Native Plants, Habitat Restoration, and Other Science Snippets from Athens, Georgia

Monday: 26 December 2011

Geology  -  @ 07:34:51
I'm tentatively thinking that the upcoming year may be the year of geology, for me. I know next to the nothing that the typical layperson knows about geology, but there's a huge amount of mapping and other information available, and it seems a shame not to make use of it.

Quite a few years back I asked an acquaintance who happened to be the geology department chair about the rocks around our place and what their makeup and significance was. It turns out that geology academics may be interested in the geology of the Indian Ocean but aren't able any more than I am to speak knowledgeably about the geology of their back yard. I wasn't especially surprised - the last thing you want to ask an academic plant biologist is what's wrong with your plant (at least most of the time - I've actually made some strides in improving myself in that direction, and for that reason). So perhaps it's time to rectify the geology thing, for myself, of course.

And so I discovered the USGS website for colorful maps of US-o-centric superficial lithology.

You can click on a state and get that state's detailed lithology. You can zoom in on it, and so here's a portion of northeast Georgia's details, including Oglethorpe County of course. The punch pin icon identifies my home location, southeast of Athens. Isn't that lovely?

I captured that from the Google Earth kml overlay, and you can download the kml file onto your own Google Earth (which of course you have on your computer, right?). Oglethorpe County has four colored regions within it. While the USGS site does have a legend color guide, there are sixty gazillion colors and shades to it and is hard to match up with what you're looking at. The Google Earth overlay has popups that identify what each color means - how convenient is that?

Here is what those colors mean for us:

I'm afraid that means mostly granite, old, old, bereft of fossils, for instance and potentially boring. We'll have to find out.

Zooming in on the punch pin icon in west Oglethorpe, we get this Google Earth capture. The scale is about 2 miles width wise. Unfortunately the lithology overlay blots out the underlying roads, so I've blacked in some identifying ones. Black Snake Road winds from lower left to upper center - can't even see that here, but it does show that the silver-purple division is right along Goulding Creek:

I present this because just a moment ago I said that things looked boring for us. But it turns out that Goulding Creek divides two different sorts of lithology, the silver being the sillimanite schist/gneiss on the west side of Goulding Creek, and the purple being the biotite gneiss/feldspathic biotite gneiss. Whatever all that means! And I guess we're going to have to find out.

Assuming the geo IDs are not somehow artifacts, I find it very interesting that a creek with a name dating back to the late 1700s at least would wind through and divide two different lithologies, and right in our back yard, too. I imagine that the creek gravel and sand might have a mixture of stuff that comes from each lithome, if that's a real word (apparently it isn't).

Sunday: 25 December 2011

Well Played  -  @ 09:01:07
Last night, around 6pm, Oglethorpe County Dispatch began sending semihourly messages through the pagers/radios on ChAB/1, without drop tones. If you don't know what that means, I will tell you: it means that these were non-emergency messages that specifically went to first responders and firefighters, but that did not trip pager/radio alerts if responders didn't have their devices switched to "listen to everything."

As I'm sure you *will* guess, they were reports of sightings of unidentified flying object, pulled by eight reindeer, sighting in the Lexington, Philomath areas, etc., if you encounter, wish Merry Christmas, send on way, etc. I just groaned, the first time, such a poor NORAD inspired joke. And then it came 30 minutes later, for Wesley Chapel area, along with the additional red nose ID, and I thought - funny once, but not again. Who was their audience? Children? Themselves? We do live in a red county, very red, and anything I don't understand is possible.

There were five or six more such messages up until midnight, and somewhere in there I realized they were varied just slightly in announcing the sightings in each of every fire district in the county, until all thirteen, including Wolfskin of the questionably blue character, had been covered, and the UFO headed toward Madison County. As painful as the joke was at first, it persisted beyond the initial silliness. It came together in a clumsily sweet sort of way, if you were listening, and it was clear that over a six hour period Central was wishing all the listening fire departments in the county a Merry Christmas.

Perhaps there are nicer things, but if that one isn't, then what is?

Of Small Things Past and Future  -  @ 07:16:46
In the mid afternoon, I enjoy sitting for an hour or two, down from the house (the google A) looking out and over the creek toward the steep rise. From here, where I'm the red dot sitting on a log above the creek, looking southwest toward the green dot, I've had a flock of wild turkeys fly clumsily over me, and noted the activity of small birds and mammals at the bottom near the creek after the sun goes down over the ridge at the top.

Here's a pleasant composite of four photos to make a panorama (click the photo to get an enlargment in a new page).

They melded together nicely even though manually (the four planned for lower down did not meld together nicely with this row). Even though panoramas help, this still doesn't give the depth that would tell you that there's about a 60-70 foot rise from the unseen creek below to the top of the hill. The slope is much steeper than it looks.

Let's first look, sort of, at the places that aren't in this photograph. Beyond the left and right the creek continues to wind - to the left is upstream for another 500 feet or so of continued steep hills on either side of the creek, and to the right the hills gradually decline into the floodplain and Goulding Creek at the bottom. We're looking to the southwest, and beyond that shoulder or ridge is the new property which in just a little over a week I'll be able to visit again. In back of me to the left is the kat semetary, and directly in back, actually unseen, is the house.

Now for the things we can and have seen:

Over at the lower left is the fallen northern red oak that I guess I mentioned in February of 2006, and quite a few times since. It has turned out to be a frequent hit on the blog, even to this day, for reasons I don't understand. It's still there, after five years and more, and will continue to be a presence for many years. It's only just settled to the ground.

At the far upper left, you'll see the pines that line the top of the ridge. That's where a whippoorwill, May 2009 and I had a dance together, as she tried to persuade me that I wasn't where she wanted me to believe I really wanted to be.

A little farther to the right, at the top, is where I found a patch of lady slippers, April 2010.

At about the same position, but halfway down the slope we'd find in the autumn the uncle martin mints, Collinsonia canadensis, horse balm or oxbalm, actually, discovered in Sep, 2006.

I noticed just a tad over five years ago the presence of Shiva, the goddess of death and destruction, and wondered what she was doing in Arnoldsville, Georgia. She's still there.

Three years ago, in the late summer of August 2008, I encountered a huge emergence of red-footed cannibal flies, Promachus rufipes, all along the creek from below right to left.

Box turtles have abounded in this area. Just about in the center of the rise, and still not yet seen again were two female box turtles, the same day in May 2008. This year marked the twice made rediscovery of Gretl, originally found that same month of May 2008, near the top of the slope at the right.

And finally, unseen below the lower left is Troll Rock impeding the flow of SBS Creek, and moving the frustrated waters from a little backed up pond over the rock and down a tiny waterfall. From my vantage point I could just see them, and they me, except that almost five years separates us. Nonetheless, many of us are there - Glenn, Gene, Leona, Maxwell, and others, including The Photographer - not imagining that they'd be sending into the future best Merry Christmas and Happy New Year wishes at the end of 2011.

Friday: 23 December 2011

Bart Is Up In Heaven Now  -  @ 18:32:07
I knew there was something wrong when Bart stood still and let me pick him up, this morning. That was unprecedented.

He was clearly sick yesterday, grew exponentially worse during the night, and then today it was total kidney failure. Put him down, euthanize him, put him to sleep, all euphemisms for you know what. Glenn said, when he called me from the vet, "I recommend we pull the plug." It couldn't have been put better, for Bart. For whatever reasons, his life was full of imagined terror, and pulling the plug must have been a relief. And so late this afternoon we did our little ceremony in the kat sematary, as the sun was disappearing behind the trees. For Bart, we chose Miller Lite, as you can see. In cans.

Bart was a good boy, as inoffensive and gentle as cats come, but he spent his fifteen years frightened of everything. We took him on as a kitten, in the mid 90s, along with his brother Brat, who was infinitely better adjusted but who disappeared without a trace more than a decade ago. I suspect the young human child who "played" with them before we got them left a cruel human child's malign influence, and that that's the explanation for Bart's behavior. As scared as he was of everything, he probably never worried about total kidney failure. So it goes.

I don't think I ever saw Bart stretched luxuriously in the warm sun, on his back, as cats love to do. He was always curled up tight as a knot ready to flee at a moment's notice. He was afraid to go outside and he was afraid to come in. He was frightened of the door, too, and whichever way he was going he shot through like the banshees of hell were at his tail. When he walked on the ground he stepped s l o w l y , examining the way ahead before taking his next step. But before that he looked anxiously at the ground where the paw had just lifted from, for who knows? Who could possibly know? When it was lunchtime for the rest of the cats he waited until everyone had eaten and then he came downstairs, cautiously of course, with worried glances all around on each riser. Then he'd eat, but with each mouthful would look around to make sure no one was sneaking up on him.

I'm admittedly not so well versed that I could say for sure, but at least I don't think there has ever been written a book or directed a movie with a human analog like Bart. Surely there are such people in the world, millions probably, but their stories would probably stretch credulity, not to mention extreme discomfort, beyond bounds. I'll give Bart this - no other of our cats let go this easily, and it's for sure nothing is going to sneak up on him now.

Saturday: 10 December 2011

Chuckle  -  @ 07:52:04
From EJ Dionne:
Newt Gingrich is like a blender with the top off.


Friday: 2 December 2011

The Month of November  -  @ 06:28:24
It's The Month of November, Number 70 in a series. For the third month in a row, we had uneventful weather, marking a fairly normal autumn, if a bit dry.

Here are the usual temperature anomalies products, at the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. The high and low temperature anomalies can be had on a new page by clicking on the image below.

Unusually warm temperatures several degrees higher than normal occupied much of the northern half of the US, and normal to warmer temperatures over almost the entire country east of the Rockies. The Pacific states experienced somewhat cooler weather in November.

We find the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center's precipitation plots here.

November's precipitation pattern is pretty choppy. First thing I noticed was abnormally dry weather in the northern midwest, and this continues a drying trend since at least September. Most of the US east of the Mississippi had normal to wet weather, but dry conditions persisted spottily in the southeast, especially along the Gulf Coast and Florida. Much of New England was dry. And a good bit of the northwestern US was dry.

For the Athens, GA area:

Here is a plot of our temperature swings in November, along with precipitation amounts as experienced in Wolfskin:

Temperatures averaged out fairly evenly in November, although we did have four distinct cold snaps (or four distinct warm periods, if you prefer). This is quite normal for November, but what is unusual for us in the Southeast is that it would be wet at the same time.

And so we did get a little threat of a snow shower at the end of November. Inevitably that brought out all the "so much for global warming" folks, even before the event didn't happen after all. It would be lovely if they'd learn that by the end of November we're 80% of the way to our coldest temperatures of the year. I invite them to look at the first figure at the top of this post. I feel embarrassed to have to tutor our northern deniers in what causes snow, but it isn't especially unusually cold temperatures that cause snow - snow also requires unusual moisture invasions at the same time as a cold blast of not unusual proportions. Here in the southeast those conditions normally happen very infrequently - subfreezing and dry, sure; or warm and wet, yes. Seldom subfreezing and wet. But with more moisture in the atmosphere due to climate change, what can you expect but more such events in the winter?

We'll get into the rainfall, in a moment, but you'll see that out here at Wolfskin we had four evenly spaced periods of a reasonable amount of rain.

This time around we'll look at a plot of the high temperatures, for the month of November in Athens. As usual, the black dots are for the years 1990-2009 (black dots), 2011 (green line), and 2010 (red line).

High temperature averages bounced around quite a bit, with several warm periods and four periods of daytime temperatures below 60F. Our average high in November was 66.1 degF (normal is 64F), so by the average, just a bit warmer than usual.

We did get one day, Nov 22, matching the record high of 79 degF.

We had 6 nights greater than one standard deviation below the average low, where 5 such nights is average. To balance that off we had 5 days warmer by more than one standard deviation than the average, again 5 such is normal.

The figure below shows the Athens precipitation data which are official for our area. As usual the green line shows our actual rainfall, the red shows the average accumulation expected. The black dots are rainfall over the last 20 years, the vast river of peach shows the standard deviation.

Rainfall was locally heterogeneous, with Athens (shown below) receiving a total of 3.08", significantly below the mean of 3.82". However, 14 miles east in Wolfskin we had 4.43", over the average by the same amount. This discrepancy was due mainly to a heavy rainfall here on Nov 16, which concentrated in Oglethorpe County.

What is the neat prognosticator telling us? You can take a look at it for your own weather, but for the Athens area we have a week or two more of wetness and coolness, and then warmer and drier for the remaining three months. However I think that latter is based on historical La Niña trends, and we know from the last two winters that there is one thing that can turn that on its head:

And that would be the Arctic Oscillation, which has been acting up during its effective time in the winters of the last two years. At that link you can see the current AO of the last few weeks and the prediction for the next two weeks (it's very hard to predict the AO much more than a week or two in advance). Fewer than half the projections have us dipping into weird negative territory in the next two weeks, and it's unlikely that we'd get snow unless that were to happen. We must continue to watch it!

ENSO stuff:

The ENSO PDF update can be found at this page. It continues to tell us that La Niña conditions are present again, and likely to remain so through the northern hemisphere winter. This would normally bring us dry and warm winter conditions. But again, that was also true last winter, and we got quite a bit of snow because of an extremely and unusually negative Arctic Oscillation. And again it's hard to predict that, but it's been trending that way for the last two winters. There's an increasing suspicion that a steadily warming Arctic is responsible for this pattern change.

NOAA's Monthly State of the Climate product for October is available, and is worth a read for your region. November should be appearing soon.

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