Friday, October 19, 2007

Sea Ice and the view from the Tundra Garden

One can stand in the Tundra Garden (or in my front door out of the wind) and look at the Chukchi Sea a couple of hundred yards away. We're finally getting some sea ice in the near-shore. It was fairly cold for a few days and some new ice was forming, but strong east winds blew it off. For the last few days ice has been showing up from somewhere to the north & east. It's small chunks, but they have 6 inches or more thickness, so they're not brand new. This is really late. Normally by mid-October there should be shore-fast ice. I've been working on a project involving the shipwrecks of an entire whaling fleet lost in 1871 due to ice entrapment in early September.

Yesterday, a walrus came riding by on the ice (it's the dark spot on the ice). For the last several weeks, huge herds of walruses have been beaching themselves along the Chukchi Sea coast at various spots. The females and calves normally stay with the ice in this area, but it pulled back so far this summer that it wasn't over waters where they could find food. They need to be able to dive and find clams & such, but the ice was over much deeper waters, so they had to swim for it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sustainability-A Blog Action Day view from the TundraGarden

Today is Blog Action Day. Although I usually stick to the TundraGarden itself, today I am looking at sustainability. Sustainability is a fairly broad topic, and there's an awful lot of discussion and information available about balanced, sensible, non-greedy use of resources in a locally appropriate manner. That's really important, and if we would all just do that, the giant experiment that we are all taking part in on an involuntary basis might run a bit slower, or even grind to a halt. That would be a really good thing, and if you're interested in trying to move things in that direction here are a couple of resources:

The Union of Concerned Scientists Greentips newsletter
The Nature Conservancy Carbon Footprint Calculator

In my non-gardening life, I'm an archaeologist. That means I tend to look at things over time scales much longer than even those of the average gardener. My particular professional interest is something called "Paleoeconomy" which is a fancy way of saying I'm interested in how people fed, clothed, and housed themselves in the past. One thing that becomes apparent very quickly when one studies this is that the world in which we live (topography, climate, biota) is continuously changing, and has apparently been doing so since well before human beings evolved. There are of course changes from day to night, from day to day, month to month, year to year. But there are also longer-term changes, at least some of which appear to occur on cycles of various lengths, from decades to many millennia. Just like waves in a wave tank, the cycles can amplify each other, or cancel each other out.

Unfortunately, as our society has become urbanized, and developed truly extraordinary engineering prowess, most people (other than the few fishermen, farmers, and hunters that are left) seem to have lost touch with this fact. The result is that many things are being designed as if we lived in a static world. Incredibly expensive houses and infrastructure are built on barrier islands (which by definition do not stay put), in areas only a few feet above sea level (which has been rising for some time to thermal expansion of the oceans), on top of faults or in areas where the soil is going to turn to Jell-O with the first serious earthquake, and other similarly silly locations. Once this happens, large amounts of resources are spent on trying to maintain this infrastructure, particularly when it belongs to the well-to-do and well-connected.

Great effort is put into protecting certain areas as "critical habitat" for threatened species, without considering that a few hundred years ago these areas were not the same as they are now (e. g. Izembek lagoon eelgrass beds). Sadly, no effort is put into figuring out where those endangered species found that habitat in the past, nor attempting to project where they might find that sort of habitat in the future as changes continue. Currently, it is all too easy to assume that an area is not important to a species (which it may not be at the moment), and that it is therefore suitable for some other use, and never realize that it may be the critical habitat of 300 years in the future. Thus, all this effort may be simply prolonging the decline of the species.

Current legal and regulatory frameworks tend to assume a static world. We really need to be taking a much longer view, and working to change those frameworks in such a way that people are able to move toward a more flexible, and yes, sustainable, way of living. For example, communities that wish to relocate after flood damage rather than simply rebuilding at their original high-risk location face huge hurdles. It is far simpler and quicker (although neither simple nor quick) to get assistance to rebuild in place, sometimes repeatedly. There has to be a better way. Changing the status quo is going to take a lot of pressure from a lot of people, but we've gotten ourselves into a bit of a hole, and the only sensible thing to do is stop digging now. It is not the time to be playing "after you, Alphonse."

Monday, October 08, 2007

New Season, New Template

The green just seemed like too much color, now that the snow has fallen and the TG is white. So, changing with the seasons....

Friday, October 05, 2007

Northern Light

A couple days ago we had one of those gorgeous fall days that come along so rarely. Winds were calm for much of the day, and the sun was shining. Temperatures dropped overnight, and the lagoon behind my house froze over.

It has been snowing for a couple of weeks, but not sticking; now it is. The birds have mostly left for the south, with the exception of the gulls, who are waiting for fall whaling, which means feasting for them as well as the human community. A few were left, hopping around in the snow looking for seeds.