Planetary News

Joshua Thomas, via Earthweek
An earthquake jolted me awake and rocked the house for less than a minute, but still... Long-standing warnings predict that the "big one" could pry open the west coast of North America like a sharp knife thrust into a thick slab of chocolate. Who knew that the little one of December 29 was not a precursor? The next day we were teased with the possibility of glimpsing the Aurora Borealis all the way down here at the 49th parallel. That we didn't see the lights was not too disappointing, for word of an unusually strong solar storm had displaced headlines that usually focus on warring factions in the Middle East and Africa, murder, politics, financial crises. Reports of wonders in the sky reminded me of the Earth Week diary I used to see in the newspaper. Planetary news of import. A sense of the bigger picture. Impersonal, apolitical, yet, in another sense, deeply personal because major natural events demonstrate connections that affect individuals all over the globe.

Melting glaciers leave more open -- dark -- water, which attracts sunlight, which means more ice melts, etc. Same thing happens when permafrost thaws and all the carbon it contains is released to the atmosphere in the form of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. This process leads to more climate change and is an example of a positive feedback loop, which happens when warming causes changes that lead to even more warming. It's all about relationships, connections, and they include us. Earthquakes, frozen land that is melting, and floods mean big changes in human habitation. These too are covered in the Diary of the Planet, under the sub-category, animal and human activity. Though I haven't seen it in a paper in years, I was happy to find an online version of the Earth Week map that used to fascinate me, and which still features icons that indicate where an earthquake has occurred, a cyclone, an antelope tragedy.

IFL Science, 12/29/14
Bad news about rising temperatures and ground water loss share the page with links to stunning photos of natural phenomena. The picture (above) that Texas photographer Joshua Thomas captured about this time last year in New Mexico suggests another connection, how planetary events inspire artists. How the abstract paintings of someone like Georgia O'Keeffe, for example, were probably inspired by celestial images. Come to think of it, an entire religion was founded on the epiphany of a child in the light of a brilliant star, or so it is said. I wonder how the Earth Week map would have represented that.