Monday, April 30, 2018

Weather Prognostication

Are Earth’s weather and climate systems merely the result of chance? Do they manifest the elements of exquisitely designed systems? Temperature is but one of many weather-defining factors. Our ability to forecast temperatures connects our knowledge of astronomy with the topic of weather. The tilt of Earth’s axis of rotation is central to understanding weather-related temperature variation. Our home planet’s axis of rotation is not perpendicular to its plane of its revolution. Instead, it tilts away from the 90º configuration by the familiar 23.5º. In terms of the welfare of Earth’s population of over 7.5 billion, we should be thankful for its deviation from the perpendicular. 

Considering the reliability or inaccuracy of long term weather forecasting, we may profitably understand factors which cause the overall warm to cold and cold to warm seasonal cycles. In the writer’s neighborhood of extreme northwest Illinois, each year around July 11 Earth begins a slow descent from an 82.2ºF average high temperature to a January 11 average high of only 26.3ºF, a drop of 55.9ºF. Then a reversal occurs. After a week or two of virtually no change, temperatures stage a comeback, recovering slowly at first, then more rapidly before leveling off after reaching their July peak. The running averages are a source of satisfaction for statistics-minded weather addicts.

Next day, three-day, five-day, and ten-day weather forecasts become progressively less reliable. Thirty-day forecasts may reflect already established weather trends. For example, some locations experience a rainy season or dry season. Most weather-aware residents note how much above or below average the temperature, precipitation, and wind speed will be for the current day or the immediate future. Modern technology has refined the accuracy of forecasts.

Most observers are more interested in local weather forecasts than in causes of warm to cold or cold to warm seasonal transitions. Those transitions, however, are fundamental to understanding life conditions on our planet. The most important factor determining temperature conditions at any location is the angle of insolation—the angle at which the sun’s rays strike the Earth’s surface. This determines whether residents live in a tropical (warm) climate, a temperate (moderate) climate, or a polar (cold) climate. In terms of cause of our varying temperature conditions on Planet Earth, we pinpoint the tilt of Earth’s axis as the main cause of variations in the angle at which Sun rays strike the surface of Earth. If we could alter the 23.5º axis tilt to 0º we would not alter Earth’s generally warm, moderate, or cold zones. We would, however, remove seasons from our experience. Life would be very different for Earth dwellers:

Seasonal temperature variation depends on the angle of sunlight striking the earth’s surface. This factor is important wherever we are on the planet. The tilt of Earth’s axis dictates that direct noontime sun rays strike the Tropic of Cancer on June 21. Those residents would see the Sun at their zenith (straight overhead) at noon. Three months later on September 21 the Sun’s direct noon time rays strike directly at the Equator but Tropic of Cancer residents would notice the Sun’s noontime rays have descended to 23.5º south of their zenith. Three months later on December 21 residents at the Tropic of Capricorn would observe their noontime sun directly overhead, but people living at the Tropic of Cancer would observe their noontime Sun 47º south of their zenith while residents directly at the Equator would observe the Sun 23.5º south of their zenith. Dwellers in tropical regions are the only Earth residents ever to observe the Sun directly at their zenith on some occasions. Residents in tropical regions experience fairly direct noon solar rays all year long. This explains why their weather forecasts almost always use adjectives “warm” or “hot.”

North of the Tropic of Cancer in the temperate zone between 23.5º and 66.5º N. Lat. people are more impacted by seasonal temperature variations owing to the indirect angle of insolation. In a previous post we illustrated by reporting that Ft. Myers FL has an average high temperature difference of only 21ºF from June to December while Dubuque IA has a June to December difference of 55ºF. The primary reason is the greater difference in the angle of solar insolation. This angle differs more greatly from the generally vertical the farther north one travels. Specifically, the amount of radiant energy from sun rays striking Earth’s surface at 30º is 50% of the radiant energy received from rays striking at 90º. 

Seasonal temperatures depend slightly on a few other factors in addition to sun angle. For instance, at 41º north latitude June has 15 hours of daylight and 9 hours of night darkness. In December the figures are reversed. In June there are more hours of heating; in December there are less. Other interesting phenomena occur seasonally. In June the Sun rises about 23º north of due east, attains an altitude of 72º above the horizon at noon, and sets about 23º north of due west. The Sun takes a very long trip across the sky on summer days. These conditions supply warmer, more direct summer sunlight, long summer days, and short summer nights. In December the Sun rises about 23º south of due east, attains an altitude of only about 26º above the horizon, and sets 23º south of due west. In short, the December sun is never very high, not very warm, not as bright as summer sun, and not above the horizon many hours.

Proximity to large water and land bodies, the large scale circulation of water and atmosphere, and occurrence of wind and precipitation are just a few other issues of concern to weather prognosticators. Without energy from the Sun there would be no weather at all. Earth would be a lifeless, cold rock. Habitation of this planet is sustained by dynamic life conditions accessible to human discovery. We are gifted with the ability to contemplate the existence of both design and the Divine Designer of our planetary system. We speak of the God of Creation. One design feature, orbital tilt (let’s call it the cause) enables us to discover many interesting and beneficial effects for prosperous human life.   




Sunday, April 22, 2018

Weather of Discontent

Once or twice each year most areas of our country experience truly unusual stretches of weather. In the writer’s Midwest tri-state neighborhood region—Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin,—our local newspaper, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald highlighted this year’s “weather of discontent” in an editorial entitled “We Can Stay Silent No More on Source of Our Discontent.” They were true to Mark Twain’s famous quip, “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

Based on remarkable statistics as well as personal comfort levels April 2018 has been truly atypical. The editorial committee cited the current April 1-18 time frame, claiming its 31.1ºF degree average temperature was 5.1º colder than the previous record first 18 April days of 1975. That was the coldest April ever recorded in this region, narrowly beating the previous all-time April low average temperature in 1907 by 0.1º. On April 16 Green Bay, WI had 23.5” of snow, its largest fall in 130 years. Our four local April snowfalls were minor in contrast. Besting the all time record for  April 1-18 by 5.1º is truly remarkable. For people fascinated with unusual weather statistics and winter folklore, April 2018 has been paradise, at least in our region.

We cite several Midwest local weather phenomena personally experienced in the past few years. By relating these events, we wish to reinforce the concept that weather, replete with unusual manifestations, deserves Mark Twain’s helpless analysis. There is seldom such a thing as an “average” weather day because weather averages are based on numerous above and below average events and conditions—some of them far above or far below average.

Let’s proceed to a few other recent examples from our local weather history. Our winter of 2013/14 exceeded the April 2018 event. There were 43 below zero days recorded with winter snowfall totals approaching the all time seasonal record. In sharp contrast fast forward to the record-setting heat during the six day period of February 17-22, 2017 during which the average temperature was 64 degrees! Now consider a most unusual weather sequence in January 2013: Three separate lightning/thunder episodes in 15 hours with temperatures in the high 50s produced nearly two inches of rain. Those events were followed by a next-day drop in temperature to —6ºF and 6” of snow. The mighty deluge of 15” of rain in just a few hours on July 27-28, 2011 was the result of a mesoscale convective system which gave rise to a phenomenon called “training,” heavy thunderstorms repeatedly traveling over the same narrow geographic area, similar to train cars on a track. The 16.01” of rain in Dubuque, IA, just 25 miles to our west during the month of July 2011 included this deluge and represents their all-time maximum monthly rainfall.  

In 2012 much of the US was struck by the worst drought since 1988. This includes our local Midwest region. The rains finally returned in 2013 before other regions of the country experienced relief. The drought was caused by a phenomenon called the Arctic Oscillation (AO). We list the AO and other related events such as El Nino, not only to instruct our readers in esoteric details, but to raise their awareness that the causes of such incidents are extremely complex and cannot be remedied by ill-advised modifications to the human “carbon footprint” as some climate change experts propose. We cannot explain the diversity of discontent-producing weather events described above by citing anthropogenic global warming caused by CO2 emissions from human consumption of fossil fuels. In short, we are unable to explain global warming by attributing both warming and cooling effects to the same cause. Our climate system is far more complex and majestic.     

Thousands of weather events and conditions blend together over extended time frames. Eventually, these events and conditions describe and define the broader category of climate—a distinction lost on many people who fail to identify the beauty and complexity of long term climate and climate change. Some folks describe themselves as “weather junkies” in a positive sense. One friend obsessively enjoys thunderstorms, perhaps identifying their generous production of life-sustaining water, or their potential for electrically splitting nitrogen atoms into useful forms to fall with the rain, eventually forming soil-enriching nitrates. Awesome accounts of lightning and thunderous downpours from the Book of Job, chapters 36-38, highlight God’s omnipotence and majesty. Some weather events produce fear; others inspire joy and ebullience.    

In his omniscience, the Creator possesses ultimate knowledge of how our planet’s weather and climate systems operate. God created matter and the physical laws governing its behavior. We do not pretend to completely understand these systems but we understand basic causes and effects. Natural climate change has occurred on Planet Earth for uncounted millennia. How do the systems work, we ask? What caution must we exercise as we experience weather events? We respect the majesty of our weather systems. Ultimately, we also respect the beauty of our climate system, mindful that it sustains the lives of 7.5 billion souls. For this sustenance, we give thanks to God.                  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Biblical Food Truths

Human nutrition is a subject of interest for every human virtually every day. Because food is readily available in our modern society, we are usually not engaged with the demands of food procurement. Rather, we focus on the plethora of food choices. For most residents of advanced nations, personal food selections may present a greater challenge than food availability. It was not always so. As we stroll down long supermarket aisles plentifully stocked with a superfluous variety of boxed cereals, for example, we may become “value conflicted.” The advice of I Timothy 6:8—“And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” has a broader meaning, including the provision that our God supplies all that is really necessary for our comfort. 

Marketing food products consumes large fractions of media time in our day. Nutrition is not only a function of life sustainment, but also a function of how fully we enjoy our lives. Agriculture and the food industry is a vital segment of our modern economy.

Scripture conveys powerful messages concerning the role of food. Sometimes food imagery combines spiritual values and mundane life lessons. In one familiar passage Christ uses nutritional imagery—“I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). The Apostle Paul links thankfulness for food with knowledge that foods are life-sustaining gifts from the Father and should be received thankfully (I Tim. 4:4).

Under the law of Moses divine instructions concerning consumable foods were related to appropriate nutrition and health of the Chosen People. They were also a test of obedience to the authority of their Creator and unquestioning obedience to Him (Leviticus 11).

God’s gift of human satisfaction appears many times in reference to our enjoyment of food. Psalm 22:26 proclaims, “The afflicted will eat and be satisfied.” In Psalm 107:9, the psalmist exults, “…He has satisfied the thirsty soul, and the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.” The “Preacher” of Ecclesiastes (Eccles. 9:7) exhorts readers to “Eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart…” There are several well-known references to feasts and banquets where food was consumed in celebration (Luke 15:23).

We are counseled to request our daily bread from the Heavenly Father (Matt. 6:11). Of course, we must not fail to be thankful for all of our manifold blessings (Rom. 1:21). In the Christian communion celebration, food elements remind us of the life giving sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus (I Cor. 11:24-26).

In our scripture search for references to food, we are overwhelmed with the variety and plentitude of foods especially in Old Testament times. God had provided for human nutrition with a wondrous assortment of tasty and nutritious food products. He does so yet today. Following is a listing of Bible food categories with examples.

GRAINS: wheat, barley, corn (not maize), millet, spelt

FRUITS and nuts: apples, almonds, grapes, raisins, dates, figs, melons, olives, olive oil, pistachio nuts, pomegranates, vinegar, wine

SPICES: mint, dill, cumin, coriander, mustard, honey, cinnamon, anise, dill, garlic, rue    

VEGETABLES: beans, lentils, cucumbers, leeks, onions

ANIMAL MEATS and PRODUCTS: Goats, lamb/sheep, oxen, calf, venison (game), partridge, fowl, pigeon, quail, dove, eggs, honey

When the Bible was written some of these food products had already been altered by domestication. Even before domestication and the human move toward agriculture, there were plentiful, nutritious foods available for humans who hunted and gathered to satisfy their nutritional needs. The mandate of Genesis 1:28—“Be fruitful and multiply…Subdue the Earth”—would not have been possible without the Creator’s provision for human nutrition.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Food Triggers

Previous discussions of the agricultural and domestication revolutions have highlighted startling results for human life. Paramount is the Neolithic agricultural revolution and its effect on human population on our planet. Several other more recent agricultural revolutions have resulted in expansion of the human food supply and population. The  works of God did not end after the six creation days of the first two chapters of Genesis. God’s transformational and sustaining miracles have transpired until this very moment. Theologians agree that divine miracles have resulted in wonderful ongoing and advancing conditions for human life.

Why did the agricultural revolution not commence before the last and most recent Ice Agent ended? During the Ice Age climate variability precluded the beginning of a human agricultural revolution. An inspection of the graph of world temperatures (proxy readings derived from ice cores going back as much as 250,000 years in Greenland) clearly shows a succession of jagged temperature ups and downs for the past 100,000 years. After the last glacial maximum occurred about 20,000 years ago, there were two “final” cold snaps, one from 14,700 to 13,400 years ago, and one from 12,800 to 11,500 years ago just before the ice sheet melted entirely. During events of the Older Dryas and the Younger Dryas, temperatures were altered temporarily for early humanity. The former period transformed Europe from forest to tundra while the latter period froze Europe solid within a matter of months.

The end of the coldest Ice Age about 10,000 years ago initiated major climate changes. Not all of these changes occurred immediately. For example, the current St. Lawrence River drainage pattern of the US Great Lakes toward the Atlantic Ocean began only about 3000 years BC, not long before God’s call to Abraham: “Go to the land that I will show you.” A few Ice Age phenomena persisted and yet persist even though we have entered a period of remarkable climate stability. For example, the crust of the earth is still experiencing “isostatic rebound” in Great Lakes regions where two-mile thick ice had depressed the earth’s crust. This rebound raises surface elevation several feet per century. In our last post we stated that there has been a 7600-fold increase in human population since the agricultural revolution began. The “food trigger” was the onset of the agricultural revolution which was triggered by the end of the deep planetary Ice Age.

What was the Creator’s role when Planet Earth sustained a human habitation of only one million (or less) during the vast eons of the Wisconsin Ice Age but later expanded to a population 7600 times larger since 10,000 BC? Early humanity during the unpredictable climate of the Ice Age subsisted by hunting and gathering. Substantial amounts of their time was consumed in their search for food. That explains why the existence of the prehistoric temple at Gobekli Tepe in southeast Turkey, dated at nearly 10,000 BC was an incredible marvel of human intelligence, engineering, and cooperation. The realities posed by this temple remain a mystery. We are struck by the strength and resilience of humanity when life’s existence was a major challenge.

Life today is also challenging, but in vastly different ways. Most of the human population enjoys plentiful supplies of food. Many agricultural nations cope with an oversupply of some grain products. In the current year US farmers agonize whether to cut back on some crops owing to overproduction while ramping up planting of crops which may be in undersupply. Their discomfort relates to their financial bottom line.

God’s work did not end after the six Genesis creation days. Geologically recent climate stability resulted in triggering the agricultural revolution. This is an example of what some theologians consider a “transformational miracle.” Our planet’s climate has been miraculously transformed. Current agriculturists also enjoy “sustaining miracles” each growing season as crops develop from springtime seed to summer and autumn harvest. Many plants are perennials, reviving themselves each season to produce our annual harvest. This is commonly described devotionally as the “miracle of growth.” The exponential growth of a tiny mustard seed in Matthew 17:20 into a full sized plant could be described as a sustaining miracle. Most living things grow exponentially—one, two, four, eight cells…until maturity. 

Other agricultural revolutions resulted from the application of human intelligence, insight, and skill. Our species is uniquely gifted with the Imago Dei, the Image of God. The climate change food trigger we have described is the result of a “transformational miracle”—one of hundreds evident on our miracle planet. In November 2017 we posted three articles on miracles. We link them in the most meaningful sequence:


Friday, April 6, 2018

Rapid Human Revolutions

The Neolithic Agricultural Revolution began about 10,000 years ago. Planetary climate conditions changed suddenly for humanity. Humans went from the Ice Age to climate conditions with which we are familiar in a relatively short time. After the sudden climate change humanity experienced the Rise of Civilization—growth of cities, towns,  human government entities, spread of trade, rise of technological innovations such as metalworking and flood control, and the invention of writing and the wheel. Foremost among the rapid changes were the agricultural and domestication revolutions. These revolutions impelled major changes in the human condition.

A relatively short time must be carefully defined. Between 12,500 and 9,000 years ago global mean temperatures rose 8ºC (14.5ºF). This is a significant climatic change for Earth dwellers. This change averages to a 4ºF temperature rise per thousand years. One may see how such a temperature increase could melt the thick ice that covered much of North America for almost 100,000 years. Sea levels were nearly 400 feet lower for much of that time. When we imagine Earth conditions with a vastly lower sea level, together with temperatures 14.5ºF colder, we may visualize a different world for the fully human inhabitants of a “mere” 12-18,000 years ago. Geologically, the time interval since 12-18,000 years ago is relatively short. In discussing the important elements of natural climate change and their impact, we might have a difficult time conceptualizing recent climate history.

World temperatures have been unusually stable during the current interglacial. At the close of previous ice ages such as the Illinoisan which ended over 100,000 years ago, our planetary temperatures spiked briefly before descending to a new ice age. In the current interglacial conditions, we have enjoyed considerable climatic stabilty, notwithstanding intervals of mild warming such as the Medieval Warm Period and mild cooling such as the Little Ice Age during the several centuries prior to 1850. A line graph of world temperatures since the conclusion of the Ice Age is basically flat. Hugh Ross in his recent volume Improbable Planet (2016) states, “Climatologists refer to the past 9,000 years as the long cool summer, the long warm spring, or simply as the long summer.” The long, cool summer (or long warm spring) is distinctly advantageous in maintaining our current population which has increased from an estimated one million in 10,000 BC to 170 million at the time of Christ, to 7.6 billion today—a 7600 fold increase.

We imagine the harshness of human existence during the many millennia of the Wisconsin Ice Age. They did not rely on agriculture. Rather, they were hunter/gatherers. Contemporary humanity may rebel at the prospect of the hunter/gatherer diet. There is evidence, however, that the Ice Age diet was healthier in some ways than our modern, grain-based diet. Humans were startlingly resilient and able to adapt to unpleasant conditions. Their survival instincts were strong.

We wonder at the suddenness of the agricultural revolution. It occurred hand in hand with the domestication of plants and animals. One wonders why the switch to agriculture could not have been accomplished many millennia before. Research into the history of domestication proves to be more descriptive than explanatory. Humans selected the varieties of plants and animals that pleased them and propagated the newly modified plants and animals over many generations. Such plants and animals supplied greater quantities or qualities of food. Newly domesticated varieties  possessed pleasing esthetic qualities or traits of companionship. Some animals were trained to accomplish work or provide transportation.

Our modern maize (corn) plant provides examples of early domestication by prehistoric Indians of southwest Mexico many millennia before the time of Christ. Modern agricultural scientists have identified the genetic connection between ancient teosinte and the more recent arrival of useful corn as a food grain. These two organisms appear significantly different. Teosinte is not useful as a food product as is modern maize. Contemporary agricultural scientists have been able to clarify the genetic origins of modern maize. Beyond that, they have demonstrated their ability to develop thousands of desirable maize and other vegetable, fruit, and grain crops. Our culture would not exist in its present thriving form without domestication and agriculture. In our speculative imagination, we conclude that prehistoric human domesticators were intuitively brilliant with respect to trait selection and propagation skills. Were humans divinely gifted with supernatural genetic guidance? 

The Creator was sustaining the lives and supplying the physical needs of modern humans created in His own image for many thousands of years before the call of Abraham. This included all of the Paleolithic (50,000-10,000 BC) as well as many prior millennia, and many millennia from the end of the Wisconsin Ice Age until the call of Abraham. Archaeologists have discovered that prehistoric peoples, including those who built the worship temple at Gobekli Tepe in southeast Turkey almost 12,000 years ago, possessed a spiritual awareness, a sense of the supernatural, and a belief in the afterlife.

Romans 1:18-32 may bear on our discussion. The Creator implanted God-awareness in man. The New Testament author Paul states, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (vs. 20). Scripture does not explicitly deal with questions of how prehistoric man accessed God. The Creator has implanted a “God-consciousness” in every human created in His image. Galations 4:4 states, “in the fullness of time” God sent forth his Son…” We do not know how God judged or will judge prehistoric humanity, but we do know that God later sent His Son to redeem man. Over 90% of all  humans have been born since the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son on this planet.