings or become extinct. The collapse of morality threatens the existence of global civilization.

The virtual extinction of the human race in its present state is all but assured within the next century unless we adapt to the Reality we presently blithely ignore or chose to vilify.

We still have a choice.

Our alternative to what has been euphemistically referred to as “new reality” is the process of education, reformation and transformation on a personal level. The objectives are an obvious need to adapt to constant natural change and create a species renaissance in harmony with the reality of God, Nature and Science.

There is clearly a need for a global economy that is based on our primal need for clean air, clean water, clean food and clean energy. We need to maintain our balance through gratitude for the blessings of the life we share and equal justice for all. We need to remember that we are not in charge of anything except our responsibilities to God, Nature and each other.

Under these simple guidelines, a healthy, growing future remains possible as we prepare to migrate from our home planet and relieve the consumptive consequences of an exponentially growing and ravenous demographic ruled by the artificial symbol of Money.

Sound impossible? Au contraire…

The world is being forced to re-evaluate its economic premises. Here are a few proven solutions to help create a naturally invigorated economy.

We can cut air pollution dramatically overnight by converting commercial diesel engines to far more cost-effective bio-fuels without a single change to the diesel mechanisms.

Bio-diesel distillation plants can filter and recycle the clean water we need to live.

We are capable of growing our own food with recycled organic fertilizers.

We have begun the process of harnessing the limitless clean renewable energy provided by the sun, the wind and hydraulic power.

Electric cars that may be fueled by solar energy are winning world class races.

The list of what we are capable of doing is only limited by our imaginations.

The questions to ask ourselves are:

 

Are we at the beginning of a new world or at the end of an old world?

 

Are we a part of the problem or part of a realistic solution?”

 

What will be the harvest of our lives?”

 

an old lamplighter

 

ooOOoo

Reply to a skeptic

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

I came across this wonderful quotation on a blogsite called Wibble!  It was a comment to a post with the compelling title of It is vitally important not to make connections and explains that the quote was made by Dr. Seuss in the film The Lorax.

For me that quotation sums up how I would like to reply to not only my dear friend, Dan Gomez, who is a denialist of anthropogenic climate change, as last Monday’s Post illustrated, but also to skeptics everywhere else.

I should also add the important qualifier that I am neither a scientist nor have any expert skills in the relevant areas.  But, then again, neither does Dan.  He and I are both citizens of Planet Earth with a passion for the truth.

So where to go from here?  There is no question that the Earth’s climate is complex and endeavouring to understand ’cause and effect’ relies heavily on mathematical models.  But many complex aspects of our world are treated similarly, therefore so what!  Dan and I share with millions of others a lack of scientific competence, ergo we have to be rely on the scientific views expressed by those who do have the scientific competencies.

Would one challenge the competence of Scientific American magazine, that in an article on March 18, 2007, (five years ago!) opened thus,

Paris–The signs of global climate change are clear: melting glaciers, earlier blooms and rising temperatures. In fact, 11 of the past 12 years rank among the hottest ever recorded.

and continued later with this, [my emboldening]

For example, after objections by Saudi Arabia and China, the report dropped a sentence stating that the impact of human activity on the earth’s heat budget exceeds that of the sun by fivefold. “The difference is really a factor of 10,” says lead author Piers Forster of the University of Leeds in England: compared with its historical output, the sun currently contributes an extra 0.12 watt of energy for each square meter of the earth’s surface, whereas man-made sources trap an additional 1.6 watts per square meter.

Or what ‘influence’ might be at play when the British newspaper The Guardian reported earlier this year that,

Wall Street Journal rapped over climate change stance

, US environment correspondent

The Wall Street Journal has received a dressing down from a large group of leading scientists for promoting retrograde and out-of-date views on climate change.  In an opinion piece run by the Journal on Wednesday, nearly 40 scientists, including acknowledged climate change experts, took on the paper for publishing an article disputing the evidence on global warming.

The offending article, No Need to Panic About Global Warming, which appeared last week, argued that climate change was a cunning ploy deployed by governments to raise taxes and by non-profit organisations to solicit donations to save the planet.

It was signed by 16 scientists who don’t subscribe to the conventional wisdom that climate change is happening and is largely man-made – but as Wednesday’s letter points out, many of those who signed don’t actually work in climate science.

Later in that article Suzanne writes, referring to the 40 scientists, [again, my emboldening]

The letter goes on to note that some 97% of researchers who actively publish on climate science agree that climate change is real and caused by humans. It concludes: “It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses.”

There’s much, much more evidence that shows that the science is clear – mankind is risking the future viability of this planet for the species homo sapiens and countless other species!

One of the important points made by Dan in that Post last Monday was about the book, written by Senator James Inhofe, The Greatest Hoax.  Dan wrote, “This is all about money and power, not weather.

There are a number of independent websites across the world where one can quickly research the credentials and background by name of any person.  Try Skeptical Science as an example.  A quick enquiry using Senator Inhofe’s name came up with this: Quotes by James Inhofe – Climate Myth/What the Science Says.  Read It!  And read this on the website Think Progress.  There are other websites where one can do that type of research.

In an email just a day ago, Dan wrote, “My message/warning remains the same: “Follow the Money”.  When the “End-of-the-World” is the message, what politician can resist?”  If only it was that easy.

OK, I’m going to start rounding this all off by first asking you to watch this 4-minute video that I came across thanks to Pedantry’s blogsite Wibble.

A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never!

Next I’m going to repeat something that I have previously mentioned on Learning from Dogs.  There’s a saying in the aviation industry, “If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!”  That saying underpins the culture that has turned commercial air transport into one of the safest means of travel in history.

Let’s ponder that idea of doubt.

There is no question that there is a great deal of doubt.  Back in 2010 Gallup Poll reported that “42% of adults worldwide who see global warming as a threat to themselves and their families in 2010 hasn’t budged in the last few years“.

Would you get into a commercial airliner to fly from ‘a’ to ‘b’ if 42% of the passengers saw the flight as a threat to themselves?  No, of course not!

So one certainly wouldn’t fly then if 62% thought it was risky!  From here,

The newest study from the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change, which is a biannual survey taken since fall 2008 and organized by the Brookings Institute, shows that 62 percent of Americans now believe that man-made climate change is occurring, and 26 percent do not. The others are unsure.

So back to the theme that started this Post.  For the sake of all of us on this planet, for all our children and grandchildren and beyond, we need to start caring deeply about the future, changing our life-styles in as many ways as we can and demanding that our politicians and leaders are similarly committed to the future.

Not because the future is anything like certain – but to reduce the risks of a global catastrophy.  I have a grandson who will be one-year-old on March 21st.  I want to be certain that he has a viable life ahead of him for many, many years.  That means caring ‘a whole awful lot‘, letting hope motivate me to change, and recognising that change is already taking place, as the following trailer so superbly demonstrates.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Unreliable witnesses.

The obvious may not be that obvious!

Think you can think independently?

Watch this video from Simon Singh

Then there’s Michael Shermer who describes himself as follows:

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and Adjunct Professor at Claremont Graduate University.

Finally, Joe Keohane (with thanks to Tom M. for the intro.)

Joe wrote a fascinating article that appeared in the Boston Globe last July that opens,

How facts backfire

Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains

By Joe Keohane

July 11, 2010

It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.

This is a very smart article and much recommended, do read it fully here.

That’s all clear and straightforward then!

 

Chernobly, Fukushima and change.

From out of darkness has to come the dawn

One side effect of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Northern Japan on the 11th March causing an explosion at the Fukushima nuclear power station is that the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster is much more a news item than I suspect it might have been.

The nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Russia occurred on the 26th April, 1986, twenty-five years ago today.  One major difference between the two disasters was, of course, how they were reported.

Here’s a small extract from a fuller article in The Financial Times published on the 19th April written by Tony Barber who was in Russia those 25 years ago.

Twenty-five years after the explosion at the Ukrainian facility, I vividly recall every detail of those terrible days of April 1986. I was a 26-year-old foreign correspondent working in Moscow for Reuters news agency. On Friday, April 25, I flew to Kiev to spend a couple of days with Rhona, an ebullient Scottish friend who was teaching at the city’s university under a British Council programme. I was the only western journalist in Kiev that weekend.

While we caroused the night away, extraordinary events were unfolding 130km to the north. Technicians were conducting experiments that involved the disabling of automatic shutdown mechanisms at the plant’s fourth reactor. After a tremendous power surge, the reactor blew up at 1.23am on Saturday, April 26.

Except for high-ranking Communist party officials, the KGB and a number of scientists, doctors and fire-fighters, no one in the Soviet Union, let alone the wider world, knew anything about this. Soviet habits of secrecy and deception kept millions of people in the dark even as radiation spread across Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and beyond.

Certainly the disaster in Japan was widely broadcast across the world without any delays or restraints.  But the thrust of this Post today is to point out what, in the end, will have to be understood by the majority of the world’s peoples and their representatives in power.  That is that our dependence, our love affair, with cheap carbon-based energy has to come to an end, and soon.

On the 26th March, The Economist published a briefing on nuclear power entitled, When the steam clears.  As with so many of this newspaper’s essays, it was very well written [I am a subscriber to The Economist; have been for years.]  Here’s a taste of the article,

When last year a volcano closed the skies over Europe and a blown-out oil-rig turned the Gulf of Mexico black, there was no widespread enthusiasm for giving up oil or air travel. But nuclear power is much less fundamental to the workings of the world than petrol or aeroplanes. Nuclear reactors generate only 14% of the world’s electricity, and with a median age of about 27 years (see chart) and a typical design life of 40 a lot are nearing retirement. Although the world is eager to fly and thirsts for oil, it has had little appetite for new nuclear power for the past quarter of a century.

And towards the end of the article, this,

Distressing though it is, the crisis at Fukushima Dai-ichi is not in itself a reason for the world to change energy policy. The public-health effects seem likely, in the long run, to be small. Coal, with its emissions of sulphur, mercury and soot, will continue to kill far more people per kilowatt hour than nuclear does. But as an opportunity to reflect it may be welcome.  [my italics]

Power of hope

We need a continued growing awareness of the craziness of using coal and oil as primary sources of energy, and from that awareness a growing political pressure for change.  Change that recognises that mankind’s present energy strategies of continuing to pump carbon-based gases into the atmosphere are insane; pure and simple.

We need more of these examples:

Science Daily

University of Minnesota researchers are a key step closer to making renewable petroleum fuels using bacteria, sunlight and carbon dioxide.

Scientific American magazine

As the world continues to grapple with energy-related pollution and poverty, can innovation help?

The clock is ticking, as I wrote here a few days ago.