The Cloud Seeders: Part One

My latest post for Gods & Radicals: The first part of an essay exploring the roots of the coercive technology of cloud seeding and its war upon the sky gods. This focuses on the destruction of ancient animistic and polytheistic cultures in Britain and Europe.

GODS & RADICALS

“The shooting of aerosols into the skies with hail cannons or dropping them from planes like bombs provides a disturbing image of war with the sky gods that runs contrary to the pagan principle of respectful relationship.”

From Lorna Smithers

Clouds over Penwortham Sept 2018

To you alone it is given to know the gods
And spirits of the sky, or perhaps not at all

Lucan

I. The Seeding of the Skies

Cloud seeding is a magical art worked by the land, the sea, the sky, the gods and spirits, humans too.

Clouds form when water vapour condenses on cloud seeds – tiny particles of dust. This happens when the land is heated by the sun, when air is forced to rise over hills and mountains, at weather fronts, and over rainforests and peat bogs where water evaporates from leaves and mosses seeding clouds. When the air cools and the tiny droplets of…

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Drought Summit

My latest post on Gods & Radicals. After a drought summit was ominously called on August the 1st – Lammas/Lughnasadh/Gwyl Awst, an account of my journey to seek insights from Lugh’s Welsh cognate, Lleu Llaw Gyffes.

GODS & RADICALS

‘I see the reapers in the distance with their blades and the man in the combine harvester reaping nothing not far off’

From Lorna Smithers

Harvesting Dust by Lorna Smithers

I. Gwyl Awst

On Wednesday 1st August, Lammas/Lughnasadh/Gwyl Awst, a drought summit took place in the UK between the National Farmers’ Union and environment secretary Michael Gove. Due to the summer heatwave crops have been ‘wilting or failing’ and ‘livestock running short of grass and fodder’. To assuage this the Environment Agency have agreed to be more flexible with abstraction rights for ground and river water so farmers can water their crops and animals.

Is this a freak occurrence like the summer of 1976? Or, along with the trend of record-breaking temperatures is it demonstrative of man-made global warming and a weakening jet stream? Whatever the case, the holding of a drought summit on the day of our harvest festivals seems ominous.

Science can present…

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Questions of Water

Written in the midst of a heatwave in the UK, my latest essay for Gods & Radicals poses question about water, its sources, and who controls them.

GODS & RADICALS

Our connection with the source, with the divine, is lost, when water is piped to our taps from unknown sources. We’re more likely to think of water companies and bills in terms of payment rather than offering back to the deities of our watercourses above ground and to their source in the deep’ – from Lorna Smithers

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 I. Water

Water. Dŵr. H2O. The mysterious source of life brought to Earth by comets 4.6 billion years ago. Water covers 71% of the Earth’s surface, creating her marble sheen of oceanic blue, decked with green continents and swirling white cloud. 96.5% of all the Earth’s water is salt water in the oceans. Of freshwater 1.74% is in the ice caps, glaciers and permanent snow, 1.69% is ground water, 0.022% is ground ice and permafrost, 0.013% is in lakes, 0.001% is in the atmosphere, 0.001% is soil moisture, 0.0008% is swamp…

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Scorched

The UK is in the throes of a heat wave. Here in Lancashire temperatures have reached a scorching 30 degrees for four consecutive days. It’s been uncharacteristically warm and dry for two months. Preston, dubbed the ‘wettest city in England’, has barely seen an inch of rain since the beginning of May. Our lawn is scorched, our raspberries are shrivelled, the rivers and streams are running low.

In northern British mythology the first of May is the day that Gwythyr ap Greidol ‘Victor son of Scorcher’ beats Gwyn ap Nudd ‘White son of Mist’ in a ritual battle to win the hand of Creiddylad, a fertility goddess whose name may stem from creir/crair ‘treasure… object of admiration or love.’

Scorched Fire Sign

Gwythyr ap Greidol’s name suggests he is a god of victory in combat, the scorching fire of war and the heat of passion. His is the spark that gives life to the land but also initiates the wildfire. Over the last week wildfires have raged across Saddleworth Moor, Rivington Moor, and Winter Hill. The latter seems symbolic of Gwythyr, Summer’s King, beating Gwyn, Winter’s King, on his home ground. Of course I haven’t been up to Winter Hill whilst it is ablaze (last night it reignited in multiple locations), but I noticed the portent of the full moon over the mast, lit up red like a warning sign.

Scorched Winter Hill Warning

People have been evacuated from their houses and schools closed. Less has been said about the numerous birds, small mammals and insects who have lost their lives or been driven from their homes.

Just as concerning is the Ribble running the lowest I have ever seen, banks of silt and sandstone bedrock exposed, tributaries becoming drier and drier, pond water getting lower and lower. Water shortages have already hit in the South East and Staffordshire. In the North West United Utilities are recommending that we cut down on water use. On next week’s forecast there is not a drop of rain in sight.

Scorched Ribble

May 2018 was the hottest on record in the UK and June looks set to be a record breaker too. What is causing this uncharacteristic heat, empowering Gwythyr, the Victor, to increasingly destructive victories?

***

Research suggests this long period of hot weather results from the effects of man-driven global warming on the North Atlantic Polar Front Jet Stream. The Jet Stream is a ‘ribbon’ of winds blowing east to west at up to 200 miles an hour 9 to 16 kilometres above the earth’s surface over the mid-latitudes. It arises due to the contrast between warm tropical air and cold polar air. The differences in the pressure of warm and cold air produce a ‘pressure gradient force’. These winds would blow from high to low pressure, from south to north, if it wasn’t for the Coriolis effect.

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The higher the contrast in temperature the stronger the Jet Stream. It is strongest in winter due to the cooling of the poles and weakest in summer due to their warming. Low pressure systems causing wet windy weather occur to the north of the Jet Stream and high pressure systems causing warm settled weather to the south. During the winter, when it’s strong, the Jet Stream lies south of the UK and gives us rain and wind. If it remains to the south we tend to have wet summers too. If the Jet Stream weakens in the summer and shifts north of the UK we are more likely to have hot still weather.

According to Dr. Jennifer Francis and Stephen Vavrus the warming of the Arctic is lessening the temperature gradient between the equator and the North Pole and causing the jet to slow and become ‘wavier’. James Mason explains that when ‘the eastwards progression of these upper waves becomes sluggish or stalls’ this ‘leads to prolonged weather-conditions of one type or another’ like this heat wave, which is dangerous not so much due to its temperature but the length of time without rain leading to wildfires and water shortages and potentially to drought and crop failure.

***

The root of global warming is humanity’s reckless drive for economic growth at the cost of the environment. Our government are aware of the increasing dangers of drought in the summer and flooding in the winter and are taking steps to deal with the effects but not the cause. Instead they are pushing ahead with plans to create more houses, more roads, more jobs; pumping out more greenhouses gases, removing more green space, causing more warming. Here in South Ribble alone 9000 houses are being built along with new and expanded roads and business parks. Preston, South Ribble, and Chorley are being merged into one urban conglomerate with parks as our only green spots.

Lostock Hall Gasworks Development

Dissenting voices are not listened to by the victors. From their positions of wealth and comfort they refuse to see, acknowledge, care about the effects their victory is having on the land and its creatures.

In British mythology Gwythyr and his father sided with Arthur against Gwyn and his spirits, the ancient animals, the monsters, the giants, the witches, and were victorious. In modern Britain the Arthurian court of war-mongering treasure-hoarding politicians and business leaders reign supreme.

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What to do in a world where history is determined and written by the victors, when, as Gwyn knows before going into battle every May Day, as Walter Benjamin says, ‘this enemy has not ceased to be victorious’?

Perhaps we must look beyond battle, beyond victory, which can only makes us the next victors, for other ways to our bit for the scorched land, the drying rivers, the dying creatures, the cast-out gods.

SOURCES

Ed Walker, ‘Winter Hill fire reignites and is in multiple locations’, Blog Preston,
John Mason, ‘A Rough Guide to the Jet Stream’, Skeptical Science,
Francis Perraudin, Helen Pidd and Kevin Rawlinson, ‘A hundred soldiers sent in to tackle fire on Saddleworth Moor’, The Guardian
Walter Benjamin, ‘On the Concept of History’, Marxists.Org
BBC Weather, Penwortham, BBC website
Climate change the jet stream’, Climate Central
Preston’s named wettest place in England’, Lancashire Evening Post,
UK weather: Water shortage warnings and hosepipe bans as heatwave intensifies’, The Indepedent
What is the jet stream?’, Met Office

Summer Here and Winter There

My post for the Summer Solstice ‘Summer Here and Winter There’ on the contraries of the seasons, climate change, and uncertainty has been published on Gods & Radicals.

GODS & RADICALS

Summer here and winter there
My longest day your darkest night’

From Lorna Smithers

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I. Gwyn’s Hall

It’s midsummer 2013. I’ve just got home from my packing job. It’s not a particularly hot solstice, but the noise of the sun-stand-still and my conflicts with my life and the world are burning in my brain.

I haven’t been one for festivals, dancing all night until the sun comes up, since my madder years. I want silence, solace, darkness. I plan to go the Leaning Yew where I met Gwyn ap Nudd, my Winter God, make an offering of mead to him in his frozen castle in the depths of Annwn.

I open the mead. Several sips later I’m composing a poem. One of those poems that writes itself. Inspired contrarily by bees and sunshine and the ice of a demand from another world:

Summer here and winter there
My…

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Fairy Glow: The Magic of Emiliania Huxleyi

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the queer impression of whiteness coming upwards: as if the light was below the sea instead of above it… the fairy glow or white reflection that I had experienced long ago
Mr Ronald Bells, World Fishing, 1954

It’s a magic that can be found across the world’s oceans, but is particularly innate to the North Atlantic; to the Norwegian fjords, southern Iceland, the English Channel; this magical blooming, this milky turquoise, this white water, this fairy glow shining upwards as if from a subterranean castle.

If I told you it was caused by fairies would you be enthralled? We all know the fay can take many shapes and forms from the microscopic to the macrocosms of huge hulking universes stalking through the void. Well I shall tell you it is created by beings who work fairy magic called emiliania huxleyii.

Emiliania_huxleyi_coccolithophore_(PLoS)

Emiliania Huxleyi is a single-celled marine phytoplankton which dwells in the surface waters of all the world’s oceans and lives by photosynthesis – using the energy of the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugars and energy. This is not its only magical art. As a coccolithophore it forges intricate coccoliths – scales or platelets like plate armour – deep within its cell from calcium carbonate. When emiliania huxleyi blooms it sheds hundreds of extra coccoliths, which act like mirrors, creating the fairy glow, just like the countless shifting walls of the Fairy King’s castle.

The blooming of emiliania huxleyi, its fairy glow, has a number of profound ecological effects. The first and most obvious is its alteration of the ocean’s albedo ‘whiteness’. This results in more light and heat being reflected into the atmosphere and less penetrating deeper into the water, thus cooling the ocean.

It also affects the carbon cycle. The ocean is the earth’s largest active carbon sink. Emiliania huxelyi plays a significant role in the carbon pump by which it removes carbon from the atmosphere. Emiliania huxleyi utilises carbon absorbed by the ocean to create its calcium carbonate plate armour. When it blooms it removes an excessive amount. Afterwards, some coccoliths sink to the depths as marine snow, removing the carbon from the cycle for millions of years, to be revealed as chalk formations such as the White Cliffs of Dover and the Seven Sisters. Some coccoliths decompose and release their carbon back into the ocean. The partial pressure* of carbon dioxide in the ocean determines how much can be taken from the atmosphere in this complex transaction.

By a less obvious magic emiliania huxleyi’s blooming brings about the formation of clouds. Emiliania huxleyi contains dimethylsulphoniopropionate (DMSP), which it breaks down into dimethyl sulphide (DMS) and acrylic acid to ward off predators. DMSP is also converted to DMS when it dies. Huge pulses of DMS are also released when emiliania huxleyi blooms. DMS reacts with oxygen in the atmosphere leaving molecules of sulphate aerosol to act as cloud condensation nuclei (CNN). As the clouds form and rise due to energy being released as heat, emiliania huxleyi is sucked up with the surface water and travels in the clouds to fall as rain or snow in a new region.

Scientists are only just beginning to gain an understanding of this magic. Blooms of emiliania huxleyi cool the ocean through reflectance and cloud generation and remove a great amount of carbon from the ocean. In this era of man-driven climate change these processes are of fundamental importance.

It is therefore troubling to hear that the existence of emiliania huxleyi is under threat from ocean acidification. The rise in carbon emissions has led to an increase in the partial pressure of carbon dioxide, dissolved inorganic carbon, and bicarbonate ion concentration, and decrease in the concentration of carbonate ions and pH in the ocean. The decrease in carbonate ions makes it more difficult for emiliania huxleyi to create its calcium carbonate shell. Its beautifully crafted plate armour is becoming thinner, weaker, lighter, and suffering malformations. Emiliania huxleyi could die out.

I believe it is no coincidence that emiliania huxleyi has started revealing itself on the brink of its’ extinction. Thomas Henry Huxley discovered coccoliths whilst dredging mud in the depths of the ocean in 1858. Thus, it was named coccolithus huxleyi when identified under a light microscope in 1902. Its structure was described under an electron microscope by Braacht et al in 1952. Cesare Emiliania’s name was added in honour of his contributions to paleooceanography. Much of his work involved drilling cores into the sea bottom and revolutionised our ideas about the ocean’s history.

As someone versed in fairylore my feelings about the methods of the discovery of emiliania huxleyi are mixed. I’m not sure if I see Huxley and Emiliania as walkers between worlds whose genius and dedication has earned them great gifts of insight from Faerie, or as raiders like Arthur whose dredgers and drill cores are the flashing swords coercing the Otherworld’s mysteries into Thisworld’s light.

One thing I’m sure of is that the disappearance of the fairy glow of emiliania huxleyi is a powerful portent of the retreat of the magic of the fay and breakdown of the relationship between the worlds. The loss of this enigmatic phytoplankton would not only be sad, but could play a role in bringing about the end of the world as we know it as magical being by magical being slips away into the deep.

*Partial pressure ‘is the hypothetical pressure of that gas if it alone occupied the entire volume of the original mixture at the same temperature.’

SOURCES

J. D. Shutler et al, ‘Coccolithophore surface distributions in the North Atlantic and
their modulation of the air-sea flux of CO 2 from 10 years of Earth System Dynamics satellite Earth observation data’, Biogeosciences, 10, 2699-2709, 2013
K. J. S. Meier et al, The role of ocean acidification in Emiliania huxleyi coccolith thinning in the Mediterranean Sea’, HAL Archives-ouvertes, 2016, https://hal-univ-perp.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01280556, accessed 29th April 2018
Sophie Richier et al, ‘Response of the calcifying coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi to low pH/high pCO 2 : from physiology to molecular level’, Marine Biology, 158: 551-560, 2011
Stephen Harding, Animate Earth, (Green Books, 2009)
William H. Wilson et al., Isolation of viruses responsible for the demise of an Emiliania huxleyi bloom in the English Channel’, Journal of Marine Biology Association of the United Kingdom, 82, 369 – 377, 2002
Emiliania Huxleyi Home Page, Science Netwatch, http://www.soes.soton.ac.uk/staff/tt/, accessed 26th April 2018
‘Partial Pressure’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partial_pressure, accessed 29th April, 2018

Methanogens and the End of the World

I. In the Deepest of Places…

They’re possibly the oldest living beings on earth. They possess the power to create and destroy life-giving climates. They thrive in the deepest of places and most extreme conditions – submarine springs, volcanic vents, hot desert sands, glacial ice – as well as in marshlands, rice paddies, landfills, sewage plants, and in the guts of termites, ruminants, and humans. Discovering their existence forced scientists to restructure the phylogenetic tree and rethink the origins of life.

Their name is only just beginning to make it into our mainstream vocabulary. They are methanogens.

Methanogens are methane generating microorganisms who can only survive in anaerobic environments. Because of their microscopic size and inability to survive in air containing oxygen they weren’t identified until the 20th century. Yet suspicions about their existence had been inferred.

Gas collecting in the marshes near Angera JPEG

In 1776 Alessandro Volta discovered the flammability of marsh gas on Lake Maggiore. Poking the reedy bottom of the marsh with his cane he collected the bubbles in a gas container then set fire to it, producing ‘a beautiful blue flame’. Natural scientists called this ‘swamp air’ ‘carbonated hydrogen’ and in 1865 ‘methan’ was proposed. ‘Methane’ was accepted in 1892.

Pierre Jacques Antoine Béchamp was the first to suspect methane was formed by a microbiological process as the result of a fermentation experiment in 1868. It was not until 1936 that the first methanogen, Methanobacillus omelianskii, was isolated with Delft canal sediment by Horace Albert Barker. This marked ‘the beginning of the modern era for the study of methanogenesis.’

Scientists went on to find out methanogenesis, a form of anaerobic respiration which uses carbon rather than oxygen as an electron acceptor, takes place in three ways: carbon dioxide reduction (hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis), cleavage of acetates (acetoclatic methanogenesis), and the breakdown of methylated compounds (methylotrophic methanogenesis).

II. Ancient Things

In 1997, during an experiment with RNA, Carl Woese discovered that methanogens are phylogenetically different from bacteria and eukaryota (this branch includes fungi, plants, and animals) establishing a third domain on the phylogenetic tree.

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This new group of microorganisms was named archaea, ‘ancient things’. Because their ‘methanogenic metabolism is ideally suited to the kind of atmosphere thought to have existed on the primitive earth: one that was rich in carbon dioxide and included some hydrogen but virtually no oxygen’, Woese asserted they could be the earliest living beings on our planet.

According to James F. Fasting their generation of methane, a greenhouse gas, from carbon dioxide and hydrogen, kept the young earth warm between 3.5 and 2.5 billion years ago when the sun burnt only 80 per cent as brightly as today. They played a significant role in the chain of events that led to the development of other life forms.

Methanogens were driven underground by the great oxygenation event 2.3 billion years ago – a time that corresponds with the first Global Ice Age. The world-changing effects of methanogenesis were felt again 252 million years ago when a bacteria transferred two genes to methanosarcina. This allowed them to feed on carbon on the sea floor, releasing immense amounts of methane into the atmosphere, raising the temperatures and acidifying oceans, leading to the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event, which killed 96% of species on the earth.

III. A Dangerous Game

The greenhouse gases responsible for global warming in our current era are carbon dioxide (82%), methane (10%), nitrous oxide (5%), and fluorinated gases (3%). Although methane only accounts for 10% ‘it is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in global warming potential’.

74% of methane emissions in our atmosphere are produced by methanogens. The main sources are wetlands (22%), coal and oil mining and natural gas (19%), enteric fermentation (16%), rice cultivation (12%), biomass burning (8%), landfills (6%), and sewage treatment (6%). Our ability to understand and work with methanogens will play a crucial role in our future. A great deal of research has been carried out into the pros and cons of methanogenesis.

A study by Susannah G. Tringe et al. focuses on ‘a pilot-scale restored wetland in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta of California.’ Tringe notes that wetlands are effective carbon sinks, but methane production can outweigh the benefits in terms of emissions of greenhouse gases. By mapping the relationships between microbial communities and gas measurements her group aims to ‘reduce methane flux to the atmosphere and enhance belowground carbon storage.’

Several studies have been carried out on methanogenesis in coal mines. It has been discovered that the majority of emissions from mines are biogenic as opposed to thermogenic and take place by acetoclastic methanogensis from hard coal and mine timber. Ways of using the methane for energy are being explored. Methanogenesis also occurs in shale and experiments in biostimulation to improve productivity in combination with fracking are in progress.

Studies on landfills, a new source of organic (and inorganic) matter for these ingenuous microorganisms, show that methanogenesis, which follows hydrolysis, acidification, and acetogenesis, is an essential process in the breakdown of ‘municipal solid waste’. In landfills, as well as in wetlands, coal, and shale, acetoclastic methanogens work with acetate-producing bacteria in a syntrophic relationship. This also occurs in the breakdown of sewage. Again, ways of using the methane for energy and thus reducing emissions are being explored.

A common theme that cropped up in all these studies is that the complex interrelationships between methanogens and other bacteria and the role of methanogenesis in the global cycles are not fully understood. Nothing is said about the intelligence and agency of these secretive near-invisible beings who have played a key role in the shaping of our climate for billions of years.

Methanosarcina, Wikipedia

Science, measuring, quantifying, postulating, manipulating, rarely listens to or respects its subjects. The Permian-Triassic extinction, which took place as the consequence of a small genetic change, highlights the potential dangers of attempting to manipulate these complex microorganisms. Without understanding, without relationship, we are playing a dangerous game.

IV. Listening to the Deep

For me as an awenydd working with Brythonic cosmology, methanogens, chthonic beings who inhabit the deepest of places and feed on organic matter composed of dead organisms, seem associated with Annwn, ‘the Deep’, the Otherworld, where the dead and dead worlds reside. Death-eaters par excellence, their activities release the gaseous spirits of the dead into the air.

These processes are essential on both physical and spiritual levels and are part of the earth’s innate balance. When this is disturbed, as now, by mankind’s raiding of Annwn for fossil fuels and release of its spirits, extinction events swiftly follow to correct the disequilibrium.

This knowledge from the depths of time is embodied in Brythonic mythology wherein Gwyn ap Nudd is said to contain the spirits of Annwn in order to prevent their destruction of the world.

Whereas we once mined with due reverence for the rules of the gods of the deep (Nodens/Nudd,‘Lord of the Mines’ was venerated at an iron ore mine at Lydney), who keep its spirits in check, their forgetting has led to all-out ravaging with disastrous consequences.

Over two thousands miners in Lancashire alone have lost their lives, many as a result of explosions caused by methane, which is also a threat at landfill sites. Flammable methane haunts the taps of people whose water has been contaminated by fracking. Global warming, caused by greenhouse gases, is claiming the lives of at least ten thousand species a year.

As the death toll rises I believe it is no coincidence that methanogens have begun to reveal themselves to us (as opposed to us thinking we are so clever finding them); coccoid, baccilic, in enigmatic strings and webs, under the UV illumination of fluorescence microscopes. These 3.5 billion year old microorganisms who dwell deep in our guts are clearly communicating.

Methanogen Microwiki

Will we learn their language? Will we listen? If we do will they lead us to redemption or destruction?

Gwyn ap Nudd,
you who have travelled time
to know the secrets of archaea:
their containment and release,

you who exist in the no-time
of Annwn between life and death
please teach us to listen
with reverence again

before you and your spirits
decide our end.

SOURCES

Carl Woese, ‘Archaebacteria: The Third Domain of Life Missed by Biologists for Decades’, Scientific American, (2012, originally published 1981)
Colin Schultz, ‘How a Single Act of Evolution Nearly Wiped Out All Life on Earth’, Smithsonian
Daniela Buckroithner, ‘Microbiology of Landfill Sites’, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Masters Thesis, (2015)
Fabrizio Colozimio et al.,‘Biogenic methane in shale gas and coal bed methane: A review of current knowledge and gaps’, International Journal of Coal Geology, Vol. 165, (2016)
James F. Kasting, ‘When Methane Made Climate,’ Scientific American, (2015)
Ralph S. Wolfe, ‘A Historical Overview of Methanogenesis’, Methanogenesis: Physiology, Biochemistry & Genetics, (Chapman and Hall, 1993)
Sabrina Beckman et al, ‘Acetogens and Acetoclastic Methanosarcinales Govern Methane Formation in Abandoned Coal Mines’, Applied and Environmental Biology, (2011)
Shaomei He et al., ‘Patterns in Wetland Microbial Community Composition and Functional Gene Repertoire Associated with Methane Emissions’, American Society for Microbiology, (2015)