January 11, 2010 at 7:42 PM 6 comments

After several serious posts on climate, I thought it was time for something on climate that — I sincerely hope — proves entirely whimsical.

When I went to work for The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in the 1970’s, the State of Maryland had just passed environmental laws that expanded the state’s role in siting all proposed power plants. JHU/APL had been awarded a contract to provide the state with environmental expertise that the state employees lacked. Although there was already one nuclear plant (Calvert Cliffs) operating in Maryland, I arrived on the scene fresh out of grad school just in time to be assigned to monitor the nuclear safety aspects of the siting of the first proposed nuclear plant to be licensed under the new laws. This basically meant looking over the Feds’ shoulders to catch any errors, since the state could not preempt Federal safety law for nukes. 

Because the state had no real power on these issues, but did have real power on other environmental concerns with the plant, I think it was a case of stick-the-new-guy-with-it, but I loved it. This was at the time when plate tectonics was just being accepted as a scientific revolution in our understanding of the earth sciences. When some geologic faults were discovered near the proposed plant site, it suddenly became my duty — yes, my duty — to spend a great deal of time getting smart enough on the geology of North America to be able to go into the field with real geologists and translate their findings for the regulators. Pure heaven.

I got to do some things I had never imagined I would do. Walk with a geologist as he traced a volcanic dike across driveways and through pastures over a couple of miles. Stand inside a back-hoe trench exposing one of the faults breaking through different-colored layers of clay — which would have been even more fun if I hadn’t just seen the original “Earthquake” disaster movie, the one where geologists get buried alive in such a trench just before Los Angeles is leveled.

So right then and there I fell in love with geophysics, a specialty my college training had never included in more than a cursory fashion, but which has since become an interest for the rest of my life.

One of the “hot” topics in the literature then — pardon the pun — was the observation that there had been a cooling trend underway for several decades, and we were beginning to get some glimmers (not since borne out) that the current interglacial period of 10,000 years or so since the last ice age made us overdue for the next ice age to start. Since ice has a lot to do with how volcanoes in the US build up and erode, I followed this issue as well.

By 1982, the nuclear disarmament issue had also become a major concern, especially as scientists realized that nuclear weapons (or more particularly, the soot from burning cities and forests their use would cause) could produce a phenomenon called “nuclear winter”.

In a nuclear winter, the amount of sunlight reaching the earth plummets enough to drop the earth’s temperature several degrees (depending on the war scenario invoked) and keep it there for a year or two. Definitely not good for the food and energy supplies at any time, but especially at a time when civilization itself would be teetering anyway. Indeed, there was debate by luminaries such as Carl Sagan and Henry Kissinger that nuclear weapons had become self-deterring, because no rational nation could be confident it would not be destroyed by the explosion of large numbers of its own weapons on enemy soil. And if the world was on the verge of an ice age, nuclear winter could indeed be the kind of trigger that would push us over the edge.

About this time I remembered seeing something about ice as a teenager while reading the Doctrine and Covenants cover to cover. Sure enough, I found it in what is LDS D&C Section 133 (The Community of Christ version is numbered Section 108):

“He shall command the great deep, and it shall be driven back into the north countries, and the islands shall become one land. And the land of Jerusalem and the land of Zion shall be turned back into their own place, and the earth shall be like as it was in the days before it was divided… 

And they who are in the north countries shall come in remembrance before the Lord; and their prophets shall hear his voice, and shall no longer stay themselves; and they shall smite the rocks, and the ice shall flow down at their presence. And an highway shall be cast up in the midst of the great deep… And in the barren deserts there shall come forth pools of living water; and the parched ground shall no longer be a thirsty land.”

Now the above can (and quite possibly should) be interpreted metaphorically. But the thing I’ve always found interesting is that the above describes consistently a number of effects of an ice age on the world several years before Louis Agassiz  is generally credited with putting the concept together from observations in Europe in 1837 and forcing the scientific community to take notice.

The “great deep” is quite literally sucked up out of the ocean basins over a thousand years or so and dumped on the “north countries” as snow, deeper and deeper until its own weight makes it flow steadily southward, “smiting” the rocks in its way to such an extent that it creates things like Long Island out of the rubble pile. Continental climates and rainfall patterns change radically, with many “barren deserts”, especially in Africa and the Mid-East becoming refuge areas for populations from the North (at least that’s what happened previous times when the ice returned within human pre-history).

As sea level falls, a land bridge (Beringia) emerges to link Eurasia to Alaska, joining the contionents of the New World to the Old as they were before the megaflooding at the end of the last Ice Age as sea levels then rose. Australia and New Zealand don’t quite link up with Indo-China as the coastal plain southeast of the latter is exposed, but they come awfully close.

And, of course, it was all phrased as prophetic judgment against humanity (which destruction of the environment, the economy, or of nuclear war certainly would be.

And even if it isn’t intended to be a metaphor, it would still be a “hit” rather than a “miss” any time in the next thousand years. However…

If any of you reading this from the “north countries” should observe that the snow doesn’t entirely melt next summer as it usually does, please feel free to draw the appropriate prophetic conclusions. (And don’t buy property too near the shoreline of Salt Lake — Lake Bonneville was much larger.)


Entry filed under: Doctrine and Covenants (Community of Christ), Doctrine and Covenants (LDS), environmental sciences, geography, Mormon Scripture, Mormonism, natural history. Tags: , , .


6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Arthur H.  |  January 12, 2010 at 11:43 AM

    PLEASE don’t stop writing on this blog. This is one of my favorite blogs in the Bloggernacle.

  • 2. FireTag  |  January 12, 2010 at 1:51 PM

    Thank you, Arthur. I plan to do so as long as the eyes, fingers, and/or electricity hold out.

  • 3. Arthur H.  |  January 12, 2010 at 4:48 PM

    I guess what I like so much about your blog (I feel the need to qualify myself further for some reason) is that you seem to hold to the belief that having knowledge doesn’t necessarily limit us. Having knowledge expands our possibilities endlessly. Every answer leads us to more questions. We refine our view of reality, but ultimately reality defies even our best explanations.

    It’s really, really refreshing, and I think it’s something science and religion both need in order to last.

    Not to say you believe that we can’t know anything. I just like reading the words of someone who knows so much, who also respects how beautiful and immense the Universe seems to be.

    • 4. FireTag  |  January 12, 2010 at 4:56 PM

      Again, thank you. I’ve apparently impressed a musician. This will probably carry more weight with my wife, who has a graduate degree in piano performance, than any equation I ever wrote.

  • 5. Andrew  |  January 15, 2010 at 2:35 PM

    I don’t have much to contribute here (sorry!) but I want to subscribe to this blog by emails (instead of RSS), and I need to comment to do that.

    • 6. FireTag  |  January 15, 2010 at 5:22 PM

      Hope it works, Andrew. Now, if we were still using FORTRAN on a mainframe…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


January 2010

Most Recent Posts

%d bloggers like this: