Raging Volcanoes, Mustard Gas In Clams, Atmospheric Carbon, And 50 More Ways To Die, In This Week's Sci-Blog!


Welcome, Wonkeratti! It's time once again for another strange and disturbing Wonkette Sci-Blog. Take off your eyeshades, pull out your earplugs and throw away the cork. The happy man with the glass laboratory apparatus in the photo is Charles David Keeling, Professor of Oceanography at theScripps Institution of Oceanography for 49 years. Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Keeling earned his chemistry degree in 1948 at the University of Illinois, got a PhD in chemistry from Northwestern University in 1954, did postdoctoral research in geochemistry at Caltech and joined the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1956. He was appointed as a Professor in 1968.

He's the scientist whose research established the steadily rising concentration of Carbon Dioxide in earth's atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion, presented visually in one of the most famous graphs of all time: the Mauna Loa CO2 record, also known as the Keeling Curve.

"Dave" Keeling's famous graph might never have happened but for a random bit of serendipity. His original research project at Caltech in 1956 involved extracting Uranium from granite for the nuclear power industry and had nothing at all to do with the atmosphere. Keeling's professor talked him into working on a side project, investigating and comparing the concentrations of carbonates in surface waters, limestone and atmospheric CO2. At the time the wet chemistry methods available to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide did not have the accuracy needed for the project, so Dave had to construct a very specialized instrument -- a precision gas manometer, the first of its kind.

Keeling began collecting air samples well away from any sources of carbon -- cities, forests and farms -- and found something interesting. The precision manometer consistently returned a value of 310 ppm for atmospheric carbon. Was this a stable background value, he thought and if so, just how stable was it? Around this time Keeling's research came to the attention of Roger Revelle at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Harry Wexler of the US Weather Bureau. They all worked out a global CO2 measurement program, using Weather Bureau funds with new infrared gas analyzer instruments. One of these was installed at the Weather Bureau's brand new station on top of Mauna Loa, Hawaii -- well up into the mid Troposphere and far away from any industrial carbon bias. It only took a year or two before they realized that atmospheric carbon was not constant but, in fact underwent a regular yearly cycle linked to the growth and decay of plants during the hemisphere's growing season.

Something else was odd about the data. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 1958 was 1 ppm higher than in 1957. By 1960 the pattern of CO2 increase was significant, and Keeling published his groundbreaking paper The Concentration and Isotopic Abundance of Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere (pdf). This research, establishing anthropogenic carbon as a global warming agent, was cited by President Johnson's Science Advisory Committee in 1965. Yes, that's Nineteen Sixty Five.

The National Academies of Science, encouraged by Scripps president Roger Revelle, gave the Mauna Loa Observatory a foundational grant as part of the International Geophysical Year projects of 1957-58. The facility has been in operation ever since, its atmospheric samplers quietly and steadily taking atmospheric CO2 samples and assembling the most comprehensive and longest record of the atmosphere's chemistry ever.

Charles David Keeling left us, sadly, in 2005 and that is not the reason that he's newsworthy. The news is that his instruments at the Mauna Loa Observatory have recorded the highest ever daily average concentration of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide in early May of this year: 400 parts per million. There hasn't been this concentration of Carbon in the atmosphere since the Paleocene era -- 3 to 5 million years ago, before humans existed. The Earth was a very, very different place back then.

We've known that industrial CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing, is a serious problem and is destabilizing the climate since the middle of the 1960s. Among the professionals who collect and analyze the data, there is no controversy that Anthropogenic Climate Change is taking place now and that we have to address the problem. The real controversy remaining is that we haven't had the political will to even begin to reduce our Carbon input to the atmosphere. Keating's graph will keep going up and the weather will keep getting worse until we do so. If we can.

Good news, entymophagy enthusiasts! The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization has released a report this week stating that, to combat world hunger, we all should be eating lots of insects! I don't know about you, but I intend to do my part.

Finally. The emergence of Brood II of the 17 year periodical cicada is underway in the Mid-Atlantic Region of the U.S. To honor the Emergence of these magnificent insects, here is this week's Cicada Recipe: Emergence Cookies!

Emergence Cookies

These should look like cicadas emerging out of a little pile of chunky mud!


1/2 cup shortening

3 eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

4oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. vanilla

2 cups all purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 beaten egg white

1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts (optional)

about 60 parboiled dry roasted cicadas (roast for only 8 minutes so that they retain some moisture)


1. In a large bowl, beat shortening with eggs, the 11/2 cups sugar, cooled chocolate, baking powder, and vanilla until well combined, scraping sides of bowl.

2. Gradually stir in flour till thoroughly combined. Stir in the nuts. Cover and chill for 1-2 hours or until dough is easy to handle.

3. Meanwhile, stir together the 1/3 cup sugar and beaten egg white. Place cicadas on waxed paper; brush with egg white mixture and set aside.

4. Shape dough into 1inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Place a cicada on top of each ball, pressing lightly.

5. Bake in a 375 oven for 8-10 minutes or till edges are set. Transfer to a rack to cool.


60 cookies

In Alaska’s remote Aleutian Range, a pair of volcanoes has begun erupting. The eruptions are sending ash plumes up to 15,000 feet so far. That's unfortunate considering the volcanos sit under a major air traffic route from Asia to the Americas. Also, just in time, the utterly useless and stupid Sequester budget cuts are shutting down the real-time monitoring program run by the Alaska Volcano Observatory. Bobby Jindal must be pleased with himself now.

The Sun has been very active this week, sending out four huge solar flares from what Space.com is calling an "overachieving sunspot" Here is a video clip of the awesome festival of plasma.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Green Bank telescope has put Albert Einstein's Gravity theory to its toughest test yet, observing the orbital dynamics within the extreme gravity field of a tightly orbiting neutron star/white dwarf star pair.

NASA's remarkable exoplanet hunting Kepler space telescope, three years into its observational life, is in serious trouble, with 2 of its 4 gyroscopic positioning reaction wheels failing. Three of the wheels are necessary for the telescope to accurately maintain its position and Kepler is in "safe" mode wight now. NASA's mission control will try to re activate the positioning system by remote command, but that is really the last resort.

Here is your Weird Deep-Sea Cephalopod for the week: an octopus that lives and thrives right next to the boiling hot waters of hydrothermal vents.

Some people along the East Coast of the United States are getting a very unfortunate condiment with their clams: liquid sulfur mustard, the constituent commonly known as Mustard Gas. This, of course, comes from commercial clammers inadvertently dredging up chemical artillery shells stocked with the stuff. The at-sea disposal of munitions by the US Government before the 1970s was perfectly legal and no one thought twice about dumping terrible things in the ocean and forgetting all about them.

Keep an eye on your Clams, people. Sound advice.


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