Last night I watched the first part of Sir Trevor MacDonald’s documentary about his trip up the Mississippi to its source. Much of the episode dealt with the majesty and power of the river and also the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Last week, tornadoes devastated parts of Texas and this morning I found a breaking news item about an 8.9 strength earthquake off the coast of Sumatra that triggered a widespread tsunami alert. All of these things serve to remind me of the wonder of our planet’s weather.
In the UK we frequently complain about our adverse weather but what happens elsewhere in the world really helps to put things into perspective. Nevertheless I was reminded of the potential power of our local weather the other day when looking at a some of the trees that had been blown down on a neighbouring estate. Marchmont House was built in the mid 18th century and that confirms my estimate of the age of one of the massive beech trees that had been brought down as I have a feeling that the trees situated in the park to the front of the house would have been planted around the time of construction. The uprooted beech tree stump that remained after trimming with a chain saw showed clear growth rings and I counted around two hundred and fifty or more. Another gigantic pine tree had also been brought down more recently but the ripped and shattered trunk meant that it was impossible to attempt to count rings. Perhaps in time this too will be trimmed and cleared to allow me to count. I also found it interesting to note that the most recent thirty rings showed much quicker growth than the previous hundred or so which showed very much slower growth seeing as they were so much closer together.
I wonder what tale the growth rings of the trees planted by me last year will tell should they survive as long? We can plant trees but thereafter it is pretty much out of our hands, mother nature takes over; cold and drought will cause very slow growth, whilst heat and ample rain will speed growth. Too cold, too dry or too wet and they might die. In the case of the ancient trees at Marchmont it would seem to be exceptional winds that caused them to topple and pull the roots out of the ground.
Engineers continue to develop ways in which we might harness the elements in order to generate power, a task that grows more urgent as fossil fuel supplies continue to be consumed. Wind farms can be built, but if the wind doesn’t blow, they don’t generate; and too much wind brings its own problems with recent examples of turbines being destroyed by storm force winds. Hydro-electric power is reliable only as long as sufficient rain continues to fall, solar power isn’t particularly reliable if there is heavy cloud cover. I trust that engineers will continue to work to resolve problems and increase efficiency; wave and tidal power generation is always an option for sites around the coast.
Back to New Orleans, much of which lies below river level, something made possible by the construction of many levees – civil engineering that served its purpose well until Katrina showed just how feeble mankind’s efforts to contain the power of nature really are.
As I finish writing this it seems that the exact nature of this morning’s earthquake makes it unlikely that a tsunami will follow and the alert has been lifted – but that outcome was never in the control of mere humans. In the meantime, I’m sure that there will continue to be times when I moan about the terrible weather that we have to contend with here in the UK!