Archive for January, 2022

The Eastern Asian-Eastern North American Floristic Disjunction

January 27, 2022

Botanists recognized the great similarity between the forests and woodlands of eastern Asia and those of eastern North America as early as the first decades of the 19th century. Asa Gray, a renowned botanist of that century, was the first scientist to quantify the similarity. He listed 538 plant species found in both regions. Later scientists realized these species were not the same, though they were similar and closely related. Based on paleontological evidence, scientists determined most of these similar species diverged during the late Miocene, following the uplifting of the Rocky Mountains. Throughout most of the Miocene, a warm temperate forest zone existed from eastern North America across the Bering land bridge and extending into Asia and Western Europe. The uplift of the Rocky Mountains and the Himalayas disrupted the widespread equable climate that supported this warm temperate zone of forest. Species that preferred temperate forests became restricted to areas of eastern Asia and eastern North America. After becoming isolated from common parent species that ranged across this Miocene forest, American species diverged from Asian species. A study of plant DNA from 22 similar species found in both regions supports the paleontological evidence. Most closely related species diverged between 10 million years ago to 5 million years ago. The oldest divergence took place 12 million years ago, and the youngest took place 3 million years ago.

Forests and woodlands in this part of Asia are very similar to those of eastern North America. Image from Harvard University.
North American pachysandra next to a patch of Asian pachysandra. Photo by Peter Del Tredici.
550 year old Japanese Oak located in Korea. Eastern Asia is dominated by forests of oak like much of eastern North America.
North American trumpet honeysuckle.
Japanese honeysuckle is probably more common now in America than trumpet honeysuckle. The latter is prettier.

Eastern North America has more plant species related to those of Eastern Asia than to those of Western North America, and Eastern Asia has more species related to those of Eastern North America than to those of Western Europe, despite the wider geographical separation. Both regions are richer in species than Western Europe and Western North America. Ice Age glaciations drove more species into extinction in those 2 regions. Eastern Asia has 33% more plant species than eastern North America. This suggests more abundant refugia from Ice Age glaciations, and it also points to Asia as the region where most genera and families originated.

Closely related species on both continents include many species of oaks, walnut, chestnut, buckeye, arrowwood viburnum, elder, magnolia, clematis, catalpa, honeysuckle, white pine, and cedar. Scientists have also found the same pattern of similarity with fungi, spiders, millipedes, and fish.

Reference:

Tiffney, B.

“Perspectives on the Origin of the Floristic Similarity between Eastern Asia and Eastern North America”

Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 66 1985

Xiang, Q., D. Soltis, P. Soltis, D. Crawford

“Timing the Eastern Asian-Eastern North American Floristic Disjunction: Molecular Clock Corroborates Paleontological Estimates”

Molecular Phylogenetic Evolution 325 (2) 2000

A Doomsday Glacier?

January 20, 2022

The alarmist headline of a recent article for the Rolling Stone magazine amuses me. It is entitled “The Fuse has been Blown, and the Doomsday Glacier is Headed for Us All.” This headline is a dramatic exaggeration. Yes, it is true–there is a fissure in an ice sheet on the Thwaites Glacier that scientists think is going to collapse within 3-5 years. And this collapse will likely cause sea level to rise by over 2 feet. But how soon sea levels rise that much is anybody’s guess because statistical models vary widely. Potentially, a sea level rise of this magnitude could inundate cities such as Miami, New York City, and New Orleans; but this change would likely take as long as a century, giving society plenty of time to respond. The glacier is not coming for us all.

At the present time warm salty ocean currents are flowing under the edge of the Thwaites Glacier, located in Western Antarctica. This warm current is melting the Ice Sheet, and this causes the discharge of icebergs. Scientists say the Thwaites Glacier alone already contributes to 4% of global sea level rise. When the Ice Sheet eventually collapses, thousands of icebergs will be discharged shortly after the collapse. However, this won’t directly cause sea level rise because this ice shelf is already floating on the water. Scientists fear the advance of the rest of the Thwaites Glacier (now on land) into the ocean is the mechanism that will cause dramatic sea level rise. Scientists can only guess how long this advance will take and how long it takes for the addition of this ice to raise sea levels.

Location of the Thwaites Glacier
Aerial photograph shows a massive ice shelf about to break off from the Thwaites glacier. Image from the New York Times.
Illustration showing how warm salty currents are undermining the ice shelf.

While researching information for this blog entry, I came across a comically contrarian editorial written by H. Sterling Burnett, of The Heartland Institute, a thinktank funded by oil companies to downplay the dangers of global warming. Dr. Burnett is a PHD, but he is deliberately dishonest or stupid. He notes temperatures in Antarctica have been stable for over 40 years and concludes there is no threat of sea level rise from the Thwaites Glacier because ice on the continent is not melting. He fails to understand or acknowledge the mechanism that could cause sea level to rise. It’s not temperatures on the continent but rather warm ocean currents undermining the edge of the glacier that could cause sea level rise. Dr. Burnett is simply a stooge for business crooks.

Photo of Burnett (from his editorial) and an excerpt from his column, demonstrating his ignorance of the mechanism that scientists fear will cause sea level rise. Burnett is paid to write propaganda for oil companies. His editorial downplaying scientists’ concern about the Thwaites Glacier is either deliberately dishonest or stupid.

References:

Goodell, P.

“The Fuse has been Blown, and the Doomsday Glacier is Coming for Us All”

Rolling Stone 2021

Kahn, J.

“The Doomsday Glacier is in Danger of Collapse Potentially Ominous News for Cities like New York, New Orleans, and Miami”

Fortune December 2021

Wahlen, A.K. et. al.

“Pathways and Modifications of Warm Water Flowing Beneath the Thwaites Ice Shelf, West Antarctica”

Science Advances April 5, 2021

Congratulations to My Favorite Team–The Georgia Bulldogs

January 13, 2022

I don’t often write about sports because there are plenty of journalists who cover this popular subject, but it is not every day my favorite team wins the national championship. I decided to become a Georgia Bulldog fan during 1975 when I found out my father was moving us to Athens, Georgia. My first game as a Georgia Bulldog fan was a good introduction–Georgia scored 6 unanswered touchdowns in the first half against Georgia Tech. Since I have become a fan, the Georgia Bulldogs have had 17 10-win seasons and have won 7 SEC championships but until a few days ago just 1 national championship. On social media fans of other schools have trolled Georgia fans unmercifully, making fun of how long it has been since Georgia last won a national championship. 1980 was a long time ago. This criticism has been unfair. Georgia could have won national championships during 2002 and 2007, if there had been a playoff system in place then. Referees robbed Georgia in the 2017 national championship game. All that chatter means nothing now. The 2021 edition of the Georgia Bulldogs shut the trolls down.

This last season the Georgia Bulldogs fielded the best defense in modern college football history, holding regular season opponents to an average of 6.9 points per game. This is astonishing considering the modern era of explosive high scoring offenses. As a fan, I always felt confident when Georgia was on defense and seldom worried the other team was going to score. The defense was led by Jordan Davis, a 6’5″ 350-pound defensive tackle who often ran down running backs. If he was double-teamed, there was no stopping linebackers Nolan Smith and Nakobe Dean and hard-hitting safety Lewis Cine. Georgia was good on offense too with the best tight ends in the nation, a solid running back corps, and former walk-on quarterback Stetson Bennett IV. 4 years ago, I claimed he was the best quarterback on the roster, though he was way down the depth chart. Other fans told me he would never start a game at Georgia. I was right and they were wrong. He is a hero for us short people.

Out of superstition my wife thinks the t-shirt she wears helps Georgia win. I tell her it is not the t-shirt. It is Jordan Davis, the 6’5″ 350 pound defensive tackle who can run down running backs. Photo from rivals.com.
Brock Bowers, a 5 star freshmen tight end who came all the way from California to play for the Dawgs. The difference between a top 3 recruiting class and a top 10 recruiting class is huge, as evidenced in the Orange Bowl this year. Photo from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Georgia crushed all their opponents during the regular season, so it was a deflating shock when Alabama upset them in the SEC championship game. Georgia got back on track and destroyed a very good Michigan Team in the Orange Bowl, setting up a rematch with Alabama in the National Championship game. I didn’t dare get my hopes up. I had picked Georgia to beat Alabama 7 straight times, and I had been wrong 7 times in a row. I always predict the score but declined to make a prediction this time (though the night before the game after 5 glasses of wine I eventually did predict Georgia to win 73-0). My pessimism returned the following day. Georgia’s offense started slowly, but the defense played better this time, pressuring Alabama’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and holding Alabama to field goals instead of touchdowns. Georgia’s coaches made an effective halftime adjustment, moving Jamaree Salyer, their best offensive linemen, from left tackle to right guard. Holes started opening in the middle of the line. Georgia blocked a field goal, and the offense, sparked by a 67-yard run from James Cook, finally punched in a touchdown to take the lead. The referees gave Alabama a touchdown on a terrible call, but their final lead was short-lived. Stetson Bennett IV led the Georgia offense to 2 touchdowns, including a 40-yard bomb to AD Mitchell, and a 12-yard strike to Brock Bowers. With time running out, Alabama threw a desperation pass intercepted and returned for a game-clinching touchdown by Kelee Ringo. Georgia will lose many of their defensive starters to the NFL next year, but 3 of their 4 touchdowns were scored by freshmen. The future is bright, now that Georgia finally broke the drought.

Kelee Ringo’s interception clinched the championship game for Georgia. Photo from 247 Sports.
Tralee Hale, Kelee Ringo’s mom. She’s my favorite Georgia Bulldog fan. I don’t know who took this photo.

I am so happy for all the Georgia Bulldog players and fans.

Tattooed Yuppies Driving SUVs

January 6, 2022

Mammoths and saber-tooths no longer roam the landscape. Instead, we live in a world packed with tattooed yuppies driving SUVs and gigantic pick-up trucks. I don’t understand this generation. I may come across as a grouchy old man telling people to “get off my lawn,” but the unnecessary extravagance and the poor taste of recent generations bewilders and on occasion disgusts me.

When I was a kid, tattoos were restricted to a certain subset of tough guys–bikers and sailors. They usually had just 1 tattoo on a muscular arm. Now, tattoos are astonishingly widespread and popular. It seems like every suburban yuppy wimp is covered in ink. I think they invariably look stupid, and I automatically assume a person with a tattoo suffers from reduced intelligence because they don’t have the foresight to realize they might get tired of looking at their tattoos someday. And in fact, the tattoo removal business is booming. People completely covered with tattoos look ridiculous, and they make me think of neon signs loudly advertising poor taste. I’ve seen celebrity chefs covered in tattoos. I wouldn’t want to eat any dish they prepared. Oh, and I’ve seen people my age with tattoos. There are few sights as pathetic as an old man my age trying to be hip by getting a tattoo. Even women cover themselves with tattoos these days. I’ve seen many a beautiful model who has permanently marred her good looks with filthy ink. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to lie down and let somebody draw pictures on them. I guess I have more interesting things to do.

What if a tattooed person gets tired of their tattoos? I much prefer all natural. It looks cleaner.

Roads and parking lots are filled with these tattooed yuppies driving gas-guzzling SUVs and monster pick-up trucks. I am not referring to plumbers or carpenters who need these vehicles to carry their tools. I also exempt from my criticism disabled people who need room for their wheelchairs. But I can’t for the life of me understand why a white collar yuppy would drive such a wasteful extravagant vehicle. I can’t believe how popular they are. It seems like there are more of these monstrosities on the road than regular passenger cars. I hate how they block my line of sight when I am driving. If they are in a neighboring turn lane, I can’t see through them to make my turn, and I am forced to wait until they make their turn. If my car is parked between 2 SUVs or monster pick-up trucks, it is next to impossible to back up without taking a chance of getting in a parking lot fender bender. At least I can laugh at these chumps when they fill up their gas tanks. It must cost about $100. Moreover, many must be paying a car note comparable to a house mortgage. No wonder so many Americans are underwater with their finances. Chevrolet SUVs and Dodge Ram pick-up trucks average $35,000, and they must cost an additional fortune to insure. That is too much to pay for transportation.

I hate the way these monstrosities block my line of sight on roads and in parking lots.
Ditto.
What was wrong with these 1970s style station wagons? They were easier to see over.

I had an encounter lately with a tattooed yuppy, though that is not what inspired this blog entry (this is a subject I’ve had on the back burner for a while). She parked her shiny black truck too close to our car, so that we couldn’t open my passenger car door all the way. My disabled wife was the passenger, and we couldn’t fit her wheelchair between the vehicles. I could have moved the car, but I had a poor night’s sleep, and I didn’t feel like it. I thought I could lift my wife out of her wheelchair, walk her to the passenger door, and squeeze her into the passenger side door without bumping the door into the yuppy’s truck, but I was wrong. The impact caused a tiny 1/4-inch scratch (if it wasn’t already present). The woman who was sitting in the car came out and angrily confronted me. I apologized and offered to give her $20. I thought this was a generous offer for a $2 bottle of touch up paint, but she called me an “asshole” and threatened to call the police. I told her to go ahead. She said, “get the fuck out of my face” and went back inside her car. (She was the one who got in my face.) What a stupid woman.