Saturday, July 21, 2012

A look at Kansas climate for 2012. Just how bad is it out there?

Given all the talk about how hot it has been and the severity of this years drought, I put together a historical look at Kansas climate in terms of temperature and a drought severity index. Rather than repeat it here hop on over to my science blog at the Lawrence Journal World.
But you might find my conclusions interesting so I will repost those here:

2012 does not even come close in severity to the earlier droughts, including some relatively recent droughts of the 1980's. What is interesting is that the Palmer index suggests that the drought of the mid 1950's was in some respects more intense than the drought of the 1930's.
So the data suggest that yes it has been really abnormally warm so far in 2012. On the other hand the Palmer data suggest that the current drought is not (At least through June) as severe as a number of other droughts we have had.
One problem we have of course looking at historical data is that agricultural practices have changed since the 1930's. Much of the marginal land that was farmed then is not farmed now or is farmed using large scale irrigation. Farmers today tend to use tillage and other conservation practices that that probably are moderating local temperature and precipitation to some degree compared to earlier years. This might explain the greater number of extreme highs during the 1930's when conservation practices were not as widespread.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Opuntia-1 by pdecell
Opuntia-1, a photo by pdecell on Flickr.

This Opuntia lives in my Kansas garden. It made it through our very mild winter and this is its first bloom.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Membracid and Ant

Membracid and Ant by pdecell
Membracid and Ant, a photo by pdecell on Flickr.

Ants often harvest honeydew from membracids. I am not sure if that is what had been going on here though. I spotted the membracid first and the ant wandered into my field of view.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Siberian Irises

These Siberian Irises are blooming along a walk way at my school. They are a couple of weeks early but not as early as some plants on my campus in Kansas. Our cherry trees were done blooming in mid March though they normally bloom in early May.

Speaking of global warming.

It is official. This March was the warmest march on record in the United States.

Global warming deniers will of course point out that one can not prove that the extreme temperatures in March are due to global warming. And they can probably find some way to spin the fact that globally this March was only the  13th warmest on record.

By the way, this red bud tree was in full bloom April 2nd and the temperature? 87 degrees F. Pretty extreme-even for Kansas.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A little science can be dangerous....

Rick Santorum not only doesn't accept evolution but he is a well known global warming sceptic. Recently he has attempted to give a science lesson on photosynthesis, noting quite correctly that plants require carbon dioxide-carbon dioxide being a raw material for photosynthesis. Therefore carbon dioxide can't be bad. So he has bought into the same sort of reasoning promulgated by the site CO2 Science which collects data on how much better plants grow when carbon dioxide levels increase. This video, Seeing is Believing, is pretty representative of what's on CO2 Science and is pretty effective and quite correct as far as it goes. Under controlled conditions and with plenty of other nutrients carbon dioxide does make plants grow better. But there are some big questions as to whether or not this increased plant growth will be sufficient to overcome the increase of carbon dioxide due to human activity. Some studies such as this one suggest that soils in forests can take up extra carbon in response to increased carbon dioxide levels. Sounds fine- but as noted by this primer on carbon dioxide and the carbon cycle, human activity such as deforestation has caused a net release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Plus, as oceans warm they also become less able to absorb carbon dioxide. One can argue about what will happen long term-but if the plants and other photosynthetic organisms are able to take up sufficient carbon dioxide why are atmospheric carbon dioxide levels still increasing with no sign of slowing? See this diagram from NOAA. Somehow the global warming skeptics who argue that plants can soak up the carbon dioxide are missing the big point- they may be right in theory , but globally something is awry with this thinking. Either on a global scale, plants and other photosynthetic organisms are not responding as "common sense" says they should or human activity is reducing the ability of natural systems to respond, as they other wise might, to increasing carbon dioxide concentrations.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Brush and Water

brush and water by pdecell
brush and water, a photo by pdecell on Flickr.

I love reflection shots. This one is from Baker Wetlands near Lawrence Kansas.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Intelligent Design Monkey Business-again.

There is an interesting article in this month's Chronicle of Higher Education about intelligent design. Apparently some of ID's leading luminaries held a conference at Cornell University, my alma mater, and conned convinced Springer, a major science publishing house, to publish the conference papers as a volume called Biological Information, New Perspectives.

Apparently Springer posted a web page advertising this forth coming book on its web site but it was quickly pulled when science bloggers such as Nick Matzke over at Panda's Thumb discovered this page and posted about it here.

Springer immediately pulled the web page advertising the ID volume deciding that maybe it needs more complete peer review. Apparently, even as noted by this sympathetic review of the conference, participants were told to tone down their religious perspectives so that the conference would be more scientific.

In an update on Panda's Thumb more details have surfaced. First the conference was not well attended. There were 27 or so attendees and that apparently included the presenters.  Second the conference really had nothing to do with Cornell officially but was merely held in the auditorium at Cornell's fine hotel school. This auditorium is rented to the public and that is what happened here.  The conference apparently was not publicized and indeed was held in that in between time before summer semester. To be fair to the conference organizers, that time of year is a wonderful year to be in Ithaca as I spent four delightful summers working there as an undergrad.

That said, one wonders if the University is too happy about having its reputation besmirched by implied association with this conference.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Finally broke down...

and got a tablet. We had gotten my wife a  Kindle Fire and she really likes it. So the other week we were in Best Buy and the Galaxy Tab was on sale. So I decided to take the plunge. So far I like that I don't need my fancy laptop with the 17" screen and super graphics card to read the New York Times and I appreciate the fact that it comes on instantly without rebooting and it certainly is easy to work with on the bus to work. Great for chatting and basic e-mail. But I can't yet do Second Life with it and forget trying to use my college's learning management system with it...but it is still lots of fun and complements my Android phone quite nicely.