As I write this, storm clouds are gathering in the west. That’s a pretty common situation here in Boulder, Colorado, in the summer. We get fine, clear mornings, and sometimes rain in the afternoon. In general big storms aren’t exactly rare, but this summer we’ve been getting pounded. On my bike rides it’s been routine to see the creeks in the area swollen to the point of overflowing.
But this summer, that situation has turned more dangerous. We’ve been getting some serious flood scares, and the reason may not be obvious to people who don’t live in the area: fires.
Last year, the Fourmile Canyon area north and west of Boulder burned pretty vigorously for many days. The smoke plume was visible from space, and it caused a lot of local grief. What wasn’t clear to me at the time was how this would affect flooding.
The image above, taken on June 7, 2011, is from NASA’s Earth Observing-1 satellite, and is a combination of far-infrared and visible light. Water (reservoirs and lakes) shows up as purple in this false-color image, vegetation is mostly green, and red/orange shows the fire damage. You can see Boulder to the lower right of the burned area.
When fire burns off all the plants, there’s nothing to hold the rain water in when we get storms. The water all washes downhill, in this case into the Fourmile Creek. That runs into the Boulder Creek, and that, well, here’s a natural color image which shows why that’s bad:
Last week, I showed you a turtle doing his thing while I was out biking — providing "his thing" means falling face-first off a log.
Not too long after that, a ways farther down the trail, I had an encounter with a much cuter critter.
That’s a prairie dog, and they’re very common around Boulder. They are about as adorable as you can imagine, even in the way they behave. They stand on their hind legs, chitter loudly, and run around like they’re starring in a Pixar cartoon.
On the other hand, they also are known to carry the plague. And by the plague, I mean the plague, Bubonic Plague. That’s one reason I try not to get too close to them. I watched "Holy Grail"; I know the score.
Colonies of them can have dozens of members, and watching them prance around and run from hole to hole is fun. Their noises are interesting; some folks think it may be a very rudimentary language. I remain agnostic on this, though of course skeptical, but they are a very gregarious and chatty animal.
And, of course, they do have a sense of drama.
I love biking, especially in Boulder. There are trails everywhere, and lots of fun wildlife. Whenever I’m out I see hawks, prairie dogs, red winged blackbirds, rabbits, and more. Sometimes even owls.
What I did not expect to see the other day, however, was a big ol’ turtle lumbering across the bike path! [Click the picture to testudinate.] For scale, I’d guess his (hers? Who can tell?) shell was about 30 cm across. He was trying to get to a creek off the path, I think, when I got this shot.
I switched to video on my camera, and happened to catch a moment that I’m sure would embarrass the turtle if it had access to YouTube:
Ha! Boom. Clearly, he shook it off and kept going. After I took this clip, he got a better look at how steep the creek bank was, changed his mind, and turned around. That process took several minutes; turtles are in no hurry.
As far as video quality goes, my apologies for a) the panting; I had just gotten off my bike to take the video so I was still catching my breath, and 2) the wrong aspect ratio for the video; I was holding my phone sideways to take pictures and didn’t turn it upright for the video. Sigh. I guess turtles have the right idea. Hurrying just gets you in trouble.
Ah, Caturday. When else would I post a picture of two adorable owlets?
[Click to strigiformenate.]
These are two Great Horned Owlets, babies from a mated pair that come back every late winter to the same nest in Boulder not far from my house. There’s a bike path there, and so I see them frequently. My brother-in-law Chris took this shot a few weeks ago; since then they have flown off to do whatever it is owls do (but he has another way-too-cute pic of them snoozing on that branch, too).
However, yesterday the weather was nice so I took a ride along a different set of trails. I spotted a group of four people peering into the trees off the trail, and had a hunch what they were seeing. I stopped and asked, and they pointed out to me an owlet nestled between two branches about ten meters away. They told me one parent owl had just left, and they had seen another owlet earlier. I had always figured owls all nested around the same time, but clearly that’s not the case; the owlets pictured above are at least a month older than the one I saw yesterday.
I love Boulder. Not just because I get to see owls, which is actually pretty cool. But also because people will go out of their way to get a peek at them, and welcome others to join in and watch as well. I know that’s not unique to this town, but it is definitely a part of this town.
That, and the owls.
I love living in Boulder. I have pretty much the same routine every morning: get The Little Astronomer off to school, start my coffee, grab a bowl of cereal (generic brand Cocoa Krispies, which I call Faux-co Krispies), walk across the house to my office, and open the window shade.
When I did this yesterday, here was my view:
Yeahup. I’m braggin’. Click to upliftenate.
Those are Boulder’s iconic Flatirons, named for their shape. Their geologic history is fascinating: They’re made of Precambrian rock — 600 million years or more old! — that was exposed to weathering when the first Rockies pushed up about 300 million years ago. That rock eroded and oxidized, forming red sediment. This was laid down flat and was covered by an inland sea 40 million years later. During the time of the dinosaurs this area became a floodplain, but at the end of the Cretaceous a second uplift began, forming today’s Rocky Mountains. This broke through the sediment, cracking it and lifting huge sheets of it nearly vertically: the Flatirons. North of here are similar but much smaller formations, and they aren’t raised as vertically. They really give a sense of the uplift and the incredibly slow march of time.
With the Sun shining so brightly, that snow in the picture hardly lasted until the afternoon. It was gone in the blink of an eye, the flap of a hummingbird wing, compared to the lifespan of those formations. The Earth is old, so terribly old… but events on a human timescale are still worth appreciating.
This event is so important to the cultural community here that The Daily Camera has an article about it. They even got Patrick Stewart to pose for the picture. I think.
Anyway, it’ll be awesome fun, so come and geek as hard as you can.
I’ve posted quite a few pictures from NASA’s Earth-observing Terra satellite over the past few months, some of them showing devastating natural disasters. But I never thought I’d post one that shows something so close to home.
This image was taken yesterday, September 6th, at about noon Mountain time:
That shows the plume of smoke from the Fourmile Canyon fire that I wrote about yesterday. The image is roughly 300 km (190 miles) across. The vertical dividing line is the actual edge of the Rocky Mountains; to the left (west) are the mountains, and to the right (east) is the start of the Great Plains stretching most of the way across the US.
The green smudge just to the south of the plume is Denver, and the smoke goes directly over Boulder… and my house. The fire is still going as I write this, but the winds have shifted and there is no longer a plume overhead. It smells like ash outside though, and the foothills — usually visible a few kilometers to the west from my house — are almost totally hidden.
My brother-in-law has taken some amazing pictures of the fire from his house, located even farther to the east than where I am. This one shows the tops of the fires.
I’ll add that the sunset yesterday was desperately beautiful:
The smoke is made up of tiny particles of soot and ash. When blue light hits them, it scatters like a pinball off a bumper. So when you look to the Sun through the smoke, all the blue light has bounced off in a different direction, leaving only the redder light able to make its way straight to your eye. This happens on a lesser scale every night with particles in the air, making sunsets red. But this fire has really strengthened the effect, and the Sun went through myriad shades of red on its way down past the mountains last night. It was astonishing. Making it even more wrenching was knowing what was a causing it, and that there were people in the middle of all that smoke trying to put the fires out.
So far, there are still no reported injuries, though many homes have been destroyed and over 1000 people have been evacuated from the area.
My thanks to NASA_GoddardPix for the link to the Terra picture.
Right now as I write this there is a pretty big wildfire in Gold Hill, Colorado, about 15 kilometers west of where I live. There’s a thick pall of orange-brown smoke going straight over us.
This is the view to the west a little while ago, toward the foothills of the Rocky Mountains:
You can see the Flatirons to the left. The smoke totally blocks the hills north of there though. The smoke is much wider now from my view, covering almost 90° of the horizon, and the plume is clearly several kilometers across.
The Sun is shining through, but it’s dulled to an orange ember:
Ironically, the morning started off cool and breezy, the first autumn-like day we’ve had. I went upstairs to tell The Little Astronomer to open her windows to let in fresh air… and when I opened her shade I saw the plume.
[Update: I just walked outside (12:30 MDT) and there's ash falling all around us. It's very light, but holy crap.]
We’re safe here, I’m sure, but we can certainly smell the smoke, and the sky has an eerie cast to it. It’s been dry this year and the fire danger is pretty high. I hope they can contain this quickly, and that everyone involved is safe.
I’ve written about Marian Call before: the fiery-haired songstress who croons her cleverly-written songs about Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, and being a geek.
Marian is currently on a tour of all 50 states, and on July 3rd and 4th she’ll be right here in Boulder! On the 3rd she’s performing at the Trident coffeeshop (940 Pearl Street) from 8:00 – 11:00 p.m. If you live in the area, and you’re a geek — face it, you are — then you should come. She’s set up a Facebook page to get an idea of how many people will attend. The next day — July 4 — she’ll be at the Folsom St. Coffee Shop (1795 Folsom St) at 5:00pm. Both concerts are free, but you should chip in a few bucks if you go to support her!
After Boulder, she’s heading down Colorado Springs (check her schedule at the link above), so if you’re in Boulder you should see her while you can.
You can get samples of her music on her page; her music is quirky and fun and personal (here’s a review from a newcomer to her music, a woman who heard Marian for the first time recently on this tour). To give you a better sense of what she’s about, check out this fan-made video featuring her music and scenes from Firefly. It’s really good:
I’ve already made my reservation at Trident. The venue is intimate, so better hurry up and get counted! I hope to see lots of other BABloggees there.
A man in Boulder — yes, my home town — is trying to meditate the oil leak away. His idea?
"The basic concept is to try and get as many people to visualize that the valve is actually functioning and is working and closing."
This is part of the Intention Experiment, what is basically telekinesis:
Lynne McTaggart, who started the Intention Experiment, has organized more than a half dozen mind-over-matter experiments — most recently to try to improve the water quality in Lake Biwa, Japan — that involve people focusing their thoughts on something in the physical world to make change. She claims to have scientific evidence that it works.