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Posts tagged ‘Climate Change’

Holding Back the Waters

With every tick of the clock it seems our ignoring of climate change becomes more menacing.  Climate change isn’t coming of course, it’s here.  At this rate, it appears that we may well not act in time to prevent the rising sea levels and other impacts of climate change from significantly altering our shores and our lives.   At the risk of sounding quite pessimistic, what’s known as “mitigation,” lessening the impact of climate change rather than preventing it, will almost certainly have to play a role.   Who will likely play a critical role in that event, at least in the U.S.?  You may or may not like the answer:  the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a leading contender.  We heard a lot about them during the lead up to and recovery from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Their presence in the South and along the Mississippi is well known, but what about New England.? Much like climate change, the Corps of Engineers isn’t coming, they are already here, big time.  Their role is largely focused on helping to prevent serious flooding.  Their surprisingly heavy, in my view, involvement in just the Blackstone Valley may offer some insight into what their activities will look like.  Keep in mind that that these examples are just a few out of many many activities in which the Corps is engaged.

The Blackstone River travels from Worcester, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island.  Along the way, it falls about 500 feet.  That fall involves the release of a considerable kinetic energy.  It can easily turn a mill’s water wheels and provide sufficient power for major industrial activity.  The Blackstone was the site of America’s first textile mill, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  The River also floods, routinely.  Some of those floods have been extremely damaging, resulting in the loss of life and tremendous loss of property.  That’s been the focus of much of the Corps work.

The impact, present and future, of their work was brought home to me when we visited Woonsocket Falls dam, in November of 2018.  To begin the story, here’s what we saw on a previous visit, in July 2017.  hunt_170716__1000279-edit

Suitable for fishing though I’m not sure I’d recommend it.  Actually the image below is from August 2016, same location.  Our friendly heron was taking her time, the water was very low, just the right height for a relaxed afternoon fishing expedition.


Fast forward to November, it looked like this (the video is 45 seconds):

If you’re looking in on a mobile device and don’t see the video click here.

A bit more impressive, you’d have to agree.  The River is capable of significant variations in its height and flow.  This was after a wet fall, but it can, and may become, a whole lot wetter.  This dam was built after a serious, life threatening flood in 1955.  The volatility of the River has drawn the interest of the Corps of Engineers all along it’s route.  The gates you see can be raised or lowered to control the flow of the River.  The dam cleverly also supplies hydroelectric power.


Just a bit north of the dam, you can see how the River was “channeled” by the Corps.  The channeling also helps maintain human control of the River.  However, channeling also inhibits the natural exchange processes between the River and the shore, processes which can help restore a river, among other things.


The channeling runs through the City of Woonsocket, as well as in quite a few other populated  and industrial areas.



At the other end of the River, in Millbury, Massachusetts, you’ll see the large Diversion Channel.  The Channel connects with the River and which normally looks like this (below).  It was dug in the late 1940’s again in response to flooding in the City of Worcester and surrounding towns.  Normally its nearly empty.


After our wet fall in 2018, it looked like this (below).  The Channel acts like a temporary reservoir, a place for excess water to go rather than flowing into city streets.


Diversion strategies like this take a lot of land.  There’s a larger diversion area along one of the tributaries of the River, the West River, in Uxbridge, Massachusetts.


If the River moves toward flood stage, flood gates in the dam below are closed storing water, allowing the water level to fall gently over time.


The dam itself is 2500 feet long.  Behind the dam is a large stretch of protected land, over 500 acres that is largely managed as a park (by the National Park Service).

It is striking how many resources are already going into holding back the water.  Again, this is only a small fraction of what is taking place, largely unnoticed.  That is not to criticize the work done by the Corps.  Much of it, at least in New England, is done to protect life and limb. If you’d like a more comprehensive run down, click here.

But, this is a big deal, one that is very expensive.   The projected budget for 2019 is on the order of 4.75 billion dollars.  Intervening in nature can also be very problematic, as the citizens of New Orleans and environs know.  The management of the Mississippi River is perhaps even more problematic.  We may be headed for the need to greatly expand their work, by a very large margin.  Prevention or mitigation?

I’ll close with a couple of images from a “wall,” also constructed by the Corps, that actually does some good.  These are the massive hurricane wall and gates that protect the City of Providence from flooding.





On Exhibit at the Griffin Museum of Photography

Things have been a bit slow on the photography front as alas, I’m still fighting off the poison sumac and the various complications that resulted from that joyful experience.  Things seem to be improving once again, so here is hoping.  Meanwhile, I’m once again grateful to the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA. for the opportunity to show a few pieces of my work.  The images below are hanging in the current Atelier exhibition, which runs until September 28.  If you like photography and live in eastern or central Massachusetts, the Griffin is an incredible resource. The Atelier is lead by Meg Birnbaum who continues to be an inspiration and a guide.  If you can’t make it…(click for a larger image).  These are from the collection “Erosion” from Manteo along the Outer Banks of North Carolina.



The Rising Sea and the Jersey Shore

We are thankfully coming to the end of another abhorrent election cycle.  It’s rather easy to see just how dysfunctional our situation is by among other things what doesn’t get talked about. Readers of this blog know that in my view it is critically important to discuss, among other things, our changing environment.  We’re coming off the second biggest natural disaster in American history, and no body’s talking about what it means.  What can we learn from this?  What are the implications for us all?  Nope.  Can’t talk about it.

Now, if you’re expecting me to say that Sandy was caused by global warming, I won’t.  The reality is we can’t say that.  Yes, it is true that that freakin’ storm was breathtaking by every metric.  When it hit the Jersey shore it had a barometric pressure of around 950.  I’ll never forget the look on the face of one of the Weather Channel meteorologists when he described how the threat from the storm was worsening because of the intense low pressure at its core, a pressure reading that is extremely rare. His concluding comment was “this is bad, this is very bad.” Sandy strengthened as it approached the coast.  Evidently she was not aware that hurricanes in late October are supposed to weaken.  The water in the Atlantic though was just too warm for that. Global warming?  The best we say is “possibly, but possibly not.”  However, we can say something here that does relate to global warming.

The sea level is rising.  It’s up maybe a foot over the past century and the rise is escalating.  That means it didn’t take as much of a storm surge to do the deed as it would have a century ago.  When The Battery was first built, it was probably never anticipated that it would have to deal with storm surges like we saw last week. (When The Battery was first built I’m not even sure they knew what a storm surge was.  My guess is that in certain parts of the world, more subject to hurricanes, the locals did.  Up here in the northeast, I doubt it.)  Why is the water rising?  In their well researched book, The Rising Sea,  authors Orrin Pilkey and Rob Young describe the sea level rise in great detail, but here’s their bottom line; “The volume of water in the oceans can be increased in two ways:  by the addition of more water or by heating the water.”  (page 34)  Land based glacier’s are melting.  If you want to see it in action, go to The Extreme Ice Survey.  (Sea based glaciers are also melting but they are already in the ocean.)  More directly, global warming heats the ocean water and as everyone knows, when water is heated, it expands.  The seas rise, and when the sea gets angry, it has a shorter fuse. It’s getting warmer in large measure because of the way we live our lives.

But we must not talk of such matters.  It’s better to assume that “low taxes for everyone!” (the rallying cry of one of our local senate candidates) is just as sensible as a free lunch.  I hope that on election day those of you from the U.S. will remember the importance of addressing environmental issues as part of facing up to all our challenges.   Meanwhile, as a tribute to those struggling with the recovery on the Jersey Shore, I leave you with a few as yet unpublished images of that wonderful place and a far more peaceful Atlantic.

These were all taken at sunrise or sunset.  The last image is from, appropriately, Sunset Beach.

How Warm Is It?

Being laid up with a cold is bad for one’s photography, but does provide opportunities to think.  It’s very warm.  Almost frighteningly so, for the most part.  But how unusual is this?  Naturally I was drawn to my catalogue of images from this time last year and the results were fairly surprising.  These are from late March, and early April, 2011.  The first is from Hadwen Arboretum, March 28.  It had snowed a few weeks earlier, but the snow was gone and the ground was largely bare.

From Grafton, Massachusetts, on April 2.  Getting some fog as the humidity rises in the air and the warmer temperature nears the dew point.  The evaporation of what’s left of the snow is helping in the formation of the fog I would guess.

So it was starting to get warm last year maybe two or three weeks later than this year, but still, in spite of all the snow we had in the winter of 2010-11, the warm up was relatively speedy.  If you really want to know how things stand, here is a chart of the global temperature published by (and courtesy of ) NASA.  This is a measure of the overall temperature from around the globe, so local fluctuations, which are considerable, are largely smoothed out.  This is a measure of climate, rather than weather.  You can find the link to NASA’s press release here.

Notice anything?