Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

Biodegradable Tea Bags

Friday, July 30th, 2010

It was brought to our attention recently that some tea bags are not really biodegradable as they use polypropylene glues to seal the edges of the tea bags.  This is only the case for tea bags that are heat sealed in the tea bagging process.  The tea bags used in Steenbergs bagged teas do not use polypropylene as they are crimped shut rather than heat sealed.  However, there is the metal staple in the tag which is not biodegradable on a short time frame.  The long and short of it is that you can chuck your tea bags onto your compost heap ithout any problem but you need to put your staples either into your recycling or in the bin.  In the future, we will remove the staple part of the tea bag.  Finally, you can use Steenbergs Loose Leaf Teas which comprise the majority of our range, which have no tea bags, but you have a nice tin that can be refilled with our refill tea packs that come in sizes up to 1kg, or can be recycled. 

On the downside, Steenbergs organic Fairtrade Mulling Wine sachets are heat sealed and so are not biodegradable easily as they used polypropylene in their manufacture.  We will now start looking into whether we can remove this without causing other issues, especially things that may use genetically modified corn starches.

Walk Around Nosterfield Nature Reserve In Yorkshire

Sunday, July 4th, 2010
Silt Pits At Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Silt Pits At Nosterfield Nature Reserve

When I went to track down the Thornborough Henges, I parked initially at the Nosterfield Nature Reserve.  Nosterfield was formerly a sand and gravel quarry for Tarmac that has been restored to open water and shallow pits.  It has become one of the best places in North Yorkshire for passage and wintering waders and the birds were making a jolly, happy racket while swimming around on the waters.  It is claimed that there are 150 species of birds, 25 butterflies and 297 plants that are to be found on the site.  Perhaps even more lovely is that fact that when I visited the other day it was basically empty of visitors – there were 3 others tootling about.  They were all garbed out in proper twitching clothing with huge, showy cameras and binoculars and (as always) proper sturdy walking boots, while I had my camera, a notebook and a cheap pair of trainers on from Sports Direct.

There are black-tailed godwits, avocets, moorhens and ruffs (note to self: get bigger zoom lens).  I was particularly taken by the butterflies and some awesome small bee orchids that I came across.  The photos I managed to get of the butterflies included mainly common species but they are still beautiful as there is still beauty in the commonplace, which is one of my main campaigns in life, i.e. for people to realise that life is good and to see the beauty on your doorstep in the seemingly and supposedly mundane.  I saw cuckoo spit, ringlets (with very feint ringlets), speckled wood butterflies, burnet moths (really gorgeous), green-veined whites and small skippers and many more that just would not stay still! 

I shall be back to look more closely as it is just on my doorstep by West Tanfield.

Pretty Pink Flower on Common Bindweed

Pretty Pink Flower on Common Bindweed

Bee Orchid Flower At Nosterfield

Bee Orchid Flower At Nosterfield

Cuckoo Spit By Footpath

Cuckoo Spit By Footpath

Small Skipper On Bramble Flower

Small Skipper On Bramble Flower

Speckled Wood Butterfly

Speckled Wood Butterfly

Green Veined White

Green-Veined White Butterfly

Ringlet Butterfly

Ringlet Butterfly

Two Burnet Moths

Two Burnet Moths

How Do Global Warming, Greenhouse Gases And The Earth’s Orbit All Link Together?

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

I’ve written a number of blogs now where I try to get to grips with some of the numbers underlying global warming.  So far, I agree that the historic figures do demonstrate global warming over the last 100+ years within a relatively wide band of possible growth rates, and that the evidence shows that the levels of carbon dioxide have increased since about 1950.  Furthermore, the science behind the link between carbon dioxide, methane and the greenhouse effect (and so global warming) is simple science that has been known for many years; in fact, global warming/the greenhouse effect is science that enables life on earth as without it our planet would have an inhospitable temperature closer to -18oC, i.e. it heats up the earth by about 33oC already to 15oC.

What interests me next is how have temperatures and greenhouse gases moved in the past? I will try and analyse this by looking at some neat science that analyses climate data over a longer period.  This will get to the nub of the issue, i.e. what is driving global warming, plus may answer my two current quandaries: (i) why isn’t global warming being driven exponentially by the very obvious and definite growth in CO2 per the Mauna Loa graphs? (ii) why do the predictive models of climate scientists suggest that we should be preparing for increases of 2 – 4oC for the next 100 years, while history shows global warming is more like 1oC over the last 100 or so years?

To work this out, some scientists look at what happened at the end of earlier ice ages as this hints at the mechanics of atmospheric and other climatic changes.  There are several pieces of research that suggest how temperature and greenhouse gases interact - one strand looks at climate data in stalagmites in caves in China and the other is a series of classic pieces of climate change science around ice core data from the Antarctic.  I’ll deal with the Antarctic first.

The first one is pretty neat.  It is based on the fact that when snow falls it traps air in small bubbles within its structure.  Then as more snow falls the next year, this new layer not only brings its own store of information about air quality, snowfall, temperature and levels of greenhouse gases, but it permanently seals off the information stored in the previous year’s snowfall.  Over time, we get left with an annual layering of data that goes back for ages and ages in the Antarctic, as well as in the Arctic especially on Greenland.  Scientists have now dug vertical small circular shafts into the ice and then, after chopping up these ice cores, have analysed the information from them – there’s a video on Youtube that shows you what the scientists do.  Data collated from other similar projects basically corroborates information found in this much earlier paper, which was published back in 1999 by Petit et al (detailed reference at end).

In essence, Petit et al were able to drill down 3,130m, covering 420,000 years and providing a climate record through four climate cycles.  They found that temperatures are constantly changing, but always within given maximum and minimum levels.  They found that when concentrations of greenhouse gases (specifically CO2 and CH4) in the atmosphere went up, global temperatures, also, went up and vice versa.  They concluded “[f]inally, CO2 and CH4 concentrations are strongly correlated with Antarctic temperatures; this is because, overall, our results support the idea that greenhouse gases have contributed significantly to glacial-interglacial change.  This correlation, together with the uniquely elevated concentrations of these gases today, is of relevance with respect to the continuing debate on the future of earth’s climate.” (Petit et al, 1999).

However, they also stated earlier that “[t]hese results suggest that the same sequence of climate forcing operated during each termination [of a glacial period]: orbital forcing (with a possible contribution of local insolation changes) followed by two strong amplifiers, greenhouse gases acting first, then deglaciation and ice-albedo feedback.” (Petit et al, 1999).  This suggests to me that greenhouse gases, the melting of the ice caps and the positive feedback caused by white ice turning to dark seas usually act as amplifiers of changes in temperatures caused by other factors such as changes in solar energy caused by changes to the earth’s orbit, which gets me back to one of my original quandaries – what is driving climate change and so what happens when you have the amplifiers without necessarily the increased temperatures resulting from either a more active sun or a change in the earth’s orbit?

The next paper I read was in New Scientist only a couple of weeks ago and is also pretty cool.  This work is trying to understand the end of glacial periods by analysing stalagmites in caves in China and interlink this with known changes in the shape of the earth’s orbit – now how amazing is that?  Since then, I have been reading the original scientific papers, hence the time delay in writing this blog.

Firstly, we need to start with the concept of Milankovitch’s theories on the earth’s orbits.  Milutin Milankovitch undertook detailed calculations on the earth’s three main orbital cycles.  So, for example, every 41,000 years the tilt of the earth’s axis increases and decreases, making summers hotter and colder respectively.  It’s summer temperatures that are important as this is what drives the potential for ice packs to melt over time, rather than winter temperatures which just create more ice.  So from 2.5 million years ago to about 1 million years ago the ice ages occurred based on these cycles.  However, around 1 million years ago to the end of the last ice age, glacial periods started occurring every 100,000ish years.  This links in potentially with another orbital cycle of 95,000 – 125,000 years, but here the science is less strong and debate still rages as to what is actually happenning. 

Liu et al have measured oxygen-18 in stalagmites in several caves in China.  Water containing oxygen-18 is heavier than normal oxygen-16 and so condenses more easily, so heavy monsoonal air loses much of its oxygen-18 as it moves inland and each year a record is left on the stalagmites.  As each glacial period ends, the summer monsoons became much weaker than normally and so the oxygen-18 levels in stalagmites increased.  Their evidence showed that monsoons failed in the last four glacial terminations, or as they write “[t]his climate pattern, broadly resembling other cave records from China, appears to correlate with multi-decadal to millennial changes in Greenland temperature and the general pattern of the wind-borne calcium ion record in the ice.”  In fact, work on a stalagmite from the Dongge Cave in China agrees exactly (within error) with the Vostok ice core records of Petit et al, showing methane rise in the atmosphere at 129,000BP.

Further work has shown that CO2 and CH4 levels increase at the same time as the ice packs at the poles decrease, suggesting that the reduction in ice is actually causing the rise in CO2 and CH4.  It is suggested that as the tilt of the earth’s axis changes this increases the temperature of the earth and the ice sheet over North America flows into the Antarctic, which interferes with and then stops the circulation of water around the oceans, which normally keeps the southern hemisphere warmer and the northern cooler (the so-called Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation).  As the southern seas warm up, CO2 is released into the atmosphere as CO2 is less soluble in warm water than cold and so further increasing the impact of the higher temperatures from the sun.  In effect, over the last 400,000 years, whenever the tilt of the earth’s axis reached a maximum, the intensity of sunshine increased (based on insolation in July at 60o north), CO2 levels increased to a maximum, relative sea levels also increased to maxima, all correlating with the strength of the Asian monsoon.

All of this comes from ice core data, analysis of stalagmites and other stores of climate data like coral reefs.  That in itself is amazing.  Then there is agreement in climate records going back many hundreds of thousands of years that correlate with each other across the world and using different techniques and types of ancient, geological record.

Finally, I would like briefly mention another set of amazing work by Zachos et al in the US which tries to get to grips with temperature and atmospheric gases in deeper time in the order of millions of years ago.  They have analysed various types of proxy data in deep sea cores of rocks to determine temperature and carbon in earth’s history and have tried to relate this to events in the geology of the earth and evolution, so developing a framework for the development of the earth’s climate over a much longer timescale.  What I like about these pieces of research is not just how clever they are, but also because Bjørn Lomborg uses them in a section trying to refute the science within climate change work in his book “Cool it – the skeptical environmentalist’s guide to global warming” – he has a tendency to misquote, or at least to quote out of context, as well as jumble up numbers and data to make his own points, which are often at odds with what the original scientists actually have stated.  Just like Nigel Lawson, Bjørn Lomborg has authority when it comes to economic and political discussions around climate change, but they sometimes get it wrong when they try and refute the science; most of their errors stem from two simple problems: (i) they don’t understand the scientific process; and (ii) they mistake/confuse weather for climate.  I will try and get back to Lomborg’s book “Cool It” some time and show how he shoots himself in the foot at times by blatantly altering the available research to suit his arguments.

The research by Zachos et al shows that carbon and temperature are correlated at least to about 34 million years ago at the edge of the Eocene and Oligocene Ages, which is when the Antarctic Ice-sheets became fairly permanent, and that there is correlation with the orbit of the earth around the sun even if the impact is sometimes relatively weak over millions of years.  Prior to then, getting clarity in the temperature and carbon dioxide levels gets ever harder and we find that the linkage between carbon levels and temperature is much less clear and even perhaps non-existent, however later research by Zachos et al indicates that this lack of correlation may not be as extreme as some researchers have indicated and is perhaps simply a result of lack of experimental data.  The other interesting occurrence is that whenever there has been a sudden change in temperature this has also been accompanied by a similarly sudden change in carbon; these occurred at 23, 34 and 55 million years ago.  Later research at the 34 million years ago tipping point suggests that carbon dioxide is a key factor in climate transition; Pagani et al (2005) showed that “[i]n detail, a trend toward lower CO2 concentrations during the middle to late Eocene, reaching levels at the E[ocene]/O[ligocene] boundary that could have triggered the rapid expansion of ice on east Antarctica; and work by Pearson et al (2009) indicates that there was a fall in atmospheric carbon dioxide at 34 million years ago that triggered climate transition to an ice-house world and “[t]his study reaffirms the links between cryosphere development and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at the largest and most important climatic tipping point of the last 65 million years.”

However, when you look at research into climate over such a long time period, you realise pretty quickly that long term climate progression is the sum of many different processes and that it is far more complex than any of the commentators and scientists would have everyone believe, plus that correlation does not necessarily mean causation.

In overview, we know that the earth’s general temperature, hence climate, has gone up and down over time dependent on the earth’s tilt and orbital shape, i.e. effectively how close the earth gets to the sun during its orbit and so how much solar energy gets to the earth.  These changes in temperatures are then further affected by the earth’s environment, especially the levels of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere, the ice sheets and the ice-albedo effect.  In addition, climate gets impacted by a whole raft of other factors ranging from geological through to biological, which is a point that I will get back to in a later blog.

The science, therefore, does show that the basic greenhouse effect has impacted climate in the earth’s past and present and so will affect it in the future, but that it is not the only factor that impacts climate nor perhaps the most important climate factor over longer time periods.  Furthermore, while the research does indicate that sudden changes in carbon dioxide often occur with quick moves in climate, it doesn’t explain the consequences of these amplification or forcing impacts on our future climate, so that’s my next journey and is where I will need to start investigating the computer models devised by climate scientists to predict the climate in the future.

Before I go there, however, I would like to round off this section of my journey around global warming /climate change with a look at some of the other indicators of current global warming, such as sea levels and sea acidity just to round off the historical and current status of climate indicators.

References

Battersby, S. (2010) Meltdown: Why ice ages don’t last forever, New Scientist, issue 2761, 24 May 2010, Available on the Internet at http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20627610.900-meltdown-why-ice-ages-dont-last-forever.html (Accessed 25 May 2010)

Kelly, M. J., Edwards, R.L., Cheng, H., Yuan, D., Cai, Y., Zhang, M., Lin, Y., An, Z. (2005) High resolution characterization of the Asian Monsoon between 146,000 and 99,000 B.P. from Dongge Cave, China and global correlation of events surrounding Termination II, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 236 (2006), 20 -38, Available from the Internet at http://www.sciencedirect.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/science?_ob=MImg&_imagekey=B6V6R-4JX38YR-1-R&_cdi=5821&_user=126980&_pii=S0031018206001301&_orig=search&_coverDate=06%2F23%2F2006&_sk=997639998&view=c&wchp=dGLzVlb-zSkzV&md5=a8ffdf76ab6ec0bde843ad331aeaa780&ie=/sdarticle.pdf (Accessed 2 June 2010)

Liu, D., Wang, Y., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., Kong, X., Wang, X., Hardt, B., Wu, J., Chen, S., Jiang, X., He, Y., Dong, J., Zhao, K. (2010) Sun-millennial variability of Asian monsoon intensity during the early MIS 3 and its analogue to the ice age terminations, Quaternary Science Reviews 29 2010, 1107 – 1115, Available on the Internet at http://www.sciencedirect.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/science?_ob=MImg&_imagekey=B6VBC-4YHSCPG-1-B&_cdi=5923&_user=126980&_pii=S0277379110000107&_orig=search&_coverDate=05%2F31%2F2010&_sk=999709990&view=c&wchp=dGLzVlz-zSkWb&md5=2e3a05cdb40b477b6a09872b4120f444&ie=/sdarticle.pdf (Accessed 25 May 2010)

Pagani, M., Zachos, J.C., Freeman, K.H., Tipple, B., Boahty, S. (2005) Marked Decline in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Concentrations During the Paleogene, Science 309, 600,  22 July 2005, Available on the Internet from www.sciencemag.org (Accessed 7 June 2010)

Pearson, P.N., Foster, G.L., Wade, B.S. (2009) Atmospheric carbon dioxide through the Eocene-Ologocene climate transition, Nature 461, 1110- 1114, 22 October 2009 Available on the Internet from www.nature.com (Accessed 7 June 2010)

Petit, J.R., Jouzel, J., Raynaud, D., Barkov, N.I., Barnola, J-M., Basile, I., Bender, M., Chappellaz, J., Davis, M., Delaygue, G., Delmotte, M., Kotlyakov, V.M., Legrand, M., Lipenkov, V.Y., Lorius, C., Pepin, L., Ritz, C., Saltzman, E., Stievenard, M. (1999) Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica, Nature, Vol 399, 3 June 1999, Available on the Internet from http://www.daycreek.com/dc/images/1999.pdf (Accessed 25 May 2010)

Zachos, J., Pagani, M., Sloan, L., Thomas, E., Billups, K. (2001) Trends, Rhythms, and Aberrations in Global Climate 65 Ma to Present, Science 292, 686, 27 April 2001, Available on the Internet from www.sciencemag.org (Accessed 7 June 2010)

Steenbergs Has Improved Our Range Of Household Cleaning Products

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Did you know that one of my first jobs was in the Pets & Cleaning Department in Fenwick’s in Newcastle?  And ever since, I have had a strange and haunting obsession for Household Cleaning products.  Well, I am not really that fascinated in them, but we have been keen to get our Household Cleaning products right, i.e. good for the environment and vegetarian and alternative.

Our biggest problem has been that Ecover has the largest and most easily accessible range, but their products are everywhere from Tesco through to small health stores, plus they do add some less than brilliant things into their products and are not vegan anymore.  We’re down to a few pots of Ecover Stain Remover and then we’re done with them as a brand.  Finally and this is a big one, the performance has to be decent as I have found some of the green Household Cleaning products pretty rubbish so you may as well not bother with them – your clothes go grey, your floor never gets clean and they sometimes even curdle in the bottle!

Steenbergs has now got a good range of alternative brands that we feel gives you - our customer – a decent choice of green and ethical alternatives.  You may not like all of them or might find some do not perform as well as you would dream, but you must remember that our choice of Household Cleaning products will never be as aggressive in their action as the traditional high street brands like Domestos or Flash or Cif as these are packed full of industrial chemicals that we just don’t want.  But we use these greener products at home and some of them – for example the Alma Win range – got me positively excited as the floor cleaner actually worked as I worked my mop around on our tiled floor.

The range is now based around cleaning kit from Alma Win , Earth Friendly and Ecoleaf (Suma’s brand of cleaning products).  In addition, we’ve got natural incense based fresh smells from Colibri (incense sticks, shoe odour neutralisers and wool protectors), soap nut washing balls and dryer balls from Ecozone , natural fibre nailbrushes, vegetable washing brushes and washing up brushes and scourers made from luffas and coconut shells that do a pretty good job, plus recycled scourers and clothes pegs from Ecoforce – the clothes pegs are brilliant and come from recycled plastics while Traidcraft’s Fair Trade rubber gloves really got me jumping up and down for joy – loved them but then I am a bit sad about these things.  Then there’s Veggi Wash to get all those nasty chemicals and waxes off your fruit and veg that you didn’t manage to grow in your allotment or garden.

For me, it was Alma Win that got me truly excited and finally happy that our range had become pretty much sorted.  A few samples just came randomly in the post, so I tried them at home and found that they were better than most of the other brands we had come across and their range slotted in nicely, allowing us to drop Ecover dishwasher tablets that we had been finding a sticking point in our range. 

Alma Win is a range of German products – in fact some of the things we’re selling only come with German labels so apologies there – and they’re biodegradeable and suitable for vegans and vegetarians unlike Ecover, and they’re kind to the skin and should over time help to reduce the UK’s high rates of allergies like hayfever, asthma and eczema.  They’re also certified as organic by EcoGarantie in Belgium which none of the other ranges are yet, being based on organically grown plant ingredients and not made in a massive chemical plant in Ellesmere Port or somewhere like that.  So their products don’t have any of the following nasty gunk in them that you will find in many of the high street brands – optical brighteners, parabens, petrochemicals, phosphates, chlorine, bulking agents, silicone, borium, colour additives, ethoxylated raw materials and genetically modified enzymes.

Please tell us what we are missing in this range and we will see what we can do.

Ripon Water Walks – Along The Ure

Monday, May 31st, 2010

I mentioned in my first blog about walks in Ripon in North Yorkshire that I did not believe that Ripon had only been settled as a monastery in 650AD.  I believe this basic historical fact about Ripon’s history even less now after walking along the River Ure.  Firstly, wherever you walk along the Ure and also nearly everywhere you are in the Dallamires area south of the River Skell, you are watched over by the brooding presence of Ripon Cathedral.  It seems to be watching you, eyeing you up and saying: what are you doing, where are you going and are you sure you should really be doing that because I am watching you?  Secondly, Hewick Bridge by one of the markers that indicate the edge of the sanctuary of Ripon was an important bridge in the Roman times connecting a settlement near the bridge/river with Isurium Brigantium, the major Roman town that is now the ancient village of Aldborough.  There is no physical evidence just the circumstantial thoughts of someone who has walked the land and feels that this was just too good a location to ignore.

On Saturday 23rd May, which was a warm and sunny evening after a scorching day, I parked my car on Magdalen’s Road and started my walk along the footpath over North Bridge Green.  North Bridge Green is a floodplain for the River Ure that stretches from the north side of North Bridge and follows the south side of the River Ure as it arcs round from the Bridge to where it meets with the River Skell by Fisher Green.  It is public land that floods regularly and is a green swathe of grass, however it would be great if more trees were planted, which would allow the ground to hold more water when the river is in spate and would also give more woodland for local biodiversity to thrive.

It’s a gentle 30 minute walk along the edge of the river, which languidly flows towards the Skell.  The water had a peaty brown hue to it and looked temptingly cool on an evening like it was.  There are shingle beeches every so often that you can wander down to and watch the river flow past, look for fish, watch the ducks swimming and the insects swarming on the water.  There were some teenagers enjoying skimming stones across the water, but most were enjoying the delights of “Over the Rainbow – The Final”  or some other TV delight.

Hidden Bench By River Ure

Hidden Bench By River Ure

Around half way around, the land rises to a small height where you can look across to Ripon Cathedral as it keeps an eye on you, before you slide back down to river height.  As you get closer to the meeting of the Rivers Ure and Skell, there’s an old bench hidden beneath bushes and covered in nettles, where once there must have been a lovely river view – a romantic sign of decay - while a newer bench by the meeting of the rivers has no seat and just the concrete base – a sign simply of neglect.  Once again, you can turnaround and see Ripon Cathedral checking up on you…

View Back To Ripon Cathedral

View From Skell To Ripon Cathedral

At  Fisher Green, we cross over the stepping stones across the River Skell and then follow the footpath along the south side past Yorkshire Water’s wastewater treatment plant coming out on a field called The Green, which is opposite Ripon Race Course.  It flooded here last December after a snow melt in the Yorkshire Dales and covered over the road, and the field itself floods at least once every winter.

Hewick Bridge In Ripon , Yorkshire

Hewick Bridge In Ripon , Yorkshire

Sanctuary Marker By Hewick Bridge

Sanctuary Marker By Hewick Bridge

At Hewick Bridge, you need to be careful as you cross the bridge as it’s busy and there’s no footpath.  Just over Hewick Bridge, there’s a footpath and a sanctuary marker that marks the start of a walk called the Sanctuary Walk, where you can walk around the ancient limits of one league from the monastery.  We just use the part that goes along the northern banks of the River Ure.  A few yards in from the start there is a concrete section that goes into the river and comes out the other side – I always thought this was a car park but apparently this is where tanks used to cross over the river.

This section of the walk to Sharrow and back to North Bridge takes another hour, bringing the total walk time to a good 2 hours.  This section is a decent walk in the countryside, save for the sound of cars constantly moving.  Soon you blot these out and can hear only the sounds of the birds with their evening chorus – swallows, thrush, ducks, blackbirds, pigeons, the high pitched chirrup chirrup of house martins and then the loud honking of a couple of geese as they flew overhead like 2 bombers.  The trees and flowers alongside the river were in full bloom – hawthorn, chestnut, white butterbur, nettles, wild garlic, bluebells and then you had the white parachute seed heads of the the Old Man’s Clock’s and downy female catkins on some small shrubby willow bushes (I think it’s a type of Osier Willow or Salix viminalis as the leaves are definitely spear shaped, but I am not convinced about this), as well as a patch of forget-me-nots in the middle of nowhere as if someone had just dropped a pack of seeds as they wandered idly by.

Forget-me-nots Among White Butterbur

Forget-me-nots Among White Butterbur

As I got to the point that the Rivers Ure and Skell meet, I walked through nettles and elder, climbed over an ineffectual fence and clambered down the riverbank and stood over the river on the trunk of an elder tree and took a picture of the confluence.  It was probably not worth the effort as it was decidely undramatic, but it was something I had been keen to do, and it satisfied a curiosity.  I still need to find the meeting places of the Ure with the Ouse Beck and also Kex Beck with the River Laver, having found the meeting between the Rivers Skell and Laver earlier.

Meeting Of Rivers Ure and Skell In Ripon In Yorkshire

Meeting Of Rivers Ure and Skell In Ripon In Yorkshire

Near here it is worth looking east towards the Blackamoor Pub and looking over the perfectly landscaped farmland and the patches of Van Goghian yellow of rapeseed flowers, then to the north a derelict farmhouse that I will explore another day.

View Back To Blackamoor Pub

View Back To Blackamoor Pub

Beware Of Witches And The Gruffalo

Beware Of Witches And The Gruffalo

Two-thirds of the way along, you follow a pathway off the river bank and upwards onto Bell Bank, which is a National Trust owned wood that’s about 30 metres above the Ure.  It’s a steep slope upwards covered in trees clinging to the riverbank, so there’s an out-of-place sign warning those who enter the wood that they do so at their own risk – what of: witches or the gruffalo or that I might not notice the steep slope down to the river.  The wood was shaded and dappled with the setting sun and with patches of bluebells here and there, adding a colour contrast to the greens and browns of the woodland.

As you come out of the wood, you get a good glimpse of Ripon Cathedral staring at you, then you are down and nearly out at Sharrow.  As you follow the path along, you go under the Duchess of Kent Bridge, then out and over North Bridge.  Cross over to the opposite side of the bridge and look over the floodplain at one of Ripon’s curiosities – a white wigwam, why?  And you’re back at Magdalen’s Road.

White Teepee Near North Bridge In Ripon

White Teepee By North Bridge In Ripon In Yorkshire

Thinking about it, do you know what I hardly have seen when I do these short potters – people fishing.  Only once have I seen someone and that was in the centre of Ripon, but few people seem to be sitting on the bank, idling their time away trying to catch brown trout or whatever is in the river.  I know there are fishers out there, but where are they hiding?

PS: I must get a filter for my camera as I regularly get the blue sky whiting out in the photos I am taking.

Water Walks In Ripon – Alongside The Skell

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

As you walk through the centre of Ripon alongside the River Skell, you get an appreciation of how many bridges there are.  Sure, Ripon isn’t Venice with its profusion of quaint, romantic curve bridges that play on the imagination nor the strong, engineered lines of the great industrial bridges of Newcastle.  However, Ripon does have a lot of bridges packed into a small area.

For the short walk across Ripon, there are 11 highly functional bridges connecting Ripon between North and South, between the old and new parts of the city, and even as you get to Fisher Green a ford and 2 sets of stepping stones.  Towards the North, there are 2 further bridges over the Ure – North Bridge and the Duchess of Kent Bridge – and Hewick Bridge as you leave the east of Ripon going towards Boroughbridge and York; then there are 4 footbridges over Ripon Canal.  And all of this is in a short distance of 1 – 2 miles (2 – 3 kilometres).  Bridges have always been important to city life – Hewick Bridge and Bishopton Bridge had chapels attached to them to encourage pilgrims to pay for their upkeep – but there were no pontage dues or Bridge Wardens in Ripon.

We start this short city walk where we left the previous walk by Borrage Lane, that is at Borrage Bridge but facing eastwards.  The first thing to notice is the beautifully converted piece of local industrial architecture – the old Williamson Varnish Factory.

View From Borrage Bridge Past Williamson Varnish Factory

View From Borrage Bridge Past Williamson Varnish Factory

You walk along the river for a bit before coming out to cross over a road and past the Williamson Drive Bridge built for the newly built housing around the old Williamson Varnish Factory.  Then we follow another river path that is parallel to the very old road, Barefoot Street, which used to connect Borrage Bridge to St John’s Chapel.  The river bank opposite is dominated by overhanging trees arching over the languid water as it flows slowly through the city, channelled by hard engineered stone and concrete walls to protect the riverbanks and houses from the Skell in spate.  Brown trout can be seen hovering in the river and range in size from 3 inches to about 8 inches in length.

View From Bondgate Bridge

View From Bondgate Bridge

All too soon, we have reached Bondgate Bridge, where the mill race would have entered the river again.  Opposite us, there is a quaint little white house where the owner has placed a cheap looking plaster cast of a fisherman on their wall.  Ironically, someone was fishing for their tea on the bank opposite but seemingly with little luck in spite of lots of brown trout clearly visible and rising to the surface for insects.  Once again, we need to walk over the road by St John’s Chapel and down again on to the other side.  Here you walk along a short while with a recently renovated playground opposite us on a water meadow at Bondgate Green.  And it’s but a short walk to Archer Bridge.

I went under Archer Bridge and continued on the south side of the Skell.  Opposite, you can see the white-painted backs of some of the old buildings connected to Ripon Cathedral, while we walk on towards the Water Rat Pub past Alma Weir with its ineffectual salmon leap.  Alma Weir is one of the places where the Environment Agency measures river flow, but they have also realised that it can cause the water to back up the river, so causing flooding in its own right.  As a result, under the Ripon Flood Alleviation Scheme, Alma Weir is to be removed and the river gouged out to lower it and hopefully make this part of central Ripon less prone to flooding.  The Water Rat and Alma Weir are the location of the world famous (okay locally quite well known) Annual Duck Race held on August Bank Holiday Weekend.

Alma Weir In Ripon

View Across Alma Weir To Ripon Cathedral

Here, I crossed over the wooden Alma Bridge to the north side of the river.  Now follow, the river for a short while before you can see the remnants of an old mill race in a small patch of greenery.  Now, you cross another wooden bridge where Priest Lane dips down to ford the Skell by Wolseley Center’s ugly brown buildings.

Ford in Ripon In Yorkshire

Priest Lane Ford In Ripon In Yorkshire

We’re now firmly back into parts of Ripon that suffer from flooding.  Obviously, the Priest Lane Ford gets unpassable a few times a year, but now we’re entering the Fisher Green area of Ripon which can get pretty wet.  We walk along the Skell’s south bank past the back of some industrial buildings where Interserve is doing work on the Flood Scheme and a strange little building by Fisher Green Bridge that houses NDS, which offers training in rock music ranging from guitar playing to drumming.  Fisher Green Bridge is a classic sturdy piece of Victorian industrial architecture that was built to last; it was formerly the bridge for the railway line that was removed under Beeching and has been collared for the Ripon bypass.  If you look up to the road you can see that the A61 has widened the original bridge simply by cutting off the sides, bunging on some wide concrete slabs that overhang the bridge base by a couple of metres each side and then stuck the edges back on again – sensible but you would not have known this from the road above.

We walk under the bridge and are basically in the countryside.  Save for a few houses on the north side, the small green space northwards between the A61, the Skell to the south and the curving Ure to the east is given over to farming and washlands, which are used for walking by locals.  The houses here along the Skell are all subject to flooding and you can see many of the houses have sandbags to the ready or sturdy floodgates to protect their properties.

Crossing River At Fisher Green in Ripon

Stepping Stones Across Skell

Here I crossed the river over some stepping stones set into the river and walked a short distance along a wide green grassed footpath to the point where the Skell meets the Ure for its journey onwards towards the Humber.  Here, there are a few trees but I must admit that I would like to see more – I can imagine an avenue of trees holding together the river bank and soaking up the water when the rivers get bloated.  The trees around here include sycamores and willows as well as decorative cherry trees, while the river banks are currently covered in flowering wild garlic.

View Towards Fisher Green in Ripon

View Towards Fisher Green in Ripon

That’s No McGuffin!

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Is global warming the perfect McGuffin?  I have never really understood what Alfred Hitchcock meant by a McGuffin; for me it always seemed like the cinematic equivalent of the Zen concept of “the sound of one hand clapping”, i.e. there is no sound and the question is stupid, irrelevant, pointless and a red herring or a McGuffin.  But perhaps global warming is really the perfect McGuffin.

What is a McGuffin, then?  Well the best and worst explanation comes from Alfred Hitchcock himself in an interview with Francois Truffaut:

“It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train.  One man says “What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?”, and the other answers “Oh that’s a McGuffin”.  The first one asks “What’s a McGuffin?”. “Well”, the other man says, “It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands”.  The first man says “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands”, and the other one answers “Well, then that’s no McGuffin!”.  So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.”

So I am racked by doubts – is all this noise and technology and science about climate change and global warming merely an apparatus to trap lions in the Scottish Highlands?  But then there are actually rumours of – while not lions – big wild cats in Scotland like the Galloway puma or the Coulport cougar, so maybe a machine to catch lions would be useful.

But I am still not sure and worry that the joke’s on me and everyone is laughing at me for thinking about it too much, or as R.E.M. sang in Losing My Religion:

“That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight, I’m
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing…”

So why “Losing My Religion” – well that’s obvious as I come from the viewpoint of believing in global warming, but now I don’t think it’s such a big deal nor am I so convinced that we’ve got the answer quite sharp enough yet.  Yes, temperature has gone up; yes, greenhouse gases have gone up; but all-in-all it’s perhaps by not that much, and why should we change everything on a leap of faith – a computer simulation of what might happen in 100 or 200 years time and something that might be good for loads of people, incuding Britain!

Imagine this.  We are all now living 5000 years ago in Britain.  No cars, no mobile phones, no roads, no Internet, no watches, no telescopes, no science and so on and so on.  We know that every day a bright light goes into the sky and warms the earth but it comes up in different places at different stages and seems to warm at different rates.  We know that a bright white light comes up into the sky and cycles over a shorter period but it doesn’t warm the world, but mysteriously it seems the same period as the oceans move at and women’s menstrual cycles.  But how do we work out what to do and what these cycles are or when to plant crops and harvest them.  There is no time, there are no diaries.

So we construct a whole mythology and superstitions that seem to help us work these cycles all out.  But it doesn’t always work out, as the weather gets warmer and colder dependent on, maybe a volcano in Iceland or El Nino or some other unknown like sun spots.  So we make our mythology even more complex and after these unknowns we make new sacrifices to appease an unknown, slightly random god.  This goes on and on as we create more and more complexity on a construct with weak foundations.

But them someone works out the clock and then come telescopes and diaries and we develop to now.  What was a key and clear set of rules and prediction mechanisms 5000 years ago is now encapsulated in clocks and time and thermometers and weather satellites and diaries etc, and the mystery has gone, the religion gone, even if the randomness and unpredictability is still there.

I feel that we are in 5000BP and cannot see it all clearly just quite yet, and while everyone creates more and more complex computer simulations - just like those people back then built Stonehenge and created their climate mythology - we’re doing the same without the living sacrifices, but certainly with the cash impacts.  I just cannot make that leap of faith yet from a 1oC change in last 100 years to a 2oC or 4oC or 5oC rise in the next 100 or 200 years (but I am still working on getting there), while in the-here-and-now I need to work out how my family can be fed, educated and kept happy and Steenbergs can be developed, and how you can relieve poverty and crime in the UK and help the poor vanilla growers in Madagascar.

We should be frugal and we should try and look after the world, but not this vast cost for a minor god whose decision will be made in the really distant future.  We must change where we look and focus on bigger gods with a firmer reality and then do today’s things and tomorrow’s things as responsibly as possible in terms of our families, our communities and the world.

Global Warming And Greenhouse Gases

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

We’ve looked at whether there is global warming and there does appear to be global warming albeit not at such a dramatic level as we read about in the press – perhaps more like 1oC rather than 4oC or 5oC. 

I will need to understand how the UK Met Office gets from these historic numbers to a future rise that’s much higher as I worry that it’s because of the computer model, which is a human-based interpretation of long-term weather patterns; as humans, we cannot predict economic performance and have been trying for many years so I remain to be convinced that we will be able to get it right for the weather – UK weather forecasters cannot get it right over a 24 hour period!

The first stage of this is to assess the drivers for global warming.  The key culprit is stated as man and particularly industrial and agricultural pollution.  Of these, the finger is pointed at greenhouse gases where carbon dioxide – or CO2 - is used as the proxy for all the other pollutive gases like methane and nitrous oxide etc.

It is clear that these gases especially carbon dioxide and methane have increased and much of this is due to energy generation from fossil fuels like coal and petrol and diesel and gasoline – but not nuclear or wind or water driven power.  It is also driven by the burning of the rainforests and other natural features like heather and grasslands, while chopping down trees takes away the trees that pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and fix this into carbohydrates and other natural substances.

Great work has been done on this by the Keeling family at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii and graphs from their website clearly show how carbon dioxide has grown and links this back to fossil fuels.  I’ll let their pictures tell the story below.

The Classic Mauna Loa Graph

The Classic Mauna Loa Graph

More Globalised Look At Carbon Dioxide

Carbon Dioxide Over Hawaii and South Pole

Carbon Dioxide Growth Over Time And Fossil Fuel Trend

Carbon Dioxide Growth Over Time And Fossil Fuel Trend

Impact Of Fossil Fuel Growth And Carbon Time Over Long Time

Impact Of Fossil Fuel Growth And Carbon Time Over Long Time

Now how greenhouse gases work is simple.  Solar energy enters the earth’s atmosphere and is either absorbed by plants or objects on the earth or bounces off the earth back into the atmosphere.  Some of this goes out into space but a proportion is reflected back onto earth by water vapour – ie clouds – or greenhouse gases, so the more greenhouse gases and water vapour the more solar energy stays in the atmosphere and the warmer the earth gets (all things being equal).  This can be understood much better in a picture so here’s one I got from Google:

The Greenhouse Effect

The Greenhouse Effect

I don’t doubt that mankind has driven up the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and that these will have had an impact on the temperature.  But the big question is how much warmer the earth gets and are all things equal and (I suppose) does everything need to stay the same and why cannot man adapt or change…

Sanity Check On Global Warming Numbers

Friday, April 16th, 2010

As I have explained in several of my last few blogs, I have been looking more closely at the detail of the case for global warming.  I have analysed global average temperatures as provided by NASA that uses information from the Hadley Centre in the UK and several other sources, as well as looking at fact sheets from the IPCC.  My initial take on the numbers is that the media and the politicians may be overstating the historical case and that global temperature rises exist but may be lower than the PR spin.

Before I decided that that was my final conclusion, I wanted to do a sanity check of the global mean figures against some raw data for different regions around the world.  These are not intended to be definitive but rather to see whether the trend from the global mean data was matched by a variety of on-the-ground raw data from temperature stations.

The raw temperature data that I have chosen is for England, the Antarctic and Australia.  I thought that would give a pretty good cross-section of temperature profiles.  The quality of data varies for each of these, from very detailed as in England which goes back many hundreds of years and uses 3 data points across England, while for Australia and the Antarctic I had to chose a few places that I felt covered sufficient area but also had data that went back at least 100 years, which was supplemented with a few that went back 50 years.

The raw data is available from the following sources, should you wish to do it yourself.  Now it is important to state here that the answer is not intended to be complete or definitive, which they are clearly not, but rather they are utilised to show trends and whether those trends fall within the ranges anticipated from the IPCC work and the dataset that I analysed from NASA.

The data analysed from the above gave the following results:

  1. England temperatures – temperature increase per 100 years = base rise of +0.9oC, with minimum rise of +0.6oC and maximum rise of +1.8oC; the UK Metereologic data series can be seen in full detail at  http://hadobs.metoffice.com/hadcet/;
  2. Antarctic temperatures – temperature increase per 100 years = base rise of +1.1oC, with minimum rise of +0.4oC and maximum rise of +5.3oC;
  3. Australian temperatures – temperature increase per 100 years = base rise of +1.0oC, with minimum rise of +0.3oC and maximum rise of +2.4oC.  If you look at the Australian Detailed Meteorological Office set of detailed anomalies graph it comes with the same answer of +1.06oC and can be found at http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/climate/change/timeseries.cgi

These results indicate that across a wide range of the world the global warming temperature rises are in line with the averages I previously calculated based on the global mean temperatures.

It is interesting also to note that the figures seem higher than the averages calculated by climate scientists for their global mean averages which suggests that as I would have added extra data points and more accuracy, the mean averages would tend towards a tighter fit line about 0.5oC lower.  Also, Antarctic figures were higher than for England, which is in line with what the climate scientists say, ie that the poles will experience the changes more greatly.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

The base sources I used can be found as follows:

  1. England temperatures – http://hadobs.metoffice.com/hadcet/data/download.html
  2. Antarctic temperatures – http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/met/READER/
  3. Australian temperatures -http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/

My graphs are as below:

Temperature Anomalies for Central England

Temperature Anomalies for Central England

Temperature Differences for Australia

Temperature Differences for Australia

Temperature differences in Antarctic

Temperature differences in Antarctic

Pale Blue Dot

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Sometimes you read something that says things so much more clearly and beautifully than one could ever hope to do oneself.  And I have recently read one of those – it comes from Richard Dawkins‘ brilliant anthology of science writing called “The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing” and it’s a passage by Carl Sagan called “Pale Blue Dot” from “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space”. 

For me, it sums up so much better than I can ever explain why I think that we should all come from the stewardship angle regarding our relationship with the earth and nature rather than to exploit it for the here and now.  It comes from a deeply-held philosophy that stems from earth as my home and everyone else’s home, as well as the home of all creatures and plants and microbes past, present and future.  We are but briefly passing through for the tinest fraction of time and we must be careful of our impact as the world is a unique, beautiful and very blue place in a universe full of cold, dark, black and dead nothingness.

“Look again at that dot.  That’s here.  That’s home.  That’s us.  On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you have ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.  The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, ”supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.  Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.  Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.  Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.  In our obscurity, in all its vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

“The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life.  There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate.  Visit, yes.  Settle, not yet.  Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience.  There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.  To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”