Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How Long Does Food Stay in the Stomach?

I started wondering how long food stays in the stomach. They say fruit moves through quickly, but can you feel food exiting your stomach, passing through the pylorus to the small intestine?  How does it happen? Bit by bit or in one semi-continuous emptying?  

According to the best website on the topic, "when the peristaltic contraction reaches the pylorus, its lumen is effectively obliterated - chyme is thus delivered to the small intestine in spurts....Liquids readily pass through the pylorus in spurts, but solids must be reduced to a diameter of less than 1-2 mm before passing the pyloric gatekeeper. Larger solids are propelled by peristalsis toward the pylorus, but then refluxed backwards when they fail to pass through the pylorus - this continues until they are reduced in size sufficiently to flow through the pylorus."

If you eat after a meal (i.e. snacking), before the stomach has emptied, what happens? Any liquids or very small bits would almost immediately begin passing the pylorus, but large chunks would swirl in the grinder until they're small enough. But can the stomach segregate new snack bits from older meal bits? Or does adding snacks on top of still-digesting meals slow exit of all food while the stomach continues grinding?  Interestingly, I found out that one of the functions of the stomach is to coagulate colloids (e.g. milk) with acid and protease so that they don't immediately enter the small intestine.

Has does the stomach know when to empty? What controls it? The small intestine can exert negative feedback control on the stomach, slowing down peristalsic emptying if the small intestine is full. In other words, the stomach is a holding tank until the small intestine is ready, and it slows down or speeds up peristalsis to small intestine.

I think even the feeling of intense hunger, which feels like it emanates from the lower stomach, is not the stomach at all but the small intestine communicating, "I'm ready for more!". It is the body speaking to the mind....that raw pang of yearning and focus is the voice of the body.

This website is a great resource!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

New Paper Continues Confirmation of Age-Defying Diet

In the last 15 years a number of research groups around the world have converged on an explanation for how dietary restrictions can lead to lifespan extension. These teams have narrowed the search to a handful of compounds.*  The central candidate, by far, is an essential amino acid called methionine, found in high amounts in meat and fish, but in very low amounts in most plant foods.

Reducing consumption of this single amino acid extends lifespan by 15-44% in every laboratory animal tested to date. This effect is sufficient to completely explain previous results that found dietary restriction of total calories led to lifespan extension. Turns out it wasn't the calories -- it was the methionine.

Methionine restriction reduces visceral fat with concomitant decreases in basal insulin, glucose, and leptin, and increased adiponectin and triiodothyronine. Methionine restriction also prevents age-associated increases in serum lipids.(source)

A new paper published this month by Koziel et al confirms previous methionine restriction results in human cell culture, mice, ratsfruit flies, and yeast. Koziel et al used human cell culture to specifically examine mitochondrial function and showed that oxidative stress is reduced by this dietary intervention.  This work supports the traditional free radical theory of aging-by-oxidative stress.

Methionine is an interesting amino acid because it promotes growth, including muscle and bone development. It is essential, and that is the point: restriction appears to promote a healthy stress-response that can confer adaptive resilience to senescence.  Other researchers have postulated that methionine restriction causes an increase in autophagy, the process whereby cells break down and recycle unused or damaged cell components. Instead of the free radical theory of aging, this theory would postulate that Methionine restriction induces a starvation-type response where cells begin to recycle their constituents at an increased pace. In this theory, "stress" is a good state to be in, because it puts cells in an active phase of self-repair. Cite: 1 and 2.

* The two other most promising age-defying compounds are rapamyacin (an antibiotic with a plethora of strange and powerful effects throughout the body) and resveratrol.  

Farewell to a good pair of Army Boots

Fresh out of the box, I took my Magnum Boots Desert Spider 8.1 HPi "Moon Boots" for a test in my backwoods.  I walked on rain-slick logs over the creek and ran up and down thick pine duff hills.  They were a good pair of boots with some pretty serious flaws, but also lots of good design ideas.  And they actually fit my feet, which is the most important thing a pair of boots can do.  That's the reason I wore them for two full field seasons even after the "rope gripping" tore out after the first couple months.

Tear on cheaply-stiched "rope gripping" patch tore out after the first couple of months.  Also note the Aqua-sealed drain holes on the fore foot, definitely the worst place to put holes in a boot!

They never did break in, though -- up to the day I finally trashed them they still felt stiff where the material has to flex around the ankles.  And the "drain holes"  were a big mistake: they let every puddle, no matter how small, splash in, plus all the dust and dirt on the trail.  I eventually plugged them with Aquaseal. 

Boot linings are usually the first to tear out, and these boots were no exception. 
Synthetic boots are on par or better than leather boots now, and the weight and cost savings of foregoing Vibram rubber is a fair tradeoff.  I just bought another pair of synthetic boots but decided to go with Irish Setter hunting boots.  The fit isn't as good for my toes, but they are lighter and seem to be of higher quality construction.  Time will tell.  
Note wear on the non-vibram soles.

(Note: my Desert Spider boots were size 9 wide)

New Theories in Evolution and Ecology

Sometimes it can be hard to see progress in biology the way we hear about physics discovering new particles or proposing Grand Unified Theories that explain the entire universe.  It is tempting to believe biology is just too diverse, variable, and multitudinous to be tractable, and that we should content ourselves with Nature-special documentary anecdotes.

But recent research has uncovered at least three major advances toward predicting evolution, social altruism, and a universal explanation of biodiversity. We may soon be able to predict short-term (9-12 month) evolution of the flu virus, rigorously describe conditions necessary for social altruism, and extrapolate biodiversity estimates using insights from thermodynamics.

The complexity, idiosyncracy, and exceptions-to-the-rule in biology are still important, but so too are these simplifying general explanations.  The stories of new "universal laws" linked below are perhaps best thought of as null-theories; jumping-off places rather than destinations in themselves:

1) Predicting Evolution ... Testable Fitness Values (link to article by Carl Zimmer)

Simple selective pressures yield relatively simple predictions: fitness increases linearly at first, but in the long run, weird mutations may diverge populations along novel and unpredictable trajectories.  The tractable problem, then, is short-term evolution, which can still be incredibly important when it is applied to, say, the next 12 months of evolution in the flu virus.  The breakthrough came with the ability to quantify fitness to predict evolvability.

One of the biggest problems of evolutionary theory has been a lack of predictive power, because fitness could only be defined tautologically, post hoc based on survival and reproduction.  If biologists are able to assign fitness ranking with any skill (link) then we may finally be able to understand evolutionary ecology -- the rise and fall of species in their environment.  Will most threatened and endangered species prove to be genetic weaklings, as suggested by this correlational study?

2) Predicting Social Altruism ... What Makes A Good Theory

This is an insightful philosophy paper that deconstructs a long-standing debate about whether altruism is predicted by fundamental evolutionary pressures.  The important step forward here is a robust definition of key terms and a searching analysis of what we should expect from abstract mathematical theories.

3)  Predicting Biodiversity .... Metabolic Scaling Laws to the Rescue

The tractable problem is to estimate the number of species in a given area when ecologists can only count species in relatively small plots.  The breakthrough came by realizing that only two additional variables (population density and total number of species) are necessary to "collapse" idiosyncratic species-area curves into a single universal curve.

The discoverer, Dr. John Harte, explains:

"If you look at all the known species-area (S-A) curves in the world, of everyplace where somebody’s gathered species-area data, and you plot them all on one big piece of graph paper- log species vs. log area, you will find that the data points fill the graph almost completely. You get every possible behavior when you just do a plot of log S vs log A. There’s no regularity. I didn’t really think that had to be the case. What I learned from developing the theory of macroecology based on the maximum-information entropy principle, is that the theory makes a very startling testable prediction about the shape of the species-area relationship. It says that if you take any species-area curve and you plot the local slope of the log-log plot, what we call ‘z’, at any scale against a certain scaling variable that the theory identifies, namely, the number of individuals at that scale divided by the number of species at that scale, all species-area curves should collapse onto a single universal curve. And it turns out that they do"

(Quoted here.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Antinutrients in Wheat

Grains don't want to be eaten.  As Dr. George Diggs makes clear in his youtube video, plants protect their leaves from herbivores and their seeds from seed-eaters with a whole range of chemical defenses.  In the case of seeds like wheat, there are multiple lines of defense, any one of which should give a thoughtful eater pause.  In combination, these defenses indicate that wheat should not be eaten by humans.

This is a much stronger argument than saying that some humans are gluten-intolerant or gluten-sensitive.  While gluten can be hard to digest for some people and has been identified as the causative agent in Celiac Disease, it is only one of an array of antinutrient compounds found in wheat.

Source: Scientific American, Surprises from Celiac Disease
  • Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA) binds to cells in the intestine and can cause the gut to leak and create inflammation in the immune system.1,2,3,5
  • Wheat Amylase Trypsin Inhibitors may fuel inflammation and immune reactions. 4
  • Gliadin, a compound that specifically increases intestinal permeability, an idea first popularized as "leaky gut syndrome".6,7,8
Caveats: not all of these compounds are harmful to everyone, preparation (e.g. cooking) can destroy some toxins like WGA, and 'the dose makes the poison', so low doses of these antinutrients should have less effect than large doses.  But the fact remains that wheat is not a perfect food.  It increases inflammation, and in susceptible individuals provides the necessary and sufficient conditions for developoing autoimmunity, arthritis, diabetes, etc.

Gliadin is particularly worrisome because of its ability to 'tear holes in the gut'.  Gliadin (a component of gluten) mimics cholera toxins that can unlock the tight junctions sealing intestinal cells to one another.  Without intact junctions between the cells, open holes in the gut lining open are large enough to allow undigested food into the body.  These chunks of food have been detected using genetic testing and observed in animal studies (cite paper found WGA bound to everything).

Source: Scientific American, Surprises from Celiac Disease

This is not just a problem for people with Celiac's disease or gluten sensitivity. Wheat's gliadens have the same effect in everyone; they increase inflammation load (your body has to clean up everything that spilled into your blood after you ate wheat), and they provide the exposure of your immune system to foreign compounds which may trigger autoimmune conditions such as M.S., arthritis, diabetes, etc.  This topic is discussed in depth in this interview with Dr. Alessio Fasano, the researcher who discovered how wheat mimics cholera toxins to break down intestinal epithelium.

1.van Buul, V. J. & Brouns, F. J. P. H. Health effects of wheat lectins: A review. Journal of Cereal Science 59, 112–117 (2014).
2.Catassi, C. et al. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: The New Frontier of Gluten Related Disorders. Nutrients 5, 3839–3853 (2013).
3.Sollid, L. M. & Jabri, B. Triggers and drivers of autoimmunity: lessons from coeliac disease. Nat Rev Immunol 13, 294–302 (2013).
4.de Punder, K. & Pruimboom, L. The Dietary Intake of Wheat and other Cereal Grains and Their Role in Inflammation. Nutrients 5, 771–787 (2013).
5.Junker, Y. et al. Wheat amylase trypsin inhibitors drive intestinal inflammation via activation of toll-like receptor 4. J Exp Med 209, 2395–2408 (2012).
6.Pellegrina, C. D. et al. Effects of wheat germ agglutinin on human gastrointestinal epithelium: Insights from an experimental model of immune/epithelial cell interaction. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 237, 146–153 (2009).
7.Pusztai, A. et al. Antinutritive effects of wheat-germ agglutinin and other N-acetylglucosamine-specific lectins. British Journal of Nutrition 70, 313–321 (1993).
8. Fasano, Alessio, et al. "Zonulin, a newly discovered modulator of intestinal permeability, and its expression in coeliac disease." The Lancet 355.9214 (2000): 1518-1519.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Good Comment! Science in the Internet Age

A Place For Dialogue (h/t to Sharon McKenzie Stevens)

As technology and culture change, new avenues of science open up. In the 1600's coffee shops became fertile grounds for political and scientific discussion, even while the royal court argued that these "dens of thieves" were illegitimate, divisive, and undermining of authority. So too, today, with online debate comment-threads and forums devoted to contentious topics such as climate change and genetically modified organisms.

I've been reading and participating in online discussions after reading Smarter Than You Think, a wide-ranging and persuasive case for the good side of technology. The author, Clive Thompson, argues that computers and the new types of communication they enable can make us smarter and more efficient. I've been consistently impressed by the quality of discourse online (especially when it is moderated). Wikipedia's methods are the gold-standard for creating knowledge and their standards seem to be widely adopted in many online discussions. For example, in comment-thread debates, facts are treated skeptically unless they are sourced, and scientific articles are held as better sources than news or magazine articles. So although intellectual debates have moved online and outside of academia, the standards for reliable knowledge have been translated to this new domain.

Is it Science?

Much online discussion focuses on current controversies at the intersections of science and society. Ironically, one of the most controversial questions is whether there is a debate at all, on a range of issues. The crux of the question comes down to whether online debates are legitimately "scientific", in the way that curated debates in scientific journals are supposed to be. Based on my analysis, I would argue that discussions characterized by normative standards of knowledge are indeed scientific discussions. I think an open-minded observer would agree that the substantive discussions being held on topics like Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) and the adoption of Genetically Modified Organisms certainly look like legitimate discussions, and it is hard to imagine holding ourselves to a higher level of discourse. Certainly there is ignorance and personal attacks, but these come from both sides in these debates.

Interestingly, many self-styled "defenders of science" commonly argue in online discussions that there is no substantive debate over the very issues they are debating. Even when comment threads run to hundreds of entries examing the arcane details of programming Global Circulation Models, the proponents of AGW maintain that "the debate is over." As if the online discussion doesn't 'count' in the way that a discussion in a scientific journal or conference would.  Although there are discussions in journals and conferences on these issues, certain commentators seem to conceptualize science as a monolithic enterprise that generates truth that cannot be questioned.

I find this definition of science more dangerous and erosive to the scientific enterprise than the danger posed by skepticism, debates, and unresolved questions. It is far better to expand our definition of science to include online dialogues and debates than to wall off science in the Ivory tower.  Everywhere people uphold normative standards of truth, scientific discourse is possible, and skepticism and questioning should be recognized as a central --and essential-- component of what defines science.

My wish is that both sides in these debates could see that they are engaging in science and legitimate dialogue -- even if they disagree on the ultimate conclusions. Science doesn't have to be monolithic or hermetic.  It is better (more creative, diverse, and relevant) when any conclusion based on facts can be legitimately believed or legitimately doubted.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Suburban Development Transect: Biodiverse Desert to Trash-filled Parking Lot




A transect walking a few miles from the indisturbed desert through new housing developments into the city looks like time played in fast-motion.  The ecologist's glasses allow us to see the moving picture of life rather than limiting our vision to the usual single frame.  By substituting space-for-time, we can put on time-travel goggles.  What do we see?

Normally we visit a site for a day, maybe once a year for intensive longitudinal studies, maybe never again.  With this transect we could see the changes in species composition from unique, biodiverse desert with its gnarled shrubs to fresh asphalt streets, planted landscaping and lawns, and a monoculture of weeds in the bladed 'empty patches' between houses and in right-of-ways.  The stream channels were all filled in and replaced with impoundments or concrete-lined ditches.

Eventually we ended up in the back lot behind a storage unit complex.  The slight depression there caught water and supported some of the tallest native flowering trees we'd seen.  The lot was also used, apparently, as a dumping ground and was filled with all kinds of trash.

Later that night, back in my home neighborhood, I saw dual-images of what the land looked like before and after development.  I saw the rocky ground thick with idiosyncratic cacti and weird four O'clock flowers.  And I saw wide asphalt streets, joggers, tall pine trees, oleander, and grass lawns.  It is so difficult to see the past, I felt that my dual-vision was a kind of X-ray superpower, a new found ability to see through reality to what might have been.  Reality has a way of erasing the possibility that things could have turned out differently.

A nice walk in the wilderness can sometimes substitute space for space, so that you can see your neighborhood space as the absence of native wildlife instead of the presence of cars, roads, and lawns.  I suppose some people see nature as empty, and even I see it this way sometimes too: some areas are devoid of active communal life.  For example, on this particular transect we saw no rabbits, no ground squirrels, and no other mammals in the wild.  I don't think we saw a lizard until we got to the rock walls of suburbia.  But I was amazed at the botanical emptiness of our developed landscapes: out of the more than 70 native species of wildflowers and Chihuahan desert shrubs, I saw less than 5 after we crossed the first freshly paved asphalt road.

Of course, there are a diverse mix of landscaping plants, many of them native somewhere, if not in the Chihuahan desert.  Interestingly, the mexican palo verde seems to have escaped cultivation and is now growing up into the wild watercourses that snake off the mountains.  Few other weeds seem able to invade intact ecosystems, although Russian thistle is omnipresent wherever the ground has been cleared.

I think, though, that if the transect had continued further into the past/future, through abandoned neighborhoods or restored areas, the native wildflowers and shrubs would reappear.  Especially with the rains this monsoon, they seem quite happy where they are, and old pipelines have a nice covering of desert marigold, creosote, and javalena bush.  I don't really feel that the desert is destroyed by development...maybe in the long-term view it just goes away for awhile, or changes shape for a spell.  Until the wave of bulldozers breaks and subsides, the desert remains as potential...

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Three Weird Examples of Nutrition Science: Obsolete, "Alternative", and Futuristic!

Time is acting strangely.  In our post-modern world, I'm never sure if the newest craze is going to come from the paleolithic or from Star Trek.  Especially when it comes to health and diet, the amount of confusion is almost 100%.

I've collected three examples below....an outdated idea promulgated by the state health department, weird nonsensical claims from an alternate reality, and new cutting-edge research from a man who steals aboriginal poop.

20-years out of date:     2% milk is making you fat!  ...according to NM Department of Health and their new foodstamp guidelines.  (Seems they missed the last 15-20 years of research showing that its actually a high-carbohydrate diet of processed foods that has led to the obesity epidemic, not the extra 1% milk fat in 2% milk!)

Alternate reality: Try pH 8.8 water!  Straight from the Himalayas, with minerals added!  (what minerals? Baking Soda?  I can make water any pH I want by adding baking soda or vinegar....)

20-years in the future:  Jeff Leach, co-founder of the American Gut Project, is definitely a good 10-20 years ahead of his time.   In the tradition of those brave scientists who self-infected themselves with the cutworm parasite in try to cure allergies and autoimmune dieseases, Mr. Leach has given himself a fecal transplant from an aboriginal in Africa.  What happens?  Stay tuned!

American Gut Project

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

An Ecologist Ponders the Microbiome

Fluctuating nutrient concentrations and the timing of peristalsis may affect microbiome growth and composition, which is hypothesized to affect health. Certainly digestive upset is no fun for anyone, and it makes sense to look at inputs (diet) as the primary drivers.

Ecosystem arguments are used to claim that some forms of digestive upset are due to over- or under-growth of bacteria in the intestines.  For example, Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) is treated with what is called the GAPS diet, an effort to restrict all foods that bacteria can digest.

In response, Jeff Leach, of the American Gut Project, made this comparison between diets disturbing the microbiome and ecological disturbances:

"If you think about it from an ecosystem perspective or from an ecosystem restoration perspective, if you take any ecosystem like the gut, the microbiome, and if you starve it... If you starve your backyard and all the diversity of plants, if you just starve it of nutrients, all ships go down with lowering water. And that perturbation, if you will, it wouldn’t be on the same level as an antibiotic, but it is a perturbation; it is an insult. And when you insult an ecosystem, insults like fire, drought, nutrient overload or nutrient deprivation, any of these perturbations typically result in a flourishing of weedy species, in this case, opportunistic pathogens. I know the GAPS diet...from an ecosystem restoration standpoint, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to starve your gut microbiome at any level. "

This idea that "a healthy garden needs a healthy soil" is an ecological idea.  Jeff Leach goes on to claim that specific nutrients, like "resistant starch, non-starch polysaccharides like inulin and fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides, can provide food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut and can increase their levels by orders of magnitude."

Turns out it may be a false analogy, or if the analogy is valid, the hoped-for predictive power of diet on microbiome function may not hold up. While broad temperature-precipitation drivers do determine biome (e.g. tundra versus desert) it is almost impossible to predict the exact species in an ecosystem based on the nutrient inputs to that ecosystem.  And if microbiome bacteria exert their effects in a species-dependent fashion, it may not be possible to predict that eating x will cause bacteria xyz to grow.

Ecologists look (with envy, and skepticism) at nutrition research and commentary because we know how complicated ecosystems can mess with simplistic notions of cause-and-effect.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Food Stamps in New Mexico: No Whole Milk,

Whole and 2% Milk is only allowed for infants age 1-2 years, all others can only buy 1% and skim milk.  No organic foods of course...what about meat?  Not covered!

Here are some resources describing the list of approved foods.

What if "Integrative Medicine" and "Alternative Therapies" Are Full of .... ?

What if the most valuable thing to come out of the vast torrents of nutrition bloggers and comments on those blogs and alternative medicine conferences, etc, is this chart of dookie? That's what the authors of the Science Based Medicine blog seem to think.

At least this chart presents an actual, observable, measurable observation of the world!

Contrast this chart with the endlessly proposed and promulgated (without testing) navel-gazing "syndromes" that could be any disease or no disease at all.  While I don't necessarily think alternative medical treatments are completely bogus, I have noticed that most alternative therapy information is heavy on the factoids, but very light on actual testable theories or metrics.

But maybe.... instead of criticizing scientifically-untested therapies, we should make an effort to test them!  When it comes to health the line between objective science and subjective experience blurs and I'm never sure which source of information to trust.  Maybe, in the end, after all the scientific and unscientific hypotheses, we just have to follow our gut-instincts!

If you do, this Bristol Stool Chart may be a helpful metric!

Harvest Reflections on Growing Food

"When does the keen knife edge of human ambition dull into a mere quest for survival?  Perhaps it relates somehow to those "lives of quiet desperation" that Thoreau was always harping about as he often expressed opinions on the futility of the agricultural lifestyle.  I can relate, perfectly."
--Joe Hutto, Touching the Wild

General Thoughts

Agriculture is hard, necessary, and always just-in-time.  Whatever you may think about agricultural policy exceptionalism (i.e. exemption from the Clean Water Act (this is changing), tariff protections and subsidies), the truth is that farming is hard and food is a miracle.

While I support organic agriculture and believe we must find holistic solutions to meet our nutritional needs, I don't begrudge any farmer who chooses to use every tool available... whether that means artificially-bred chickens that grow 4x faster than heirloom breeds, or GMO crops (still no scientifically-documented health risks), to the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides.

I have some personal experience with organic and Permaculture farming; enough to know I'm lucky that my ability to get food on the table isn't dependent on my success in the garden.  Whether its trying to keep crops alive in 110 degree heat of a Tucson June, or trying to defend my pumpkins this summer in Albuquerque from squash bugs, I haven't always been successful!

It seems amazing that it would take less time, energy, and money to produce chemical pesticides in a factory somewhere, ship cross-country, and spray on my pumpkins -- then it is for my wife and me to spend an hour each and every morning picking bugs off our plants.  In the Big Argument whether organic food can feed the world, its important to weigh the individual microeconomic decisions of farmers; how much  time they're willing to devote to organic agriculture.  In Albuquerque, I would argue that almost no one has the time to grow organic pumpkins and squash: either you don't grow them, or get ready to rain down chemical death on your adversaries.  (I've also heard that planting very late, i.e. after monsoons begin in July, may mean missing peak squash bug season.)

Gardening is slow knowledge that takes time to build.  Next year I think I'll try planting late -- but I'm also going to keep a chemical arsenal ready.  Just as I try to eat healthy and avoid antibiotics (in soap, etc), I won't refuse antibiotics if I get really sick or my pumpkins get infested with squash bugs again.  Every tool should be on the table.   This is one issue some organic consumers run into when they shop at local farmers markets  -- many local farmers try to grow organic, but don't certify as such because 1) certification is expensive, and 2) they don't want to give up tools they might need if their crops are sick.  So supporting local agriculture means coming to terms with a world that isn't black-and-white, where there is a place for local knowledge, building the soil, complementary planting AND chemical pesticides.

Post-Mortem on our Garden

Our corn was lackluster this year -- either because we bought the local variety, or maybe a lack of fertilizer and poor soil quality.  We let morning glories climb over everything because they have pretty flowers , but they really are pernicious weeds w/out many redeeming qualities.

Three Sisters Agriculture seems like bullshit.  Pests hide in dense vegetation, and we've found that well-spaced plants are healthier and easier to maintain with fewer insects and mold problems.

Native Wildflower Mix + Straw = Tons of Weeds
Native wildflowers grew slowly, if at all, and were easily overwhelmed by look-alike weeds that grew quite well on little precipitation and bad soils.  The fact is that weeds grow amazingly well in New Mexico (as any botanist will observe) -- in a land where not much else can survive.

Tried to grow (again) Chia seeds but the tall mint-like plants never flower.  We also tried growing quinoa, which is supposed to grow robustly in arid regions -- it is in the same family as some of the most successful weeds in New Mexico, so it might have a chance...!

Scientific Statements Made by a Climate Change Skeptic

A recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal concludes that "Climate Science Is Not Settled", contrary to activists' and scientists' claims that there is no longer even a debate.

The article, written by Steven Koonin, includes a number of interesting statements and is worth a read in its entirety. Unfortunately, responses to the article have not addressed many of his factual claims, so I wanted to list a few of them here.

Please feel free to comment or link to research that addresses or refutes these statements:

1) "For example, human additions to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the middle of the 21st century are expected to directly shift the atmosphere's natural greenhouse effect by only 1% to 2%. Since the climate system is highly variable on its own, that smallness sets a very high bar for confidently projecting the consequences of human influences."

2) "But feedbacks are uncertain. They depend on the details of processes such as evaporation and the flow of radiation through clouds. They cannot be determined confidently from the basic laws of physics and chemistry, so they must be verified by precise, detailed observations that are, in many cases, not yet available."

3) "Although the Earth's average surface temperature rose sharply by 0.9 degree Fahrenheit during the last quarter of the 20th century, it has increased much more slowly for the past 16 years, even as the human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen by some 25%. This surprising fact demonstrates directly that natural influences and variability are powerful enough to counteract the present warming influence exerted by human activity."

4) "Even though the human influence on climate was much smaller in the past, the models do not account for the fact that the rate of global sea-level rise 70 years ago was as large as what we observe today—about one foot per century."

5) "[these model discrepancies] are not "minor" issues to be "cleaned up" by further research. Rather, they are deficiencies that erode confidence in the computer projections."

Rio Grande SIlvery Minnow

Interactive version: http://www.usbr.gov/tsc/rivers/awards/Nm2/rg/riog/schematic/SCHEMATICalbuquerquediv.html

The River. Like the Nile it rises in distant mountains, then flows down through farm, city, farm, and city, losing water to the desert. I've skipped over headwater steams in the highest alpine meadows in Colorado, and fished tributaries from the high peaks in the Wiemenuche, the San Juan, the Sangre de Christo mountains.

The Grande enters New Mexico as a whitewater river cut deep in a thousand-foot canyon, opens onto the agricultural floodplain of the (NM) Central Valley just north of Albuquerque and loses water continuously as it flows south toward Texas and Mexico.

It goes dry most years these days, fish left out under the oven sky. Agricultural diversions, cities. Dams and reservoirs. Water sinking into deep sand. Low-flow channels carry the remaining trickle south to satisfy more cities, interstate treaties. Fought over by water managers, farmers, and conservationists. (Link to article: How much water used by cottonwoods versus farmers versus cities. )

We went seining for fishes: white suckers, red shiners, catfish, chad and fathead minnows but most of all: Silvery Minnows, endemic to New Mexico and listed as Federally Endangered.

The Silvery Minnow is endangered for a range of reasons. Like many river fish it is negatively impacted by dams turning the river into lakes. The drying of the Rio Grande is probably more extensive now than it was before modern agricultural irrigation and pumping, but the Rio Grande probably always went dry and only remained wet in refugia...

Silvery Minnows: One thread in the tapestry of life. We were looking for silver needles in the full force of river water, the gush and rush, one and a half feet per second. We splashed into the surging river water, waded out to the river’s sand bars. We used bag and beach seines, color-coded buckets, rite-in-the-rain and water-resistant-(but susceptible) electronics, but the fish were nowhere to be found.

Mud flats held the first tiny dicotyledons of new weeds, sprouting. In a few isolated backwaters (I can’t say exactly where) we did find a few, or even many, Silvery Minnows, alive and wide-eyed. We photographed them, weighed and measured them, and checked whether they were tagged fish raised in a hatchery or a wild child, conceived in good ol’ mother nature.

For unknown reasons, the 2013 spawning was a good year for the Minnow and it seemed like it might bounce back then, but not much has been seen of that cohort since. Meanwhile, the lawyers aren't waiting .... (link to Wild Earth Guardians lawsuit)