Heading to Death Valley

In a few hours, my wife, youngest son, and I will head out to Death Valley. It is an 8 hour drive from here, we’ll do 5 tonight, get there in the morning, then drive 8 hours home on Saturday. Should be fun.

This year, there has been abundant rain in that area, by the standards of one of the driest places on the planet. We’re hoping to catch a super bloom of wildflowers, one of the greatest shows on earth – square miles of the desert floor and hills covered in wildflowers.

These super blooms only happen every decade or two, and only last a few weeks, so we better hurry. Also, the climate changes quite often there. A giant inland lake would be nice, if we miss the wildflowers. From the oracle Wikipedia:

Geologic Timeline

In 1999, geologists drilled a 186-meter deep core into the Death Valley floor near Badwater Basin. The core has shed light on the contemporary understanding of Lake Manly’s age and clearly divided Lake Manly’s history into six distinct time periods. The six time periods all clearly corresponded to the climate in Death Valley, which was the driving force behind Lake Manly’s formation and disappearance.

  1. 192 to 186 ka—The climate was dry and the ground was dominated by saltpans or shallow ephemeral lakes.

  2. 186 to 120 ka—The climate was relatively cold with abundant inflow, the first primary manifestation of Lake Manly and the time during which it reached its maximum.

  3. 120 to 60 ka—The climate was a dry period when mudflats stretched across the valley bottom.

  4. 60 to 35 ka—The climate was cool, but relatively arid and without enough inflow to sustain anything but very shallow saline lakes.

  5. 35 to 10 ka—The climate was cold and wet, allowing for consistent inflow that fed a perennial saline lake, the second primary manifestation of Lake Manly.

  6. 10 ka to the present—The climate is dry and warm, so the minor inflow quickly evaporates, forming mudflats and salt flats.

Follow that? For the last 10,000 years, Death Valley has been, well, Death Valley; for 25,000 years before that, it and the whole Mojave Desert housed a family of lakes; for the 25,000 years before that, there were shallow saline lakes; for 60,000 years before that, mudflats; for 66,000 years before that, lots of lakes again; for 6,000 years before that, saltpans and shallow lakes.

Mojave Desert, one of those times when it wasn’t. A desert, I mean. 

And before that was something else. So, climate change is real! It has been extensively documented in Death Valley. 7 different climates there in less than 200,000 years!

No sane, scientifically literate person would deny climate change – none do, that I know of. In fact, any acquaintance with the geologic history of California – or any place else on the planet, for that matter – should convince one that climate changes is, in geological time-frames, has been constant over the last 4 million years, at least.

The sane and prudent thing to assume is that the climate we have now will change. We should hope and pray that it gets warmer, since colder probably means return of the ice sheets – which would be bad. Maybe, since we’re hell-bent on controlling the climate (too much Star Trek during our formative years, I guess) we should shoot for the locking in a climate like during the Eocene, with seems to have had temperatures of around 86 F worldwide for around 22 million years. Beats multiple climate swings every couple hundred thousand years, I suppose. It might be a little sweaty, but not too bad, and more or less stable over a much longer timeframe than our current climate.

What would be unscientific to the point of being a little crazy is imagining that we could chose *this* climate, this passing phase between glaciers, which are themselves passing phases within the larger geological climate, and decide that we’re going to stamp our feet and keep it just the way it is. Delusional. Good news is it’s most likely to stay pretty much the way it is for at least a couple thousand years, and we probably can’t change it much anyway even if we wanted to.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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