The end of the Hollowscene

The concept of the Holocene epoch is a 19th century notion developed when the preceding “ice age” was thought of as a monolithic block of ice extending back to the end of the Pliocene. In this context it made sense to classify the current warmer condition as a new epoch. We have since learned that rather than being a solid block of ice the Pleistocene has been a period of wild swings between glacial periods and interglacial periods like our own, and that several prior interglacial periods have been warmer than our current interglacial so far.


One can easily see from the graphic above that to classify our current interglacial as an epoch in a league with the Pliocene, which began near the left edge of the graphic as the warmer yet Miocene ended, is simply absurd. The absurdity is further exponentially compounded by the recent suggestion of an “Anthropocene”, presumably beginning in 1850. This notion is propounded by zealots who ascribe far more influence to human activity than any evidence supports. We therefore declare the “Misanthroposcene” and the “Hollowscene” null and void.

Sorry y’all, but we are still very much in the Pleistocene. Tell you what, since our interglacial has not been properly named, we propose the Anthropic interglacial, and will refer to it thus henceforth.

Posted in Anthropic interglacial, Anthropocene, Climate, Geology, Holocene, Paleoclimate | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

GRBaV, A Null Hypothesis

As one contemplates the panoramas of red vineyards and walks rows to find disturbingly few completely asymptomatic plants, it is easy to consider a null hypothesis suggested by early notions that red blotch has been around a long time masked by similar symptoms in other viruses, and Dr. Golino’s recent finding that a substantially similar virus existed in Sonoma County in 1940.

A null hypothesis could be that the virus has been here latent in every plant forever and the near universal expression of symptoms this year is the result of unknown cyclic or environmental factors.

This possibility cannot be completely ruled out, but a number of observations about the current outbreak argue against it.

1. Dr. Sudarshana has documented the spread of the virus to plants that previously tested negative at the U.C. Oakville field station.

2. The pronounced edge effect. There is no reason to expect an edge effect unless a new strain or vector relationship has developed.

3. The existence of “one armed” symptoms on cordoned vines. One would expect a widely distributed latent infection to be evenly expressed in the plant.

We present here possible evidence of symptom evolution in an isolated mountain vineyard block. If our interpretation is correct, this evidence would further argue against the null hypothesis.

Google Earth imagery lacked the resolution for any detailed analysis until about 2008 when a significant resolution upgrade seems to have occurred. The usefulness of this imagery is also limited because the photography needs to happen during the symptomatic stages of red blotch which in most vineyards is from September to November. Such photography took place on October 24, 2009.

The resolution is still far less than ideal. Close examination reveals pixelation on the order of ten feet which represents two vines in this vineyard. Additional uncertainty of one position is introduced by the way AutoCAD allocates points along a polyline that extends around corners as this block was counted. In the strictest sense this data could be written off as statistically meaningless. Nevertheless, photons tell no lies. When an otherwise green vineyard registers red and purple areas and appropriate margins of error are incorporated, it may well be possible to derive significant results. In our opinion we are not to the stage of this investigation where any evidence can be ignored unless it is demonstrably wrong.

Below are three pictures of the Oakville Field Station 10-24-09. The first, a native image, shows a gross infection, possibly with several viruses, and a progressive infection in neighboring vineyards.

Ok 10 09 base annotated

The second image is saturated in Picassa and more detail of the surrounding vineyards and hints of infection within the Station can be found.

Ok 10 09 saturated

The third image is boosted with high dynamic range which becomes granular but polarizes green and red. This clearly shows edge effects. It is difficult to separate “edge” effects from “road” effects as edges are nearly always roads.

Ok 10 09 hdr

Moving to a remote mountain vineyard using a base image similarly enhanced from the same day, October 24, 2009, we show the block suspected of being ground zero. We find no apparent edge effect in play. This block is CS337 on 44-53 rootstock. The rootstock was thermally sterilized and propagated on site from cuttings procured in Oregon about the turn of the millennium. The 337 from numerous sources was field grafted. The partial block above and to the right also showing symptoms is CS4 on 44-53. The asymptomatic partial block to the right is CS4 on 1103P and remains one of the least symptomatic blocks today.

Blocks 14,15, 16.png

This year we marked the vines we judged to be grossly symptomatic defined as over 50% red. Here they are superimposed over the same image as 5′ diameter circles in accordance with vineyard spacing. There is a slide in the middle where vines were removed. Once again we find no edge effect.

Gross 141516 2014

When the less symptomatic vines are removed (it should be noted that it is very difficult to find completely asymptomatic vines in this block), we find a poor correspondence between the grossly symptomatic vines this year and those from 2009. Although symptoms are progressive and great caution must be exercised comparing different seasons and mapping dates, we feel that this at least leaves open the possibility that vines develop resistance over time.

14 15 16 2014.png

There are no surviving tissue samples so there is no way to be certain the symptoms from 2009 were GRBaV, but all qPCR assays from this block and the entire vineyard to date indicate the presence of only GRBaV and RSPaV.

We take this analysis one step further with a look at dead and missing vines.

Missing 141516 2014.png

The slide and the sorry row where machinery was moved in are apparent, but again we find poor correspondence with vines symptomatic in 2009. We find therefore no evidence of increased mortality.

We must constantly remember that our minds are wired to find patterns and conclusions from insufficient information. Yet it strikes us that edge and/or road effects are key to understanding the recent explosion of symptoms in Northern California. Other blocks in this vineyard show striking edge/road effects and even indication of infection from adjacent woodland.

We had been watching the wild grapes for a couple years and in  August 2014 noticed red leaf symptoms in wild grapes on the St. Helena Road in a location miles from any vineyard. Careful (but not rigorous) examination of this and many subsequent wild grape symptoms, which have also exploded in the last year, suggest that the source of infection is the road. Vines remote from the road are initially asymptomatic and infections always seem to begin at the road.

Some time ago Dr. Golino demonstrated that wild grapes harbor leafroll virus and we took a poorly collected sample of these new red leaf symptoms to Mike Anderson at the Oakville Field Station. Subsequent work showed that GRBaV is indeed present in wild grapes.

What remains haunting to us about the location of our first observation in wild grape is its remoteness, yet trucks from the vineyard discussed above and others have passed beneath this spot overhanging the road for years. If our intuition serves us, at least one vector must be capable of riding considerable distances on harvested grapes or machinery.

When nearly every vineyard seems suddenly symptomatic, and when nearly every vine seems to show some level of symptoms, it is easy to consider a null hypothesis that the disease has always been latent and that drought stress or some other environmental variable is causing the current expression of symptoms. This hypothesis cannot be completely ruled out, but considerable evidence argues against it.


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The Myth of Stasis

As one gets on a bit in years it is a comfort when customary things like the dental floss and shoes stay the same, but the sad fact is that most often they do  not and it is necessary to find available replacements with a different fit and feel.

So it seems to have been through geological time. Even a casual look at sediment sections  in cuts along the side of the road reveals that nothing ever stays the same. Yet there seems a notion among people who embrace and foster new styles of floss and shoes, that our climate should stay the same. Not.

Because we are fortunate enough to live in an interglacial period of the current ice age, the Pleistocene, and human agriculture, civilization, and technology began to flourish after it had warmed up a bit, we seem to believe we are entitled to a stable climate. It has never been thus. Civilizations have been wiped off the map when they built sand castles on the assumption that climate would endure.


Far from the garden of Eden, this is what Oxygen isotopes in ocean cores tell us about the temperature of the Pleistocene. The genus Homo  is believed to have evolved at the Pliocene/Pleistocene boundary. The real garden was before the janky Pleistocene when the climate was a bit warmer and far more stable. No wonder we naked apes are fraught with guilt and inclined to sacrifice when the fickle Edens of interglacial periods wane dry and cold.

All this is time scale of millions of years. A human life is twenty to thirty thousand days.


The “Hollowscene” is the name we have given the interglacial period we happen to live in as if it warranted classification with the Miocene, Pliocene, etc. We feel sooo special. For perspective there is evidence of agriculture in Asia about eleven thousand years ago, the first cities five thousand years ago, and the Persian  first super empire and the foundations of world religions over a millennium centered about two thousand years ago.

The graphic above is a nice piece of work from a while back that shows eight different proxies for temperature since the last glaciation and a stupid heavy “average” line. At first glance one might conclude that our proxies are completely out to lunch, out of phase, and unreliable. This is not the case. They record regional variations. The dark blue (hard to cipher at this lousy resolution) is a tropical Atlantic core. The rust color is a composite of Pacific cores and these two are the most logical segues from the worldwide composite of cores in the first graphic. The other proxies are Greenland, Kilimanjaro, and two Antarctic ice cores,  a North Atlantic core, and European pollen.

The take home message should be that the regional variations are so extreme and out of phase as to render the average meaningless in regard to living conditions.

Drought American West Cook et al 2007

We can zoom in to a particular region, the western U.S, in this graphic from Cook et al 2007. The Anasazi founded Chaco Canyon, the hub of a cultural center and an impressive series of roads in about 900 and abandoned it in about 1130.


Let’s zoom in further to something codgers alive today can remember. Everything here is back to global scale and the red temperature anomaly is the thermometer and satellite version of the average dark line panned as meaningless in the hollowscene. No actual place on earth experienced this time series as such and it is extracted from daily, seasonal, and regional variations that would render it absurd, but if we will compare temperature with other global observations, we have no choice.

It should be clear that climate like evolution, language, civilization,  culture, and political hegemony is not static on any time scale. Weather has always been crazy. We can no more hold on to some idealized climate than I can forever have my favorite dental floss.

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GRBaV, An Hypothetical Model for Disease Progression

It’s not like we really have a firm understanding why some plants typically produce brilliant red foliage before dropping their leaves and others do not. It has been suggested that anthrocyanins are produced as a sun screen as chlorophyll is pulled back, but this seems a little shaky as it is unclear why soon to be abandoned leaves would warrant this protection and it does not explain why a large number of plants, including grapes, don’t bother.

At least they are not supposed to. It has been well known for some time that certain mineral deficiencies, certain viruses, and a girdling beetle prompt red varietals to produce red leaves worthy of an autumn centerpiece, but a new player, GRBaV, has burst on to the scene in the last five years and the associated disease has progressed rapidly enough that it is becoming harder and harder to find red varietal vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties that do not exhibit symptoms. Infected white varietals do not show any red leaf color but have the same low brix and high acidity as affected reds.

And now it is in the wild grape, vitis California. In late August we first noticed symptoms in wild grape. These vines climb high in trees and are often protected by formidable sentries of poison oak. When we finally found an accessible sample we took it to the UC Davis Oakville station. This small sample did not test positive but subsequent testing of symptomatic wild grape did test positive for GRBaV. (Dr. Sudarshana, personal communication).


Symptoms like these have proliferated since August in the wild grape.

It is easy to get the feeling that people just don’t have their arms around the magnitude of this problem. One sees symptomatic vineyards being ripped out and replanted as if there were a meaningful way to prevent reintroduction of the disease. Some vineyards replanted in 2010 are already completely reinfected.


We see the disease beginning in vines with red anthrocyanins being produced around the loci of insect damage. Mites and leafhoppers are prime suspects.


In this picture one can see typical mite stippling that has led to typical rust colored “bronzing” and then a progression to more scarlet coloration and vein reddening characteristic of red blotch.

We see a second stage where leaves develop red veins but remain yellow and fall off prematurely.


We observe a discoloration of the cane wood typical of beetle girdling but ending at nodes which beetles avoid. This suggests to us progression of the disease down the shoots from initial infection in the leaves. A downward progression is also consistent with observed “one armed” infections of cordons.


Sample 15 CS4 1103P  IMG_0760


We see the final stage as the development of gross symptoms. These symptoms of maroon leaves are associated with a unique tissue profile strongly deficient in Phosphorus and extremely elevated in Iron. Prior to symptoms the tissue profile is normal. This would seem to indicate a blockage of P uptake and Fe circulation.

Dr. Sudarshana at Davis has observed a one year latency between detection of the virus by assay and the onset of symptoms and Dr. Fuchs at Cornell has found an average two year latency. Part of the discrepancy may be in the definition of “onset of symptoms” but two strains of the virus have been identified and it could be that the western version moves more quickly to symptoms. It seems the western variety may spread more efficiently as well.

We suspect a two or three year progression between initial and gross symptoms and see a strong association of extreme gross symptoms with the 44-53 rootstock. At the gross symptom stage the plants seem to hold on to their leaves longer than in the initial stages.

If there is any good news here it is that symptomatic plants can still produce bountiful crops of grapes. The symptoms do not appear until very late in the growing season and this year they have been progressive, even accelerating after harvest.

It is clear to us that it is far too late to contain this disease. We will need to adjust viticultural and winemaking techniques and probably winemaking styles until resistant stock is found.

It seems to us that current research is bogged down with insect vectors. This would be interesting to know but current IPM and sustainable techniques forbid the complete elimination of insect populations even if this were possible. We should be aggressively looking for resistant stock, but to the best of our knowledge there is no current research on this front.

We may be witnessing the transition of red varietals to plants that do turn red in the fall.

KEF_2013_11_01_9723-Edit Maple

Maple. Photo credit KEF.

Posted in GRBaV, Red Blotch Disease | Tagged | Leave a comment

Satellites and Thermometers

In a recent blog discussion with some unusually astute folks who are still concerned about human warming, the thread came to a dead-end at satellites and thermometers. It became clear that the real crux of the climate debate between well-studied people boils down to whether one believes the satellite or the surface temperature time series.

So what are the differences?


Here is the NASA Goddard surface index in red and the UAH satellite index in green from 1975. The surface index is from about five feet off the ground at weather stations and the satellite measures the entire lower atmosphere up to about the height of Mt. Whitney so one expects it to be generally lower and it is. They agree pretty well with no systematic discrepancies until recently.

uah giss best

Here I added triple running mean filters, linear trend lines, and the Berkeley land only data for kicks. Once again pretty much what one expects except the land data has a hotter trend and goes way out to lunch and out of phase with the others in 2010 (the data is cautioned as preliminary).


Here we zoom in to examine the systematic recent differences that begin in 2013. The trend lines are headed in different directions. Which to believe? If you look carefully at the second graphic you can see that there was only one time previously in the late eighties when the vectors diverged in sine.

There is the specter of data adjustments. They have occurred in both datasets but the surface adjustments have the disturbing habit of always cooling the past and warming the recent.

Noaa Adjustments

Here is what NOAA acknowledges.


Here is what Tony Heller finds since 2012. As you can see the changes are very small, but adding .07C to the GISS surface data would account for the divergence since 2013.

GISS rotated

One can get the idea from this crude rotation of the plot.

The issue is critical because when atmospheric warming is negligible, the atmosphere makes no contribution to ocean warming. The atmosphere cannot warm the ocean directly because IR radiation from greenhouse gasses penetrates no deeper than the micron scale skin of water surfaces and the ocean is always warmer than the atmosphere. The atmosphere can only warm the ocean by increasing in warmth itself and thereby slowing the rate of ocean cooling.

So either the atmosphere is significantly warming or it is not. Either it is contributing to ocean warming or it is not. Two sets of measurements, two different results, enormous consequences, the crux of the climate debate.





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Virus and Veins

Whether Ebola infects the blood tube walls directly or causes an immune response that damages them, one of the advanced symptoms is leakage of blood from the tubes or vessels. We know even less about the red blotch virus that is infecting our grape vines except that, like Ebola in humans, it can be found in all parts of the plant. Also like Ebola a signature symptom of red blotch is the damage to leaf veins that causes them to release red anthrocyanins, particularly on the underside of the leaf.


The analogy can only be taken so far. While neither Ebola nor Red Blotch seem to be very efficient transmitters, Red Blotch, which we propose to rename Red Vein Virus after its characteristic symptom, seems rarely fatal to the grapevine.  In fact, the late onset of the symptoms in the growing season allows bountiful grape production. It is not yet clear if the late loss of green canopy or asymptomatic processes earlier in the growing season are responsible for the slow ripening, low sugar accumulation, and high acidity in Red Vein Virus affected fruit.

A brief natural history of viruses seems worthwhile. Before life had colonized land, viruses and bacteria and  had been battling for hegemony in the oceans for billions of years. Fungi probably entered the fray about 1.5 billion years ago. The bacteria were busy building algal mats and the sort of stuff we might call slime. All the while they had to deal with these terrorists or barbarians we call viruses, yet the competition and genetic accommodation yielded advances. We may very well owe the polymerases of mitochondria which provide the energy for all more complex life, sex, and even photosynthesis to viral innovation.

At a price. Viruses are also prime suspects for mass extinctions and huge swings in ocean chemistry.

With all this in mind, how do we deal with our comparatively trivial problems today? Dr. Sudarshana of USDA and UC Davis says that Red Vein Virus is endemic to California. My suspicion is he is more right than he knows. The results are not yet back but we have found very similar symptoms in wild grape, vitis California, wild blackberry, and possibly poison oak.


Red Vein Viral symptoms in wild Grape emerged in 2014.


Suspicious symptoms in wild blackberry.

We have seen strong circumstantial evidence that Red Vein Virus is now entering vineyards from adjacent woodlands. This would be truly endemic.

We strongly suspect mites as one of the vectors, but their low mobility and strange mid vineyard cases suggest other more mobile vectors as well.

One school of thought is that Ebola is lethal because it elicits an all or nothing cytosine overreaction from the human immune system. Whether or not this is the case, we wonder if the widespread ripping out of infected vineyards may be an exaggerated “immune response” from growers. Relying on clean plant material and slow transmission of the disease may be a bad choice if reinfection from native plants joins infection from ubiquitous infected neighboring vineyards and infected roots left in the soil as agents of the disease.

We may have reached the point where the disease is truly endemic and inevitable. The better choice may be to learn to work with it until resistant stock can be developed.

Posted in Biology, Extinctions, Microbial Dark Matter, Red Blotch Disease, RGBaV | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Ocean Ate It

One of the arguments one hears often these days to explain the lack of lower atmospheric warming for a human generation is that the ocean is somehow absorbing the “heat” or enthalpy that Carbon dioxide is supposed to be creating in the atmosphere. This argument has a large number of failings straight away since the infra red back radiation produced by this friendly dioxide can only penetrate a few microns into the ocean surface; the oceans are extremely thermally stable and stratified with the 80m  warm mixed layer very happy to stay on top of the colder layers below; and the way our planet generally works is that the sun warms the surface (70% ocean) and the surface warms the air.

Kevin Trenberth published an absurd paper a while back (Balmaseda et al, 2013) claiming that the piling up of warm water in the western Pacific prior to an el Niño somehow injected this water deep into the ocean. Our response was that whatever mysterious energy source could force this warm water down against the thermal gradient would in itself explain the missing heat.

With the backdrop of this sort of foolishness it is a  great pleasure to be able to respond to a recent paper,  Chen and Tung (2014), whose authors actually have a clue how the planet works and have put their fingers on a mechanism that actually can transmit substantial amounts of enthalpy into the deep ocean. That mechanism is salinity and the thermo-saline sinking of super cooled and super dense salty water at the edges of sea ice where rejection of brine from the freezing process tips the density to a point where warmer water will sink.

Their analysis of this process is correct and they provide interesting evidence that enthalpy is being transmitted to at least 2000m in the north Atlantic and the Atlantic portion of what is now called the Southern ocean. Unfortunately, they have cast this impressive bit of work as yet another apology for the lack of atmospheric warming when there is no logical connection between the heat being sunk and the atmosphere. The areas where this saline subduction occurs are extremely small in relation to the surface of the planet and generally remote from the areas where air temperature is high. The atmosphere would be very hard pressed to focus enough energy on these small areas to cool itself. It seems far more likely that the energy being sunk is solar warmed surface water from the Indian and Atlantic oceans whose waters account for all of the average ocean warming since the millennium.

Almost all modern temperature data for the oceans and atmosphere are expressed as anomaly, or deviation from some baseline. There are good reasons for doing this, but in doing so one loses any sense of the relationship between absolute temperatures of the ocean and the atmosphere. By way of rebuttal, we offer here an analysis of the absolute temperatures of the water and lower atmosphere in the areas where this saline subduction is shown to occur as well as the rest of the oceans.

Proponents of human warming are very fond of citing their knowledge of the optical and physical properties of Carbon dioxide as if this tiny bit of physics alone could explain how a gas that represents less than 1% of the resonating molecules in the atmosphere and whose absorption bands are 50% saturated could accomplish such magnificent warming between 1976 to 2000 and suddenly stop. The rest of physics argues against this and among these physics is the rule that energy flows, on average, from warmer to colder bodies.

Olv2 1 2000

Here is the average absolute sea surface temperature from January 2000. You can see that in the Atlantic zone of the Southern ocean the temperature ranges from 0 to -1.7C as do the north Atlantic/Arctic waters north of Iceland. South of Iceland and northeastward to Scandinavia the Gulf Stream keeps the temperature much higher, maybe 7C.


Here is the absolute lower atmospheric temperature for January 2000. It is in Kelvin so you must subtract 273 to get C. North of Iceland and in the Southern ocean the average air temperature is -17C and south of Iceland it is about -12C. These air temperatures are 10-15C lower than the ocean below. Energy is flowing from the ocean to the atmosphere even in these saline subduction regions. Furthermore, the same relationship holds for all ocean areas with the tropical ocean temperatures being 20C higher than the atmosphere above.


Here we skip to the other extreme in the fourteen year range explored by Chen and Tung.


We are not going to bore you with 168 examples of the monthly differentials for the fourteen year period, but without exception the absolute atmospheric temperature above the saline subduction areas as well as all ocean areas has been lower than the absolute ocean surface on a monthly average basis.

If Chen and Tung will argue that the ocean heat content increases they have shown from 2000 to 2014 represent heat lost to the atmosphere they will need to show where and how this energy transfer would occur. Would it be sensible heat? Latent heat? Qnet? Would there be tunnels of energy flow masked in the monthly averages? Would a bottom layer in the lower atmosphere somehow transfer energy to the ocean in a fashion masked by the entire profile?

We do not have data to answer all of these questions, but it is very clear that the net energy flow on a planetary basis is from the ocean to the atmosphere. It is also very clear that Carbon dioxide cannot warm the ocean without also warming the atmosphere. The lower atmosphere has stopped warming. If we are to believe that increases in ocean heat content represent sequestration of atmospheric enthalpy alleged from exponential increases in human CO2, a real time mechanism for energy transfer from the atmosphere to the oceans must be shown. That effort is all the more difficult when the ocean is warmer than the atmosphere.

The ocean didn’t eat it.



Posted in Climate, Climate Change, Geography, Global Warming, Oceanography | Tagged , | 2 Comments