December 2011

“As they came into the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, they bowed down and worshiped him.  They opened their treasure boxes and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”  (Matthew 2:11) 

A Christmas themed story in the news today concerns the demise of the Boswellia tree whose resin produces frankincense.  Under current rates of declines, projections indicate frankincense production being cut in half in the next 15 years due to droughts, fire, and beetle attacks.  Dr. Frans Bongers an ecologist from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, describes the research findings (link).

A nice description of frankincense, together with associated bible references and mention of the ancient trade routes is provided in Farrells Travel Blog, here and here.


P. Groenendijk, A. Eshete, F. J. Sterck, P. A. Zuidema and F. Bongers, Limitations to sustainable frankincense production: blocked regeneration, high adult mortality and declining populations, Journal of Applied Ecology, 2011, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.20111.02078.x


It’s that time of year again to provide a best of list.  Music lovers can find a compendium of critics lists here.  From what I’ve listened to this year, here’s my top 10 albums:

1.  Girls – Father, Son and Holy Ghost

2.  Beriut – The Riptide

3.   Bon Iver – Bon Iver

4.   Cults – Cults

5.  Josh Garrels – Love & War & The Sea In Between

6.  Submarine – Alex Turner

7.  Cloud Nothings – Cloud Nothings

8.  Days – Real Estate

9.   Cut Copy – Zonoscope

10.   Smith Westerns – Dye it Blonde

The BBC has reported on some recent research presented at the 2011 AGU fall meeting which suggests that the Dead Sea may well have dried up, perhaps completely, 120 thousand years ago.  Scientists have drilled 460 metres into sediment beneath the Dead Sea (close to the lakes deepest section) in order to analyse lake history and regional climate conditions hundreds of thousands of years ago from evidence revealed in the sediment layers.  In this core, at a depth of 235m, corresponding to 120,000 years ago they found a layer of small, rounded pebbles suggesting a lake beach at that location during this time, i.e. the water must have been close to completely gone.

The Dead Sea, which is the lowest land point on Earth, sitting over 400 metres below sea level, has extremely salty waters.  A natural control exists such that during warming evaporation increases causing a lowering lake level which results in more saline water and therefore a slowing of evaporation, thus making it difficult to completely dry the lake.

Currently the lake is lowering at a rate of 1.2 metres a year due mainly to human influences (as discussed in a previous post).  This recent finding, if proven correct (note at time of writing it has not yet been subjected to the scientific peer-review process), demonstrates extremely low lake levels are possible even without human interference, further raising concerns for the lakes future.

This research project could well shed light on climate and earthquake events reported to have occurred during Biblical times.

“We see a lot of these different stories in the Bible about fat years and lean years,” said Steven Goldstein, a geochemist at Columbia University in New York. “And we can see in the record that there were these intervals where it looks like it was a land of milk and honey, and there were intervals where there was no water, no rain and I’m sure, famine. Climate validates that there were these rhythms.” [source].

Frozen Planet, BBCs new landmark natural history seven part TV series on the frozen wildernesses of the Arctic and Antarctic, has just finished showing in the UK.  The last episode includes some spectacular location footage of the research project I’m involved in.  This includes watching my boss, Alun Hubbard, abseil down a moulin into the depths of the Greenland Ice Sheet (see here).

The footage covers the drainage of a meltwater lake as it gushes down glacier incising channels into the ice before descending down a moulin (vertical shaft) through a kilometer of ice to the bed.  My own involvement in the research project is to model the effects this water has on the flow of the overlying ice.  Check out our new website to learn more:

My contribution can be found in the Modelling section of this link: