Doggerland – Underwater Adventure

  • Posted: November 16, 2015
  • Category: Energy
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My ancestors were first mentioned in the historical record a little over twenty-two centuries ago. Of course the Germans were around long before that, drinking their thick soupy beer around fires in the dark cold forests of northern Germany. Their own version of the historical record probably stretched well into the past but the tribal memories of human beings are slippery things without paper and ink. Much is forgotten, with more remembered than ever was. But that is a rabbit trail for another time.

October 6 in the year 105 BC is the day. Since the Romans had the ink and the paper giving them authorship rights to the historical record, it would be appropriate to remember the date as they recorded it, i.e. the day after the Nones of October in the Year of the Consulship of Rufus and Maximus. Quibbling about the terminology of calendars aside, it was a memorable day, a day that lives in infamy.

On that day, a great mass of Germanic tribesmen, men, women, children, animals, wagons and whatever, met one of the largest, if not the largest, Roman armies ever assembled. The two masses of people, one composed of families in search of a new home and the other of Rome’s vaunted legions, collided in battle somewhere between the Rhone River and the modern city of Orange, France. Arausio, as the battle was called, was not a good day for just about everyone there.

Contrary to expectations, the wild Germanic horde totally destroyed the Roman army. Various sources from the ancient world give the number of Roman dead at around 80,000 men, with an additional 40,000 auxiliaries and camp followers dead as well. To get a sense of scale, compare Arausio to the bloodiest battle in American history, the Civil War’s Antietam with a total of 3,650 dead. Arausio is unfathomable to Americans’ as we have never experienced such a battlefield cataclysm. It was the largest defeat ever suffered by the Roman Legions, the ancient world’s Weapon of Mass Destruction.

The Germans won that day, and if the ancient sources are to be believed, with much lesser casualties of somewhere around 15,000 men. But as the Book of Daniel in the Bible tells us, the Romans were made of iron and they were back three years later to settle the score. The shock of the earlier defeat at Arausio had caused drastic changes in how the Romans did things. Meeting the Germans again at Aquae Sextiae and at Vercellae the other shoe dropped. The Germans were badly beaten by a new and different Roman army led by Gaius Marius, known in his own time as the 3rd Founder of Rome and to posterity as the uncle of Julius Caesar. He left some 200,000 Germans dead on two battlefields and returned to the slave markets of Rome with unremembered tens of thousands in chains. In bad news for the Romans however, those drastic changes in how Rome did things, known as the Marian Reforms, led to a century of civil war ending in the tyranny known as the Roman Empire.

The 6th of October in the year 105 BC was a turning point in world history. But the question for today is: What were all those Germans doing there in the first place? They were a very long way from home. What we know about my ancestors and why they traveled so far, lock, stock, and barrel, is obscure. The Roman sources don’t tell us much. Not only were the Romans a pre-Enlightenment culture, uncomprehending our modern need for cause and effect; but there were other things on their mind. As we recognize from our own experience, the latest celebrity gossip in Rome monopolized the twitter feeds while the talking heads were absorbed with the domestic crisis begun by the Marian Reforms.

What were all those Germans doing there? The sparse information provided by the ancient writers tells us that these pilgrims from the far north belonged to two Germanic tribes, the Cimbri and the Tuetones. Their far north homeland has been speculated to be near the Jutland peninsula, a strip of land jutting into the North Sea where present day Germany and Denmark join. We are also told that flooding in their homeland was their reason for leaving. That is all that has come down to us.

Since my day job is not dependent on either government funding nor vulnerable to the Gestapo tactics of the thought police, I can talk about elephants in the room. In fact I can go further and add two plus two to equal a politically incorrect five or six. We do know some other things. We know that the Jutland Peninsula is surrounded by the North Sea, a very shallow body of water. Just how shallow the depths of the North Sea are is made memorable by a grainy and out of focus photo nearly a century old.

There is a section of the North Sea some 70 miles west of the Jutland Peninsula, perhaps even a part of the Cimbri and Tuetone homelands. That stretch of water was the location, in 1916, of the largest naval battle in history, the Battle of Jutland. In that action, a British battle cruiser, HMS Invincible, was sunk with over a thousand dead. The photo below shows what remained of the ship. A direct hit amidships broke the HMS Invincible in half, with each half sinking and coming to rest in a vertical position on the seabed. The seabed in that part of the North Sea is so shallow that large sections of the ship protrude above the water after coming to rest on the bottom.



What we are a witness to at Arausio is a historical event. What is the backdrop to this historical event, perhaps even the precipitating cause, is climate change. Twenty thousand years ago, glaciers covered Scandinavia and the North Sea was dry land. As the glaciers melted, the bottom of the North Sea became the place to be for early Europeans. In fact, archeologists have a name for the submerged bed of the North Sea, Doggerland. Doggerland appears to have been a pretty nice place. It had a mild climate with lots of fresh water, fairly rare at the time because a large part of Earth was fairly dry and desert like. All those glaciers you know. Glaciers may make a home for photogenic polar bears but they do wreak havoc on the environment where everything else lives.

It makes no sense for politicians, virtually all Republican, and media personalities, mostly on Fox News, to say there is no evidence for climate change or global warming. Ask my distant ancestors trudging in chains south toward Rome, those that survived Gaius Marius’s legions anyway. They knew the truth about rising sea levels and a warming planet.

The Earth’s climate has always been about change. Sea levels rise and fall, not by millimeters and inches, but by tens of feet, even hundreds of feet over historical time spans. Glaciers advance and retreat, not on a scale of miles, but on a scale of hundreds if not thousands of miles. The Earth is a big place and things happen in a big way.

Our climate is changing. For the past ten thousand years our globe has been warming, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. Climate change and global warming are not new, having existed well before human beings learned to pollute the Earth’s atmosphere. However Climate Change and Global Warming are new. Are they real? Despite the air of calm certainty shown by our President Barack Obama, as well as other politicians, lawyers, social scientists, media personalities and television script writers, we don’t know. It seems those people most convinced of Climate Change and Global Warming are those people least capable of having an informed opinion.

The scientific community, such as it is, is of a more complicated opinion. As a member of the scientific community’s slightly disreputable and socially awkward cousins, the engineering community, I have a certain empathy and understanding of science and scientists. Scientists and engineers are human beings. Just like everyone else, they need to earn a living. In addition, they have a social side and want people to like and respect them.

Engineers have an easier time of it than scientists do. Engineers build things, fix things and run complex operations. Business, as well as government, is willing to pay engineers to do these things. Engineers that can’t do these things write blog posts making substantially less money while engaged in a brutally degrading competition for readers and attention with journalists sporting Master’s degrees in English Literature. The engineers’ need for respect is harder to satisfy than their need to earn a living. But since an engineer’s job rubs his nose in the impersonal and perverse universe every day, most engineers are forced to learn some humility, creating a certain reluctance in them to make sweeping statements on the basis of speculative imaginings. This acquired humility accounts for engineers smiling when others tell jokes about engineers. We accept it as our fellow human beings way of saying they like us and respect us.

For scientists, it’s a more complicated proposition. Scientists don’t actually build things, or fix things or run complex operations. They speculate about how it might be done or should be done. As a rule this requires them to find work with government or a university as few other enterprises will pay for such speculative activities. However in recent years the legal profession has discovered exciting possibilities in the speculations of scientists and is offering fresh new opportunities for those with scientific theories.

Some might think a government or university job speculating on how things work is a soft gig, and indeed it can be. But the downside is that speculations, or theories as the scientists call them, have to be interesting. Theories need buyers otherwise the scientist is left to join the brutal competition in the blogosphere, or enquire as to the customers need for French Fries. Scientists and their theories are a bit like writers as they pitch stories to television or movie producers. The stories or the theories have to interest the people with the money. And to interest the people with money, the stories or the theories have to be about something the people with money find interesting. What makes something interesting to the people with money is usually a way to make more money or increase their power. Just like in Hollywood.

Just to be clear, scientific speculation can be a soft gig but it is harder than you might think. Of course you have to be able to talk the talk, but that is what education is for. Being a scientist isn’t something that just anybody can do. You have to be properly educated. There are professional standards you know.

The other hard part is the danger of being proven wrong. Scientists aren’t creative writers speculating about whether Colonel Mustard killed Mr. Green in the Drawing Room with a Rope. Another scientist or, God forbid, an engineer might prove a scientist’s theory just plain wrong. That is a career killer and next thing you know you’re studying Barista Science at Starbucks.

Scientists aren’t slow. People that survive and prosper during decades of science education can put two and two together. Endurance over the length of a career requires one of two things. The first and obvious answer is that the theory is right. The theory actually describes the way that the perverse universe will act and engineers can use the theory to build something. Most scientists understand that this is a very dangerous option. Even scientists know that the universe is perverse. And you have to be right!!!!

The safer course when considering career prospects in science by far is to work with theories that are difficult, if not impossible, to prove wrong. By a strange coincidence, these theories are often popular and widely accepted as true. Since they are difficult to prove wrong and believed to be true, this is a safe career path for a scientist. Investing one’s career in theories that requires decades to prove or disprove, after the scientist is safely retired, is always good. It is of course best if the speculation supports an outcome desired by the people with money.

Let’s not forget about the need for respect. It is an important human need. Given that scientists live in a speculative universe rather than the perverse universe of the engineer, they are often denied the opportunity afforded engineers to learn humility. Thus scientists often retain the undimmed faith of the normal human being in the rightness of their beliefs. Add to that the greater opportunities, both career and personal, available to scientists and we can understand why scientists are prone to sweeping generalizations.

If an engineer comes up with a great idea, one that works, he might expect a plaque to put on his office wall expressing the company’s deep appreciation. If he works for Silicon Valley, he might also get a modest bonus allowing for a short Caribbean cruise with his wife. On the other hand, a scientist known for politically correct theories can aspire to hosting a series on public television, the third guest spot on Stephen Colbert’s Late Night Show or even a celebrity turn in front of a fawning Congressional hearing. Of course regular expense paid junkets with generous honorariums to Aspen, Paris, Geneva, etc. are a given.

The scientific community supporting Climate Change and Global Warming is employed almost without exception by various governmental or academic organizations. So it is not difficult to understand why there is such universal agreement among scientists about Global Warming and Climate Change. Of course its possible that they are right. There will be spots on television and admiring interviews when they are proven correct some decades in the future, well after these scientists’ retirement date. If it turns out that they were wrong, . . Well by then they’re retired on a government pension. Too bad about the mistake, but that’s science for you.

If scientists were the impartial and unbiased seekers of TRUTH that we imagine and that they like to see themselves as, they would point out that the data, tools and theories we have are simply incapable of modeling the Earth’s global climate with predictive accuracy. They would point out that we don’t know what effect rising CO2 levels have on our climate. They would point out, perhaps even emphasize, that we do know that for a period of several million years our planet has experienced regular and recurrent ice ages followed by warming trends.

The scientists would point out that during these ice ages the Earth has cycled from colder temperatures creating glaciers reaching miles thick over much of North America and Europe to warmer temperatures causing the repeated disappearance of these glaciers. They would point out that the variation in temperatures and sea levels caused by these ice ages within meaningful human time scales are larger than the changes predicted by even the most drastic Global Warming/Climate Change models.

The scientists could do that of course, but then the people with money wouldn’t be all that interested in their theories. The science journals wouldn’t be interested in printing so many of their scholarly musings, making tenure so much more difficult for them. Say goodbye to the invitations to the Aspen Institute. Rational scientists are perfectly aware that Barista Science doesn’t pay nearly as well as a staff position for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration center in Boulder, Colorado.


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