Poinsettia

November 29, 2022

Melissa was researching Christmas traditions and clicked on a site about the poinsettia.  We seem to end up with this flowering species every Christmas.  We have purchased them for ourselves, for others and had them revert to our house, and have occasionally been given a poinsettia by someone else.  When they first arrive, they are beautiful, most often bright red but occasionally ivory white.  The problem has always been they rarely last longer than the holiday season, no matter how late in the season we get them.  Melissa was perusing the site trying to discover why they seemed to die when she came across something completely unexpected.  The poinsettia is a type of succulent.

When I looked online, I found the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a flowering species of the diverse family Euphorbiaceae (yes, it is related to the E. Ritcheie is just wrote about).  The species is indigenous to Mexico and Central America and was first described by Europeans in 1834.  It is particularly known for its red and green foliage and is widely used in Christmas floral displays.  The poinsettia derives its common English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first US Minister to Mexico, who is credited with introducing the plant to the US in the 1830’s.  The Poinsettia is a shrub or small tree, with heights of 2 to 13 feet (0.6 to 4 m).  Wild poinsettia plants occur from Mexico to southern Guatemala, but their populations are highly fragmented due to unregulated deforestation.  The plant is often thought to be toxic, but it is not dangerous to pets or children, and exposure (even eating) usually has no effect.  Consumption has been known on occasion to cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.  Unattended puppies and children will eat almost anything.

The Poinsettia is now associated with the Christmas holiday and are popular seasonal decorations.  The meaning of poinsettia at Christmas came about due to the Legend of Pepita and the Poinsettia during the 1800’s.  The legend goes that a little girl (Pepita) was going to her church’s Nativity but did not have money to buy the baby Jesus a gift.  She picked a few weeds from the roadside to create a bouquet but was disappointed with her gift.  Her cousin reminded her that a simple gift, given in love, is always appreciated by God.  When Pepita presented her bouquet, it bloomed into a bunch of vivid red poinsettia plants.  That is why the poinsettia is also called the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’ (Flowers of the Holy Night).  Others say people use a poinsettia at Christmas because it represents the Star of Bethlehem, the light that led the three wise men to the baby Jesus.  The US sells around 70 million poinsettia plants of many cultivated varieties during the six-week Christmas season.  Many of these are grown by Paul Ecke Ranch, which produces half the worldwide market and 70% of the US market.  They seem to be able to keep them alive, so there is hope.

THOUGHTS:  Prior to being known as the Christmas flower, the poinsettia plant was called the ‘cuetlaxochitl’ by the ancient Aztecs who cultivated the plant for use in traditional medicine.  As early as the 14th century, they used the plants as a type of medicine to lessen fever symptoms.  It is also utilized as red and purple dyes for clothing.  The wild plant was domesticated and has now been cultivated into over 200 varieties.  Now that Melissa knows this is a succulent, she is determined to keep ours alive (we already purchased two).  The wild poinsettia was striking enough to be noticed and preserved by the Aztecs and has been passed on to Western culture as the Christmas star.  As a domesticate they represent a US$250 million venture, yet wild cousins are in danger of eradication.  Deforestation destroys species that provide miracle drugs and economic value.  Ecosystems are worth more than the money they produce.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Ritchiei

November 26, 2022

Melissa was prepping her succulents prior to our trip and came across a little oblong stub that had decided to bloom.  This was not too surprising as her succulents are transitioning from summer bloomers to winter bloomers.  During their dormant period of the year, the plants need very little care, with the minimum requirement being no water (I have mentioned this).  As they become active, their water needs are still sparse, but Melissa does like to spritz the soil and check the leaves and stems for rot or damage.  Several of the winter growers have become active this year.  They were planted two years ago, did little last year, but have now acclimated to the soil in their pots and the conditions of our greenhouse porch.  Melissa was pleasantly surprised by the number of flowers which bloomed this year.  One of these was the small red blossoms on the Ritchiei on Tuesday.

When I looked online, I found the Euphorbia Ritchiei, also known as Monadenium Ritchiei, is a succulent member of the Euphorbiaceae Family.  The species is native to Kenya and thrives around Meru, in the country’s Eastern region.  Ritchiei grows mainly on the rocky slopes of Mount Kenya at an elevation of 4250 feet (1300 m).  This dwarf clumping perennial blooms all year round and has a long life, “when the conditions are right”.  The species has a thick fleshy rootstock that forms a large clump over time.  The roots form thick tubers, which help the plant store food.  Ritchiei has a thick green, erect stem. The stems are horizontal with small spines which can grow up to 2 feet (60 cm) tall and 1.2 inches (3cm) in diameter.  These spines are a typical trait of all the Euphorbia genus.

I am always reluctant to leave Melissa’s succulents when we go on trips.  Even though we have replaced the greenhouse plastic, Melissa is constantly monitoring the temperature to keep the room hovering between 30F to 50F (-1C to 10C).  If it gets much cooler, the plants are in danger of going into shock.  If it gets much warmer, the plants can drop out of growth and revert to their dormant stage.  This is especially true if either condition exists for several days in a row.  We have lost dozens, if not hundreds, of small cuttings and shoots over the last two years.  That is one of the struggles with being a succulent grower.  I am glad melissa is monitoring the succulents as I think it would drive me crazy.  I have worried about the Ritchiei since we have been away.

THOUGHTS:  Succulents are amazingly resilient and yet extremely fragile.  Most come from tropical or semi-tropical environments, and our Ritchiei is a good example.  Kenya is situated at 1 degree longitude (equatorial).  These plants have been transported and are now being propagated in cooler climes.  They often only survive indoors, or if they are transported back and forth from inside to out and then back.  Humans spend tremendous time, energy, and money creating conditions that allow many plant species to survive.  We need to do the same to create the conditions necessary for other humans to do the same.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Thanks

November 25, 2022

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and Melissa and I decided to make a quick trip to see family in Wichita.  Melissa put in her weekly hours and then logged off work around 1 pm CST on Wednesday.  We packed (yes, we should have done it the night before) and loaded the car.  I was surprised seeing we were taking more gear for our three days in Kansas than we had for our three weeks in Europe.  The air pressure in my tires had dropped due to the cold weather and I had not been able to find a place to get air.  I dropped by my regular service shop yesterday and they were already closed.  I went to three different air pumps and while I was charged US%2 at each location, the pumps did not work.  I dropped by my shop again Wednesday and they had closed for the holiday.  I finally found a station with a working pump, but it was so slow it took another US$4 to get the required 36 PSI into the tires.  It was 2:30 CST before we got off.  Still, we were going to family for the holiday, and I was able to give thanks for the expectation ahead.

We dreaded the drive because of the numbers of cars predicted to be on the road.  Since we had gotten a late start, it meant we would be passing though the only real city (Tulsa) along the way right at rush hour.  We got gas on the way out of town, and it had dropped another 10 cents (US) since Sunday.  This was well below the US$3 low it had reached earlier this month.  We filled up and began our 4 ½ hour drive to Wichita.  We drove through a light mist, but the predicted rain did not materialize.  The temperature stayed above 50F (10C) so the roads were not icy or slick.  Even the expected throng of cars did not materialize.  There was light rush hour around the city, but the roads were essentially clear.  We made good time and arrived in time to drop by mom’s residence before going to our hotel.  We were able to introduce her to Zena before the turmoil of the next day.  We were tired, but I was able to give thanks for the good day we had.  

We spent Thanksgiving at mom’s residence.  Zena was well behaved and happy to greet my uncle and aunt who drove in to eat with us.  Mom had reserved a place for the five of us for lunch.  The kitchen had set our table in the library, so we had a private dining room.  The meal was traditional, with turkey, stuffing and gravy, and green bean casserole.  There was a choice of pie (I got my new favorite, pecan) for dessert.  Mom led us in a “thanks giving” activity prior to eating, and each shared why we were thankful.  We visited and remembered the Thanksgivings at Grandma’s (their mom).  After they left, I was able to help get mom’s Christmas decorations set in her apartment.  When we returned to our hotel, I got a text thanking me for my help.  I mentioned it was good to get together with the Schirer Clan (now aunt, uncle, and mom).  Mom responded that our numbers had dwindled (there used to be nearly 30 for an all day dinner) and we had met in an assisted living facility rather than the farm, but it was still good.  I was able to give thanks for the good day we had.

THOUGHTS:  Thanksgiving is a national holiday celebrated on various dates in the US, Canada, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Liberia.  It began as a day of giving thanks for the blessings of the harvest and of the preceding year.  Although Thanksgiving has historical roots in religious and cultural traditions, it has long been celebrated as a secular holiday as well.  Thanksgiving is more than just eating turkey and watching football.  It is about sharing with family and renewing relationships.  We had missed this time for the last years, and it was good to have the time again.  I was able to give thanks for the good day we had.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Turtles

November 23, 2022

The News section of the Thursday Edition of my local paper (yes, it is only Wednesday, but that is a whole other story) featured an article on how lighting on overdeveloped beaches is disorienting sea turtles.  The female turtles crawl up the beach to lay their eggs, and the hatchlings later use the light of the moon reflecting off water to orientate themselves for the trek back to the sea.  The lights from parking garages, buildings, and even flashlights from people searching for crabs can cause the young turtles to mistake the direction to the ocean and lead them toward busy streets rather than the safety of the ocean.  The Share the Beach organization has partnered with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to identify the disorienting lighting and then establish a plan with the owner to retrofit the lights with amber or red LED lights that do not distract the turtles.  Share the Beach has 100’s of volunteers who mark the nests, set up protective barriers, and then assist the baby turtles on their return to the sea.  Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), Green (Chelonia mydas), and Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) sea turtles all nest along the Alabama beaches patrolled by Share the Beach.

When I looked online, I found Share the Beach was formed in 2005 by the Friends of the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge in Gulf Shores.  This program follows protocols set by the US Fish and Wildlife Service under the federal endangered species recovery permit and volunteers can help protect the nesting sea turtles and their habitat under these guidelines.  Share the Beach volunteers patrol the beach, educate the public and school groups, conduct late-night nest observations, and assist with supply and equipment preparations.  The annual patrols for sea turtles begin on May 1 and end August 31, but the season continues through October 31 and the remaining nests continue to be monitored.  Share the Beach volunteers monitor all 47 miles of Alabama’s beach-front coastline, devoting their time to searching for new nests, marking them, and protecting the nests and hatchlings from natural and human-related dangers.  Turtles lay an average of 110 eggs per nest with an incubation period of 55 to 70 days.  Between 2010 and 2020, an estimated 70,786 hatchlings have made it to the water from Alabama’s beaches.

Once the turtles reach the ocean their human worries are far from over.  Research suggests that 52% of the world’s turtles have eaten plastic waste.  The reason is a floating plastic bag can look like a lot of jellyfish, algae, or other species that make up a large component of the sea turtles’ diet.  While all sea turtles are in danger of eating the plastic, the carnivorous loggerhead and mainly plant-eating green turtle were both shown to be consuming plastic in alarming quantities, according to a study from the University of Tokyo.  The loggerheads probably mistake plastic for jellyfish and eat it 17% of the time it is encountered.  The green turtles probably mistake the plastic for algae and eat it 62% of the time it is encountered.  The study found 22% of the turtles that eat plastics die.  Sharp plastics rupture internal organs and bags cause intestinal blockages resulting in starvation.  Even if they survive, consuming plastic can make turtles unnaturally buoyant, which can stunt their growth and lead to slow reproduction rates.  The accumulation of plastics at key nesting beaches also means baby turtles are at risk from plastic entanglement, preventing them from reaching the sea. 

THOUGHTS:  Six of seven species of sea turtles around the world are endangered or threatened.  There are ways humans can help save these species.  This begins with reducing your carbon footprint (climate change destroys coral reefs), reducing plastics (mistake for food), “Leave No Trace” when visiting a beach (trash hazard for nesting turtles and hatchlings), and avoiding sunscreen with “oxybenzone” or sprays that pollute the sand where turtles nest.  Small steps by one add up to large impacts by many.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Moon

November 22, 2022

Today’s NY Times feed featured the pass by of the Orion capsule of the moon yesterday.  NASA’s uncrewed Orion spacecraft dipped as close as 81 miles above the surface, marking the return to our closest neighbor since Gene Cernan climbed back into his lunar module on Dec. 14, 1972.  The feed stated that now there is a sustained commitment to going back.  For 20 years after Apollo the moon was, “been there, done that”, and the moon was not that interesting.  That changed in the 1990’s when people started thinking there might be water-ice on the moon.  If there is water on the moon, you can split off the hydrogen and make rocket fuel, avoiding the cost of lifting heavy rocket fuel off the Earth.  That was when people started getting interested in the moon again.

When I looked online, I found diffused water molecules can persist at the Moon’s sunlit surface, as discovered by NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) airborne observatory in 2020.  Water vapor is gradually decomposed by sunlight, leaving hydrogen and oxygen lost to space.  Scientists also found water ice in the cold, permanently shadowed craters at the Moon’s poles, and water molecules are present in the thin lunar atmosphere.  Water (H2O), and the chemically related hydroxyl group (-OH), exist chemically bound as hydrates and hydroxides to lunar minerals (not as free water), and evidence strongly suggests low concentrations exist for much of the Moon’s surface.  Water may have been delivered to the Moon over geological timescales by the regular bombardment of water-bearing comets, asteroids, and meteoroids, or produced in situ by the hydrogen ions (protons) of the solar wind impacting oxygen-bearing minerals.  Water is essential for making long-term lunar habitation feasible.

Kenneth Chang covers the space program for The Times and explained why it has taken so long to get back.  The US has tried at least two other times.  Logistically it takes about 10 years to plan, rebuild, and complete the mission.  Each new administration wanted to have its stamp on space policy, and any previous attempt was cut from the budget.  That changed during the last two administrations as each basically continued what was already going on.  The latest uncrewed launch is designed to test the SLS rockets, and the Orien craft itself.  While there have been small glitches, so far NASA has figured a work around.  The final test will come with the heat shield.  The craft will return at a high velocity, and they want to verify the shield survives re-entry.  The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it entered the atmosphere on February 1, 2003, due to damage that allowed the heat shield to be penetrated.  Burning up on reentry is not an option.

THOUGHTS:  One of the key drivers of the USA’s quest to land people on the Moon was a sense of competition with the Soviet Union.  The Soviet Union poured money and expertise into their space program in the 1950’s and achieved several amazing fists.  By the early 1960’s it seemed the Soviets were going to be the first nation to land someone on the moon.  The Cold War was in full gear and the potential technological and strategic advantages the moon was a concern.  When the Cold War conditions ceased in the 1990’s the US lost their main rival, one of the key reasons for going to the moon.  Apparently, academic knowledge is not as important as military superiority and the programs stopped.  The knowledge required to get to the moon resulted in the technology we now take for granted.  The knowledge for habitation of the moon will result in a similar technological advance, and the global cooperation being formed has the potential to unite humanity.  We need to get beyond the quest for military superiority.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

SNAP

November 21, 2022

Amid the sales and holiday recipes that dominated the Sunday pages of our local newspaper was an article on how volatile work makes food-insecure families more vulnerable.  According to a new study from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, many low-income families are not getting the food stamps they need because of unpredictable paychecks.  The study found families with more volatile incomes were less likely to access the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) because they found it harder to prove eligibility with constantly changing work hours, and this was amplified during the pandemic.  Families whose incomes fluctuate near the eligibility line are about 40% less likely to access food stamps than those whose incomes remain below the threshold.  “SNAP is a good program, but this is clearly a weakness in the program . . . that undermines some of the very households that people would be most interested in trying to help,” said Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who researches SNAP policies.

When I looked online, I found the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the US, formerly the Food Stamp Program, is a federal program that provides food-purchasing assistance for low- and no-income people and families.  This program is administered by the US Department of Agriculture, although benefits are distributed by specific departments of the US states.  SNAP is the largest nutrition program and is a key component of the social safety net for low-income Americans.  For most of its history, the program used paper-denominated “stamps” or coupons bound in booklets.  In the late 1990’s, the Food Stamp Program was revamped, and some states switched to a debit card system known as Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT).  EBT has been implemented in all states since June 2004.  Each month, SNAP benefits are directly deposited into the household’s EBT account.  Households may use EBT to pay for food at supermarkets, convenience stores, other food retailers, and certain farmers’ markets.  The amount of SNAP benefits received depends on the household’s size, income, and expenses. 

When a family’s monthly income goes down (a parent loses a job), monthly SNAP dollars increase.  When a worker’s paycheck increases (overtime), SNAP is supposed to be reduced.  SNAP recipients must carefully report increases and decreases in their monthly income, but this is harder when your paycheck varies dramatically from one month to the next.  Beneficiaries can also be afraid of making mistakes with their paperwork, as providing false income information can result in staggering fines and lengthy sentences.  In Little Rock, Arkansas, the SNAP application and income verification process was so complicated that nonprofit workers launched a call center in 2020 to help people with the paperwork.  One staff member said hungry residents can feel more demoralized by how many steps they go through just to get food.  Lengthy application processes and administrative backlogs are also a problem elsewhere in the US.

THOUGHTS:  The holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s is a joyful time of holiday parties and family time centered around good food and gifts.  For some, low incomes and food insecurity make this a reminder of their worries.  The financial burden of feeding children and hopes of gift-giving have effects on what families can afford to eat.  The holiday finds 15% of US homes where children are “not very confident” they will afford needed food, and 9% percent are “not at all confident.”  Seniors are also at higher risk for food insecurity, and 60% of seniors choose between buying food or paying their rising utility bills during the cold holiday months.  The high cost of medication and hurdles associated with traveling to a food pantry can compound these trials.  Quality food should be a right, and our responsibility.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Storm

November 19, 2022

I have mentioned how my response to bad weather tends to be to go outside and watch.  A storm rolling across the unbroken prairie was one of the things I missed when I moved from Kansas, and something I looked forward to seeing when I visited.  I always found the power of a thunderstorm exhilarating.  I also tend to look outside during a tornado siren to see what is happening (kids, do not do this at home!) even though we are warned to “shelter in place”.  When the sirens went off several weeks ago, I did what I usually do and went out to the back patio.  Zena was a little skittish at first as this was her first experience with a bad storm but seemed to settle down once she saw my reaction.  Later, my niece visited and when I mentioned this, she showed me a picture of her cat during the storm.  Chandler had paid attention to the forecasters and crawled into the bathtub in an interior room like he was supposed to do.

When I looked online, I did not find a reference for cats, but I did find an explanation for why dogs freak during thunderstorms.  Humans (at least most of us) realize thunder is just the loud rumbling noise that occurs after the lightning strike, and it is the strike that is potentially harmful.  The strike also charges the air with electric particles which land on the fur of the dog and cause static build-up.  Often, dogs do not know what to make of the way their coat suddenly feels, and in some cases the static build-up gives the dog an electric shock.  This is accompanied by changes in air pressure and the dark and foreboding skies.  These weather changes are ominous and can put the dog on edge.  Some dogs may even develop storm phobias, especially if they are shy or nervous by nature.  I would assume the same may be said for cats.

Storm phobia is a condition where the dog becomes irrationally afraid of any signs of a coming storm, including thunder.  Their reaction can be excessive and may put themselves or those around them in danger.  Dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors are more likely to fear thunder than those who are sheltered from these natural phenomena.  Hounds, sheepdogs, and other working dogs are more likely to develop storm phobia and to have a profound fear of thunder than other breeds.  They spend more time outdoors which exposes them to the forces of the storm.  Puppies are also more prone to fearing thunder.  Any loud noise makes a puppy anxious, and they scurry to find safety and a place to hide.  Breeds with double coats struggle most with thunderstorms. German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Australian Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Border Collies are some of the breeds whose thick coats become a major liability as static increases in a thunderstorm.  The same goes for dogs who do not socialize much as well as rescue dogs who might have had traumatic events leaving them jittery and susceptible to phobias.

THOUGHTS:  Humans can also suffer from storm phobia.  Phobias are persistent, intense, and unrealistic fears, and specific phobias are related to certain objects and situations.  These typically involve fears related to animals, natural environments, medical issues, or specific situations.  While phobias can be extremely uncomfortable and challenging, therapy and medication can help.  During the first year of the pandemic there was a 25% increase worldwide in anxiety and depression, and 90% of countries surveyed by the WHO chose to include mental health and psychosocial support in their response plans.  Unrealistic fears around the pandemic continue to persist, along with a lack of regard by others.  Both responses need to be overcome for our world to safely move forward.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

SLS

November 17, 2022

The Nation & World section of today’s local newspaper declared that after several high-profile delays over more than a month the Artemis I blasted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday.  The launch marks the first leg of the mission, during which the Orion capsule will travel around 40,000 miles, taking it beyond the moon and returning to Earth over the course of 26 days.  NASA’s Bill Nelson said the mission will help NASA prepare for future human exploration on the moon and Mars, although noting that “things will go wrong” during the demo.  The primary goal of Artemis I is to test the integrated systems before crewed missions.  The Artemis program is scheduled to land the first woman and the first person of color on the surface of the moon.   At 1:47 am EST the four main engines and two solid rocket boosters of the Space Launch System (SLS) ignited with an 8.8 million pounds of thrust.  This is the most powerful rocket in operation and marked the first SLS launch (and third attempt) for NASA’s Artemis program.

When I looked online, I found the Space Launch System (SLS) is an American super heavy-lift expendable launch vehicle developed by NASA starting in 2011.  The SLS is the successor to the retired Space Shuttle, and the primary launch vehicle of NASA’s deep space exploration plans through the 2020’s.  The SLS has the highest payload capacity of any current launch vehicle and the third-highest capacity of any rocket ever to reach orbit, trailing only the Energia (Soviet Buran program) and Saturn V (US Apollo program) rockets.  Crewed lunar flights are planned as part of the Artemis program, leading to a possible human mission to Mars.  The SLS is being developed in three major phases with increasing capabilities: Block 1, Block 1B, and Block 2.  As of August 2019, SLS Block 1 launch vehicles are to launch the first three Artemis missions and the five subsequent SLS flights are planned to use Block 1B.  All later flights are expected to use the Block 2 rocket.

The SLS was explicitly designed to launch the deep space Orion spacecraft and make use of the ground operations and launch facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Artemis is projected to use at most one SLS each year until at least 2030.  The SLS is launched exclusively from LC-39B at the Kennedy Space Center.  After reaching initial orbit, Orion deployed its solar arrays and engineers began to perform checkouts of the spacecraft’s systems.  Orion separated from its upper stage, and science investigations and technology demonstrations (CubeSats) were deployed from a ring connected to the upper stage to the spacecraft.  Eight hours after launch, Orion’s service module preformed a series of burns to keep it on course.  Orion will fly by the moon on November 21, inspecting its surface.  If all goes well, Orion will return to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean in December.  The rocket was supposed to have made its dry run by 2017 but met with both technical and weather delays.  Government watchdogs estimate NASA will have spent $93 billion on the Artemis project by 2025.

THOUGHTS:  I have vague memories of watching liftoff of Alan Shephard while crowded around our small black and white TV as the US launched the Mercury capsule, Freedom 7.  This occurred on May 5, 1961, which was a school day.  My father kept us home from school to watch this historic event.  Family lore says he was later called into the principal and asked why he had kept us out of school “for no good reason”.  What would happen if everyone had kept their children home?  His purported response was, “I guess more children would have seen the launch.”  Historic events that can change the world’s perspective happen constantly.  Some discount these events as being “for no good reason”.  We need to learn to integrate different perspectives to determine our response.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Seamount

November 14, 2022

Hidden in the back section of today’s local newspaper was a story of the likely eruption of a volcano deep beneath the Pacific Ocean in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.  The Northern Marianas are about 3,800 miles (6,115 km) west of Honolulu.  This is “likely” as scientists do not know for sure as the area is so inaccessible.  All indications are the Ahyi Seamount began erupting in mid-October, the US Geological Survey said Monday.  Ahyi seamount is a large conical submarine volcano.  Its highest point is 259 feet (79 m) below the surface of the ocean.  It is located about 11 miles (18 km) southeast of the island of Farallon de Pajaros, known as Uracas.  Scientists are checking satellite data to see if there’s discolored water, which could suggest material is coming out of the volcano, or if the activity is just shallow earthquakes.  Matt Haney, a USGS research geophysicist, said, “There’s nothing right now that suggests that this eruption will intensify and become a large eruption.  Still, mariners would want to avoid the immediate area.”  Ya think?   

When I looked online, I found a seamount is a large geologic landform that rises from the ocean floor but does not reach the water’s surface (sea level).  It is not an island, islet, or cliff-rock.  Seamounts are typically formed by extinct volcanoes that rise from the seafloor to 3,300–13,100 feet (1,000–4,000 m) in height.  They are defined by oceanographers as “independent features that rise to at least 3,281 feet (1,000 m) above the seafloor” and are characteristically of conical form.  The peaks are often hundreds to thousands of meters below the surface and are considered within the deep sea.  When forming the largest seamounts may breach the surface where wave action erodes the summit to form a flat surface.  After they subside below the surface these flat-top seamounts are called “guyots” or “tablemounts”.  The Earth’s oceans contain more than 14,500 identified seamounts of which 9,951 seamounts and 283 guyots have been mapped, but only a few have been studied in detail.  Seamounts are most abundant in the North Pacific Ocean and follow an evolutionary pattern of eruption, build-up, subsidence, and erosion.  In recent years, several active seamounts have been observed, including Kamaʻehuakanaloa (formerly Lōʻihi) in the Hawaiian Islands.

Seamounts are one of the most common marine ecosystems in the world.  Interaction between the seamount and underwater currents and their elevated position in the water attract plankton, corals, fish, and marine mammals.  Their attraction has been noted by the commercial fishing industry, and many seamounts support extensive fisheries.  There are ongoing concerns on the negative impact of fishing on seamount ecosystems, and well-documented cases of fish stock decline, for example with the orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus).  Most (95%) ecological damage is done by bottom trawling, which scrapes whole ecosystems off the seamount and weakens the formation.  While naval vessels have collided with uncharted seamounts, the greatest danger is from flank collapse.  As the seamount gets older, outside material can seep into the seamount and put pressure on the sides, eventually causing a landslide with the potential to generate a massive tsunami. 

THOUGHTS:  I recall driving across the Bay Bridge and then along the Bay Causeway as a predicted tsunami was scheduled to arrive.  I did not pay too much attention, until I realized I had several miles of flat coast to drive before any possibility of exit.  While the predicted wave did not arrive, others have not been so fortunate.  The 100 foot (30 m) high tsunami wave that hit the Indian Ocean in 2004 killed an estimated 227,898 people in 14 countries and prompted a humanitarian response totaling more than US$14 billion.  When we identify and map a seamount, we can predict future problems.  When we destroy the ecosystems they create, we make the seamount weaker and risk greater damage.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Egress

November 14, 2022

The house where I lived in Wichita contained a remodeled basement that was an obvious Do It Yourself (DIY).  The basement had a dividing wall down the middle and then the west three-quarters of the space was a Den/utility room, and the east quarter was a bedroom/bath.  The owner had not bothered to build an egress window to provide access in case of fire, so this was not included as a third bedroom on the specs.  Rather than jacking up the concrete floor in the bath area, the DIY owner had set the pipes on the floor and built a riser over them, making the small space smaller by raising the floor in the bathroom.  This compressed corner held both the stool and what appeared to be a camper shower.  When I first saw it, I joked I would need to attach a washcloth to the wall to soaps up, and hopefully I would never drop the soap as you could not bend over without opening the shower door.  The final aggravation was the shower door leaked and every time I took a shower it got water all over the raised floor.  I did not use the basement bedroom often, and especially the shower.

When I looked online, I found the International Residential Code (IRC 2021) pertains to all single and two family homes.  The intent of the code is to keep homeowners safe by requiring a means of egress (exit) in basement level living spaces.  The reason for an egress is twofold; to allow for an exit in case of an emergency, and to provide access for a firefighter to gain entrance.  Egress windows (or doors) are required in every habitable space, and any room used for sleeping requires its own egress window.  The code requires that you install an egress window to serve these spaces.  If you have a basement that has a bedroom, recreation room, den, family room, media room, office, or home gym, all these rooms are required to have a means of egress.  Egress window wells are required where the bottom of the egress window is below ground level.  The egress well must not interfere with the egress window fully opening, the distance from the egress window to the back of the egress well must be at least 36 inches (91.5 cm), and the minimum area of the egress well must be 9 square feet.  The alternative is to do like my DIYer and not get caught until foreclosure.

The memory of my room without an egress was sparked by the shower I encountered while in The Hague, Netherlands.  This was a US brand hotel, and the bathroom was spacious.  When I went to take a shower the next morning I was dismayed.  The large tub was obviously designed as a soaker, and I found it hard to crawl into.  There was an articulated hose on the wall as well as a tap on the tub.  What I thought was the shower door was the glass door to the bathroom itself, and there was no curtain for the shower.  I chalked this up to “a European thing” and went ahead and took my shower.  When I finished, I noticed I had flooded the entire bathroom floor.  I threw down towels to soak up the water and complained to Melissa.  That was when she pointed out the enclosed standup shower on the other side of the soaker tub.  I guess it was not “a European thing” after all.  I just needed to be smarter than the bathtub.

THOUGHTS:  While building codes are different depending on the country, state, and even city, the IRC is uniform across boundaries.  While egress codes are designed to keep people safe, they can become problematic with historic buildings.  Some exceptions may be allowed depending on building use and to maintain the historic nature of the building.  Lack of egress during fires like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City (March 25, 1911) resulted in the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city and caused the deaths of 146 garment workers who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths.  Egress became an international responsibility.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.