Category Archives: Science

The Horrible Truth about Deep Water Horizon and Deep Waters

Seven years ago, on April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon exploded into a firestorm that could be seen for 40 miles, resulting in the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Deepwater Horizon was an offshore drilling rig that had successfully drilled the deepest oil well in history (over 10,000 ft. deep) in the Gulf of Mexico just a few months earlier, and           on April 20th, the crew of 126 were hard at work testing the new well               at Macondo Prospect, forty-one miles off the coast of Louisiana. Deepwater Horizon cost almost a million dollars per day to operate with equipment and crew, and although there were issues with safety, the project was over a month behind schedule and overdue at a new site, so the decision makers decided to test the well before they were sure all the work was properly completed and all the concrete had time to cure.  The movie dramatizing this disaster is excellent and rated PG-13, but it is so graphic (and bad language) that I recommend it with caution. As one who’s inexperienced with the technical side of oil drilling, it was somewhat hard to follow what was happening, but the message was crystal clear: Often those who take the risks and make the decisions are not those who suffer the greatest consequences for their greed and irresponsible selfishness. Eleven men died, scores of men suffered, and the responsible companies ended up spending not millions —but billions—of dollars trying to recover and compensate for the damages. As we make important decisions, let’s remember that if we choose selfishly and unwisely, we’re not just going to hurt ourselves, we’re likely to do more damage than we could ever possibly imagine.  But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels. Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! (Psalm 81:11-13)

Racing Extinction or Promoting Life

9                    Despite Racing Extinction being dubbed a “thriller” by some, Racing_Extinction_posterI think of it more as an electrifying documentary about the vicious and inexcusable exploitation of animals around the world that is resulting in a massive number of God’s two million+ beautiful species going extinct at an estimated rate of 150-200 (up to 2,000) per day, which many scientists believe is as much as 1000 times the natural rate and will be cataclysmic for our planet. 10Racing Extinction is a visually breathtaking and emotionally heartbreaking look at the cruel disregard for animal life in the mad rush for money and pleasure. louieLouie Psihoyos, a Greek American photographer and film director, has created a powerful documentary with enough incriminating evidence to convince anyone with a shred of humanity left that we need to do something to change our own habits and tastes in order to save our planet…literally! And, this isn’t just a money-making deal for Louie. 12On the day he was planning to accept an Academy Award for his documentary, The Cove, Louie instead went on an undercover mission to expose the (illegal) sale of whale meat at a restaurant in America. 6Racing Extinction shows several horrifying videos of undercover investigations of the shark fin and manta gill trade, and several of those who are risking their lives in this quest were choking back tears as they discussed the merciless killing of animals for delicacies or supposed medicines. 2In addition to the movie, activists have begun the campaign “Start with One Thing” to encourage people to change their habits. 1For those of us who aren’t in to eating Shark Fin Soup, there is one obvious way we can contribute: simply by eating a little less beef, which is hugely expensive to raise (in the global economy of resources). Fish Manta rayThat will be a tough one for me, because I love beef, but I’m going to try to do so, and I read that Americans are generally overfed, so it will probably be good for me as well as for the planet. After all, we’re all in this together!4And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). God has given us sovereignty over the earth, but I believe his intention is for us to care for our world as good stewards, the way a kind and merciful king would oversee his dominion.

Scott Kelly and The Martian: Surviving in an Alien Environment

Scott Kelly WikiLast night Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko returned to earth after spending an unprecedented 340 days at the International Space Station (ISS), which orbits some 250 miles above earth. The ISS has been visited by more than 200 people since its installation in 2000, and during this past year, astronauts from six different nations also spent some time aboard with Scott and Mikhail. Although the second-generation, Russian cosmonaut Sergey Volkov has clocked the most days in space (548), Kelly now has spent 520 days in space, the most among U.S. astronauts, and Kelly reflected, “I’ve been up here for a really long time and sometimes, when I think about it, I feel like I’ve lived my whole life up here.”  All Sky Map WikiWhat were the astronauts doing in space? Well, they had some 400 experiments and tasks to accomplish, so they might have gotten cramped in their tight quarters, but they probably weren’t too bored! Among other things, they were working with the new CALorimetric Electron Telescope (CALET), an instrument built to track the trajectory of cosmic ray particles and measure their charge and energy (particularly electrons and gamma rays) in hopes of finding the signature of dark matter or nearby sources of high-energy particle acceleration. COSMOS_3D_dark_matter_map WIKIScientists posit that “dark matter” makes up about one-fourth of the universe’s mass energy, but so far humans have been unable to see it optically and cannot figure out what it is. According to a November 9, 2015 report from NASA, “Right now, scientists are much more certain what dark matter is not, rather than what it is. This research may help scientists identify dark matter and fit it, more accurately, into standard models of the universe.” Lots of food for thought and speculation. The signature of dark matter in space is an enigma to me, but I recognize the signature of spiritual dark matter, and it is not the hand of God; it is the hand of the Evil One, about whom I know less. The MartianAnother aspect of Kelly’s mission was to help NASA prepare for the hope of landing humans on Mars in the future. As NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden, explained, “Scott has become the first American astronaut to spend a year in space, and in so doing, helped us take one giant leap toward putting boots on Mars.” As part of his year, Kelly even watched The Martian in space, and had this to say: “There were a lot of parallels with that movie to living in space for a long period of time, including growing things in an extreme environment, which we recently finished up doing.” So, if you’re interested, it sounds like The Martian may be more than just a sci-fi survivalist drama. Actually, I really enjoyed it, particularly the protagonist’s (played by Matt Damon) undying optimism toward surviving the unsurvivable by using his ingenuity and working his heart out!  Scott Kelly NASAWhen interviewed about his prep for re-entry, Kelly said, “I’m looking down at the Earth right now and it’s 250 miles below me, and only a small portion of that is the atmosphere, and when that Soyuz hits that atmosphere going 17,500 miles an hour, a lot of things have to happen just right to make sure we touch down and parachute safely. So when you look at that big space between us and the speed involved, it’s pretty serious. And it’s something that you definitely think about and consider. But it’s my second time flying the Soyuz, my fourth time flying in space. It’s something I signed up to do, and we’ll be ready for it next Tuesday.”   Earth from outer space WikiThere are spiritual parallels between human bodies surviving on an alien planet without food and water or oxygen, and human spirits surviving in an alien environment where others don’t live on Jesus, the bread and water of life, or find their life in the breath of the Holy Spirit. I was very taken with Kelly’s comments on being prepared to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere, which (in spiritual terms) would amount to landing safely in heaven. Do you know what to expect when your body dies? Are you prepared for your “flight home”? I’m signed up, and I’m ready. I hope you are too!

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”

(John 3:16-21)

(P.S.—If you want to see 10 gorgeous photos of Planet Earth that Kelly took from outer space, you can access them here:  )

2015 UN Climate Change Conference: How Can We Individually Meet the Moment?

Moon risingLast weekend marked the end of 196 nations hashing out how to solve the global warming issue…for the 21st consecutive year. What’s the problem, and will their new resolution be an effective answer? SnowflakesIn an over-simplified nutshell, the problem is that many scientists (perhaps foremost, James Hansen, Director of Climate Science at Columbia University’s Earth Institute) believe an increase in temperature of even 2°C will eventually cause the  Antarctic ice sheet to collapse, raising global water levels enough to put some island nations under water and make refugees out of millions in coastal cities around the world—for instance 100 million people in Bangladesh, much of  NYC city and parts of our west coast, etc., which—if true—is definitely a cause for concern! These scientists also believe the major cause of global warming is carbon emissions.South FloridaHowever, I’m not convinced we really “met the moment” with the agreement that was adopted over the weekend. I know Obama wants to leave a legacy of better carbon-emission controls, but the wording of “should” instead of “shall” in the document makes everything aspirational rather than legal. “The problem isn’t solved,” Obama admitted in his address, “but a framework has been put in place.” However, in order for the pact to be legally binding in any sense, it will have to be ratified over the next several years by 55 countries that produce 55% of the the world’s greenhouse gases. Will enough countries ratify it? I think the biggest hindrance will be that the agreement not only calls for a reduction of carbon emissions ASAP (which will be hard enough), but it also states that some countries (read that the U.S., EU, and other industrialized nations) will provide $100 billion yearly to developing countries for “climate-resilient development.” How are we going to pay for that, as appealing as it sounds?

I have no clue how to solve the problem of global warming, but I know I have a lot of questions. Is is really even true that the world is hotter now than it was 200 years ago? How do we know, since no one was keeping records on world temperature 200 years ago? Seems like the core temperature of Earth would be cooling down. Is it possible that the world’s surface is heating up primarily because the increasing population creates more heat, but that the core temperature is dropping ever so slightly, so that the overall effect will be no significant change? Is it possible that if the global temperatures rise, we will eventually have a world covered by a thick layer of clouds…full of water from the polar ice caps, but not raising the water levels on earth significantly? What about the biblical promise that the world will never again be overwhelmed by a universal flood, and the prophecy that the earth will be destroyed by fire? Is the feared temperature rise part of an inevitable process?

When I consider global problems, I think of the verse in Psalm 131:1, “Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.” I don’t know the answers at all!Trust JesusAlthough I’m glad world leaders are trying to put their heads together to solve world problems, I wish they’d be looking  to God for the answers, because as the psalmist wrote: “Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man” (Psalm 60:1).Flowers There is one thing we can do as individual believers, and I suspect the true solution to the issue of global warming—as with all of life’s problems—is for individual people, one by one, to do what’s right before God…a “grassroots” movement to live responsibly day by day as stewards of this beautiful planet God has entrusted to our care. “Waste not, want not.” Strawberries    We can at least take responsibility for ourselves by eating simple foods Salad                                                            …healthy foods. Foggy Road          We can walk or use more public transportation, consume less, recycle…Character Sign        study, and then discipline ourselves to do the things we know are right.

“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

“Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.”
1 Corinthians 4:2

The Value of Salt: Pink vs White or What? شط الجريد‎ Šoṭṭ el-Jarīd

Pink River in TunisiaHave you ever seen a pink river? Chott el Djerid. Tunisia Pink River I saw one flowing into “Chott el Djerid” in Southern Tunisia. Salt Flats in Southern TunisiaIn Star Wars, Chott el Djerid is the setting for the Lars Homestead. Chott el Djerid. Tunisia in SummerWe visited in June, when temperatures sometimes soar to 122°F (50°C),
causing intense evaporation so that the lake becomes a great salt flat. Chott el Djerid. Tunisia 1In fact, Chott el Djerid is the largest salt pan in the Sahara Desert:
5,000 square kilometers (2,700 sq. miles)! Beautiful Pink Salt Chott el Djerid. TunisiaOne of the most fascinating aspects of Chott el Djerid is that the water
is tinged with iron oxide, giving the salt a beautiful pink tint! Pink Himalayan SaltIt reminds me of the pink Himalayan salts that have become popular in America, famous for some 80± trace minerals
and touted by health food enthusiasts as particularly beneficial.  Iron Oxide in water Chott el Djerid. TunisiaHowever, I can’t find any peer-reviewed scientific research to verify this. Salt crystals Chott el Djerid. Tunisia In fact, analysis reveals that some of the Himalayan salts also contain trace elements of radioactive substances like uranium, radium, and polonium,
not to mention substances that can be poisonous, like thallium. Colored SaltsIt seems the scientific stance is that these trace elements—good and bad—
are too insignificant to be helpful or harmful,
so it appears you can choose pink or white—or whatever—as your palate pleases. Salt Chott el Djerid. TunisiaHowever, keep in mind that white table salt is often enhanced with iodine, which is a particularly good thing for those of us who live in areas like the Great Lakes, where iodine deficiency has historically been a problem. Desert Roses Chott el Djerid. TunisiaIf you go pink, consider adding more dairy, soy, and ocean-harvested foods
to your diet, or find another good source for iodine. Mining Pink Salt. TunisiaWhatever you choose, you gotta love salt, right? Lake Chott el Djerid. TunisiaWhere would we be without salt to bring out the flavor in our foods?! Largest salt pan in Sahara Chott el Djerid. TunisiaHow about in our spiritual lives? Got any salty friends? How about you and me? Pink Salt Chott el Djerid. TunisiaAre we salty?  I wonder what trace elements we’re carrying…
I hope nothing radioactive or poisonous! Salt Crystals 2 Chott el Djerid. TunisiaFather, please refine us and enhance our spirits
so that we promote health in those around us.  Grains of salt Chott el Djerid. Tunisia“Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another” (Mark 9:50).

(All the photos were taken in Southern Tunisia last summer, except for the 2 photos of various salts, which were taken at my local grocery store here in Michigan.)

P.S.—If you want more information about this amazing salt flat, you can find it here:

My Track Record from the Long Winter

TireWhile Michigan was busy trying to set records for snowfall this winter, I contented myself by trying to identify a record number of tracks in the snowfalls! Here is what (I think) that I found, but if for any reason you believe I’ve mis-identified a set of tracks, please let me know, since I’m hoping this might be helpful for others too. Obviously, the first one we all know: tire tracks! Then…

DeerDeer tracks have cloven hooves, are somewhat oval in shape & 2.5-3″ in length.Deer trailThis is what a deer trail looks like close up.Deer crossing lakeDeer walk in a relatively straight line (as you can see from this trail across our lake), as do members of the feline and canine families. AbbyHere are my German shepherd, Abishai’s prints: They are somewhat elongated, have 4 toes, and there’s always a touch of his tail dragging.Deer Beside Dog Dog prints are in the range of 2.25-4″ long usually. Here you can see Abby walking to the right of a trail left by a deer.FoxRed fox tracks are somewhat smaller (2-2.5 “), rounder, and usually leave a more distinct X-shape in the middle. We have a fox in our woods, but we don’t see him often, so I was excited to find his tracks one day!CatCats have four round toes (no claws), and a triangular-shaped heel pad. They leave a very small footprint, only about 1.9.” Bobcat?I wonder if this could possibly be a bobcat track, although they’re not common around here. Based on its size, roundness, and the shape of its heel pad, I’m not sure what else it could be, but correct me if I’m wrong and you know what it is.Bird tracksI don’t even try to distinguish song bird tracks, but they make patterns like this.BirdIndividually, most song birds’ tracks look like this.TurkeyWe have a flock of wild turkeys that roam our woods. I always think of their tracks as pointing, the opposite direction from the way they’re going.Rabbit and RainRabbits, squirrels, and mice all typically have tracks that appear in sets of 4. Rabbit hoppingHere you see a rabbit hopping, and then he took off in a run when Abby saw him!Rabbit runningCotton-tail rabbit prints look like tiny human shoes to me: no claws Rabbit "snowshoes"and only about 1″ in their front feet and 4″ in their hind feet. Rabbit little front, bigger backIf often looks like the longer print are “in front,” but it’s really that the rabbit jumps forward so that the back feet land not far from where the front feet were. Rabbit RestingThis bunny was at rest until he took off in a flash to avoid Abby! Rabbit with PelletsWe have oodles of rabbits, and where there are rabbits, there are usually pellets. Rabbit and HumanThere are almost always rabbit tracks along the road, criss-crossing the road, and skirting along the edge of the fields and through the woods.SquirrelSquirrel tracks have clear claw prints, are rounder and a little smaller (1.5-2.25″).Squirrel all pawsThey have 4 clawed toes on their front and five on their hind legs. Mouse, deer,Here are deer prints with tiny mouse prints running through. The little white- White-footed mousefooted mouse have feet that are only 0.25″ in front and 0.75″ in back! Mouse trailMice leave straight trials that go in and out of snowbanks and lead to tiny holes! Meadow Vole RunHowever, if you see a squiggly line in a field, you’re more likely seeing the trail of Vole Runthe meadow vole. They create crazy patterns called “vole runs,”Abby with volesand Abby can never figure out what to make of such capricious creatures! Muskrat 2Now on to some tracks that are less common. Muskrats have 4 long, spreading Muskrattoes and leave almost V-shaped footprints. The are aquatic mammals, so if you Muskrat 3live near water and see footprints like these, you’re probably tracking a muskrat.Skunk 2The stripped skunk has 5 more rounded toes. The back paws are 1.5″ long andSkunkthe same length but wider and have five sharp claws to protect themselves (not that they need it with all their smell power)! Possom TracksOpossums are another critter with very different front and back paws.  The front paw is 1.75″ long and leaves a 5-point star design, whereas the back paw is about 2″ long with three very long and one short toe. Weasel with Mouse It seemed all too fitting to find 4-toed, 1″ weasel tracks next to tiny mouse tracks and near a hole into the ground. I don’t know if the mouse made it or not! 🙂 WoodchuckOur friendly (or not so friendly) woodchuck has a nice, broad 2″ front paw print IMG_7106 with four spreading toes and a slightly larger 5-toed back foot. Boot

Last of all, are human footprints. This is my boot with Yak Trax to keep me from slipping on the ice. I hope you have fun trying to identify tracks in the snow, and I hope this helps give you some ideas for what you might be seeing. I also hope you take delight in the marvelous diversity in our world and the wonders that God has created for us to enjoy!

“And God created…every living creature that moves…and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:21).

Clouds and Weather Predictions

Cumulonimbus with Cirrus and CirrostatusCumulonibus

Have you ever wondered how to predict the weather by watching the clouds? Yesterday I wrote on how recognize the basic cloud types, and today I want to share what each type of cloud has to say about the weather. Obviously, we all know that the rolling, towering “thunderheads” like those above foretell heavyhail-storm-in-spring copyweather, very likely with lightening, thunder, and downpours or hail. But, not Cumulonimbusall of us are sitting by a window where the weather is obvious all the time. WhenBlackberrieswe wake up early in the morning and want to know what the day is likely to bring, what can we do in addition to checking out the local weather report?CirrusCirrus

Starting at “the top” (of the sky): Wispy cirrus clouds in a blue sky normally mean clear weather, but they often signal a changing weather pattern coming.Cirrocumulus, altocumulus, above stratusCirrocumulus above Altocumulus above Stratus

Cirrocumulus clouds are very rare. They are formed completely from ice crystals but usually mean that a cold front is coming in and appear just before a rainfall or snowfall. In the picture above, you can see all three cloud layers, and it was, in fact, raining under the low, stratus clouds in the background.

Altocumulus above stratus and stratocumulusCirrocumulus clouds above a “Mackeral Sky”   

Cirrocumulus clouds usually appear in the winter and are a sign of cold, mostly clear weather. However, if the clouds begin to thicken and bunch up, they become are known as a mackeral sky (so named because it looks like ripples of mackeral fish scales). Mackeral skies can form either high up as cirrocumulus clouds, or—as the clouds grow heavier and descend into the mid-level —as altocumulus clouds. In either case, they portend heavy weather. As the folk saying goes: “A mackeral sky means there’s rain nearby.”

Cirrus above altostatus 2Cirrus clouds over Altocumulus clouds

If you’ve ever seen the sky looking white and hazy with a rainbow around the sun, you’re looking through cirrostratus clouds. The ice crystals bend the rays of the sun and make beautiful prisms in the sky. I don’t actually have a picture of this situation, but I did catch a circular pattern of rainbows on the clouds one day that really fascinated me! The adage for this one is: “Rainbow sun or moon…precipitation soon.”

Cirrostatus above AltocumulusCirrostratus clouds above Altocumulus clouds

Cirrostratus clouds usually signal changing weather with precipitation likely in the next 12-24 hours. You can watch the drift of the streaks to get an idea of the direction from which storm may come.  Altocumulus clouds are growing heavy with water droplets and appear grey and irregular.

Cumulus and altocumulusAltocumulus clouds above Cumulus clouds

It is said that if you see altocumulus clouds in the morning on a warm, humid Altocumulus above Cumulonimbusday, get ready for thunderstorms that afternoon!

Cirrostratus above cumulonimbusCirrostratus clouds above Altocumulus clouds with an “Anvil Head”

Sometimes cumulus clouds swell to huge proportions, becoming up to 30,000′ high! When you see a huge cumulus cloud with a flat top, looking like an anvil, this indicates that a high wind has sheared off the top and heavy weather is ahead. At that point, the cumulus cloud adds the suffix “nimbus” to its title.Altocumulus above CumulusnimbusAltocumulus clouds above Cumulonimbus clouds

Cumulonimbis clouds usually forecast the most extreme weather, including thunderstorms, torrential downpours, hail, snow, tornadoes, and hurricanes.

Cumulus 2Cumulus Clouds

But not all cumulus clouds are threatening! The cumulus clouds that look like white cotton balls without much vertical development usually signal fair, dry conditions. If they bring showers at all, the precipitation will usually be light and only last briefly. One of the happy sayings for cumulus clouds in spring is: “April showers bring May flowers.”

Cirrostratus above altostratus and altocumulusCirrostratus clouds above Altrostratus clouds

The last type of clouds to understand are the “stratus” (flat, covering) clouds. Altostratus clouds often appear a few hours before a warm front and precipitation.

Altostratus above stratocumulusAltostratus clouds above Stratocumulous and Nimbostratus clouds

Rain rarely occurs with stratocumulus clouds. They look like masses of puffy, grey clouds with little spaces between them and usually indicated dry weather unless there’s a big temperature difference between night and day, in which case there may be light precipitation. Stratocumulous clouds can turn into nimbostratus clouds, though, as pictured above (notice formation at right).

NimbostratusNimbostratus clouds

Nimbostratus clouds often produce a dark, grey covering over the sky that will bring light to moderate precipitation but of long duration and over a widespread area. SnowNimbostratus clouds can leave us with a beautiful, soft covering of snow below as well as above.StratusStratus clouds

Stratus clouds form a dull, greyish-white blanket, often across the entire sky. This is what the sky looked like at my home early this morning…a typical “overcast” day. Stratus clouds usually produce only drizzle or fine snow, if anything at all. This is what ours brought:

snowflakesAlan wants his dinner, so I’d better quit. I hope this was fun and might even be helpful! Here are a few last bits of folklore with some science behind them:

“The higher the clouds, the finer the weather.”

“When clouds appear like towers, the earth is refreshed by showers.”Cirrus above Altostratus“Red sky at night: sailors delight; red sky in the morning: sailors take warning.”

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)