Wednesday Wonderment – Ep. 35

A brand new day

After a week’s hiatus, this 35th post in the Wednesday Wonderment series.  As today provided a rather spectacular sunrise, I thought that today’s wonderment should be Morning.

While not all of us are morning people, I do think that each of us do enjoy the onset of a brand new day, even if it is just as an indication that we’ve made it to another day!  As I do enjoy beautiful sunrises, but am not always an early riser, I try to make sure that I get my quota of sunrise images during this season , when sunrise is not too early for my taste.

Top of the Morning!


The name (which comes from the Middle English word morwening) was formed from the analogy of evening using the word “morn” (in Middle English morwen), and originally meant the coming of the sunrise as evening meant the beginning of the close of the day. The Middle English morwen dropped over time and became morwe, then eventually morrow, which properly means “morning”, but was soon used to refer to the following day (i.e., “tomorrow”), as in other Germanic languages—English is unique in restricting the word to the newer usage.  The Spanish word “mañana” has two meanings in English: “morning,” and “tomorrow,” along with the word “morgen” in Dutch and German which also means both “morning,” and “tomorrow.” Max Weber, (General Economic History, pp23) states that the English word “morning” and the German word “Morgen” both signify the size of land strip “which an ox could plow in a day without giving out”. “Tagwerk” in German, and “a day’s work” in English mean the same. A Good morning in this sense might mean a good day’s plow.

Significance for Humans

Some languages that use the time of day in greeting have a special greeting for morning, such as the English good morning. The appropriate time to use such greetings, such as whether it may be used between midnight and dawn, depends on the culture’s or speaker’s concept of morning.

Morning typically encompasses the (mostly menial) prerequisites for full productivity and life in public, such as bathing, eating a meal such as breakfast, dressing, and so on. It may also include information activities, such as planning the day’s schedule or reading a morning newspaper. The boundaries of such morning periods are by necessity idiosyncratic, but they are typically considered to have ended on reaching a state of full readiness for the day’s productive activity. For some, the word morning may refer to the period immediately following waking up, irrespective of the current time of day. This modern sense of morning is due largely to the worldwide spread of electricity, and the concomitant independence from natural light sources.

The morning period may be a period of enhanced or reduced energy and productivity. The ability of a person to wake up effectively in the morning may be influenced by a gene called “Period 3”. This gene comes in two forms, a “long” and a “short” variant. It seems to affect the person’s preference for mornings or evenings. People who carry the long variant were over-represented as morning people, while the ones carrying the short variant were evening preference people.

Technical Details

This image was captured using an iPhone 6S with the standard camera app.

Wednesday Wonderment – Ep. 34

A wonderful season

As the next season is almost upon us, I thought that it might be a good time to gaze in wonder upon its beauty.  Autumn is certainly my favorite season, which, if you have experienced it in New England, wouldn’t surprise you, as the combination of color, cooler weather, and the harvest of the season make it truly special.

As I reside in the Northern Hemisphere, the autumnal equinox will arrive on September 22 at 14:21 UT.  I’m a bit of a traditionalist in counting the equinox as the start of Autumn rather than the beginning of September; with the weather in New England being rather warm, it doesn’t feel very autumnal yet.  Hopefully, by the middle of next week, things will be a little cooler!

Perfect Season?


The word autumn comes from the ancient Etruscan root autu- and has within it connotations of the passing of the year. It was borrowed by the neighbouring Romans, and became the Latin word autumnus. After the Roman era, the word continued to be used as the Old French word autompne (automne in modern French) or autumpne in Middle English, and was later normalized to the original Latin. In the Medieval period, there are rare examples of its use as early as the 12th century, but by the 16th century, it was in common use.

Before the 16th century, harvest was the term usually used to refer to the season, as it is common in other West Germanic languages to this day (cf. Dutch herfst, German Herbst and Scots hairst). However, as more people gradually moved from working the land to living in towns, the word harvest lost its reference to the time of year and came to refer only to the actual activity of reaping, and autumn, as well as fall, began to replace it as a reference to the season.

The alternative word fall for the season traces its origins to old Germanic languages. The exact derivation is unclear, with the Old English fiæll or feallanand the Old Norse fall all being possible candidates. However, these words all have the meaning “to fall from a height” and are clearly derived either from a common root or from each other. The term came to denote the season in 16th century England, a contraction of Middle English expressions like “fall of the leaf” and “fall of the year”.

During the 17th century, English emigration to the British colonies in North America was at its peak, and the new settlers took the English language with them. While the term fall gradually became obsolete in Britain, it became the more common term in North America.

The name backend, a once common name for the season in Northern England, has today been largely replaced by the name autumn.



Association with the transition from warm to cold weather, and its related status as the season of the primary harvest, has dominated its themes and popular images. In Western cultures, personifications of autumn are usually pretty, well-fed females adorned with fruits, vegetables and grains that ripen at this time. Many cultures feature autumnal harvest festivals, often the most important on their calendars. Still extant echoes of these celebrations are found in the autumn Thanksgiving holiday of the United States and Canada, and the Jewish Sukkot holiday with its roots as a full-moon harvest festival of “tabernacles” (living in outdoor huts around the time of harvest). There are also the many North American Indian festivals tied to harvest of ripe foods gathered in the wild, the Chinese Mid-Autumn or Moon festival, and many others. The predominant mood of these autumnal celebrations is a gladness for the fruits of the earth mixed with a certain melancholy linked to the imminent arrival of harsh weather.

This view is presented in English poet John Keats’ poem To Autumn, where he describes the season as a time of bounteous fecundity, a time of ‘mellow fruitfulness’.


While most foods are harvested during the autumn, foods particularly associated with the season include pumpkins (which are integral parts of both Thanksgiving and Halloween) and apples, which are used to make the seasonal beverage apple cider.


The East Coast of the United States is known for being host to some of the most colorful autumns in the world, which especially New England—among other locations along the East Coast—is famous for.

Autumn, especially in poetry, has often been associated with melancholia. The possibilities of summer are gone, and the chill of winter is on the horizon. Skies turn grey, the amount of usable daylight drops rapidly, and many people turn inward, both physically and mentally. It has been referred to as an unhealthy season.

Similar examples may be found in Irish poet William Butler Yeats’ poem The Wild Swans at Coole where the maturing season that the poet observes symbolically represents his own aging self. Like the natural world that he observes, he too has reached his prime and now must look forward to the inevitability of old age and death. French poet Paul Verlaine’s “Chanson d’automne” (“Autumn Song”) is likewise characterized by strong, painful feelings of sorrow. Keats’ To Autumn, written in September 1819, echoes this sense of melancholic reflection, but also emphasizes the lush abundance of the season.

Wednesday Wonderment – Ep 33

Walking with Wolves

The planet Earth is home to a significant variety of animals, some of which really speak to us.  As a lover of dogs, whose four Cardigan Welsh Corgis are a big part of our lives, there is one particular animal species that really stands out among these: Canis Lupus.

The wolf stands out to me among animals, and has played a role in my life, since my early years as a cub scout, where our little pack was led by Akela, the den mother from Jungle Book.   In all that I learned about wolves, they fascinated me in their social structure and their ability to adapt to their environment in amazing ways.

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to learn more about these magnificent animals up close and even go on a walk through the woods with Denahee.  This walk taught me a lot about interacting with Denahee, as she sought out to establish a relationship and determine how we should interact.  Her sense of my reaction to her, led to her testing our boundaries by getting closer and closer, until she walked up to me and leaned into my leg, showing her acceptance of me.


This level of trust allowed me to take the image here, as I am at eye level with her about 4-5 feet from my lens.  One thing that stands out for me about this image, is the photographer in the background, to whom Denahee is paying attention with one ear.

She was a wonderful ambassador for her entire species, whose spirit and connection I will always carry with me.

Anatomy and dimensions

The gray wolf is the largest extant member of the Canidae, excepting certain large breeds of domestic dog. Gray wolf weight and size can vary greatly worldwide, tending to increase proportionally with latitude as predicted by Bergmann’s Rule, with the large wolves of Alaska and Canada sometimes weighing 3–6 times more than their Middle Eastern and South Asian cousins. On average, adult wolves measure 105–160 cm (41–63 in) in length and 80–85 cm (32–34 in) in shoulder height. The tail measures 29–50 cm (11–20 in) in length. The ears are 90–110 millimetres (3.5–4.3 in) in height, and the hind feet are 220–250 millimetres (8.7–9.8 in). The mean body mass of the extant gray wolf is 40 kg (88 lb), with the smallest specimen recorded at 12 kg (26 lb) and the largest at 80 kg (176 lb). Gray wolf weight varies geographically; on average, European wolves may weigh 38.5 kilograms (85 lb), North American wolves 36 kilograms (79 lb) and Indian and Arabian wolves 25 kilograms (55 lb). Females in any given wolf population typically weigh 5–10 lbs less than males. Wolves weighing over 54 kg (120 lbs) are uncommon, though exceptionally large individuals have been recorded in Alaska, Canada, and the forests of western Russia. The heaviest recorded gray wolf in North America was killed on 70 Mile River in east-central Alaska on July 12, 1939 and weighed 79.4 kilograms (175 lb).

Compared to its closest wild cousins (the coyote and golden jackal), the gray wolf is larger and heavier, with a broader snout, shorter ears, a shorter torso and longer tail. It is a slender, powerfully built animal with a large, deeply descending ribcage, a sloping back and a heavily muscled neck. The wolf’s legs are moderately longer than those of other canids, which enables the animal to move swiftly, and allows it to overcome the deep snow that covers most of its geographical range. The ears are relatively small and triangular. Females tend to have narrower muzzles and foreheads, thinner necks, slightly shorter legs and less massive shoulders than males.

The gray wolf usually carries its head at the same level as the back, raising it only when alert. It usually travels at a loping pace, placing its paws one directly in front of the other. This gait can be maintained for hours at a rate of 8–9 km/h, and allows the wolf to cover great distances. On bare paths, a wolf can quickly achieve speeds of 50–60 km/h. The gray wolf has a running gait of 55 to 70 km/h, can leap 5 metres horizontally in a single bound, and can maintain rapid pursuit for at least 20 minutes.

Social and territorial behaviors

The gray wolf is a social animal, whose basic social unit consists of a mated pair, accompanied by the pair’s adult offspring. The average pack consists of a family of 5–11 animals (1–2 adults, 3–6 juveniles and 1–3 yearlings), or sometimes two or three such families, with exceptionally large packs consisting of 42 wolves being known. In ideal conditions, the mated pair produces pups every year, with such offspring typically staying in the pack for 10–54 months before dispersing. Triggers for dispersal include the onset of sexual maturity and competition within the pack for food. The distance travelled by dispersing wolves varies widely; some stay in the vicinity of the parental group, while other individuals may travel great distances of 390 km, 206 km, and 670 km from their natal packs. A new pack is usually founded by an unrelated dispersing male and female, travelling together in search of an area devoid of other hostile packs. Wolf packs rarely adopt other wolves into their fold, and typically kill them. In the rare cases where other wolves are adopted, the adoptee is almost invariably an immature animal (1–3 years of age) unlikely to compete for breeding rights with the mated pair. In some cases, a lone wolf is adopted into a pack to replace a deceased breeder. During times of ungulate abundance (migration, calving etc.), different wolf packs may temporarily join forces.

Wolves are highly territorial animals, and generally establish territories far larger than they require to survive in order to assure a steady supply of prey. Territory size depends largely on the amount of prey available and the age of the pack’s pups, tending to increase in size in areas with low prey populations or when the pups reach the age of 6 months, thus having the same nutritional needs as adults. Wolf packs travel constantly in search of prey, covering roughly 9% of their territory per day (average 25 km/d or 15 mi/d). The core of their territory is on average 35 km2 (14 sq mi), in which they spend 50% of their time. Prey density tends to be much higher in the territory’s surrounding areas, though wolves tend to avoid hunting in the fringes of their range unless desperate, because of the possibility of fatal encounters with neighboring packs. The smallest territory on record was held by a pack of six wolves in northeastern Minnesota, which occupied an estimated 33 km2 (13 sq mi), while the largest was held by an Alaskan pack of ten wolves encompassing a 6,272 km2 (2,422 sq mi) area. Wolf packs are typically settled, and usually only leave their accustomed ranges during severe food shortages.

Wolves defend their territories from other packs through a combination of scent marking, direct attacks and howling. Scent marking is used for territorial advertisement, and involves urination, defecation and ground scratching. Scent marks are generally left every 240 metres throughout the territory on regular travelways and junctions. Such markers can last for 2–3 weeks, and are typically placed near rocks, boulders, trees or the skeletons of large animals. Territorial fights are among the principal causes of wolf mortality, with one study concluding that 14–65% of wolf deaths in Minnesota and the Denali National Park and Preserve were due to predation by other wolves.

Technical Details

This image was captured with a Canon EOS 1D MkII with an EF 24-105mm f/4L lens attached.  Exposure settings were at 1/320 second at f/6.3 with 400 ISO.

Wednesday Wonderment – Ep 32

Colors provide beauty everywhere!

Following the past couple of weeks that saw us at the beach, we’re moving in-land and re-visit one of my favorite subjects of trees.  However, this time we’re looking at a specific aspect of trees’ leaves that pulls tourists into New England during the Autumn season in droves: changing of leaf color during Fall.

Entire forests provide spectacular colors that travel from North to South in a band of vibrance that can be seen from space.  As we’re nearing the Autumn season, it’s time to start planning some photography trips to capture this display of Nature’s beauty.

Are there seasonal changes that you’re looking forward to in your area?

Leaves to Fall

 Chlorophyll and Leaf Color

A green leaf is green because of the presence of a pigment known as chlorophyll, which is inside an organelle called a chloroplast. When they are abundant in the leaf’s cells, as they are during the growing season, the chlorophyll’s green color dominates and masks out the colors of any other pigments that may be present in the leaf. Thus the leaves of summer are characteristically green.
Chlorophyll has a vital function: it captures solar rays and uses the resulting energy in the manufacture of the plant’s food — simple sugars which are produced from water and carbon dioxide. These sugars are the basis of the plant’s nourishment — the sole source of the carbohydrates needed for growth and development. In their food-manufacturing process, the chlorophylls breaks down and thus are being continually “used up”. During the growing season, however, the plant replenishes the chlorophyll so that the supply remains high and the leaves stay green.

In late summer, as daylight hours shorten and temperatures cool, the veins that carry fluids into and out of the leaf are gradually closed off as a layer of special cork cells forms at the base of each leaf. As this cork layer develops, water and mineral intake into the leaf is reduced, slowly at first, and then more rapidly. It is during this time that the chlorophyll begins to decrease.

Often the veins will still be green after the tissues between them have almost completely changed color.

Much chlorophyll is in Photosystem II (Light Harvesting Complex II or LHC II), the most abundant membrane protein on earth. LHC II is where light is captured in photosynthesis. It is located in the thylakoid membrane of the chloroplast and it is composed of an apoprotein along with several ligands, the most important of which are chlorophylls a and b. In the fall, this complex is broken down. Chlorophyll degradation is thought to occur first. Recent research suggests that the beginning of chlorophyll degradation is catalyzed by chlorophyll b reductase, which reduces chlorophyll b to 7‑hydroxymethyl chlorophyll a, which is then reduced to chlorophyll a. This is believed to destabilize the complex, at which point breakdown of the apoprotein occurs. An important enzyme in the breakdown of the apoprotein is FtsH6, which belongs to the FtsH family of proteases.

Chlorophylls degrade into colorless tetrapyrroles known as nonfluorescent chlorophyll catabolites (NCCs). As the chlorophylls degrade, the hidden pigments of yellow xanthophylls and orange beta-carotene are revealed. These pigments are present throughout the year, but the red pigments, the anthocyanins, are synthesized de novo once roughly half of chlorophyll has been degraded. The amino acids released from degradation of light harvesting complexes are stored all winter in the tree’s roots, branches, stems, and trunk until next spring when they are recycled to re‑leaf the tree.

Pigments that Contribute to Other Colors


Carotenoids are present in leaves the whole year round, but their orange-yellow colors are usually masked by green chlorophyll. As autumn approaches, certain influences both inside and outside the plant cause the chlorophylls to be replaced at a slower rate than they are being used up. During this period, with the total supply of chlorophylls gradually dwindling, the “masking” effect slowly fades away. Then other pigments that have been present (along with the chlorophylls) in the cells all during the leaf’s life begin to show through. These are carotenoids and they provide colorations of yellow, brown, orange, and the many hues in between.

The carotenoids occur, along with the chlorophyll pigments, in tiny structures called plastids within the cells of leaves. Sometimes they are in such abundance in the leaf that they give a plant a yellow-green color, even during the summer. Usually, however, they become prominent for the first time in autumn, when the leaves begin to lose their chlorophyll.

Carotenoids are common in many living things, giving characteristic color to carrots, corn, canaries, and daffodils, as well as egg yolks, rutabagas, buttercups, and bananas.

Their brilliant yellows and oranges tint the leaves of such hardwood species as hickories, ash, maple, yellow poplar, aspen, birch, black cherry, sycamore, cottonwood, sassafras, and alder. Carotenoids are the dominant pigment in coloration of about 15-30% of tree species.


The reds, the purples, and their blended combinations that decorate autumn foliage come from another group of pigments in the cells called anthocyanins. Unlike the carotenoids, these pigments are not present in the leaf throughout the growing season, but are actively produced towards the end of summer. They develop in late summer in the sap of the cells of the leaf, and this development is the result of complex interactions of many influences — both inside and outside the plant. Their formation depends on the breakdown of sugars in the presence of bright light as the level of phosphate in the leaf is reduced.

During the summer growing season, phosphate is at a high level. It has a vital role in the breakdown of the sugars manufactured by chlorophyll. But in the fall, phosphate, along with the other chemicals and nutrients, moves out of the leaf into the stem of the plant. When this happens, the sugar-breakdown process changes, leading to the production of anthocyanin pigments. The brighter the light during this period, the greater the production of anthocyanins and the more brilliant the resulting color display. When the days of autumn are bright and cool, and the nights are chilly but not freezing, the brightest colorations usually develop.

Anthocyanins temporarily color the edges of some of the very young leaves as they unfold from the buds in early spring. They also give the familiar color to such common fruits as cranberries, red apples, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, and plums.
Anthocyanins are present in about 10% of tree species in temperate regions, although in certain areas — most famously New England — up to 70% of tree species may produce the pigment.  In autumn forests they appear vivid in the maples, oaks, sourwood, sweetgums, dogwoods, tupelos, cherry trees and persimmons. These same pigments often combine with the carotenoids’ colors to create the deeper orange, fiery reds, and bronzes typical of many hardwood species.

Cell walls

The brown color of leaves is not the result of a pigment, but rather cell walls, which may be evident when no coloring pigment is visible.

Technical Details

This image was captured with a Canon EOS 1D MkIII with an EF 24-105mm f/4L lens attached.  Exposure settings were at 1/320 second at f/5.6 with 100 ISO.

Wednesday Wonderment – Ep. 31

Looking forward to snow?

After looking at the beach over the past week, which for most of us brings vision of warm Summer days, I thought it might be interesting to look at something that is a wonder of a different season: Snow!

Snow is definitely not among the favorite forms of precipitation for everyone, as, in even small amounts, it can hinder travel, unless one is prepared for it.  For me, snow is a contributor to amazing landscapes, so I always look forward to a beautiful snowfall that gives a complete different expression to the landscape that we see every day.

Since snow is composed of small ice particles, it is a granular material. It has an open and therefore soft, white, and fluffy structure, unless subjected to external pressure.  Snowflakes come in a variety of sizes and shapes.  Types that fall in the form of a ball due to melting and refreezing, rather than a flake, are hail, ice pellets or snow grains.

To connect back to last week, I present an image that contains both beach and snow…

Winter Beach Weather


Snow crystals form when tiny supercooled cloud droplets (about 10 μm in diameter) freeze. These droplets are able to remain liquid at temperatures lower than −18 °C (0 °F), because to freeze, a few molecules in the droplet need to get together by chance to form an arrangement similar to that in an ice lattice. Then the droplet freezes around this “nucleus”. Experiments show that this “homogeneous” nucleation of cloud droplets only occurs at temperatures lower than −35 °C (−31 °F).  In warmer clouds an aerosol particle or “ice nucleus” must be present in (or in contact with) the droplet to act as a nucleus. Ice nuclei are very rare compared to that cloud condensation nuclei on which liquid droplets form. Clays, desert dust and biological particles may be effective, although to what extent is unclear. Artificial nuclei include particles of silver iodide and dry ice, and these are used to stimulate precipitation in cloud seeding.

Once a droplet has frozen, it grows in the supersaturated environment—one where air is saturated with respect to ice when the temperature is below the freezing point. The droplet then grows by diffusion of water molecules in the air (vapor) onto the ice crystal surface where they are collected. Because water droplets are so much more numerous than the ice crystals due to their sheer abundance, the crystals are able to grow to hundreds of micrometers or millimeters in size at the expense of the water droplets by a process known as the Wegner-Bergeron-Findeison process. The corresponding depletion of water vapor causes the ice crystals to grow at the droplets’ expense. These large crystals are an efficient source of precipitation, since they fall through the atmosphere due to their mass, and may collide and stick together in clusters, or aggregates. These aggregates are snowflakes, and are usually the type of ice particle that falls to the ground. Guinness World Records list the world’s largest snowflakes as those of January 1887 at Fort Keogh, Montana; allegedly one measured 38 cm (15 in) wide. Although the ice is clear, scattering of light by the crystal facets and hollows/imperfections mean that the crystals often appear white in color due to diffuse reflection of the whole spectrum of light by the small ice particles.

The shape of the snowflake is determined broadly by the temperature and humidity at which it is formed.  The most common snow particles are visibly irregular. Planar crystals (thin and flat) grow in air between 0 °C (32 °F) and −3 °C (27 °F). Between −3 °C (27 °F) and −8 °C (18 °F), the crystals will form needles or hollow columns or prisms (long thin pencil-like shapes). From −8 °C (18 °F) to −22 °C (−8 °F) the shape reverts to plate-like, often with branched or dendritic features. At temperatures below −22 °C (−8 °F), the crystal development becomes column-like, although many more complex growth patterns also form such as side-planes, bullet-rosettes and also planar types depending on the conditions and ice nuclei. If a crystal has started forming in a column growth regime, at around −5 °C (23 °F), and then falls into the warmer plate-like regime, then plate or dendritic crystals sprout at the end of the column, producing so called “capped columns”.

A snowflake consists of roughly 1019 water molecules, which are added to its core at different rates and in different patterns, depending on the changing temperature and humidity within the atmosphere that the snowflake falls through on its way to the ground. As a result, it is extremely difficult to encounter two identical snowflakes. Initial attempts to find identical snowflakes by photographing thousands their images under a microscope from 1885 onward by Wilson Alwyn Bentley found the wide variety of snowflakes we know about today.  It is more likely that two snowflakes could become virtually identical if their environments were similar enough. Matching snow crystals were discovered in Wisconsin in 1988. The crystals were not flakes in the usual sense but rather hollow hexagonal prisms.

Types of Snow

Types of snow can be designated by the shape of the flakes, the rate of accumulation, and the way the snow collects on the ground. Types that fall in the form of a ball due to melting and refreezing cycles, rather than a flake, are known as graupel, with ice pellets and snow pellets as types of graupel associated with wintry precipitation.  Once on the ground, snow can be categorized as powdery when fluffy, granular when it begins the cycle of melting and refreezing, and eventually ice once it packs down into a dense drift after multiple melting and refreezing cycles. When powdery, snow drifts with the wind from the location where it originally fell,  forming deposits with a depth of several meters in isolated locations.  Snow fences are constructed in order to help control snow drifting in the vicinity of roads, to improve highway safety.  After attaching to hillsides, blown snow can evolve into a snow slab, which is an avalanche hazard on steep slopes. A frozen equivalent of dew known as hoar frost forms on a snow pack when winds are light and there is ample low-level moisture over the snow pack.

Snowfall’s intensity is determined by visibility. When the visibility is over 1 kilometer (0.62 mi), snow is considered light. Moderate snow describes snowfall with visibility restrictions between 0.5 and 1 km. Heavy snowfall describes conditions when visibility is less than 0.5 km.  Steady snows of significant intensity are often referred to as “snowstorms”.  When snow is of variable intensity and short duration, it is described as a “snow shower”.  The term snow flurry is used to describe the lightest form of a snow shower.

A blizzard is a weather condition involving snow and has varying definitions in different parts of the world. In the United States, a blizzard occurs when two conditions are met for a period of three hours or more: A sustained wind or frequent gusts to 35 miles per hour (56 km/h), and sufficient snow in the air to reduce visibility to less than 0.4 kilometers (0.25 mi).  In Canada and the United Kingdom, the criteria are similar.  While heavy snowfall often occurs during blizzard conditions, falling snow is not a requirement, as blowing snow can create a ground blizzard

Technical Details

This image was captured with a Canon EOS 1D MkII with an EF 24-105mm f/4L lens attached.  Exposure settings were at 1/50 second at f/20 with 400 IS

Wednesday Wonderment – Ep. 30

A day at the beach!

Last week, we looked up to the sky for our source of wonderment in the clouds.  This week, it’s time to get our heads out of the clouds and plant our feet firmly in the sand on the beach, as that’s where we’re heading: the Beach.

You might think that beaches are nothing more than simple deposits of sand, where enough erosion has taken place to grind rocks into grains of sand.  However, I’m sure that many of you have visited beaches that have varied greatly, ranging from beaches with various colors of sand ranging from bright white to beautiful black and even pink, or beaches with pebbles.

One of the aspects that I enjoy at beaches is that the interaction between land and water creates very interesting patterns, be it in sand or pebbles.



The development of the beach as a popular leisure resort from the mid-19th century was the first manifestation of what is now the global tourist industry. The first seaside resorts were opened in the 18th century for the aristocracy, who began to frequent the seaside as well as the then fashionable spa towns, for recreation and health.

One of the earliest such seaside resorts, was Scarborough in Yorkshire during the 1720s; it had been a fashionable spa town since a stream of acidic water was discovered running from one of the cliffs to the south of the town in the 17th century. The first rolling bathing machines were introduced by 1735.

The opening of the resort in Brighton and its reception of royal patronage from King George IV, extended the seaside as a resort for health and pleasure to the much larger London market, and the beach became a centre for upper-class pleasure and frivolity. This trend was praised and artistically elevated by the new romantic ideal of the picturesque landscape; Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon is an example of that. Later, Queen Victoria’s long-standing patronage of the Isle of Wight and Ramsgate in Kent ensured that a seaside residence was considered as a highly fashionable possession for those wealthy enough to afford more than one home.

Seaside resorts for the working class

The extension of this form of leisure to the middle and working class began with the development of the railways in the 1840s, which offered cheap and affordable fares to fast growing resort towns. In particular, the completion of a branch line to the small seaside town Blackpool from Poulton led to a sustained economic and demographic boom. A sudden influx of visitors, arriving by rail, provided the motivation for entrepreneurs to build accommodation and create new attractions, leading to more visitors and a rapid cycle of growth throughout the 1850s and 1860s.

The growth was intensified by the practice among the Lancashire cotton mill owners of closing the factories for a week every year to service and repair machinery. These became known as wakes weeks. Each town’s mills would close for a different week, allowing Blackpool to manage a steady and reliable stream of visitors over a prolonged period in the summer. A prominent feature of the resort was the promenade and the pleasure piers, where an eclectic variety of performances vied for the people’s attention. In 1863, the North Pier in Blackpool was completed, rapidly becoming a centre of attraction for elite visitors. Central Pier was completed in 1868, with a theatre and a large open-air dance floor.

Many of the popular beach resorts were equipped with bathing machines, because even the all-covering beachwear of the period was considered immodest. By the end of the century the English coastline had over 100 large resort towns, some with populations exceeding 50,000.

Beach Formation

Beaches are the result of wave action by which waves or currents move sand or other loose sediments of which the beach is made as these particles are held in suspension. Alternatively, sand may be moved by saltation (a bouncing movement of large particles).

Beach materials come from erosion of rocks offshore, as well as from headland erosion and slumping producing deposits of scree. Some of the whitest sand in the world, along Florida’s Emerald Coast, comes from the erosion of quartz in the Appalachian Mountains.

A coral reef offshore is a significant source of sand particles. Some species of fish that feed on algae attached to coral outcrops and rocks can create substantial quantities of sand particles over their lifetime as they nibble during feeding, digesting the organic matter, and discarding the rock and coral particles which pass through their digestive tracts.

The composition of the beach depends upon the nature and quantity of sediments upstream of the beach, and the speed of flow and turbidity of water and wind.

Sediments are moved by moving water and wind according to their particle size and state of compaction. Particles tend to settle and compact in still water. Once compacted, they are more resistant to erosion. Established vegetation (especially species with complex network root systems) will resist erosion by slowing the fluid flow at the surface layer.

When affected by moving water or wind, particles that are eroded and held in suspension will increase the erosive power of the fluid that holds them by increasing the average density, viscosity and volume of the moving fluid.

The nature of sediments found on a beach tends to indicate the energy of the waves and wind in the locality. Coastlines facing very energetic wind and wave systems will tend to hold only large rocks as smaller particles will be held in suspension in the turbid water column and carried to calmer areas by longshore currents and tides. Coastlines that are protected from waves and winds will tend to allow finer sediments such as clays and mud to precipitate creating mud flats and mangrove forests.

The shape of a beach depends on whether the waves are constructive or destructive, and whether the material is sand or shingle.

Waves are constructive if the period between their wave crests is long enough for the breaking water to recede and the sediment to settle before the succeeding wave arrives and breaks. Fine sediment transported from lower down the beach profile will compact if the receding water percolates or soaks into the beach. Compacted sediment is more resistant to movement by turbulent water from succeeding waves.

Conversely, waves are destructive if the period between the wave crests is short. Sediment that remains in suspension when the following wave crest arrives will not be able to settle and compact and will be more susceptible to erosion by longshore currents and receding tides.

Constructive waves move material up the beach while destructive waves move the material down the beach. During seasons when destructive waves are prevalent, the shallows will carry an increased load of sediment and organic matter in suspension.

On sandy beaches, the turbulent backwash of destructive waves removes material forming a gently sloping beach. On pebble and shingle beaches the swash is dissipated more quickly because the large particle size allows greater percolation, thereby reducing the power of the backwash, and the beach remains steep.

Compacted fine sediments will form a smooth beach surface that resists wind and water erosion. During hot calm seasons, a crust may form on the surface of ocean beaches as the heat of the sun evaporates the water leaving the salt which crystallises around the sand particles. This crust forms an additional protective layer that resists wind erosion unless disturbed by animals, or dissolved by the advancing tide.

Cusps and horns form where incoming waves divide, depositing sand as horns and scouring out sand to form cusps. This forms the uneven face on some sand shorelines.

Technical Details

This image was captured with a Canon EOS 1D MkII with an EF 24-105mm f/4L lens attached.  Exposure settings were at 1/50 second at f/20 with 400 ISO.

Wednesday Wonderment – Ep. 29

From both sides now…

This week, I’m reaching to the skies for an additional source of wonderment.  It’s not the beautiful shades of blue that are the result of Rayleigh Scattering in the upper atmosphere, but rather the window dressing above our pates that changes on a regular basis: Clouds.

Clouds are a never-ceasing source of inspiration, meditation and contemplation.  They can hide the Sun, or provide a source for daydreams, as we imagine what the shapes of each of the clouds are.  They can be heavy and dense, threatening with inclement weather, or light and whispy, letting us know that the weather is just perfect!

Here’s a view of streaky clouds blowing across the sky…

Sunrise Streaks

The origin of the term cloud can be found in the old English clud or clod, meaning a hill or a mass of rock. Around the beginning of the 13th century, it was extended as a metaphor to include rain clouds as masses of evaporated water in the sky because of the similarity in appearance between a mass of rock and a cumulus heap cloud. Over time, the metaphoric term replaced the original old English weolcan to refer to clouds in general.

History of cloud science and nomenclature

Aristotle and Theophrastus

Ancient cloud studies were not made in isolation, but were observed in combination with other weather elements and even other natural sciences. In about 340 BC the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote Meteorologica, a work which represented the sum of knowledge of the time about natural science, including weather and climate. For the first time, precipitation and the clouds from which precipitation fell were called meteors, which originate from the Greek word meteoros, meaning ‘high in the sky’. From that word came the modern term meteorology, the study of clouds and weather. Meteorologica was based on intuition and simple observation, but not on what is now considered the scientific method. Nevertheless, it was the first known work that attempted to treat a broad range of meteorological topics.

The magazine De Mundo (attributed to Pseudo-Aristotle) noted:

Cloud is a vaporous mass, concentrated and producing water. Rain is produced from the compression of a closely condensed cloud, varying according to the pressure exerted on the cloud; when the pressure is slight it scatters gentle drops; when it is great it produces a more violent fall, and we call this a shower, being heavier than ordinary rain, and forming continuous masses of water falling over earth. Snow is produced by the breaking up of condensed clouds, the cleavage taking place before the change into water; it is the process of cleavage which causes its resemblance to foam and its intense whiteness, while the cause of its coldness is the congelation of the moisture in it before it is dispersed or rarefied. When snow is violent and falls heavily we call it a blizzard. Hail is produced when snow becomes densified and acquires impetus for a swifter fall from its close mass; the weight becomes greater and the fall more violent in proportion to the size of the broken fragments of cloud. Such then are the phenomena which occur as the result of moist exhalation.

Several years after Aristotle’s book, his pupil Theophrastus put together a book on weather forecasting called The Book of Signs. Various indicators such as solar and lunar halos formed by high clouds were presented as ways to forecast the weather. The combined works of Aristotle and Theophrastus had such authority they became the main influence in the study of clouds, weather and weather forecasting for nearly 2000 years.

Luke Howard, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, and the first comprehensive classification

After centuries of speculative theories about the formation and behavior of clouds, the first truly scientific studies were undertaken by Luke Howard in England and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in France. Howard was a methodical observer with a strong grounding in the Latin language and used his background to classify the various tropospheric cloud types during 1802. He believed that the changing cloud forms in the sky could unlock the key to weather forecasting. Lamarck had worked independently on cloud classification the same year and had come up with a different naming scheme that failed to make an impression even in his home country of France because it used unusual French names for cloud types. His system of nomenclature included twelve categories of clouds, with such names as (translated from French) hazy clouds, dappled clouds and broom-like clouds. By contrast, Howard used universally accepted Latin, which caught on quickly after it was published in 1803. As a sign of the popularity of the naming scheme, the German dramatist and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe composed four poems about clouds, dedicating them to Howard. An elaboration of Howard’s system was eventually formally adopted by the International Meteorological Conference in 1891.

Howard’s original system established three general cloud forms based on physical appearance and process of formation: cirriform (mainly detached and wispy), cumuliform or convective (mostly detached and heaped, rolled, or rippled), and non-convective stratiform (mainly continuous layers in sheets). These were cross-classified into lower and upper étages. Cumuliform clouds forming in the lower level were given the genus name cumulus from the Latin word for heap, and low stratiform clouds the genus name stratus from the Latin word for sheet or layer. Physically similar clouds forming in the upper étage were given the genus names cirrocumulus (generally showing more limited convective activity than low level cumulus) and cirrostratus, respectively. Cirriform clouds were identified as always upper level and given the genus name cirrus from the Latin for ‘fibre’ or ‘hair’.

In addition to these individual cloud types; Howard added two names to designate cloud systems consisting of more than one form joined together or located in very close proximity. Cumulostratus described large cumulus clouds blended with stratiform layers in the lower or upper levels. The term nimbus was given to complex systems of cirriform, cumuliform, and stratiform clouds with sufficient vertical development to produce significant precipitation, and it came to be identified as a distinct nimbiform physical category.

Howard’s successors

In 1840, German meteorologist Ludwig Kaemtz added stratocumulus to Howard’s canon as a mostly detached low-étage genus of limited convection. It was defined as having cumuliform- and stratiform characteristics integrated into a single layer (in contrast to cumulostratus which was deemed to be composite in nature and could be structured into more than one layer). This led to the recognition of a stratocumuliform category that included rolled and rippled clouds classified separately from the more freely convective heaped cumuliform clouds.

During the mid 1850s, Emilien Renou, director of the Parc Saint-Maur and Montsouris observatories, began work on an elaboration of Howard’s classifications that would lead to the introduction during the 1870s of altocumulus (physically more closely related to stratocumulus than to cumulus) and altostratus. These were respectively stratocumuliform and stratiform cloud genera of a newly defined middle étage above stratocumulus and stratus but below cirrocumulus and cirrostratus.

In 1880, Philip Weilbach, secretary and librarian at the Art Academy in Copenhagen, and like Luke Howard, an amateur meteorologist, unsuccessfully proposed an alternative to Howard’s classification. However, he also proposed and had accepted by the permanent committee of the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), a forerunner of the present-day World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the designation of a new free-convective vertical or multi-étage genus type, cumulonimbus, which would be distinct from cumulus and nimbus and identifiable by its often very complex structure (frequently including a cirriform top and what are now recognized as multiple accessory clouds), and its ability to produce thunder. With this addition, a canon of ten tropospheric cloud genera was established that came to be officially and universally accepted.  Howard’s cumulostratus was not included as a distinct type, having effectively been reclassified into its component cumuliform and stratiform genus types already included in the new canon.

In 1890, Otto Jesse revealed the discovery and identification of the first clouds known to form above the troposphere. He proposed the name noctilucent which is Latin for night shining. Because of the extremely high altitudes of these clouds in what is now known to be the mesosphere, they could become illuminated by the a sun’s rays when the sky was nearly dark after sunset and before sunrise.  Three years later, Henrik Mohn revealed a similar discovery of nacreous clouds in what is now considered the stratosphere.

In 1896, the first cloud atlas sanctioned by the IMO was produced by Teisserenc de Borte based on collaborations with Hugo H. Hildebrandsson. The latter had become the first researcher to use photography for the study and classification of clouds in 1879.

Alternatives to Howard’s classification system were proposed throughout the 19th century. Heinrich Dove of Germany and Elias Loomis of the United States came up with other schemes in 1828 and 1841 respectively, but neither met with international success. Additional proposals were made by Andre Poey (1863), Clemment Ley (1894), and H.H. Clayton (1896), but their systems, like earlier alternative schemes, differed too much from Howard’s to have any success beyond the adoption of some secondary cloud types. However, Clayton’s idea to formalize the division of clouds by their physical structures into cirriform, stratiform, “flocciform” (stratocumuliform) and cumuliform (with the later addition of cumulonimbiform), eventually found favor as an aid in the analysis of satellite cloud images.

20th-century developments

A further modification of the genus classification system came when an IMC commission for the study of clouds put forward a refined and more restricted definition of the genus nimbus which was effectively reclassified as a stratiform cloud type. It was then renamed nimbostratus and published with the new name in the 1932 edition of the International Atlas of Clouds and of States of the Sky. This left cumulonimbus as the only nimbiform type as indicated by its root-name.

On April 1, 1960, the first successful weather satellite, TIROS-1 (Television Infrared Observation Satellite), was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with the participation of The US Army Signal Research and Development Lab, RCA, the US Weather Bureau, and the US Naval Photographic Center. During its 78-day mission, it relayed thousands of pictures showing the structure of large-scale cloud regimes, and proved that satellites could provide useful surveillance of global weather conditions from space.

In 1976, the United Kingdom Department of Industry published a modification of the international cloud classification system adapted for satellite cloud observations. It was co-sponsored by NASA and showed a change in name of the nimbiform type to cumulonimbiform, although the earlier name and original meaning pertaining to all rain clouds can still be found in some classifications.

Where to go from here…

Next time you go outside, look around you to ensure that your surroundings are safe, and then look up to the sky and take in the cloud formations that grace the firmament.  Don’t just do this once, but do it every day with appreciation for the moment, in which you find yourself.

Wednesday Wonderment – Ep. 28

A light subject

As a photographer, even beyond the wonderful things that we can see in the world around us, there is one aspect, without which we cannot work.  The amazing part of photography, which never ceases to fill me with wonderment: Light!

Light is a very interesting and rather complex entity.  As visible light is made up of light of many frequencies, the exact blend of these frequencies, or colors, determines the quality of light; in photography, the quality of light is important in helping set the tone of an image.  You may have heard about the ‘golden hour’, which is a period of the day when light has a warm quality (i.e. more reddish hues), which can lend beautiful tonality to a landscape or portrait.

An example of warm light is this image from about 12 years ago, where the combination of color and light provide for a richly colored image.

Geese on the Quinapoxet

Light quality to a photographer is a blend of color (temperature), diffused vs directional (soft vs hard) and direction; these factors help determine the overall look of an image.  As a physicist, what we have learned about light over the centuries is an interesting story.

History of Theories about Light

In the fifth century BC, Empedocles postulated that everything was composed of four elements; fire, air, earth and water. He believed that Aphrodite made the human eye out of the four elements and that she lit the fire in the eye which shone out from the eye making sight possible. If this were true, then one could see during the night just as well as during the day, so Empedocles postulated an interaction between rays from the eyes and rays from a source such as the sun.

In about 300 BC, Euclid wrote Optica, in which he studied the properties of light. Euclid postulated that light travelled in straight lines and he described the laws of reflection and studied them mathematically. He questioned that sight is the result of a beam from the eye, for he asks how one sees the stars immediately, if one closes one’s eyes, then opens them at night. Of course if the beam from the eye travels infinitely fast this is not a problem.

In 55 BC, Lucretius, a Roman who carried on the ideas of earlier Greek atomists, wrote:

The light & heat of the sun; these are composed of minute atoms which, when they are shoved off, lose no time in shooting right across the interspace of air in the direction imparted by the shove.” – On the nature of the Universe

Despite being similar to later particle theories, Lucretius’s views were not generally accepted.

Ptolemy (c. 2nd century) wrote about the refraction of light in his book Optics.

Classical India

In ancient India, the Hindu schools of Samkhya and Vaisheshika, from around the early centuries AD developed theories on light. According to the Samkhya school, light is one of the five fundamental “subtle” elements (tanmatra) out of which emerge the gross elements. The atomicity of these elements is not specifically mentioned and it appears that they were actually taken to be continuous. On the other hand, the Vaisheshika school gives an atomic theory of the physical world on the non-atomic ground of ether, space and time. (See Indian atomism.) The basic atoms are those of earth (prthivi), water (pani), fire (agni), and air (vayu) Light rays are taken to be a stream of high velocity of tejas (fire) atoms. The particles of light can exhibit different characteristics depending on the speed and the arrangements of the tejas atoms. The Vishnu Purana refers to sunlight as “the seven rays of the sun”.

The Indian Buddhists, such as Dignāga in the 5th century and Dharmakirti in the 7th century, developed a type of atomism that is a philosophy about reality being composed of atomic entities that are momentary flashes of light or energy. They viewed light as being an atomic entity equivalent to energy.


René Descartes (1596–1650) held that light was a mechanical property of the luminous body, rejecting the “forms” of Ibn al-Haytham and Witelo as well as the “species” of Bacon, Grosseteste, and Kepler. In 1637 he published a theory of the refraction of light that assumed, incorrectly, that light travelled faster in a denser medium than in a less dense medium. Descartes arrived at this conclusion by analogy with the behaviour of sound waves. Although Descartes was incorrect about the relative speeds, he was correct in assuming that light behaved like a wave and in concluding that refraction could be explained by the speed of light in different media.

Descartes is not the first to use the mechanical analogies but because he clearly asserts that light is only a mechanical property of the luminous body and the transmitting medium, Descartes’ theory of light is regarded as the start of modern physical optics.

Particle theory

Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655), an atomist, proposed a particle theory of light which was published posthumously in the 1660s. Isaac Newton studied Gassendi’s work at an early age, and preferred his view to Descartes’ theory of the plenum. He stated in his Hypothesis of Light of 1675 that light was composed of corpuscles (particles of matter) which were emitted in all directions from a source. One of Newton’s arguments against the wave nature of light was that waves were known to bend around obstacles, while light travelled only in straight lines. He did, however, explain the phenomenon of the diffraction of light (which had been observed by Francesco Grimaldi) by allowing that a light particle could create a localised wave in the aether.

Newton’s theory could be used to predict the reflection of light, but could only explain refraction by incorrectly assuming that light accelerated upon entering a denser medium because the gravitational pull was greater. Newton published the final version of his theory in his Opticks of 1704. His reputation helped the particle theory of light to hold sway during the 18th century. The particle theory of light led Laplace to argue that a body could be so massive that light could not escape from it. In other words, it would become what is now called a black hole. Laplace withdrew his suggestion later, after a wave theory of light became firmly established as the model for light (as has been explained, neither a particle or wave theory is fully correct). A translation of Newton’s essay on light appears in The large scale structure of space-time, by Stephen Hawking and George F. R. Ellis.

The fact that light could be polarized was for the first time qualitatively explained by Newton using the particle theory. Étienne-Louis Malus in 1810 created a mathematical particle theory of polarization. Jean-Baptiste Biot in 1812 showed that this theory explained all known phenomena of light polarization. At that time the polarization was considered as the proof of the particle theory.

Wave theory

To explain the origin of colors, Robert Hooke (1635-1703) developed a “pulse theory” and compared the spreading of light to that of waves in water in his 1665 work Micrographia (“Observation IX”). In 1672 Hooke suggested that light’s vibrations could be perpendicular to the direction of propagation. Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) worked out a mathematical wave theory of light in 1678, and published it in his Treatise on light in 1690. He proposed that light was emitted in all directions as a series of waves in a medium called the Luminiferous ether. As waves are not affected by gravity, it was assumed that they slowed down upon entering a denser medium.

The wave theory predicted that light waves could interfere with each other like sound waves (as noted around 1800 by Thomas Young). Young showed by means of a diffraction experiment that light behaved as waves. He also proposed that different colours were caused by different wavelengths of light, and explained colour vision in terms of three-coloured receptors in the eye.

Another supporter of the wave theory was Leonhard Euler. He argued in Nova theoria lucis et colorum (1746) that diffraction could more easily be explained by a wave theory.

In 1816 André-Marie Ampère gave Augustin-Jean Fresnel an idea that the polarization of light can be explained by the wave theory if light were a transverse wave.

Later, Fresnel independently worked out his own wave theory of light, and presented it to the Académie des Sciences in 1817. Siméon Denis Poisson added to Fresnel’s mathematical work to produce a convincing argument in favour of the wave theory, helping to overturn Newton’s corpuscular theory. By the year 1821, Fresnel was able to show via mathematical methods that polarisation could be explained by the wave theory of light and only if light was entirely transverse, with no longitudinal vibration whatsoever.

The weakness of the wave theory was that light waves, like sound waves, would need a medium for transmission. The existence of the hypothetical substance luminiferous aether proposed by Huygens in 1678 was cast into strong doubt in the late nineteenth century by the Michelson–Morley experiment.

Newton’s corpuscular theory implied that light would travel faster in a denser medium, while the wave theory of Huygens and others implied the opposite. At that time, the speed of light could not be measured accurately enough to decide which theory was correct. The first to make a sufficiently accurate measurement was Léon Foucault, in 1850. His result supported the wave theory, and the classical particle theory was finally abandoned, only to partly re-emerge in the 20th century.

Electromagnetic theory as explanation for all types of visible light and all EM radiation

In 1845, Michael Faraday discovered that the plane of polarisation of linearly polarised light is rotated when the light rays travel along the magnetic field direction in the presence of a transparent dielectric, an effect now known as Faraday rotation. This was the first evidence that light was related to electromagnetism. In 1846 he speculated that light might be some form of disturbance propagating along magnetic field lines. Faraday proposed in 1847 that light was a high-frequency electromagnetic vibration, which could propagate even in the absence of a medium such as the ether.

Faraday’s work inspired James Clerk Maxwell to study electromagnetic radiation and light. Maxwell discovered that self-propagating electromagnetic waves would travel through space at a constant speed, which happened to be equal to the previously measured speed of light. From this, Maxwell concluded that light was a form of electromagnetic radiation: he first stated this result in 1862 in On Physical Lines of Force. In 1873, he published A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism, which contained a full mathematical description of the behaviour of electric and magnetic fields, still known as Maxwell’s equations. Soon after, Heinrich Hertz confirmed Maxwell’s theory experimentally by generating and detecting radio waves in the laboratory, and demonstrating that these waves behaved exactly like visible light, exhibiting properties such as reflection, refraction, diffraction, and interference. Maxwell’s theory and Hertz’s experiments led directly to the development of modern radio, radar, television, electromagnetic imaging, and wireless communications.

In the quantum theory, photons are seen as wave packets of the waves described in the classical theory of Maxwell. The quantum theory was needed to explain effects even with visual light that Maxwell’s classical theory could not (such as spectral lines).

Quantum theory

In 1900 Max Planck, attempting to explain black body radiation suggested that although light was a wave, these waves could gain or lose energy only in finite amounts related to their frequency. Planck called these “lumps” of light energy “quanta” (from a Latin word for “how much”). In 1905, Albert Einstein used the idea of light quanta to explain the photoelectric effect, and suggested that these light quanta had a “real” existence. In 1923 Arthur Holly Compton showed that the wavelength shift seen when low intensity X-rays scattered from electrons (so called Compton scattering) could be explained by a particle-theory of X-rays, but not a wave theory. In 1926 Gilbert N. Lewis named these light quanta particles photons.

Eventually the modern theory of quantum mechanics came to picture light as (in some sense) both a particle and a wave, and (in another sense), as a phenomenon which is neither a particle nor a wave (which actually are macroscopic phenomena, such as baseballs or ocean waves). Instead, modern physics sees light as something that can be described sometimes with mathematics appropriate to one type of macroscopic metaphor (particles), and sometimes another macroscopic metaphor (water waves), but is actually something that cannot be fully imagined. As in the case for radio waves and the X-rays involved in Compton scattering, physicists have noted that electromagnetic radiation tends to behave more like a classical wave at lower frequencies, but more like a classical particle at higher frequencies, but never completely loses all qualities of one or the other. Visible light, which occupies a middle ground in frequency, can easily be shown in experiments to be describable using either a wave or particle model, or sometimes both.


Light is a multi-faceted entity, the control of which makes for a variety of possibilities, whether setting the mood in a room with specific light temperatures or createing a scene with a particular feel in a movie or photo.  The study of light opens doors to unlocking some of the secrets of effective photography, and is a lot of fun in helping us learn a bit more about the universe, in which we live.

Hopefully, this shines a light on your day!

Wednesday Wonderment – ep 26

Water, water, everywhere!

Episode 26…this means we’re hitting 6 months of Wonderment! Thanks to all of you wonderful readers, whose interest and comments have kept me on track with this, the longest running feature of my blog.

Today’s post is rather special, as there is one thing that growing up in the Netherlands teaches you at an early age: the power of water!  When you live in a country, where water is at every turn, you know that you have to be aware and mindful of what water can do.  The power of water can never be ignored in the Netherlands, as a significant portion of the country is below sea level, and storms in the North Sea can drive up the water level, thus testing dikes to their breaking point, as last happened in 1953.

Hence, my appreciation and wonderment for the Power of Water…

The Power of Water

Delta Works (Deltawerken)

The estuaries of the rivers Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt have been subject to flooding over the centuries. After building the Afsluitdijk, the Dutch started studying the damming of the Rhine-Meuse Delta. Plans were developed to shorten the coastline and turn the delta into a group of freshwater lakes. By shortening the coastline, fewer dikes would have to be reinforced.

Due to indecision and the Second World War, little action was taken. In 1950 two small estuary mouths, the Brielse Gat near Brielle and the Botlek near Vlaardingen were dammed. After the North Sea flood of 1953, a Delta Works Commission was installed to research the causes and develop measures to prevent such disasters in future. They revised some of the old plans and came up with the “Deltaplan”.

The plan consisted of blocking the estuary mouths of the Oosterschelde, the Haringvliet and the Grevelingen. This reduced the length of the dikes exposed to the sea by 700 kilometres (430 mi). The mouths of the Nieuwe Waterweg and the Westerschelde were to remain open because of the important shipping routes to the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. The dikes along these waterways were to be heightened and strengthened. The works would be combined with road and waterway infrastructure to stimulate the economy of the province of Zeeland and improve the connection between the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp.

Delta law and conceptual framework

An important part of this project was fundamental research to help solve the flooding problem. Instead of analysing past floods and building protection sufficient to deal with those, the Delta Works commission pioneered a conceptual framework to use as norm for investment in flood defences.

The framework is called the ‘Delta norm’; it includes the following principles:

  • Major areas to be protected from flooding are identified. These are called “dike ring areas” because they are protected by a ring of primary sea defences.
  • The cost of flooding is assessed using a statistical model involving damage to property, lost production, and a given amount per human life lost.
  • For the purpose of this model, a human life is valued at €2.2 million (2008 data).
  • The chances of a significant flood within the given area are calculated. This is done using data from a purpose-built flood simulation lab, as well as empirical statistical data regarding water wave properties and distribution. Storm behaviour and spring tide distribution are also taken into account.

The most important “dike ring area” is the South Holland coast region. It is home to four million people, most of whom live below normal sea level. The loss of human life in a catastrophic flood here can be very large because there is typically little warning time with North Sea storms. Comprehensive evacuation is not a realistic option for the Holland coastal region.

The commission initially set the acceptable risk for complete failure of every “dike ring” in the country at 1 in 125,000 years. But, it found that the cost of building to this level of protection could not be supported. It set “acceptable” risks by region as follows:

  • North and South Holland (excluding Wieringermeer): 1 per 10,000 years
  • Other areas at risk from sea flooding: 1 per 4,000 years
  • Transition areas between high land and low land: 1 per 2,000 years

River flooding causes less damage than salt water flooding, which causes long-term damage to agricultural lands. Areas at risk from river flooding were assigned a higher acceptable risk. River flooding also has a longer warning time, producing a lower estimated death toll per event.

  • South Holland at risk from river flooding: 1 per 1,250 years
  • Other areas at risk from river flooding: 1 per 250 years.

These acceptable risks were enshrined in the Delta Law. This required the government to keep risks of catastrophic flooding within these limits and to upgrade defences should new insights into risks require this. The limits have also been incorporated into the new Water Law, effective from 22 December 2009.

The Delta Project (of which the Delta Works are a part) has been designed with these guidelines in mind. All other primary defences have been upgraded to meet the norm.

New data elevating the risk assessment on expected sea level rise due to global warming has identified ten ‘weak points.’ These are currently being upgraded to meet the future demands. This work is expected to be completed in 2015. An upgrade to river flooding defences is underway, which is expected to be finished in 2017.

The Delta Works can be visited across the province of Zeeland, and, if you find yourself on the island of Schouwen-Duiveland, be sure to visit the Watersnood museum (Flood disaster museum) in Ouwekerk.

Technical Details

This image was captured with a Canon EOS 5D Mk III using an EF 24-105mm f/4L lens.  Exposure settings were at 1/10 second at f/16 and 100 ISO.

Wednesday Wonderment – vol 25

Fly on the lightest of wings

Wow!  We’re at the 25th instance of this weekly feature and we’re not out of things that fill me with wonder and make me think that they are worth for inclusion in Wedensday Wonderment.

Before I continue, a heartfelt thanks to all the wonderful readers who have graced my blog with their time and attention!  I really appreciate it.

Today’s bit of wonderment comes from an encounter that I had a number of years ago with this beauty…

Giant Swallowtail

This image comes form a trip to a butterfly garden here in Massachusetts about three years ago.  The Butterfly Place, as it’s named, is a wonderful place, where butterflies are bred and studied.  They have some amazing specimens, but this Giant Swallowtail really stood out for me, both in color and the details of this butterfly’s structure.

The Giant Swallowtail

The giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) is a swallowtail butterfly common in various parts of North America and marginally into South America (Colombia and Venezuela only). In the United States and Canada it is mainly found in the south and east. With a wingspan of about 10–16 cm (3.9–6.3 in), it is the largest butterfly in Canada and the United States

The body and wings are dark brown to black with yellow bands. There is a yellow “eye” in each wing tail. The abdomen has bands of yellow along with the previously mentioned brown. Adults are quite similar to the adults of another Papilio species, P. thoas.

The mature caterpillar resembles bird droppings to deter predators, and if that doesn’t work they use their orange osmeteria. These are ‘horns’ which they can display and then retract. The coloration is dingy brown and or olive with white patches and small patches of purple. Citrus fruit farmers often call the caterpillars orange dogs or orange puppies because of the devastation they can cause to their crops.

Range and Habitat

In the United States, P. cresphontes is mostly seen in deciduous forest and citrus orchards where they are considered a major pest. They fly between May and August where there are 2 broods in the North and 3 in the south. They can range from southern California, where they have been seen from March to December, reaching peak abundance in late summer/early fall), Arizona as deep south as Mexico, north into southeastern Canada. Outside USA and Canada they are found in Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Jamaica, and Cuba.

Technical Details

This image was captured with a Canon EOS 5D Mk II using an EF 24-105mm f/4L lens.  Exposure settings were at 1/80 second at f/5.6 and 640 ISO.