California Drought and Anasazi Transformation

    Lots of arm-waving, gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair on the Left Coast these days over The Drought. Of course, those whose interests are served, and pockets lined, by spreading fear of GLOBAL WARMING, and other myths, pound on about how climate change is the cause of The Drought, and, of course, humans are the cause of climate change.

    Rather than sorting through the rhetoric, I decided to ask someone who might know about these things, atmosphere, weather, climate, etc. Here’s what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program Office has to say about the California drought:

    “The current drought is not part of a long-term change in California precipitation, which exhibits no appreciable trend since 1895. Key oceanic features that caused precipitation inhibiting atmospheric ridging off the West Coast during 2011-14 were symptomatic of natural internal atmosphere-ocean variability.

    So there we are.

    This doesn’t let Homo sapiens californicus off the hook by any means. There’s still plenty of growth maniacs running wildly about the place, ignoring natural limitations of resource availability, planning new housing developments, industrial parks, airport runway expansions, new dams on rivers, if there are any rivers and creeks left untrammeled. No matter what the human problem is, from poverty to urban crime to childhood obesity, growth is the first solution pulled out of the hat.

    It’s time to stroll down to the local haberdashery and get a new hat.

    What’s needed is a whole lot less growth and development and a whole lot more simple adaptation.

    The Anasazi of 12th Century New Mexico figured it out. When times got tough and rain scarce in the Southwest, they abandoned their Great Houses in Chaco Canyon and vicinity and scattered into the uplands, where summer temperatures were cooler, rain more frequent and predictable. They reinvented themselves as Pueblo people and continued to live in place. They’ve lived there for 800 years or so, far longer than the upstart Europeans who repeatedly tried to drive them off or wipe them out, and failed.

   Now it’s our turn to be the Anasazi, if we’re smart enough, if we care enough. The imported European lifestyle just doesn’t work on this coast or this continent. Natural cycles far outspan the puny timescale, unbounded hubris and unrealistic aspirations of American endeavor. If we are to continue as a culture, a prospect looking increasingly doubtful, it will have to be as a very different culture, one which lives as a part of the natural world, not apart from it.

    Not to worry. Those things that can’t go on forever, don’t. Mother Nature bats last. It’s hard and it’s fair.

Grazing Through Climate Change

Tarplant in 2007

Today’s article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Coastal panel staff back Arana Gulch plan, includes the following from the California Coastal Commission (CCC) Staff Report for the upcoming hearing on the Arana Gulch Master Plan:

“The report notes that tarplants in the former dairy site have dropped from 100,000 in the 1980s to 32 this year. The report cites the end of grazing, invasive species and “unmanaged public access” that led to unauthorized trails.”

Tarplant numbers were not studied in the 1980s during grazing on Arana Gulch, therefore we have no baseline on which to compare current trends. A contributing factor that has not been studied is change in the timing and amount of precipitation in the area.

Tarplant in 2011

We have just come out of a multi-year drought and we are observing a significant change in precipitation patterns, for example, earlier rains in the fall/early winter season, and extended rains into late spring and early summer, in addition to increased precipitation in our normal winter rainy season. Tarplant numbers at the airport and Tarplant Hill in Watsonville, and in Twin Lakes State Park, have fluctuated in parallel with those of Arana Gulch, yet the other sites have not had large scale grazing that ended in 1989, coincident with declines in tarplant numbers. This would argue that some factor other than cessation of grazing is responsible for the decline in tarplant numbers at all of these sites.

It is more likely that the decline has as much to do with natural local climate variation as with changes in herbivory with the removal of dairy cattle from Arana Gulch.

The recent increase in tarplant individuals suggests that changes in precipitation patterns is a possible contributing factor to tarplant success or decline and would therefore influence the success of the City’s plans for industrial scale grazing on Arana Gulch..

Climate is not data…

…climate is process.

Media focus on “Global Warming” and climate change centers on two measures of climate: global average temperature and global average atmospheric CO2 concentration. The basic assumption underlying the headlines is that human produced CO2 above an undefined “pre-industrial” level is causing the global average temperature to rise, thus creating “global warming.”

This focus on contemporary patterns of data variation masks the underlying reality of climate change, viewed through the long lens of geologic time.

In short, climate is not data, climate is process.

The simplistic assumption that CO2 rise equals warmer temperatures ignores the complex interplay of meteorological and geophysical factors that combined together through time result in a variable global climate. Sea floor spreading, plate tectonics, aridity, humidity, ocean currents, atmospheric aerosols, relative cloud cover, variations in solar irradiation, dust, CO2, ozone fluctuations, all combine in a chaotic dance to produce what we perceive of as climate.

Despite the overwhelming presence of climate in the long view, humans respond most immediately to weather. As we continue to consider the long-term implications of climate change, our headlines are dominated by cold temperature records and blizzards blanketing the countryside, saying, “What’s up with this, then?” Once again, weather clouds our understanding of climate.

Rather than human produced CO2 causing global warming, what is actually happening is that our planet is engaged in a long term dance of climate variation. For the past 500,000 years the earth has been in a climate cycle characterized by periodic glacial advances and retreats in approximately 100,000 year cycles. Interglacial periods have been from 10,000 to 12,000 years in duration, during which glacial ice retreated and climate conditions stabilized at temperatures about 2 C lower than today.

Our most recent interglacial has been in effect for 10,000 to 12,000 years. We are now climbing up the steep slope to higher temperatures, increased CO2 concentration that marks the end of interglacial and the beginning of the next ice advance. Over the next 1,000 to 2,000 years, we will see temperature and CO2 concentration begin to decline, glacier melt declining and glaciers advancing throughout the world.

This is all a natural process of such magnitude and universality that it completely overwhelms any human contributions by way of atmospheric CO2 production. Consequently, there is nothing that human society can do about it, other than accommodate to the changing climate. Reducing anthropogenic CO2 will not change the outcome. The cycle will continue as it has for the past 500,000 years, until plate tectonics changes ocean current circulation sufficiently to bring about another global climate cycle.

Don’t toss out your long johns and snow shovels just yet, the Ice Age is returning!