Other 2013 Fave Articles

Last week, I wrote a post about my five favorite popular press articles from the past year.  I felt the following were noteworthy as well and are great resources.

Organized by topic, in no particular order:


How Chris McCandless Died” by Jon Krakauer, The New Yorker, 9/12/13
Absolutely riveting story of Krakauer teasing out the health effects of McCandless’s meager diet. It’s also a reminder of how mysterious the field of botany remains, at times. We can describe all the plants, but how much do we really know about all of their effects on and interactions with the human body?

Climate Change:

Climate change our most serious security threat” by Michael Breen, SF Gate, 08/23/13
Here, the author recalls his own deployment to Iraq, where our over-dependence on fossil fuels and the weather extremes of climate change, were especially amplified.

How Much Will Tar Sands Add to Global Warming?” by David Biello, Scientific American, 01/23/13
Straightforward breakdown on the potential impact of burning this inefficient fuel source, if total extraction and production were to proceed.

Hydraulic Fracturing / Fracking – Dakotas:

A Mysterious Patch of Light Shows up in the North Dakota Dark” by Robert Krulwich, NPR News, 01/16/13
Using a series of NASA satellite images, this article illustrates the light pollution of ND oil fields that is now visible from space.

North Dakota Went Boom” by Chip Brown, New York Times, 01/31/13
Great piece describing the extent of landscape, economic and social transformation currently occurring in North Dakota.

Hydraulic Fracturing / Fracking – California:

Vast Oil Reserve May Now Be Within Reach and Battle Heats Up” by Norimtsu Onishi, New York Times, 02/03/13
Published right on the heel of “North Dakota Went Boom,” this was the first I’d heard about the true extent of the Monterey Shale. I was gobsmacked by the possibility that reserves may be “four times…the Bakken Shale in North Dakota.”

California Legislature passes fracking regulation bill” by Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times, 09/11/13
Despite some environmental groups withdrawing support after this bill passed, this is a start towards (previously nonexistent) regulation.

‘Fracking’ the Monterey Shale – Boon or Boondoggle?” by Alex Prud’homme, Los Angeles Times, 12/29/13
Great Op-Ed on the possible over-estimation of oil reserves, current state of regulations stand, and complexity of issues and stakeholders involved.

Land Use:

Land transformation by humans: A review” by Roger LeB. Hooke, José F. Martín-Duque, and Javier Pedraza, GSA Today, December 2012
One of the best, most concise summaries of land degradation I’ve read, with a great collection of references to important works and scholars.


Our Overcrowded Planet: A Failure of Family Planning” by Robert Engelman, Yale Environment 360, 06/24/13
Female empowerment and education is a running theme of Engelman’s articles on population control. I recommended this to my “Global Environment” students this year as a complement (and, update) to Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons.”

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats,” photos by Peter Menzel, Time, 09/20/13
Amazing photo essay of families around the world, with a week’s worth of food and drink spread out, with cost listed in dollars. This was started a few years ago, but had an update in September.


“The Lost World,” [2 parts], by Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, 12/16/13 and 12/23/13.
Fantastic story of old-school paleontology and the how the idea of extinction evolved [Part 1], and discussion of whether or not we’re witnessing – and causing – the next large extinction event [Part 2]. Unfortunately these are behind a paywall.

What Killed off the Woolly Mammoths?” by Jennifer Abbasi, Discover Magazine, 09/09/2013
A summary of the complex suite of climate (and possibly anthropogenic) factors that led to the demise of the mammoth, based on work my advisor (Glen MacDonald) recently conducted.


Who Will Speak for the Bees?” by Katie O’Connor, Conservation Biology Institute Blog, 09/16/13
This post is about an unfortunate, and unintended loss of a bee population in Oregon. It reminds me of Muir’s quote on ecosystems: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

Megadrought in U.S. Southwest: A Bad Omen for Forests Globally” by Caroline Fraser, Yale Environment 360, 06/20/13
Discussion of fire ecology, and inevitable extreme wildfires that are predicted to occur with widespread warming and drying in the Southwest.

Yosemite Fire Puts San Francisco on the Front Lines” by Glen M. MacDonald, SF Chronicle, 08/29/13
Written by my advisor, this article mentions how the Rim Fire threatened Hetch Hetchy water supply. A good reminder of just how dependent our urban centers are on seemingly-distant wilderness areas, and the ecosystem services they provide.


Los Angeles, CA

Britten Leigh Photography: ScienceRocks &emdash;

Favorite Articles I Read in 2013

Most of the popular press articles I read focus on geoscience and environmental issues. When I read damn good writing in the journalism milieu, it stays with me and I want to share it with anyone who will listen.

To that end, I compiled a round-up of my favorite articles from 2013. These are the ones that I go back to for re-reads, that reinforce why I do the work that I do, that inspired new directions in my research, or that were so compelling or haunting they stayed with me.

The finished list certainly has topical biases, reflecting my particular interests over the past year. General themes include wildfire ecology, domestic fossil fuel extraction, and my research discipline: paleoclimatology. The allure of past worlds, climates and landscapes is still quite strong for me.

1. “Into the Wildfire” by Paul Tullis, New York Time Magazine, 09/22/13.

Wildfire is one of the most critically important issues for the ever-warming, ever-growing West. Literature on fire ecology is voluminous; Tullis gives a great distillation here, and interviews top fire scientists. Jensen and McPhersen (2008) wrote, “…very little meaningful information ever filters beyond the realm of wildfire experts to the general public, or to academics and experts in other, even closely related, fields.” Tullis’s article does much to bridge that gap.

2. “Why I Came to Washington to Protest the Keystone Pipeline” by Rick Bass, Yale Environment 360, 02/15/13.

It’s telling that a retired petroleum geologist wrote this call to protest. Lyrical yet logical, this is my favorite piece on “the folly of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.” He describes imagining the millions-of-years old marine landscapes that can, given the right conditions, lead to oil trap formation. One senses that barrier between this world and those past beaches because near-porous for him, an experience I’ve had myself during archaeology or geomorphology fieldwork. I’ve also done fieldwork in the Alberta taiga, undoubtedly the most pristine landscape I’ve ever seen. Bass makes a compelling emotional appeal to protecting this boreal forest, describing it as “the great lungs of North America, one of our last hopes for temperance against rising CO2 levels.”

3. “For 40 Years This Russian Family Was Cut Off From Human Contact, Unaware of World War II” by Mike Dash, Smithsonian.com, 01/29/13.

A fundamentalist Russian Orthodox family fled persecution in the 1930s into the Siberian forest, where they eked out an isolated living for decades. This haunting read details how a team of prospecting geologists came to find them in the 1970s, and how they gradually learned the family’s story and struggles to subsist deep in the Siberian taiga for so long.

4. “How High Could the Tide Go?” by Justin Gillis, New York Times, 01/21/13

This article should be required reading for any climate skeptic…or hell, any citizen of the world. Gillis illustrates why paleoclimate research matters, and the real threat of sea level rise to our coastlines. In addition, I love that he opens the article with an account of a fieldwork expedition. Fieldwork among other driven, enthusiastic geoscientists is a unique experience, the day(s) filled with a relentless drive to seek the next core, the next fossil, or the next outcrop before sundown. Highlighting the importance of the scientists’ work here (documenting Pliocene sea level rise) adds even more urgency.

5. “Thank You For Fracking” by Tom Chiarella, Esquire Magazine, January issue

I took “Intro to Creative Writing” from Prof. Chiarella, and I remember getting impatient that semester with the amount of time I had to spend writing stilted, awkward poems, rather than prose. When his lines here lean towards the overwrought (“when [the gas is] gone, we’ll look for more — deeper in the earth, at the bottom of the ocean, in moons, in the sun, probably in the stars…”), I’m reminded of that class.

And yet, the language kind of works; I love the title, for starters. What follows is a nuanced piece on the natural gas boom, the sheer power of the technology, and its effect on the lives of real people in Marcellus Shale country. I identify with a duality expressed here: deep concern with the fast expansion, regulation roll-back, and lack of industry transparency, and yet a love for visiting drill sites, and seeing firsthand how the extraction process works.

There are many other great articles I’d love to list and share, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll do that in another post.

Carmel, California