I have seen the following attributed to Ritsema and van Heist but have not found it in any of their papers.


People with no sense of verbal aesthetics have named the red things LLSVP’s for Large Low Shear Velocity Provinces. Sometimes they are called LLVSP’s, but if either of these acronyms were a glass of wine, I would pour it out. Clearly, those things are Pillsbury Doughboys, and will be referred to as doughboys henceforth.

The doughboys are low velocity  because they are warmer, less physically dense, or both. This aspect is controversial and though they are visible by both S and P earthquake waves the signs are  inverted and this is unusual.

The dots on the surface are presumed plumes, kimberlite (diamond forming) pipes, or Large Igneous Provinces. It has been observed that much of this activity can be mapped above the 1% attenuation plane which would be an imaginary line drawn about a quarter inch up from the bases of the doughboys. This is very interesting, but it makes no sense because we cannot see anything rising up from this plane which is very low in the mantle.

This correspondence with the 1% contour is touted as evidence the doughboys are very old, and it is certainly reasonable to suspect that they are, but some folks have gone hog wild with computer games moving them all around for the last three billion years and postulating plumes and slab return paths we don’t even have evidence for today.

It is important to consider that these doughboys seem to have little relationship to the configuration of ocean spreading ridges, and these ridges, like the Hawaiian hotspot, seem to be shallow pools of molten rock somehow maintaining themselves without deep mantle support.

Ritsema One need only compare our conceptions of the mantle and ocean ridges not so long ago to realize that these innocent doughboys have an attitude when it comes to our cherished preconceptions.

Dashed Conceptions

It is also very strange that Africa is sitting right on top of a doughboy. Africa is considered the keystone of Pangaea, having moved very little during the breakup. If the doughboy is indeed old, this would mean that Africa has been perched on its doughboy for a quarter of a billion years.



Posted in Africa Keystone of Pangea, Asthenia, Geoid, Geology, Large Igneous Provinces, LLSVP, LLSVP's are Doughboys, Moho, Seismic Tomography | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Pause That Refreshes

We hear more and more about the Pause. This pause refers to a hiatus in lower atmospheric warming for a human generation since 1997. This “pause” by its very name implies that warming will resume sometime soon.

Only zealots will claim to know whether warming will resume or not. What we do know is that lower atmospheric temperatures declined from 1945 to 1976. The following quote from Newsweek in 1975:

April 28, 1975  “There are ominous signs that Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically….The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it….The central fact is that…the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down…If the climate change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic.”

It did not turn out that way at all. It was the end of a 60-70 year cycle that we do not understand. Will it still be a “pause” if temperatures decline for another twenty years?


This is the average of a bevy of proxies since the last glaciation. The lunch money stuff  between WWII and the present doesn’t even register here. One can see there have been several “pauses” along the way, and several episodes of warming.

If we are going to match trends, which one do we match? The Newsweek from 1975 which was absolutely correct in its assessment of the trend, or this one from the BBC in 1997, equally correct for the trend at that time:

November 7, 1997, (BBC commentator): “It appears that we have a very good case for suggesting that the El Niños are going to become more frequent, and they’re going to become more intense and in a few years, or a decade or so, we’ll go into a permanent El Nino. So instead of having cool water periods for a year or two, we’ll have El Niño upon El Niño, and that will become the norm. And you’ll have an El Niño, that instead of lasting 18 months, lasts 18 years.”

This one did not turn out so well either, and if you could only know, it would be well to avoid rash predictions on the cusp of phase changes.

What the “pause” certainly tells us is that natural cycles at least equal human changes to the climate.

When it is getting hot, a pause is always refreshing.


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Huston, We have a Few More Problems

Humans are not naturally inclined to science. We yearn for certainty, the sort of certainty mathematical equations could provide if only we could be certain of the factors. We cannot.

We don’t really yearn for mathematics, it is just another weird hieroglyphic language but for the allure of certainty. We really yearn for cosmology, for some shaman to tell us that first there was Hydrogen, which begat Helium, and so on until the pantheon is full give or take a few elements generated in accelerators.

Huston, we believed in the asthenosphere. We believed in hotspots and mantle plumes. We believed the ocean basins spread evenly away from the ridges like a giant basaltic recording tape, gently pushing and pulling the toy sailboats of continents about, all moving easily atop asthenia, a magical layer of plastic rock.

Huston, we have used earthquake waves to take pictures that make the things we believed in appear as childish cartoons.

Hawaii no Plume

Huston, here is the hotspot under Hawaii, where being the plume?

Incredulous, we lowered “thumpers” to the ocean floor and using computer models and “SKS” data were finally able to extract this image:


Huston, what the hell is that? How does it move relative to other hotspots? Where is the signal for asthenia (aside from the neatly drawn white line)? It gets worse.


This stuff looks like funky dentistry. The continents have roots deeper than the asthenosphere, the Moho, which is discontinuous and lacking mojo. The ocean basins and their magnetic stripes are cut by lineations we have no explanation for. There are granitic structures in the ocean floor that have no right to be there. Ocean floor sediments have been baked by ocean floor younger than the sediments themselves.

Huston, we are coming home. Home to a world less certain than the one we left.


Posted in Asthenia, Geology, Large Igneous Provinces, Magnetic Reversals, Moho, Oceanography, Plate Tectonics, Seismic Tomography | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Spectra, Goddess of Light

We worship in strange and disjointed ways. One seeking to better understand how Spectra’s blessings arrive and leave our planet is confronted with a bewildering array of graphics.


This one shows incoming light in nanometers.


This one shows outgoing in inverse centimeters.


This one shows the saturation of outgoing CO2 bands in microns.

A fine kettle of fish. It reflects poorly the clarity of those paid to understand the Goddess when not a single unit matches anywhere and the inverted wavenumbers read backwards relative to microns and nanometers.

First, we clarify what CO2 saturation looks like in the parallel universe of inverted centimeters.


According to the Beer-Lambert law fluorescent response to a constant light source decreases approximately logarithmically with increased concentration of gas until saturation is reached and increases in the gas have no more effect. We have plotted Gavin Schmidt’s saturation bands. Boy, if anyone had bothered to do this before, what reason would there ever have been to worry?

Finally, we normalize all the discordant units into the big picture as our offering.

Normalized 1



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Large Igneous Provinces, Temperature, Sea Level, and Extinctions

We had been looking at the stuff one can easily google regarding global temperature and large igneous provinces (LIP’s) and it seemed there might be something, so we dug in. There is an organization,, that has excel data in some sort of Arcmap format. We were interested in big events so we set a standard of a million cubic kilometers of production. We took the total volume and spread it over the period of production.

Sometimes you just have to concede that what little we know just doesn’t make much sense. The graph below is basically a study of our ignorance.

LIP etc3


The resulting LIP production is shown in red. The first surprise is that the vaunted Siberian and Deccan events that correspond closely to the PTr and KPg extinctions are not impressive in terms of volume. If these events played a part in the extinctions it was a qualitative and not a quantitative factor. The second surprise is the extreme “twin towers” bracketing the Cretaceous Normal Superchron and the high levels between them.

It would be easy to develop an hypothesis that swings of polarity depend on internal pressures that when relieved by massive extrusions, reduce the dynamo’s tendency to flip.

Another huge surprise is the low sea level during the Triassic. The steric (thermal expansion) rise of the current ocean is thought to be about half a meter per degree warming of the entire column. It was five degrees warmer then so an equivalent volume of the current ocean should have been a few meters higher than today. There were no glaciers storing water on land. Yet sea level was about 25 meters lower than  today, and we live in an ice age. Furthermore, sea level continued to drop as temperatures began to recover in the late Permian and early Triassic and reached a nadir at about the apex of temperature.

Really weird. This coincidence of low sea level and high temperature may speak more profoundly to the severity of the extinction than the Siberian basalt.

The oldest surviving ocean floor is about 250 million years old and it is not until about 150 mya that we get enough floor area to accurately gauge the output volumes of LIP’s. So we really don’t know how much was being produced in the Triassic, but we do know that LIP’s are typically emplaced in isostatic “rises” that displace ocean and that the volume of basalt displaces more ocean, so it could be that the Triassic was a time of low volcanic activity. So why was it so bloody hot?

It is quite clear that temperature has little to do with extinctions, at least when sea level is high. It seems that LIP’s have little to do with temperature. It seems temperature has little to do with sea level.

So all we get is LIP’s raising sea level and temporarily switching the dynamo to DC?

Posted in Climate, Cretaceous normal superchron, Extinctions, Geology, Large Igneous Provinces, Magnetic Reversals, Paleo Sea Level, Paleoclimate | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Nature and Chaos

We don’t even know what randomness is. In gambling and cryptography computer algorithms are used to create “pseudo” random strings that are difficult to cipher, but ultimately these are “determined” by the algorithm.

To get “true” randomness we resort to physics. Lava lamps were used, but they were simply analog generators like dice in the universe of Newtonian Physics. We derive true randomness by delving into the parallel universe of quantum physics, the end of science, where nothing is reproducible, where to perceive something we irrevocably change it and even create it in the form it is perceived.

Photon, the god of chaos.

It is as if the universe of quantum were encrypted in a fashion contrary to our nature. Fortunately, quantum is an atomic scale nano universe largely irrelevant at planetary scale.

Life has always stood as a glaring exception to the second law of thermodynamics. The elders of such laws smile indulgently and allow that special exceptions can be made in some circumstances, and that in the case of life, pockets of organization will be allowed.

Very kind of them.

Entropy and chaos, Newtonian and quantum. One is tempted to throw in cacophony. These are enemies of life. It is the nature of life to self organize. To claw and grab and secrete. To perceive photons through the “two slits” of our eyes and derive 3D information.

We submit that life is fully deserving its own law of thermodynamics.

Posted in Anthropology, Biology, Chaos, Fourth Law of Thermodynamics, god of chaos, Randomness | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

California Drought Update Early March

2013-14 SF Seasonal

San Francisco did break the record of 1917 as of January, but just barely. Had the rains begun a day earlier as forecast, the monthly record would have held. Anyway, the drought is definitely not the end of life as we know it and it would be premature to abandon our cliff dwellings and migrate north.

The nearly half a foot of rain in February already guarantees that the 2013-14 season will be wetter than 1850 and 1975, and it is my very strong suspicion that rains thus far in March will push the season past 1897 as well. Not even in the top three!

What is truly remarkable is how closely the season is tracking 1917. I still want to find the time to sort the data for patterns like this. For background on the graph see here and here.

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