The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Another milestone on the way to planetary disaster

The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii announced this week that the atmosphere passed 410 ppm of carbon dioxide and is heading for a monthly average of 407 ppm, the highest values observed on earth in millions of years:

Carbon dioxide concentrations have skyrocketed over the past two yearsdue to in part to natural factors like El Niño causing more of it to end up in the atmosphere. But it’s mostly driven by the record amounts of carbon dioxide humans are creating by burning fossil fuels.

“The rate of increase will go down when emissions decrease,” Pieter Tans, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said. “But carbon dioxide will still be going up, albeit more slowly. Only when emissions are cut in half will atmospheric carbon dioxide level off initially.”

Even when concentrations of carbon dioxide level off, the impacts of climate change will extend centuries into the future. The planet has already warmed 1.8°F (1°C), including a run of 627 months in a row of above-normal heat. Sea levels have risen about a foot and oceans have acidified. Extreme heat has become more common.

Too bad all that data isn't persuasive enough for some people. I guess the planet just needs better P.R.

The BST of times, BBC style

Author Tim Harford, who wrote The Logic of Life and a few other books I've liked, yesterday published an explanation of what telling time is all about:

Water clocks appear in civilisations from ancient Egypt to medieval Persia. Others kept time from marks on candles. But even the most accurate devices might wander by 15 minutes a day. This didn't matter to a monk wanting to know when to pray.

But there was one increasingly important area of life where the inability to keep accurate time was of huge economic significance: sailing.

By observing the angle of the Sun, sailors could calculate their latitude - where they were from north to south. But their longitude - where they were from east to west - had to be guessed.

Mistakes could - and frequently did - lead to ships hitting land hundreds of miles away from where navigators thought they were, sometimes disastrously.

How could accurate timekeeping help? If you knew when it was midday at Greenwich Observatory - or any other reference point - you could observe the Sun, calculate the time difference, and work out the distance.

But does anybody really know what time it is?

Massive flooding in low-lying areas; Continent cut off

Via a longtime reader, geologists have new evidence clarifying how Britain split off from the European mainland 450,000 YBP:

Researchers have found geological proof of one theory, that a catastrophic flood sparked massive waterfalls that cut through the rock ridge running through what's now the Dover Strait.

Analysis of [sonar] imagery, alongside existing supporting data, has led Collier and Gupta to report that Britain left Europe via a much more catastrophic route than erosion simply nibbling away at our connection to the continent. Instead, a glacial lake — perhaps sparked by an earthquake — over spilled its bounds in giant torrents of water.

"The waterfalls were so huge they left behind the plunge pools, some several kilometres in diameter and 100 metres deep in solid rock, running in a line from Calais to Dover," Collier said.

The chalky escarpment - similar to the cliffs at Dover - fell apart and released an epic flood, partially washing away the British land bridge to Europe.

That event wasn't enough to entirely separate the UK from Europe, with the final breach caused by a second megaflood that followed the first by as much as a hundred thousand years.

They conclude, "Had the initial flood not happened, the researchers added that Britain could still be connected to Europe, jutting out the same way Denmark does today."

Wait a second...

In about 10 minutes, time will once again stop for just a moment as clocks go from 23:59:59 UTC to 23:59:60 before slipping to midnight:

In a bulletin released this summer, the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, or IERS, said it would be necessary to introduce a "leap second" at the end of December. Timekeepers use this added second much as leap years are used — to bring the world's atomic clocks in sync with the Earth's own distinctive rhythm, which in this case is determined by its rotation.

According to a study published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Earth's rotation has slowed about 1.8 milliseconds per day — which means the solar day itself has lengthened, little by little. The researchers based this assessment on records dating back to 760 B.C., long before the implementation of the precise atomic clocks.

The Los Angeles Times broke down the findings: "If humanity had been measuring time with an atomic clock that started running back in 700 BC, today that clock would read 7 p.m. when the sun is directly overhead rather than noon."

2016 was already a leap year in the Gregorian calendar, will be one second longer still. So if you've felt like 2016 was the longest year ever...you're technically correct.

More stuff to read

Even though there are about 58 hours left in the year, I still have work to do. Meanwhile, a few things to read have crossed my RSS feeds:

OK, back to work.

The constant drumbeat of stupidity and cupidity

Tales in the war against reality waged by Trump and his party:

And yet, James Fallows sees cause for optimism (assuming Trump doesn't blow up the world):

In [the election's] calamitous effects—for climate change, in what might happen in a nuclear standoff, for race relations—this could indeed be as consequential a “change” election as the United States has had since 1860. But nothing about the voting patterns suggests that much of the population intended upheaval on this scale. “Change” elections drive waves of incumbents from office. This time only two senators, both Republicans, lost their seats.

[C]ity by city, and at the level of politics where people’s judgments are based on direct observation rather than media-fueled fear, Americans still trust democratic processes and observe long-respected norms. As I argued in a cover story last year, most American communities still manage to compromise, invest and innovate, make long-term plans.

Given the atrophy of old-line media with their quaint regard for truth, the addictive strength of social media and their unprecedented capacity to spread lies, and the cynicism of modern politics, will we ever be able to accurately match image with reality? The answer to that question will determine the answer to another: whether this election will be a dire but survivable challenge to American institutions or an irreversible step toward something else.

Only 698 days until the 2018 election...

One more thing for this horrible, horrible week

I could post about Krugman's "Thoughts for the Horrified," Deeply Trivial's explanation of how the polling failure wasn't what you think it was, or how much rats like being tickled. Instead, I give you twins born on either side of the return to Standard Time:

Emily and Seth Peterson of West Barnstable welcomed their sons in the early morning hours of Nov. 6 at Cape Cod Hospital.

Samuel was born 5 pounds, 13 ounces at 1:39 a.m., shortly before the 2 a.m. hour when clocks were turned back an hour.

Brother Ronan arrived at 5 pounds, 14 ounces 31 minutes later. Because he was born after the clocks fell back one hour, his official time of birth was declared 1:10 a.m. instead of 2:10 a.m.

Of course, the hospital, the Petersons, and ABC News all completely failed to understand that wall-clock time is not absolute time, but it's still a cute story.

More reading this evening

I'm a little disappointed with the Cubs' 6-5 loss to the Giants last night, but they get another crack at them tonight. I'll probably watch—while writing software. Meanwhile, here are some articles I wish I'd had more time to read:

Go Cubs, and back to work.

Drifting evidence

Attention flat-earthers: you can't simultaneously believe in GPS and that the earth is a disk covered by the dome of Heaven. Maps of Australia are the latest casualty in the war between evidence and...well, flat-earthers:

The Australian Plate is moving about 7 centimeters (2.8 inches) northwards every single year. This motion has accumulated over the decades to produce a significant discrepancy between local coordinates on maps and global coordinates in digital navigation systems used by satellites.

At present, this difference amounts to an error of 1.5 meters (4.9 feet). This is enough to cause a problem to anything in Australia that uses GPS-like systems, including smartphones and vehicles.

"If you want to start using driverless cars, accurate map information is fundamental," Dan Jaksa, a member of Geoscience Australia, told BBC News. “We have tractors in Australia starting to go around farms without a driver, and if the information about the farm doesn't line up with the coordinates coming out of the navigation system there will be problems.”

This is yet another instance where, for whatever reason, people whose religious beliefs encounter their direct economic interests seem to make allowances for science.

Next thing you know, insurance companies will start charging more to cover property close to sea level. Oh wait...

Whence altruism?

Via Bruce Schneier, the Universities of Bath, Manchester, and Princeton have developed a simple model to explain how altruism may have evolved in humans:

The key insight is that the total size of population that can be supported depends on the proportion of cooperators: more cooperation means more food for all and a larger population. If, due to chance, there is a random increase in the number of cheats then there is not enough food to go around and total population size will decrease. Conversely, a random decrease in the number of cheats will allow the population to grow to a larger size, disproportionally benefitting the cooperators. In this way, the cooperators are favoured by chance, and are more likely to win in the long term.

Dr George Constable, soon to join the University of Bath from Princeton, uses the analogy of flipping a coin, where heads wins £20 but tails loses £10:

"Although the odds winning or losing are the same, winning is more good than losing is bad. Random fluctuations in cheat numbers are exploited by the cooperators, who benefit more then they lose out."

So cheating works, but not for very long, so cooperation works better over the long term.