High Shoals Falls

August 12, 2016

It had rained hard the night before, but by 11 it was partly sunny and I persuaded my brother and his family to go hiking with me for a picnic at High Shoals Falls. None of us had ever been there, but it was close enough and was supposed to be impressive. So we bundled into the car and drove off.

The trail is off Indian Grave Gap Road, a dirt forest service track not far from Unicoi Gap.

The road was a bit more run down than I had anticipated. First we had to ford High Shoals Creek, and then go up a rutted road for a mile or so.

It also proved more popular than I had anticipated and the small parking area was full, so we parked at the side of the road and walked back. It began to spit rain as we walked, but too lightly to worry about.

The trail itself is only a mile or so long, rather steeply downhill.

It began to rain harder, but we decided to press on.

After a quarter mile or so we were in a deluge and we turned and went back.

By the time we reached the highway it had, of course, stopped. I considered turning back, but I was soaked and it just didn’t appeal.

The next morning I decided to try it differently. I couldn’t face asking people to go again. I set out alone to Unicoi Gap, and ran up Rocky Mountain, and down the trail to Indian Grave Gap Rd. and then down the road to the trail head.

No rain this day. Fewer cars too.

On the way down I found some Lungwort Lichen, which I’d never seen before.

There are actually two waterfalls on the trail. The first is Blue Hole Falls (the water drops into a deep pool which is supposed to be blue, though it did not look so to me). Clicking on the image below loads a video.
Blue Hole Falls

Not far beyond that is High Shoals Falls itself
High Shoals Falls

When I researched the trail I read something on the net from the Atlanta Trails group, but I also read a 40 year old trail guide of my father’s. This guide indicated that the trail made a loop, and at the trail head there had indeed been two trails, so I took a side trail that I hoped would lead back to the start.

It didn’t. It lead me to someone’s back yard. Oops.

I turned back, and passed a blooming Rhododendron. This is surprising, because I think of them as blooming in June.

When I got back to the trailhead I took the other route, but it was clearly not maintained and soon degenerated into nothing. Oh well. Best not to rely on 40 year old trail guides.

I ran back up the road and found an interesting Yellow Fringed Orchid, which I don’t believe I’ve seen before.

At Indian Grave Gap itself I turned back onto the appalachian trail to run up to the top of Tray Mtn. and back down to Unicoi Gap.

Flowers on Nine Trails

March 25, 2016

My best guess for the flowers on the Nine Trails course tomorrow…


Dichelostemma capitatum
blue dicks



Toxicoscordion fremontii
Star Lily



Avena barbata
Slender Wild Oat



Torilis arvensis
Field Hedge Parsley

Sanicula arguta
Sharp-Toothed Sanicle

Sanicula crassicaulis
Pacific Sanicle

Apiastrum angustifolium
Wild Celery

Tauschia arguta
southern tauscia



Cotula australis
Southern Brass Buttons

Matricaria discoidea
pineapple weed

Baccharis salicifolia

Logfia filaginoides
California Cottonrose

Pseudognaphalium biolettii
twocolor cudweed

Bidens pilosa
Beggar’s ticks

All year
Encelia californica
Bush sunflower

All year
Venegasia carpesioides
canyon sunflower

All year
Senecio vulgaris
Old man of Spring

Centaurea solstitialis
Yellow star thistle

S. asper
Prickly sow-thistle

Uropappus lindleyi
Silver Puffs



Sambucus nigra-caerulea
Blue Elderberry

All year


Vinca major

All year


Galium porrigens
graceful bedstraw



Stachys rigida

Salvia mellifera
black sage

Salvia spathacea



Fraxinus dipetala
Flowering Ash



Castilleja foliolosa
Woolly Indian Paintbrush



Mimulus aurantiacus
sticky monkeyflower



Antirrhinum kelloggii
climbing snapdragon

Collinsia heterophylla
Chinese Houses



Scrophularia californica
California Figwort



Calystegia macrostegia
Coastal Morning Glory

All year


Solanum douglasii
white nightshade

All year
Solanum xanti
purple nightshade

All year


Amsinckia menziesii
common Fiddleneck

Cryptantha sp.

Eriodictyon crassifolium
Bicolored Yerba Santa

Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia
spotted hideseed

Phacelia grandiflora
large flowered phacelia

Phacelia viscida-albiflora
white Sticky Phacelia

Pholistoma auritum
fiesta flower



Mentzelia micrantha



Arctostaphylos glandulosa
Eastwood manzanita

Comarostaphylis diversifolia
Summer Holly



Gilia capitata
Globe gilia

Leptodactylon californicum



Ribes speciosum
Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry



Lithophragma cymbalaria
Mission Star

Micranthes californica
California Saxifrage



Chenopodium murale
Nettle-leaved goosefoot



Stellaria media



Calandrinia menziesii

Claytonia perfoliata
miner’s lettuce



Mirabilis laevis
Wishbone bush



Brassica nigra
black mustard

Capsella bursa-pastoris
Shepherd’s purse

Cardamine californica
milk maids

Cardamine oligosperma

Caulanthus lasiophyllus
California mustard

Hirschfeldia incana
Summer Mustard

All year
Sisymbrium officinale
Hedge Mustard

Thysanocarpus curvipes
Fringe Pod



Erodium botrys
long-beaked storksbill

Erodium cicutarium
Red-stemmed storksbill

Geranium dissectum
cut-leaved geranium



Helianthemum scoparium
Common Rush-Rose

All year


C. hirtella
Hairy suncup

Eulobus californicus
California suncup



Rhus integrifolia
Lemonade Berry

Toxicodendron diversilobum
poison oak



Marah fabaceus
common manroot

Marah macrocarpus



Lathyrus vestitus
common pacific pea

Lupinus hirsutissimus
stinging lupine

Lupinus nanus
sky lupine

Lupinus succulentus
arroyo lupine

Acmispon glaber

All year
Acmispon grandiflorus
Chaparral lotus

Acmispon maritimus
Coastal Lotus

Medicago polymorpha
Bur Clover

Melilotus indicus
yellow sweet clover



Quercus agrifolia
Coast live oak



Ceanothus spinosus

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus
Blue Bush

Rhamnus crocea
Spiny Redberry

Rhamnus ilicifolia
Holly-leaved Redberry



Cercocarpus betuloides
Mountain Mahogany

Prunus ilicifolia
Holly-leaved cherry

Rubus ursinus
california blackberry



Ricinus communis
Castor bean

All year


Oxalis corniculata
Yellow Sorrel

Oxalis pes-caprae



Dendromecon rigida
Bush poppy

All year
Eschscholzia caespitosa
Tufted Poppy

Fumaria parviflora
fine leaved fumitory



Clematis lasiantha
wild clematis

Delphinium parryi
purple larkspur

Ranunculus californicus
California Buttercup

Thalictrum fendleri
Fendler’s Meadow-rue



California Asterella


Coastal Wood Fern


California Polypody


Giant Chain Fern
California Aligator Lizard


Variable Checkerspot


Western Tiger Swallowtail


Pacific Banana Slug

The Waterfall on Gidney Creek

March 9, 2016

Gidney Creek has its headwaters near the little bench on the backside of Cold Spring trail (the one about half a mile down from Camino Cielo with the watertrough beside it). Gidney flows down, roughly parallel to the trail until Forbush Camp at which point it turns west, out of my ken and eventually flows into Gibraltar Reservoir just east of the back side of Gibraltar Rd.

Forbush sits on a divide and on a wet enough day there’s a little spring in the meadow, perhaps 100 yards from Gidney but which flows east down Forbush Canyon to Cottam meadow where it merges with Blue Creek. It’s kind of neat to see a place where two different watersheds diverge.

Gidney Map

Perhaps two thirds of the way down to Forbush there’s a spot where you can turn and look back up the canyon, and if you are lucky you’ll see a waterfall. This doesn’t happen very often, there must be a good flow down Gidney Creek, and I hadn’t seen it for years.

But I saw it yesterday.

There was water flowing near the bench, and I could hear the stream intermittently as I ran downhill, so when I got to the magic spot I turned and looked back and there it was.

It’s hard to get a good look at it because you can’t even see it except at this one spot, and you’re fairly far away there. It’s even harder to take a good picture because, looking north, you are always looking into the sun, and because the waterfall itself is in a shaded nook surrounded by sun.

Maybe if I had a stronger zoom and could get rid of the bright background… But that camera is too heavy to run with.



I ran on down to the Grotto, and then back. The waterfall was still flowing, and I thought what a pity it was not to be able to take a better picture (at this hour the view was even worse because there was more light nearby but still none on the falls.

As I plodded up the trail I was tempted to go down to the creek and look at the falls from close up. After all, who knew when they’d next be running? Eventually I got to the place on the trail which I estimated to be about the closest I could get to the falls.

I cast about and found a spot where there was an opening in the brush and plunged down.

According to my GPS the horizontal distance between the place I left the trail and the creekbed where I ended up is about 65 meters (as the rock plummets). The vertical distance is about 100 meters (take this with a grain of salt, GPS altitudes are not very accurate). Or about a 50° incline on average. It’s steep.

For a while the open space continued, but then the chaparral closed in. Chaparral has lots of tough wiry branches that tangle up with each other. In theory there’s an open space underneath, but not here — too close to the creek probably.

Oh, and it looks as if about half the wiry branches are actually poison oak vines. I don’t usually worry much about poison oak, but then I don’t usually push through thickets of the stuff either.

The chaparral liked my cap too, and kept pulling it off my head. Eventually I just carried it in my hand (which meant one hand less for climbing with).

After I’d been going for a while I realized that I was being stupid. If I had an accident no one would ever find me down here. Cold Spring trail is fairly well traveled (even the back side) and there were people camped at Forbush, so if I had problems on trail someone would find me, but no one would come down here.

Still, I was more than halfway down. It seemed a shame not to continue now.

I ended up about 10 feet above the stream with a fairly vertical drop to reach it. I decided to leave my cap on the rock here while I turned all my hands to climbing. If going down was difficult, how was I going to get up? I decided to ignore that question.

I managed to slither down in one piece.

It took about 15 minutes to cover those 65 meters.

The stream was in a deep channel with closed canopy forest above it. It began to seem unlikely that I’d actually be able to see the waterfall from this angle… but having come so far (or at least having spent so much effort to move such a short distance) it seemed silly not to go and look.

The going was easier now, no plants to hold me back, but the rocks beside the stream were slippery and the stream was steep. I was below the waterfall and had another few decameters to go upstream.


If I had been willing to sit still, it would have been pretty.

Eventually I could see the falls peeping through the trees


And finally I pulled myself into the open area around the falls. A little shallow pool. A very thin stream of water, but it looked an impressive drop. Hmm.

I wonder…

This cascade seems awfully well screened by trees, perhaps it’s not the fall I saw from the trail, maybe there’s another one right above it?

But I have absolutely no interest in trying to climb higher. This cascade is quite enough for me.


I turn back.

Looking, essentially down, the way back looks steep. And slippery.


But I manage it, though I do worry a little about finding my route up again. And even that I find eventually.

I go a little below the precipitous drop I took on the way down and find an alternate route up.

I recover my hat.

I follow my footsteps up for a while, but after a bit I lose them. Oh well, I just have to push my way up, I can’t really get lost.

Eventually I reach a spot where I can see, and find the trail to my left and below me, so now I head downward (through a poison oak tangle) and eventually reach the trail.

I’m glad I saw that waterfall, but I don’t think I need to do that ever again.

Next time I ran the trail, nine days later, the waterfall had gone.GidNoFall

Christmas Run

December 25, 2015

Every year I plan to do a run on Christmas Day. Or a bike ride. It’s a peaceful time to be out.

I was thinking I would run from my door to Upper Oso via Arroyo Burro trail, not Hwy 154. I thought it would be considerably shorter than the highway (though a good deal slower than driving).

About a week in advance the weather forecast showed a big rain on Christmas day, so I started thinking I might go out Christmas Eve instead. Then the forecast wiggled around and Christmas Eve was also supposed to be rainy. So I decided I’d do my long run on the 22nd.

rainbowOf course when the morning of the 22nd dawned there was suddenly a 20% chance of rain starting at 9:15. Well, 20% didn’t seem likely. I set out a little after 7, I saw a rainbow and then it started to drizzle.

So much for the forecast.

With the drought there is almost nothing blooming now, so I had my eye out for lichens. Lichens react quickly to the rain and often change color — the outer fungal layer draws back revealing the more colorful algal layer underneath.

I was also looking for fern fiddleheads and liverwort thalli. Last year they were all over the place by now, but this year I’ve just seen a few starts which have since died back.

When I got to the Jesusita mudbank, the mud had reached the point of being slippery, but not yet of being sticky. So it didn’t stick to my shoes, but did make the climb difficult. Still, it wasn’t really cold and the rain was barely noticeable, so after a bit I thought about taking off a layer, but I waited a little longer.

Once I got out of the canyon containing San Roque Creek I felt the wind, which was quite strong and suddenly chilly. I decided I’d keep all my layers on.

I found a wild cucumber vine in bloom, the first I’ve seen this year (and about a month later than I usually see the first). That was an encouraging start, but it was the only winter bloom I saw that day.

Arroyo Burro trail is quite overgrown for about a mile after the 420 rock, but after that there’s a little valley with a nice stream (which had no water in it) and the climb becomes more scenic. This is also the boundary of the Jesusita burn and the vegetation becomes older (probably unburnt since the Coyote Fire in the 60s). Anyway I start to see lichens now.

BigpodLichenThe rain has brought out the yellow in the goldspeck lichen (¿Candelariella rosulans?) which covers the trunks of the shrubs, here on bigpod Ceanothus.

As I climbed up to the pass with Camino Cielo the wind picked up. It is usually more intense on the ridgeline and when it is blustery below it is very windy above… And the wind made the rain seem worse. Or maybe it was worse. Anyway I was soaked and cold.

And my glasses fogged up. I was in a cloud here, so it was naturally foggy too. I couldn’t see where I was going and ended up on a side trail I’d never known was there. I didn’t realize it until I came to the water tank that I also didn’t know about.

So I scrubbed off my glasses, but that didn’t help I still couldn’t see. Eventually I realized that the road had to be downhill of where I was, so down I went. And got across.

The shooting range is still closed because of fire danger. This is a comfort when you run past a range in dense fog.

And down the other side, and out of the wind and fog. I took out a cliff bar, and had to use my mouth to tear it open.

ThalliThe backside of the mountains must have had more rain than the front, I found lots of Polypody fiddleheads, and some Asterella thalli. Neither of these have I seen in the front country this year, though I have seen both on other back country trails.

But there wasn’t anything blooming here.

Further down the trail there are Valley Oaks (Quercus lobata), a species not seen in the front country and I was interested if they had a similar lichen load to the Coast Live Oak of the front country. The problem is that lichens prefer branches in oaks (rather than trunks) and Valley Oaks tend to be tall. Much taller than Coast Live Oaks. Generally too tall for me to see their branches.

But one nice thing about high winds is that you get broken branches lying on the ground
And here on this one small bit of Oak branch I’ve got at least four different lichens. In the upper right the bushy whitish thing is Oakmoss Lichen (Evernia prunastri), in the middle left the bushy orange thing with the weird circles is Orange Bush Lichen (Teloschistes flavicans), the small yellow areas are probably some kind of Goldspeck Lichen (Candelariella sp.), and the grey flaky patches are probably Common Ruffled Lichen (Parmotrema perlatum). This one little stub of a stick has just about everything I was hoping to see.

FordAt the bottom of Arroyo Burro the mud had turned sticky as well as slippery and I had to run off the trail if I wanted to stay upright. The rain was slackening now, and when I got to the river there wasn’t even a puddle visible in the ford.

It is 12 miles from my house to Paradise Rd. 13.5 miles to Lower Oso, and 14.2 to Upper Oso. At least according to my watch.

When it was time for a bite to eat I found my fingers too cold to open the package. They were too weak even to pull against the grip of my mouth. I pressed my fingers against my thighs in an attempt to warm them, and after about 5 minutes I was able to eat.

On the way back I avoided the worst of the mud but taking an alternate route, but even when I couldn’t avoid it, it seemed much less of a bother going up than coming down.

As I neared the top I felt the wind picking up again, occasional drizzles of rain and my glasses were fogging, so, although it wasn’t time to eat yet, I tore open a packet in case my hands numbed out again.

At the top, I was running with the wind (so warmer) and the fog wasn’t as bad as it had been, though hardly clear. But my hands were warm enough that I could have opened my food package.
Foggy Camino Cielo

A half an hour later I had ducked under the cloud cover and weak sunlight was peaking through, and when I got to the overgrown section it was almost sunny.

When I reached the trail bottom and looked back…
it’s quite a different view from what I saw 5 hours earlier.

Although I spent about three hours in continuous rain, with a second light drizzle when I got back to the ridgeline, the county’s downtown rain gauge reported no precipitation at all. Looking at how the rainfall went across the county, it looks as if the storm was stronger farther north but petered out when it got to the mountains. So the downtown forecast was somewhat accurate, rain was unlikely there, I had just assumed that meant rain would also be unlikely 5 miles away, but that was not the case.

And, of course, when Christmas did roll around there was absolutely no chance of rain — bright sunny skies, high winds, no clouds. So I biked out to Refugio and then up Refugio Rd.

I always forget just how steep Refugio Road is, and how much steeper it seems when it follows a ~20 mile ride just to get to the base. And the wind came blowing down the canyon too.

I wanted to see if the refugio manzanitas were in bloom. This is a rare species that only grows between Refugio and Gaviota. I met it for the first time last January, but I suspected it would be blooming earlier than that, so I went for a look.

There are a few spots on Refugio Rd. where it grows, and more on Camino Ciello. I didn’t want to have to climb all the way up to the top, so at the first patch I stopped and looked hard at the plants. Two were in bloom, so I didn’t have to go any further.

One had old flowers dropped underneath it so it had clearly been blooming for a while. Next year I’ll need to check even earlier.

Pause or No Pause

December 15, 2015

Has there been a “pause” in Global Warming since 1998?

I contend that there has not, but it really depends on how you define “pause”. My contention is that definitions which show a pause are not statistically useful.

[My analysis is based on NASA’s Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index which may be obtained from here and is described here. Other datasets exist which may show slightly different results. Data extracted on 13 Dec 2015 (so this does not include a full year of 2015 and my analysis stops at 2014)]

So let’s start with the obvious. When was the last time the temperature was at the level of 1998? Why in 2012. And because these data are noisy let’s be a little generous and ask instead: When was the last time the temperature was within .04°C of 1998? In 2013. Since the last year of full data was 2014 you might say “Hey, basically the temperature hasn’t changed at all since 1998.” and draw a flat line on the graph from 1998 to now (or at least to 2013).

But this is a statistically poor technique. I mean if you look at the scatter plot it’s pretty clear a horizontal line doesn’t fit the points well. It’s sort of saying “Let’s assume there is no trend and see what we get.” A much better way of proving a pause is to say “Let’s assume there is a trend and prove that that trend is zero.”

The data are noisy. You can’t just draw a line from start to end and say “This is what is happening.” The simplest way to extract a trend from noisy data is to apply a linear regression found by least squares — that is to find the line which minimizes the sum of squares of the errors — the error being the difference between what the regression line predicts for the temperature of a year and the actual temperature reading.

If there be no trend, if global warming have paused, then the slope of the line will be near zero. It won’t be exactly zero because the data are noisy.

If we look at each year since 1998 and generate a line based on the data from 1998 to that year then if warming were paused we’d expect that about half the lines would have a positive slope and half a negative one.

Slopes of the regression line for each year since 1998 in °C/year
2000: -.105 2001: -.024 2002: +.013 2003: +.020
2004: +.013 2005: +.021 2006: +.020 2007: +.019
2008: +.012 2009: +.012 2010: +.014 2011: +.012
2012: +.010 2013: +.010 2014: +.011

But that’s not what we see. Instead we see almost no lines with negative slope (and those all in the years immediately following 1998). Instead the slopes roughly average .012°C/year, or about the slope found between 1960 and 1984.

In other words, the data do NOT show a pause, they show an increase comparable to increase from before the 1990s. The naughties are not paused, they are not anomalous, they are in line with the average over the last half century. It is the nineties which are odd.

But there is another statistical mistake in the claim of a “pause”. This is something called “Data Mining”. The only reason anyone might think there was a pause is because 1998 was an extraordinarily hot year for the time. If you base your data in 1998 you have to wait for a long time for the trend to catch up to the noise.

But if you look at the next year, 1999, there is no way anyone could find a pause in the data. Since 1999 temperatures have simply increased. This, by the way, is data mining in the reverse direction since 1999 was (for the time) a particularly cold year.

Slopes of the regression line for each year since 1999 in °C/year
2001: +.065 2002: +.076 2003: +.061
2004: +.038 2005: +.041 2006: +.034 2007: +.030
2008: +.020 2009: +.019 2010: +.020 2011: +.016
2012: +.014 2013: +.013 2014: +.014

Since we are only data-mining the start time if you wait long enough both trends will converge toward the same slope.

I have been told that the temperature change since 1998 is not statistically significant since it is less than two standard deviations. In a way, this is true, (ΔT(2014-1998): .11°C, σ: .067°C) but it ignores several things. First these years do not stand alone, they are a continuation a trend that started (at least) in 1960 and the change since 1960 is significant. And second 1998 is data-mining. If we pick 1999 as a base year then ΔT(2014-1999): .32°C, σ: .061°C, and the change is about 5σ which is very significant.

So I think the following graph is a much better way of looking at the data. There is no pause. Just three regions where the temperature increases, and in the two regions 1960-1984, 1999-2014 the temperature increases at about the same rate, while in one, 1986-1998, the temperature increases much faster.

Linear regression lines
1960-1984 T=.012*(year-1998)+14.355°C
1985-1998 T=.021*(year-1998)+14.488°C
1999-2014 T=.014*(year-1998)+14.492°C


My claim is that there has been no pause. Attempts to see a pause are based on two statistical mistakes, the first being data-mining, and the second being the belief that drawing line between two noisy datapoints is meaningful.

This analysis is based on statistics I learned in 10th grade. It isn’t hard.

El Niño?

December 15, 2015

Where is it?

Or rather, where is the rain it is supposed to bring us?

This rain year (Sept-Aug) has been the 22th driest in the 1 Sept-15 Dec period (out of 146 years recorded), and of those 21 only 3 had above average rainfall. But one of those 3, 1977-1978, had 42.34 inches.

So it’s not unprecedented that we’ll still have a wet year, just unlikely.

A fortnight ago the Independent ran an article claiming that in the big El Niño year of 1997-1998 rainfall in SB was delayed from its usual pattern and the big storms didn’t start until January. That was consoling. But then Weather Underground provided data from all the big El Niño years for SF and LA (but not SB) which said exactly the opposite.

So I grabbed the rainfall data provided by the county from their recording station downtown, and extracted the relevant points.

SB Rainfall Data at County Building
(in inches)
Year Sept Oct Nov 1-15 Dec 1 Sep-15 Dec
1957 0.00 1.41 0.51 2.95 4.87
1965 0.09 0.00 7.86 0.53 8.48
1972 0.00 0.04 5.69 0.73 6.46
1982 2.07 0.63 5.18 0.22 8.10
1997 0.05 0.15 4.30 5.78 10.28
2015 0.10 0.26 0.13 0.19 0.68
0.27 0.69 1.52 1.24 3.72

So the data I can find contradicts the Independent’s claim. In all prior “Big” El Niño years there was rainfall above the long term average at this point of the year at downtown SB.

The general consensus is that we will get a lot of rain this year — eventually.

But I worry.

The current definition of a big El Niño was not one that could be detected until (relatively) recently, thus we only have records for 6 big El Niño events. That’s not a big sample size…

This is supposed to be a bigger El Niño than any recorded, maybe we don’t get rain with exceptionally big El Niños. This is a warmer year than ever before, maybe that means something too… Weather is always random, maybe this year we’re just unlucky.

Paris — COP 21

December 12, 2015

So we have a new climate agreement out of Paris today.

Is it adequate? No.
Can it become adequate? Perhaps. We must hope so. It contains mechanisms within it to ratchet up the commitments as time goes on. Will people? Probably. Will it be enough?
Will people enact it? It is said to be “a legal instrument” which, I think, means the US Senate must approve it as a treaty. Which seems unlikely. So I doubt the US will agree to it. But perhaps there is some wiggle room I am not seeing.
Ah. Only some parts are legally-binding (the emissions commitments are not), and those parts which are binding are technically extensions to an existing treaty and, as such, do not require Senate approval. Tricky. [WeatherUnderground]
Will people live up to it? Let’s hope so.
However on the day after signing India reaffirmed that it intended to double its coal output (India is currently the 4th largest emitter. [Guardian]

What is adequate?

We really have no idea.

Back in the 1990s the best science suggested that a temperature rise of 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures would probably not lead to ecological catastrophe. And this has been the stated goal since then.

This year the average global surface temperature is expected to breach the 1°C mark and we are already seeming effects that 25 years ago were predicted for 2°C. In other words it is no longer possible to avoid catastrophic climate change. We are already too late. [Kevin Anderson]

For instance parts of the antarctic ice sheet have already passed a tipping point and entered a period of irreversible melting. The irreversible loss of the Amundsen ice sheet alone will raise sea-level by 1 meter in the next two centuries. [Guardian] The arctic ice cap is melting faster than expected, destroying ecosystems and the lives of humans dependent on those ecosystems. The incidence of “extreme” weather events is higher than expected.

To some extent this has been recognized at COP21 and the text now includes the aspiration to hold the level of warming to 1.5°C. However this has not resulted in anyone making a further commitment to reduce their emissions.

The commitments on the table are estimated to produce an increase somewhere between 2.7°C and 4°C, depending on whose climate models one looks at.

Some basic science

The earth has a large thermal mass. This means that it heats up slowly. Even if we were to stop producing any CO₂ (from non-ecosystem sources) the earth’s temperature would continue to increase for many decades.

We have a carbon budget. There is a limit to how much we can pump into the air before, eventually, the world will heat up by 2°C. The problem is that we can easily overshot that limit long before the temperature reaches 2°C.

Unfortunately no one knows what the carbon budget should be. We do know that about half of all carbon emitted gets quickly reabsorbed by plants, but the rest hangs around for centuries. Estimates suggest we can emit a range somewhere between another 100-400 gigatons of carbon. That’s a fairly wide uncertainty. [Yale] We are currently emitting approximately 35gigatons of CO₂ a year, and each year we emit more than we did the year before (though that increase is slowing). [Wikipedia, 2013 data] So at this rate we have anywhere from another 6 to 22 years before we would have locked in 2°C of warming. Unfortunately this dataset only includes CO₂ emissions. It does not include methane (which has a greater effect but is released in much smaller quantities), or water vapor, or other gasses. So worst case is we have about 5 years more of business as usual before for we guarantee 2°C warming eventually.

2°C is a global average

Some parts of the world are warming much more quickly than others. The oceans warm more slowly than the land. But there is a about twice as much ocean than there is land, and if the ocean takes longer to get to 2°C then the land will get there faster, and by the time the global temperature has averaged a 2°C increase the land temperature will be much higher.

The arctic heats up faster than the tropics, but the tropics have traditionally had a much narrower range of temperatures so in spite of that fact they will see exceptional conditions become normal much more rapidly. In both cases the ecosystems will not be able to adapt. In the arctic because there are large swings in temperature, polar ice caps disappear. In the tropics because the temperature is simply beyond what plants and animals can handle.

What about carbon capture?

Essentially all of the IPCC models which project that we will limit warming to 2°C require that we will have negative carbon emissions after about 2050. [Kevin Anderson] Not zero emissions, but negative. And this presupposes a technology we do not currently have.

We might develop it.

But as far as I know the funding for research into this area has been drastically cut in recent years. [Guardian]

In other words the paths the IPCC sees that might restrict warming to 2°C all depend on technology which does not exist and isn’t being developed. This is disturbing.

Positive Feedback

There are many areas of potential positive feedback which are not addressed by the IPCC, because we do not yet know enough to quantify them. And they are ignored in our climate models.

Melting permafrost will release a lot of methane into the atmosphere, a more potent heat-trapping gas than CO₂. This in term will lead to higher surface temperatures which will lead to more methane being released. We can see this happening but can’t quantify it. [Katia Moskvitch]

Warming ocean floors will release methane from methane hydrates with a similar feedback effect. [SWERUS-C3]

Warming tropics lead to droughts over the Amazon which leads to the death of rainforest trees which releases more CO₂ which leads to more warming and even fewer trees.

Ice and snow reflect more light and heat than oceans or land. As glaciers and ice caps melt the earth will absorb more heat meaning that more ice and snow will be lost.

This means that our current best guess are probably too conservative.

Sea level rise

With the ice caps and glaciers melting, and the ocean water warming and expanding, sea level is rising.

So far the global average is about half a foot higher now than it was 100 years ago. However the oceans aren’t rising at the same rate and on the east coast of the US the rise has been closer to a foot.

A paper posted on the next by [HansenDiscussion] suggests that the sea level may rise 10ft in the next 50 years and 15ft by 2100. This may be a worst case scenario, but past experience with climate predictions suggests that worst case scenarios have happened more frequently than best case ones. And we are very ignorant here.

Some context: Hurricane Sandy had a storm surge of about 13ft in New York. Hugo had a maximum surge of 20ft near Charleston. Katrina’s surge was about 27ft.

So by the end of the century New York might be constantly under more water than it was at the worst of Hurricane Sandy.

This would wipe out many coastal cities. It would destroy much farmland. Many island nations would no longer exist.

How fast can a marsh adapt? If the sea level rises by 15ft and the shoreline moves inward by many miles then marshes, which are very productive ecosystems will be wiped out.

But I thought climate changed stopped after 1998

This is a lie.

I have had the above statement questioned. So, a brief recap. I pulled down this dataset. I applied a linear regression least squares fit to the following year ranges of the global mean temperature:

1880-2014 T=.0068*(year-1998) + 14.36°C
1960-1984 T=.0118*(year-1998) + 14.35°C
1990-1998 T=.0230*(year-1998) + 14.49°C
1998-2014 T=.0108*(year-1998) + 14.52°C

The important thing to note here is the change/year which was .0068°C/year over the historical record; it was .0230°C/year in the 90s, and .0108°C/year in the period of the hiatus. So not only has the global temperature increased since 1998, but it has increased faster than the historical rate and about the same rate as during the 70s. It did slow down dramatically from the 90s, but that can be explained by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation [Nature].

However surface temperature is not a good indicator of heat transferred to the earth. And since 1998 more heat has gone into the deep ocean than happened before. With this year’s El Niño less heat is going into the ocean deeps and the surface temperature is again increasing quickly.

Remember in the last decade we have seen 8 of the hottest years on record, and the top 13 hottest years have all been since 1997. There is about 1 chance in 3.7 million of this happening if the climate were not warming. [Climate Central] And unless something amazing happens in the next 3 weeks, 2015 will be even hotter.

But isn’t extra CO₂ good for plants? Won’t warmer weather make ecosystems more productive?

There is some evidence that more CO₂ will make plants happier, but the effect is slight.

Basically ecosystems have adapted to current conditions. Changing those conditions will, in almost all cases be a change for the worse.

European grain productivity has already been reduced. [Frances Moore] The current drought exacerbated (and possibly caused) by climate change has reduced California’s agricultural productivity. Global grain productivity is expected to fall at about 1.5% per decade [David Lobell] Grains produce less protein in hot weather.

We don’t have any good metrics for measuring wild ecosystems, except long term extinction rates, but there is certainly evidence that the climate is changing faster than plants and animals can move to keep up. [Union of Concerned Scientists]

The woods I love to hike in will be very different when my niece’s children try them.

But the oceans will be the worst hit. The increase in CO₂ has led to an ongoing acidification of the water which prevents many animals from forming shells. The increase in heat has lead to bleaching coral reeves and the death of many.

More subtle changes happen too. Different species respond differently to climate change, some start breeding sooner than they would normally, others do not. Thus old ecological synchronizations are lost. A predator many start to breed in the spring before its prey does, resulting in starvation of the predator and over-population in the prey.

The oceans’ food chains are being disrupted and they are becoming less productive.

In other words, species are dying off. Humans are losing their food supplies.


The Guardian says it very well: “By comparison to what it [COP21] could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.”

The world will be less beautiful in the future.
And there will be less for humans to eat.
And there will be more humans.

Red Rock … Something

November 29, 2015

I wanted to rerun the same course that I had done two years ago, start at San Ysidro and run over to Rancho Oso. But last year the marathon (which that course was) got switched to an out and back format, so it would be 13 miles out from Rancho Oso, and then 13 back — it wouldn’t even get me to the Grotto and would miss the nicest part of the run.

So I decided to do my own thing. I’d sign up for the marathon, but run with the 50 milers and just stop at the turn around.

And then the Gibraltar Fire happened, and they had to change the route. So when I signed up I didn’t even bother to check the course because I knew it would change. If I had, I might have noticed that the race started at Red Rock this year (rather than Oso) and the marathon actually climbed up to Camino Cielo and would cover most of what I wanted to see.

Then at the pre race chat Luis announced a 50K which would run out to Rancho Oso and then back and up to Camino Cielo, and that was almost exactly what I wanted to do. But then, 2 minutes before race start, it was far too late to change my registration to the longer run, and far too late to call Nichol who was to pick me up at San Ysidro.

A new meaning of Red Rock — Rocks on Cold Spring covered with flame retardant

A new meaning of Red Rock — Rocks on Cold Spring covered with flame retardant from the Gibraltar Fire.

I bribed my friend Joe to drive me to the start (he was racing the 50) by offering to lend him my Adventure Pass so he could park legally. Not much of a bribe really, but he graciously agreed.

When I picked up my bib I told them I was not coming back, they should just mark me DNF at the start. I didn’t want anyone thinking I was lost in the back country; I didn’t want anyone looking for me when I wasn’t findable.

When the gun went off I deliberately ran around the chip mat so that it wouldn’t think I had started either. When I came to each aid station I told them I was dropping out and not to count me, nor expect me to come back.

I thought that if I knew I wasn’t racing then I might take it easy and just run for fun. It didn’t work that way. I knew I wasn’t racing, so I didn’t bother the think about pacing or running advisedly. I went out too fast.

I had speculated that when I got to the bottom of San Ysidro I might run over to Romero and back (Romero being the new turn around for the 50M). I had even thought I might trot on down the 9 Trails route and so just run home. But when I got to the bottom my legs were dead, and I had no desire to go further. So those fancies vanished.

It was cold when we got to Red Rock camping area. Joe’s car thermometer read 38°F. Cold and dark. It was about 5am and the sun wouldn’t be up until 6:45 (down in the valley, we wouldn’t see the sun until later), so it was going to stay cold for a while.

I found the porta-potties and the place to pick up my bib and then waited. As we approached race start at 6am I realized it would still too dark to run and got out my flashlight. As time passed and nothing happened I realized it was now light enough to run and put away my flashlight. The start was only 12 minutes late, but that was enough to make the difference. So I’m actually glad for the delay, even though it was cold.

We were off along Paradise Rd. I placed myself near the rear in my attempt to avoid the chip mat. I wasn’t interested in my time. But… Once I saw people ahead of me… People running slowly… Well I ran faster. Most of the runners (the half-marathoners and true marathoners) had a short out and back section to do, the 50milers (and me) had a 5.5 mile out (and 5.5 mile back) to do. So after about half a mile most people turned back.

The 50 milers went up a steep hill, on single track. There was a woman who had passed me on the road, but slowed down more than I wanted on the hill. So I passed her. And some other people. After half an hour or so I noticed sunlight on the tops of the hills. But my phone was off and my hands were in gloves and by the time I had dealt with all that we’d have turned a corner and lost the view.

Um. Remember, I wasn’t racing? I could have stopped.

I didn’t.

When we got to Arroyo Burro someone pulled up beside me but didn’t try to pass. She was Michelle from San Luis Obisbo and didn’t want to get lost. It turned out that she was signed up for the marathon, so I realized that she was lost. She should have turned back ages ago, I suggested to her that she run the 50K instead since she had just added an extra 10 miles to her marathon (the marathon isn’t exactly 26.2miles, and the 50K isn’t exactly 31.2miles. Luis doesn’t care why should we?) so now she was on track for the 50K.

Brian Toro passed us, running up hill. The first 50 miler to turn around. Then someone else did whom I didn’t recognize. Then… er… we were at the turn around. There was no way I should be in 3rd place. Clearly I’d gone out too fast. At the very least Joe should be ahead of me. (Michelle seemed pretty fast)

We turned round and ran back up Arroyo Burro. A bit more slowly than we had run down. It was now quite light and a bit warmer so I took off my gloves and turned on the phone.
Arroyo Burro morning
Not quite as nice as it would have been earlier, but not bad. I find it surprising how sere the mountains are on the other side of the valley. There’s a fair amount of vegetation on our side (though without leaves in late november), but lots of bare cliffs across the way.

Michelle noticed other marathon bibs as we ran up the hill (I wasn’t paying attention). She said she was misdirected by the volunteers at the marathon turn-around. That’s unfortunate. I guess it happened to me on my first trail race…

Not much blooming. A few weird buckwheats and some local chicories.

Michelle seems to be running about 20 feet behind me. She doesn’t seem to get much closer or much further away. I’m not aware of having said anything offensive…

Maybe she doesn’t like the idea of running 50+K or something.

Eventually we get back to Paradise Road and run along it out to its end. I don’t like running on Paradise out here, there are lots of fords and each ford is paved with concrete rather than asphalt. Concrete is not kind to my Achilles tendons, and as each ford consists of a steep down section followed by a steep up section, I end up running “fast” which is even worse for them.

But eventually we come to the end and head up the dirt road there. I glance behind to make sure that Michelle isn’t lost. She’s not. She’s about 20ft back. She runs quietly, and I can’t tell that she’s there.

Hunh. Another route change. We don’t take the little short-cut trail here, but follow the road.

Starting to see half-marathoners returning. Dan Rudd flies down the hill.
White Cliffs

I realize I’ve run about 12 miles in the last 2 hours. That’s fast or me on the trails. But then this is the section with lots of roads so maybe that explains it.

Up over the ridgeline here, and then down, down, down into the valley with the Gibraltar dam. We’re seeing lots of half marathoners.

Then up out of that valley, Michelle still twenty feet behind me.

As we approach the first aid station I unstrap my camelback to get it ready to refill. I forget that my gloves are looped over the strap. They fall to the ground. I’m unaware of this.

I fill up my pack. Michelle asks the people at the aid station what she should do to recover from her going too far the wrong way. What can they say? Luis is really the only person who could make that decision… She decides she’ll run out far enough so that she’ll have done 26.2 when she returns. (This seems wrong to me, the extra 10 miles we ran in the valley are bumpy, but they are nothing like the mountain the other marathoners will have climbed to get to Camino Cielo. And it’s not as if this marathon is 26.2 anyway. Oh well, not my decision).

We set off.

I’ve failed to seal my camelback properly. I realize my gloves are missing. I turn back.

Someone, very kindly, picked up my gloves and put them at the aid-station. I also left my phone there. I’m a klutz. I get the camelback properly sealed. I set off again.

But by now several people have passed me and Michelle is out of sight.

I’m running more slowly now. Someone catches up with me. It turns out he’s the guy who rescued my gloves. He also recognizes me “Didn’t you pace the SB marathon last year? 3:30 or 3:25?” And I realize who he is. He is the guy who had done a 100K race the week before SB, then ran SB. He started with the 3:30 pace group, decided they were too slow, caught up with me and ran with me to the bottom of the hill, then decided I was too slow, and zoomed up the hill. I couldn’t have done that a week after a 100K.

He passes me.

Of course.

Gibraltar Reservoir from my favorite viewpoint (near Mercury Mine) I can't see any water. I think that's a first.

Gibraltar Reservoir from my favorite viewpoint (near Mercury Mine) I can’t see any water. I think that’s a first.

At mile 17 Joe passes me. OK, things are getting back to normal.

Someone else comes up behind me.

Then Tyler Hansen, the first marathoner comes zooming by. I jump off the trail into a clump of (dead) star thistle to let him by. I set out again, but there is star thistle caught in my sock and I stop to get it out. The guy behind me passes me.

Shortly after than Michelle comes running back. She’s in second place for the marathon if they accept what she’s done. She’s fast, but I don’t think she’s that fast… I would be much further behind Tyler if I had run what he ran…

Now there is just me, alone in the landscape.

GrottoThe sun has not reached down into the valley of the Grotto. All the Dunn’s Lobelia which covered it are dead now, and most of the leaves of the trees have fallen, but it still has water.

It’s very steep here and I’m walking.

I’ve forgotten to eat for a couple of hours (another sign I’m not paying attention because I’m not racing)! No wonder I’m feeling tired! I eat some blocks and fairly soon I’m running again (it’s not quite so steep now, that helps too).

Lots of marathoners are returning now. The trail is narrow. Gets a bit tricky.

Last time I was here, less than 2 weeks ago, I saw some liverworts starting to grow. I see none now. Is it because I’m racing and not noticing, or have they died in the drought?

I realize I’ve now run 22 miles in about 4 hours. So first two hours were at 6mph pace, then next 2 at 5mph.

At Forbush I see the person ahead of me running off route (presumably to use the pit-toilet there). Yay! I passed someone.

A little beyond that I find two marathoners stopped on the trail. I ask if they are OK. “Just taking a rest.” I’ve run 22.5 miles, they’ve run about half that…

Finally I get to Camino Cielo. It has taken me half an hour to do the last two miles (admittedly steep miles). So now I’m down to 4mph.

I make sure Karen and Stephanie at the aid-station here know I’m not continuing. Someone runs behind me and zips through the aid station. I remind myself I’m not racing. I climb up to the watertank to look for a plant that was blooming there two weeks ago (It has a single, sad bloom today).

Then back on course along CC to San Ysidro. And downhill again. The top section is nicely runnable, and for a bit I’m doing 5~6mph again. I pass 26.2 at 4:55 or so (not my best marathon time!).

The "waterfall" on San Ysidro. A few drops if you get up close

The “waterfall” on San Ysidro. A few drops if you get up close

I pause to look at the so-called waterfall and then the trail gets tricky and I slow. The hikers all seem to know there is a race going on and happily get out of my way, which is kind of them. They ask me how far I’ve gone, and what place I’m in — I don’t know, but seems like there are an awful lot of people ahead of me.

When I get to Nancy’s aid-station I learn I’m in 5th place (or would be if I were racing). I think some of the people who passed me decided to run the 50K and turned back (and I assumed they were marathoners).

I chat a bit and watch 3 people go through the aid-station. Then I go down the final .8 miles to the road. 5:34 for ~29 miles by my watch, 5.2mph.

Nichol drives up. She wants to go see Nancy, which is fine with me, so we go back up. Um. I move very slowly. It takes forever to get there.

I see Joe on his return journey and Nash on his outward journey.

As a race I planned and executed it poorly. But I had fun.

Another Song of the Weather

November 24, 2015

January brings the drought
Dries the little forbs right out.

February’s blazing sun
Burns the leaves back into dun.

Welcome desiccating March
Come to help the garden parch.

April brings the sweet spring days
Blazing heat on golden rays.

Farmers fear unkindly May
Wind by night and sun by day.

June brings fog that doesn’t drip
Thirty days and not a sip.

In July the sun is hot
Is it shining?
Quite a lot.

August, hot and parched and dry,
Kills the crops under the sky.

Bleak September’s hot simoon
Is enough to make us swoon.

Then October adds a fire
Wind and ash and air that’s dire.

Bright November brings more wind
Dries the soil till I’m chagrined.

Blazing dry December, then…
Bloody January again!

(Obviously stolen from At the Drop of a Hat by Flanders and Swan)

Thirsty Cat

October 25, 2015

When the cat first came to live at my expense, he was under the impression that the best place to drink was the bathroom sink — next best was the kitchen sink (but it’s harder to jump that high). He completely ignored the water dish I put out for him beside his food — I gather that is fairly common behavior but it was new to me.

Over time we came to a compromise solution — the bathtub. Whenever I went into the bathroom that cat would run in with me and get under my feet and try to trip me before leaping into the bathtub and waiting expectantly under the faucet.

Of course I put a water dish under the faucet, but the cat usually ignores this and expects me to turn on the tap.

This works fine when I’m home, but when I go visit my parents my cat-sitter tells me he doesn’t drink enough.

Toilet Water BowlA few months ago a friend in pottery class built himself a small toilet into which he placed a pump and a motion detector. It was a cat water bowl — his cats enjoy drinking from the toilet rather than a bathtub.

Now I don’t have pumps lying around, so I just went out and bought a motion detector and recirculating water bowl.

I filled it up, set it going, brought the cat in to view it — and he ran away.

Well, I’ll give him some time to get used to it.


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