Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pop Rocks

This weekend I am hoping to go and see the new traveling exhibit at the Leonardo museum in downtown Salt Lake City. The exhibit is called “Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times “. It purportedly features twenty of the Dead Sea Scrolls, displayed ten at a time, and an actual chunk of stone from the western wall of the temple mount. Salt Lake City is the fifth of what may be ten American cities which will be host to the traveling exhibit.

I like the idea that they have included a chunk of rock from the temple mount. I remember how, as a child, I saw an actual moon rock specimen at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. It was held up by stiff wires in artful illumination at the heart of a clear display case made especially for it. When I finally got to see it a line of people impatiently wanted for me to cut my glance short and move on, but I wanted to stare at it for my entire life. It was small, and it looked like so many rocks, but I could see space and rockets and amazing adventure in the way the light escaped into the darkness of its surface. The rock from temple mount is just like the moon rock, except bigger, and instead of the awesomeness of space travel it embodies centuries of religious warfare, and it is actually magic.

The dead sea scrolls were first discovered about 15 miles away and a few months after the 1946 King David Hotel bombing in Jerusalem. 91 people were killed and 46 injured in what remains one of the deadliest bombings in the history of middle-east terrorism. The Zionist group called Irgun bombed the hotel in an attack against the British control of Palestine. Zionists had been fighting for a “Jewish Homeland” in Palestine since long before the Nazi gas chambers were put into operation. One cannot help but wonder how the history of 20th century would be different if they had succeeded before the concentration camps were opened for business.

To many Zionists the British control of Palestine was a bigger concern than what was happening across the Mediterranean Sea in Europe. One group called “Lehi” split off from Irgun before WW II erupted. Lehi attempted to ally with fascist Italy and the Nazis against the British. By 1942 it became clear that the Nazis were not going to be the best allies for a Jewish state and Lehi, under new leadership, decided to ally itself with Joseph Stalin and the USSR.  History would eventually suggest that this was also a bad idea.   In 1983 one of Lehi’s wartime leaders (Yitzhak Shamir) became prime minister of Israel.

Lehi is also the name of the original Mormon from the book of Mormon. Lehi is supposed to have walked past the Dead Sea Scroll caves in Nahal Qumran sometime around 600 BCE, and then down the coast of the red sea to Oman where he built a boat and sailed to South America. Lehi and his progeny proceeded to have all sorts of wacky adventures in the new world. All of this supposedly ended about year 421 when Moroni wrote down the words of his father Mormon on a stack of gold plates, and buried them along with some magic stones and a sword on a hillside near Palmyra New York.

A little over 1400 years later Joseph smith would “retrieve” the golden Moroni plates and stones from Hill Cumorah. The stones would function as magical spectacles which Smith would use to “translate” the writing on the gold plates from “Reformed Egyptian” into a very KJB-sounding English. In fact the second book of Nephi contains 18 chapters of the book of Isaiah almost word-for-word from the King James Bible.

The Great Isaiah scroll discovered in 1947 in Nahal Qumram is the best preserved of the biblical dead sea scrolls. The scroll is dated to about 125 BCE. I hope it will be part of the exhibit when I walk through.

The Great Isaiah scroll, like every existing piece of ancient writing, is not written in “Reformed Egyptian” so magic stones are not needed to translate it. It has, however, been a long time since I studied Hebrew in college. Luckily the exhibit does have that magic stone as one of its items. Perhaps I can get a new translation?


Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Mulaka

Start slow and continue tapering down” - John “The Penguin” Bingham

Many aspects of climate change are complex. One which is not is the annual melting of the sea ice in the arctic. When the vernal equinox (March 20th this year) turns on the 24hour sunlight at the north pole the sea starts to heat, and the ice slowly starts to melt. If the atmosphere holds in more of the sun’s heat then more of the sea ice melts. Shortly before the equinox the warming breath of the coming dawn slows the accumulation of sea ice. The autumnal equinox in September will turn off the sun, and the maximum extent of ice melt will occur within a few days of this event.

Even the generation of a record arctic sea ice melt is not too difficult to describe. Start with a smaller amount of ice, and then melt it fast.

Today the arctic sea ice may be at its maximum extent for 2014. If not today then the maximum will most likely occur in a couple days time. It will be very near to today’s value of 14.627 million square kilometers of sea ice. The arctic sea ice coverage kind of slumps into the maximum; it is not a sudden freezing spike.

Minimum and Maximum Arctic Sea Ice by year.  2014 minimum (circled) is speculative.


One of the reasons that the arctic sea ice is such a nice data set for examining the effects of climate change is that the arrangement of ice floating on water buffers the impact of transient weather events. The arctic is known for its wild and crazy storms, but the Arctic Ocean is voluminous and patient. The transient storms blow over and the constant warming by sunlight and infra-red reflection steadily warms the ocean until the ice melts away.

Another reason why the maximum extent of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean occurs at a time of minimal variation is that the geography of the arctic limits how much ice can be formed. The Arctic Ocean can be viewed as a bottle with two spouts; one for the outlet to the Atlantic, and the other at the Bering Strait. Sea ice buildup ends at the shore. Late in the sea ice buildup season the margin available for expansion is constrained, and even significant expansion of that margin results in only small increases in overall sea ice. Similarly major deviations in the diameter of sea ice extent would only show up in the data as relatively small differences in overall sea ice.


Daily variation in Arctic Sea Ice extent in millions of square kilometers per day.   


Here is a very random example to illustrate the effects of geographic constraint on maximum sea ice extent data. Picture a Yamaka maker who decides, for the sake of fashion, to increase the size of his Yamakas every year. The arctic sea ice is like a giant ice yamaka for the planet. At first he has to buy significantly more material for each fashionably larger yamaka; the amount of material in a circular yamaka is proportional to the square of the diameter of the yamaka. Early on in the freezing season the Arctic ice can expand without constraint. Then the yamaka maker finds he needs to make the yamakas with cutouts for the face and ears. The arctic ice expansion is limited by the northern shores of Russia and Canada. Eventually each new year’s more fashionable yamakas are mullet shaped, with only slightly longer strips running down the neck or framing the face like fabric sideburns. The amount of new material required per yamaka each year is now only linearly proportional to the length of the mullet and sideburn strips; even large increases in overall diameter of yamaka only requires small amounts of material.

I don’t know if the preceding description was actually illustrative or if I just wanted to introduce the concept of a mullet-shaped yamaka. I think I will call it “The Mulaka”. I am not sure, however, how well this will work with alternative definitions for the word “Mulaka”