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16 June, 2013 – Quick Update

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Hi Folks,

My absence for the last more-or-less three months has primarily been caused by things medical.  Ultimately, it appears that everything is being resolved.  However, the bottom line is that a lot of my time has been spent tending to my ill wife, or having my wife tend to me, at our physician’s office, or back and forth from said offices.  So, my time for blog writing/posting as opposed to chores and other necessities has fizzled to almost nothing.

I hope to be back in action with posts here within a week or so, and also posting more frequently in my blog on the Reef2Rainforest site.

I just went through and deleted a bunch of spambot registrations, if I deleted your subscription by mistake, I apologise.

Until later,  for some eye candy,  here is a bit of our local dinosaurian fauna.  It appears that we may have as many as 6 pairs of these little beauties nesting around here now.

Western Tanager Male

Western Tanager Male
Wilsall, Montana

Western Tanager Male

Western Tanager Male Perched On A Bird Feeder Post. Taken At Wilsall, Montana.



4 March, 2013 – “Pop”, Went The Asteroid!

Monday, March 4th, 2013

It probably says something pretty deep about my warped mind, but I find myself fascinated by the phenomena known as mass-extinctions.  Mass extinctions are killing events that have removed significant numbers of species from the tally of the Earth’s life.  Probably one of the major reasons I am interested in these awful processes, is that we are in the midst of one, and unlike almost all others, humanity is the cause of this one.  And the truly horrible thing about that is, that we know it is occurring, and that our species in aggregate shows its immaturity by actively refusing to do anything about it.  Ah, well, at my age, my own personal extinction is not all that far off, and there is little I can do about most larger issues anyway, so…

 Mass extinctions are a fact of life on Earth, but strangely enough they have only intensively been studied within the last 25 to 30 years. Back in the bad old days when I was in grad school, the greatest extinction event ever, the end-Permian extinction event, was not even recognized by many paleontologists, let alone neontologists, and although some mass extinctions were known because the faunal changes that resulted from them were used to determine geological time periods, nobody studied those mass extinctions themselves.  This all changed in the amazing kerfluffle of research following the Alvarez et al., 1980, paper proposing that the Cretaceous-Tertiary, or End-Cretaceous,  mass extinction exposition, wherein the (larger) dinosaurs perished, was caused by an asteroid impact. 

 The explosion of fuss and feathers this paper caused, I think, had to be lived through to be believed. Helen of Troy, the legendary face that launched a thousand ships, and the Alvarez et al. 1980 article launched at least a thousand research projects, and maybe ten times that many follow-up articles.  The upshot, of course, is we now know Alvarez, et al. were right; an impact with a large asteroid certainly hastened the large dinosaurs out the door, if it didn’t kill them all by itself.  And the discovery of the smoking gun, er… watery crater, the Chicxulub crater off the northern Yucatan Peninsula, lead to an awareness that the Earth was in a perpetual celestial game of dodge ball, and even though most of the really big rocks appear to have hit the planet long ago, every now and then… 


 And, of course, that means the Earth WILL get hit again, and actually it is getting hit all the time, except the bombards are small much smaller.

 All of this has resonated with me, because I have been a fan of meteors – as small asteroids that burn up in the atmosphere are called – ever since I used to lay out our backyard at night as a kid and see the occasional “shooting star.”  I entertained the hope that one day I would be in the right (?) point at the right time, and see a really big meteor.  I have remained hopeful of that eventuality, but am more mindful now that I might not want to be too close.

 About two weeks ago, what has been estimated to be the largest object to hit the earth since the Tunguska object of 1908, arced over Russia, exploding more-or-less over Chelyabinsk, Russia, spraying small fragments that impacted on the ground west of the city.  From the sequence of things that happened during the event, the object has been since estimated to have been a small asteroid weighing about 10,000 tons and about 15m to 20m in diameter, travelling at about 18 km/sec (40,000 mph). 

 Apparently research that also ultimately resulted from Alvarez et al., 1980, showed that most stony asteroids of that size tend break up and explode rather than hit the earth.  And explode this one did, at an altitude of 15 to 20 km (9 to 16 miles) with an explosion that was considerably brighter than the sun.  Equipment in place to detect atmospheric nuclear tests nicely detected this explosion, and its size was estimated to be in the range of a blast by a thermonuclear device with a yield of about 500 kilotons, the size of a decent ICBM warhead.  Even though the explosion was at a high altitude, over 1000 people were injured and there was extensive damage due to shock waves.

Some closing thoughts, I don’t know if the rock could have held together to explode with that force nearer the ground, but if it did, the damage could have been much greater. Several people have discussed what might have happened if the position of the earth or the rock were varied by a minute or less in the relative orbits – it could have entered the atmosphere at a much steeper angle and perhaps over a larger city or populated area.  Or perhaps the best/worst thought:  Chelyabinsk was a city where a lot of weapons research was done during the cold war.  What would have been the outcome of this rock hitting near there in, say, 1978?

 I grew up in Great Falls, Montana, home of Malmstrom Air Force Base, around which in 1962 the first 150 Minuteman Ballistic Missiles were emplaced in “silos”.  Judging from the palpable tension at times in that community during “Duck and Cover” days, if an asteroid had appeared out of nowhere on a low ballistic trajectory (as this one was described by the Russian military) and exploded 10 miles above that city, I suspect there would have been trails of launching missiles visible from those missile silos for a 100 miles around the town.  I dare say, the same outcome would have occurred on the Soviet side.  The ultimate result could have been rather severely unpleasant. 

Some closing thoughts; rocks of this size are now estimated to hit the Earth every century or so, an estimate that dovetails nicely if one considers the last known impact was the Tunguska in 1908.  However, at least though most of the 20th century, large areas of the Earth, such as much of the Indo-Pacific and Antarctica, could have experienced such a meteor impact and nobody would have been the wiser. Additionally, for example there was the Grand Teton fireball of 1972, which was essentially the same size as this latest impact, but which simply grazed the atmosphere.  So.,.  Such impacts could be more frequently enjoyed events.  In any event, the regularity of such events is a statistical phenomenon, and the next one could happen tomorrow or 531 years from now.

Another Blog

I now have another blog, on the Reef2Rainforest site.  There may be some overlap between that site and this one from time to time, but if so, the material will appear on that site first.


Alvarez, L. W., W. Alvarez, F. Asaro, H. V. Michel. 1980. Extraterrestrial Cause for the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction. Science. 208. 1095-1108.

Until Later…




20 February, 2013

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Oh my, the delerious joys of becoming old, and having one’s body decompose whist one is still riding around in it.  I have a number of lower cervical and upper thoracic vertebrae that seem to have decided that the war has been lost.  They have surrendered, thrown down their arms, and started to trek home.  In practical terms, this seems to be that spine in the region of those vertebrae is seeming to turn to mush, and this is resulting in all sorts of pinched nerves.  And this leads to a lot of pain.  And as this is an ongoing “performance” the manifestions of I get to endure change more-or-less randomly.  So, a couple of days ago, I went out to fill our bird feeders and spread a little seed on the gound, mostly for the resident red polls and the huge visiting flocks of rosy finches.

Rosy Finch during the winter in Wilsall, MT.

Grey Crowned Rosy Finch.

Rosy Finches Feeding

Grey-crowned Rosy Finches in a Feeding Melee Around a Hanging Feeder Filled With Sunflower Seeds.


Three Spring Finches: Common Red Poll male (center) with a House Finch (male - left) and a Pine Siskin (male - right)

Common Red Poll male (center) with a House Finch (male – left) and a Pine Siskin (male – right)

I had finished this activity which really involved next to no work, and was walking down my drive way toward the house and my upper back gave a “twinge…”.  By the time I was in the house, maybe 30 steps later, I could hardly stand the pain.  Well, it seems I had better get used to it.   That was three days ago, and it has not gotten any less “interesting”.  At times in the past, I have had epidural injections of a blocking agent for an earlier manifestation.  When those symptoms first arrived I had been doing some heavy labor in our yard and figured I had injured my back that way.  So, we trundled me off to our physician and he referred me to the large magnet down the hall, and I had an MRI.  It showed that what was going on, and that it was a whole lot worse than a transient injury.  Since then, the pain has come and gone.  Until fairly recently, it was mostly ignorable.

I have presumed that at least part of the ultimate cause of this were the many small cases of the bends I got back in my diving days.  We did a lot of our initial diving by using  the old  1956 “U. S.  Navy” diving tables; the old, 60 feet at 60 minutes for no decompression, tables; furthermore these tables were modified by a healthy dose of “that’s close enough”, or “I need just a minute more”.  So we stretched the tables a tad, not a lot, just a bit.  But that stretching was done over (in my case) a lot of dives.  Research, of course, has since shown that such diving leads to a lot of cases of the bends.  I know I got a few minor cases of decompression sickness, aka “the bends”,  but they weren’t serious.  Or so I thought.  Now, I think those “hits”, in turn, have come back to haunt me with the later-in-life problems such as mine.   The MRI showed that while I have a few REALLY bad areas in my spine, the WHOLE spine is affected and in bad shape.  Unfortunately, they don’t have spine transplants yet.

Anyway…  the upshot is that I am not feeling all that mobile right now.  Ah, well, so what else is new?

What is new?  

I am starting to blog on the Reef2Rainforest website.   I will still keep blogging here, particularly for my “Ecological Observations From Northeastern Pacific Subtidal Habitats” series and my weekly or semiweekly blogs.  I have submitted my first blog to the site editor, and it should show up on the site sometime soon.   I hope.

Until later!

Cheers, Ron


Blog Navigation – Sticky Post #1.

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Until Further Notice  

(Otherwise Translated As: “Until I Figure Out How To Do Things Properly”  :-)

If You Wish To Have An Answer To A Reef Aquarium Question, Please Read The Appropriate “Sticky” Post Below. 

My “Regular” Blog Entries Will Be Found Below The Initial Three “Sticky” Posts,

And Will Be Titled With The Posting Date, With 

The Most Recent Post Titled In Red.