Mark Twain's "War Prayer"

The Other Alaska Prayer


Do you remember Mark Twain’s short essay, “The War Prayer“? In that essay, Twain has a messenger – perhaps a messenger from God – explain to a congregation what their prayer in support of their patriotic war meant. That messenger laid out, in part, what any war means: O Lord our God, help us to…

Minimata Disease Victim, 2006 (photographer unknown)

Coal and Mercury


Back in September 2014, when the effects of methylmercury poisoning in songbirds was first reported, WC asked, “Minamata Disease in songbirds. Are we going to pay attention?” We now have the answer. No. We need to take a couple of steps back to understand the problem and the enormity of the Trump Administration’s recent outrageous decision.…

Aerial Photo, Umiat, Alaska c. 1963

Case Study: The Umiat Mess


Umiat is located in the foothills of the Brooks Range in Alaska, southwest of Prudhoe Bay, in what used to be called Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4. From 1945 to 1954, the U.S. Navy constructed facilities at Umiat for oil and gas exploration purposes. Improvements included living quarters, mess hall, latrines, shops, powerhouse, office, storage, and…

Relative frequency of once-in-five-year precipitation events falling over a 2-day period, averaged over the continental U.S, 1901-2012. Green bars in recent decades show these events have become more frequent, when averaged across much of the country. SOURCE National Climate Assessment (U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2014)

The Thing about 100-Year Floods


A 100-Year Flood, of course, is an extreme flooding event that happens, on average, only once every 100 years. A hydrologist would describe it as a “recurrence interval” or talk about an “annual exceedance probability (AEP).” The recurrence interval can change. If the stream basin is altered, say by urbanization or wildfire, then less rain…

Wild fire smoke, East Rim, Steens Mountain, Oregon

Why We’re Stupid: Another Reason


Researchers in China have meticulously documented a reason for diminished cognition – stupidity – in old men: bad air. Seriously. Air pollution, including the PM 2.5 fine particulates, has been shown to impair cognition, especially in the elderly. We find that long-term exposure to air pollution impedes cognitive performance in verbal and math tests. We…

Smolt to Adult Fish Ratios at Dams Along the Columbia and Snake Rivers

Science, Salmon and the Snake


The Snake is the Snake River, once one of the world’s preeminent salmon streams, famed for its chinook,sockeye and steelhead runs. Now those fish are an endangered species and at the heart of a complex struggle involving fish, water rights, hydroelectricity and, most of all, dam-foolishness. One way to measure the health of an anadromous…