June 2011

I’ve gone off “Science Bible Overlaps”, the previous title of this blog and am replacing it with “From Genesis One to the Anthropocene”.  The title still catches the main themes of this blog those of Science, especially Earth Science, and the Bible.  Hope you like it … more unpacking (of the title) will hopefully follow in future posts.

This post is motivated, in part, by a short interview with Eugene Peterson and Peter Harris (co-founder of A Rocha) in Christianity Today, where they discuss “creation care”.  The full interview can be read here.  At one point Peter Harris draws attention to the prophecy in Hosea 4, in particular verse 3:

“Therefore the land will mourn,

and all its inhabitants will perish.

The wild animals, the birds of the sky,

and even the fish in the sea will perish.” (NET Bible)

Here’s what Peter Harris says:

“That’s a prophecy three millennia before we have the words for a marine crisis. Who would have thought that the fish of the sea would die? Until modern times, the fish of the sea seemed like an inexhaustible resource.”

I’d like to back that up with some of the most recent scientific reporting on extinctions.  Firstly mass extinctions can be characterized as times when the Earth loses more than three-quarters of its species in a geologically short interval.  Palaeontologists have classified 5 of these mass extinctions over the past ~540 million year.  However, data on current extinction rates suggests that the world is being propelled into a sixth mass extinction [1].

In regards to the the fish in the sea … the International Programme on the State of the Ocean is just releasing a report [2] (also BBC article here) which warns in no uncertain terms that if our current trajectory of damage continues “the world’s ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.


[1] Anthony D. Barnosky, Nicholas Matzke, Susumu Tomiya, Guinevere O. U. Wogan, Brian Swartz, Tiago B. Quental, Charles Marshall, Jenny L. McGuire, Emily L. Lindsey, Kaitlin C. Maguire, et al. Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature, 471, 51-57 (2 March 2011) DOI: 10.1038/nature09678

[2] Rogers, A.D. & Laffoley, D.d’A. 2011. International Earth system expert workshop on ocean stresses and impacts. Summary report. IPSO Oxford, 18 pp.

As I’ve been reading through the book of Job I have been noting how the book is ladened with a deep appreciation of nature (see part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4).  At the climax of the poem/debate – God’s speech from the whirlwind, we encounter a full tour-de-force of creation.  In fact chapters 38-41 have been referred to as ‘the first great piece of modern nature writing’ (Bill McKibben).  God’s speech – really a series of rhetorical questions for Job, presumably designed to put Job (and us) in his (our) place!?, progresses from Cosmogony (38:4-11):

”     …                                                                                                                   Who hedged the sea with double doors,                                                                                        when it gushed forth from the womb.                            when I made cloud its clothing,                                                                                                     and thick mist its swaddling bands?                                      …     “

to Meteorology (38:22-38):

”       …                                                                                                                  Does the rain have a father,                                                                                                      or who begot the drops of dew?                                             From whose belly did the ice come forth,                                                                                  to the frost of the heavens who gave birth?                                    …     “

to Zoology (38:39-39:40):

”     …                                                                                                                         Do you know the mountain goats’ birth time,                                                                 do you mark the calving of the gazelles?                                           Do you number the months till they come to term                                                         and know their birthing time?                                                            …    “

and even to mythological zoology (40:15-41:26):

”    …                                                                                                                         Could you draw Leviathan with a hook,                                                                                 and with a cord press down his tongue?                                     Could you put a lead line in his nose,                                                                                    and with a fishhook piece his cheek?                                               …    ”

(Translations from Robert Alter)

The full grandeur of this astonishing outburst from God can not be fully appreciated from the limited quotes provided above, so I would encourage people to read the whole section (NET Bible).  There is so much to comment on here perhaps I’ll have time in a future post to say more.

The Royal Society of Chemistry has produced the definitive recipe for the perfect cup of tea.  I always knew the milk should go in first!

Ingredients: Loose-leaf Assam tea; soft water; fresh, chilled milk; white sugar.

Implements: Kettle; ceramic tea-pot; large ceramic mug; fine mesh tea strainer; teaspoon, microwave oven.

Draw fresh, soft water and place in kettle and boil. Boil just the required quantity to avoid wasting time, water and power.

While waiting for the water to boil place a ceramic tea pot containing a quarter of a cup of water in a microwave oven on full power for one minute.

Synchronise your actions so that you have drained the water from the microwaved pot at the same time that the kettle water boils.

Place one rounded teaspoon of tea per cup into the pot.

Take the pot to the kettle as it is boiling, pour onto the leaves and stir.

Leave to brew for three minutes.

The ideal receptacle is a ceramic mug or your favourite personal mug.

Pour milk into the cup FIRST, followed by the tea, aiming to achieve a colour that is rich and attractive.

Add sugar to taste.

Drink at between 60-65 degrees Centigrade to avoid vulgar slurping which results from trying to drink tea at too high a temperature.

Personal chemistry: to gain optimum ambience for enjoyment of tea aim to achieve a seated drinking position in a favoured home spot where quietness and calm will elevate the moment to a special dimension. For best results carry a heavy bag of shopping – of walk the dog – in cold, driving rain for at least half an hour beforehand.

This will make the tea taste out of this world.

Recommended ideal reading to accompany The Perfect Cup of Tea: Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell.

Here are the reasons why, including an explanation as to why the milk should go in first!

· Use freshly drawn water that has not previously been boiled. Previously boiled water will have lost some of its dissolved oxygen which is important to bring out the tea flavour.

· Avoid “hard” water as the minerals it contains gives rise to unpleasant tea scum. If you live in hard water area use softened (filtered) water. For the same reason do not use bottled mineral water.

· To achieve perfection, we advocate using a tea-pot with loose tea. The pot should be made of ceramic as metal pots can sometimes taint the flavour of the tea. Tea bags are a handy convenience, but they do slow down infusion, and favour infusion of the slower infusing but less desirable higher molecular weight tannins (see below).

· It is not necessary to use a lot of tea. 2 grammes (a teaspoon) per cup is normally sufficient.

· Tea infusion needs to be performed at as high a temperature as is possible, and this needs a properly pre-warmed pot. Swilling a small amount of hot water in the pot for a couple of seconds is not enough. Fill at least a quarter of the pot with boiling water and keep it there for half a minute. Then, in quick succession, drain the water from the pot, add the tea and then fill with the other boiled water from the kettle.

A better alternative is to pre-warm the pot using a microwave oven! Add 1/4 cup of water to the pot and microwave on full power for a minute. Then drain, and add tea and boiling water from the kettle. Aim to synchronise events such that the kettle water is added immediately after it has boiled, and just after you have drained the water. Taking “the pot to the kettle” will marginally help keep the temperature high.

· Brew for typically 3 to 4 minutes (depending on the tea). It is a myth that brewing for longer times causes more caffeine to infuse into the tea. Caffeine is a relatively quick infuser and caffeine infusion is largely complete within the first minute. More time is, however, needed for the polyphenolic compounds (tannins) to come out which give the tea is colour and some of its flavour. Infusing for longer times than this, however, introduces high molecular weight tannins which leave a bad aftertaste.

· Use your favourite cup. Never use polystyrene cups, which result in the tea being too hot to drink straightaway (and will also degrade the milk, see below). Large mugs retain their heat much longer than small cups in addition to providing more tea!

· Add fresh chilled milk, not UHT milk which contains denatured proteins and tastes bad.

Milk should be added before the tea, because denaturation (degradation) of milk proteins is liable to occur if milk encounters temperatures above 75°C. If milk is poured into hot tea, individual drops separate from the bulk of the milk and come into contact with the high temperatures of the tea for enough time for significant denaturation to occur. This is much less likely to happen if hot water is added to the milk. Once full mixing has occurred the temperature should be below 75°C, unless polystyrene cups were used.

· Lastly add sugar to taste. Both milk and sugar are optional, but they both act to moderate the natural astringency of tea.

· The perfect temperature to drink tea is between 60°C and 65°C, which should be obtained within a minute if the above guide is used. Higher temperatures than this require the drinker to engage in excessive air-cooling of the tea whilst drinking – or “slurping” in everyday parlance. Leaving a teaspoon in the tea for a few seconds is a very effective cooling alternative.

Press Release (2003)



A recent published article had a great story of how ice-flow modellers saved the day!

“Last year, a large, water-filled pocket in the Tête Rousse Glacier of the French Alps threatened to burst and flood the valley below. On an urgent request by local authorities, scientists quickly developed a model to assess whether draining the cavity would weaken the cavity roof and cause it to collapse. The model accurately predicted that draining would be safe.”  Nature Research Highlights

The subglacial cavity contained at least 50,000 mof water.  Here is a great video of people climbing into the inside of the cavity after it was artificially drained.

Another video (in French) details how they went about draining the water from the glacier.