Geology of the National Parks

A Rocking Review


Rollin' to the Future

We really are throwing wads of money at people to get energy from oil wells that really are starting to run dry, and burning oil really does make carbon dioxide that really does have a warming influence on the climate. If we keep doing what we're doing, we have high scientific confidence that the fossil fuels will run out, but not before the exhaust changes a lot of things on the planet. The short-term solutions may involve conservation, or nuclear energy, or capturing carbon dioxide and putting it back in the ground, or other ideas. Or we could just barge ahead and hope for the best. The long-term solution is highly likely to involve the sun, through photovoltaics, or wind, or biomass, or other things. Fossil fuels are just stored energy from the sun—think of them as a great battery, charged up over a few hundred millions of years, that we are discharging over a few hundred years, and we can already see the bulb on the flashlight starting to dim. Creedence Clearwater Revival watched the "big wheels keep on turning" in the John Fogerty song Proud Mary; in this parody, we review the ways to keep the big wheels turn without making our lives a lot harder.

Rollin' to the Future, a parody of John Fogertys' "Proud Mary"
Click Here for Transcript of Rollin' to the Future Video

PRESENTER: (SINGING) Left a bad job in the cornfield, hoeing out the weeds 12 hours a day. You may never lose one minute of sleeping, 'cause you think there are tractors and trucks on the way. The big wheels keep on turnin', but it's dead algae that they're burnin'. They're rollin', rollin', rollin' on the oil fields.

If you turn on the light switch, you expect electrons coming your way. Lignite or bituminous or anthracite burnin', livin' on stored sunshine from a long-ago day. The big wheels keep on turnin', but it's dead trees that they're burnin' when they're rollin', rollin', rollin' on the coal fields.

If you go down to the oil fields, bet you're gonna find some wells are runnin' dry. Cleanin' up the coal mines isn't always easy. Even all those coal seams will run out by and by. The big wheels keep on turnin', but it's your paycheck that they're burnin'. They're rollin', rollin', rollin' a scarce resource.

If you look up at the sky now, then you're gonna see where all those burned things go. CO2 is rising, and it's not surprisin', temperature is climbin', and we're meltin' the snow. The big wheels keep on turnin', but the climate knows we're burnin'. Rollin', rollin', rollin' up the damage.

If you look up at the sun now, so much energy there if we can learn what to do. Many billion years of power for each and every hour, clean and fresh and odor-free, sustainable too. The big wheels can keep on turnin', when it's sunshine that they're burnin' when we're rollin', rollin', rollin' to the future. I said rollin', rollin', rollin' to the future.

Credit: Dr. Richard Alley

Jedediah Was a Spotted Owl

Climate changes driven by fossil-fuel burning may trigger extinctions and reduce biodiversity. But, if we cut down forests and burn trees rather than burning fossil fuels, extinctions may occur that way, too. Most of the logging in the Pacific Northwest is for lumber rather than for fuel, but the trees are cut down just the same. Hoyt Axton wrote Joy to the World (Jeremiah was a Bullfrog), Three Dog Night made it famous, and countless DJs have used it to get the wedding party lurching about the dance floor at the reception. In this parody, we visit the raptor center at Penn State's Shaver's Creek Environmental Center, to discuss the impacts of deforestation on spotted owls, and the general issues of biodiversity.

Jedediah - a tale of biodiversity
Click Here for Transcript of Jedediah Video

DR. RICHARD B. ALLEY: We're at Shaver's Creek Environmental Center at the Raptor Center of Penn State, and this is a barred owl that Janet is holding while we listen to the eagles scream in the background.

The barred owl is native to the east, named for the bars on it. And this is an owl that has sort of figured out people. It can live in the edge of suburbia. It still needs nature, but it can put up with some of us.

As a very close cousin who lives in the Pacific Northwest, the Northern Spotted Owl, who has not figured out people. That Northern Spotted Owl needs vast tracts of undisturbed old growth forest to survive. When we cut that into islands, we log away some of it and make little islands. This one actually will replace the Northern Spotted Owl, and by disturbing things, we're starting to get rid of a species.


Jedediah was a spotted owl, nesting in an old-growth tree. Needed lots of forest for to find his food, but we logged it into islands, you see. So he lost his family.

Singing small supports few. Large can grow more. If we isolate our national parks, it's true, some species going out of the door. Extinction's going to follow for sure.

A diverse ecosystem's more productive and stable, it warns us when things are going wrong. It may have new foods that we can use on the table, and medicines to help us along, cures to keep us singing our song.

Now we use half of all that's here, and we may double, and each want more. If we don't find a better way the outcome is clear, lots of species going out of the door. Extinction's going to follow for sure.

If we want a diverse world, there's so much we can do. Be smarter in feeding and fueling our lives. Connect the parks for the wild things who will really please our grandkids, too.

For extinction is the end. Or we can leave them living free. So many wise things we can do, my friend, for them and for you and me. For biodiversity.

Jeremiah is a bullfrog, he's a good friend of mine. Hope that our grandkids' grandkids know his unless we're smart, it's the end of the line. But if we're smart, we can make it fine.

Singing joy to the World. All the boys and girls, now. There's room for the fishes in the deep blue sea, to live here with you and with me. Lots of biodiversity. I'm singing biodiversity.

Credit: Dr. Richard Alley

Chaos and Phil the Groundhog (and weather, climate and global warming)

Many people, including US senators, have offered the opinion that our inability to forecast weather more than a week or two in advance means that we cannot forecast climate years ahead. This seems sensible, but is actually really wrong. And, anyone who understands the game of Wheel of Fortune knows why. Here’s a musical explanation, prepared for Groundhog Day 2015, when Dr. Alley was inducted into the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center Hall of Fame.

Chaos and Phil the Groundhog
Click Here for Transcript of Chaos and Phil the Groundhog Video

A parody of "Rhythm of the Rain" by John Claude Gummoe (The Cascades), and of Wheel of Furtune.

As the wheel of fortune wheel is spinnin, slowin down, you can predict it just before it stops.

Where it's gonna end, whether a smile or frown, but for no more than a few seconds tops. But you know before the spin, the million-dollar pie is skinnier than all the rest. You can predict it will be rare as a few weeks go by, confident you'll pass the test. The game is chaotic, so you cannot know too far in the future just how it will go. But the wheels deterministic, as the averages show, through the years.

The weather follows rules that we now know quite well, the physics cannot go away, but too far in the future and you cannot tell what will happen on a single day. Because no data can be perfect, we can never know, everything, exactly, everywhere. Tomorrow's forecast is quite good, but the uncertainties grow till we can't tell what will occur then, there.

But this chaos doesn't mean that anything goes. Brazil's hot rainforests won't get Antarctic snows, the climatic averages show how the wind blows (in your ear).

If they widen the million wedge, the chances would rise that any spin would hit it square. You still could not predict one spin but no surprise, more millions would be spun up there.

If the sun brightens up or less reflects back out or there's an increase in greenhouse gas, that turns up the thermostat, there is no doubt, and climate change will come to pass. And history, physics, data, models show, our co2 warms the surface here below, so we're heating the climate as our emissions grow through the years.

But climate averages the weather, you still have to spin and see just where the pointer stops. Sometimes you lose and other times you win, some lovely days and yes, some flops.

On February 2nd of another year, the faithful sun will surely rise, but will it bring shadows on a morning clear or diffused light under cloudy skies? Phil, please tell us what will March 1st bring, sleet, snow, tornados, a warm day in spring? You're just as good for that as a computer thing… and you're cuter!

Phil please tell us what will March 1st bring, sleet, snow, tornadoes, a warm day in spring? You're just as good for that as the computer thing … and you're cuter!

Credit: Dr. Richard Alley