Snow City

[Image: 13 feet of snow have fallen on Nagano Prefecture, Japan; Jiji Press/Agence France-Presse-Getty Images/New York Times].

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Anonymous sz said...

The real magic of snow is its capability to quickly, radically, and ephemerally transform a landscape's visual appearance. The people walking around in this picture are living in a totally different world than they were a short time ago, even though they have not moved geographically. In a relatively short time the snow will melt and they will be back in the same world that disappeared under the snow. It's like a stage backdrop falling in the middle of a play, then being pulled up during a later act.

Snowfall is notable for the abrupt, bulky, and temporary changes it produces, and for the fact that the period of its dominion is not perfectly fixed to other, seasonal or short-term temporal cycles. Landscape varies in short cycles - compare a city neighborhood at different times of the day and night in terms of light, noise, people traffic, colors, animal activity - and on long cycles: seasonal (bare tree limbs, visible scenery, depth of field of view, brightness and saturation of mid-day light, uncultivated vegetation), and probably in subtle ways influenced by sunspot cycles.

If everyone in NYC with a cell phone had a few bluetooth electrodes taped to their skull, and some transmogrified brainwave pattern aggregate were thrown up on a display in Times Square (The NYC Mood Ring Display), you could probably set your clock by the resulting observable daily, weekly, and seasonal waveforms you would observe. Then if you did the same thing in, say, San Diego, you could compare winter waveform patterns and start evaluating the effect of SAD on people in NYC. A further study with cities binned by lattitude and winter sunlight might be able to quantify an hours-of-sunlight/% depressed population relationship.

January 10, 2006 10:34 AM  
Anonymous A said...

Rachel Whiteread has nothing on this.

January 10, 2006 10:57 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

...raising the interesting proposition that Rachel Whiteread could get a job with a climate services department, master the art of atmospheric snow-formation and... The Turner Prize 2007.

January 10, 2006 12:12 PM  
Anonymous A said...

And it could be called The Weather Project.

Oh.

January 10, 2006 12:26 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Meanwhile, I can't even believe how beautiful these images are.

So, sz, it's interesting today in the news, desertification is apparently spreading into Europe due to chronic droughts and climate change. Could there be a different "disappearance" of the urban landscape, then, not under snow but as the hydrological underpinning of Europe drains away, cities wilting, sanding over, dune-like? Replacing snow with sand. Sand city.

Headline prediction, 2012 AD: 13 feet of sand have fallen today in Rome... A future Piranesian photographer's dream. Or: urban design against desertification. Sand levees.

January 11, 2006 12:46 AM  
Anonymous sz said...

How sandy is the soil (on average) in Spain and France? I would guess that they will see their own versions of the 1930's dust bowls suffered in Oklahoma if these droughts keep up. If significantly lower-than-normal rainfall persists long enough, the lighter and finer-grained silt will largely blow away, leaving packed clay and hard minerals, ranging in size from grains of sand up to boulders. At that point it will be very difficult to reverse the change, as the original flora of the regions will probably no longer grow without regular human intervention.

I see massive public xeriscaping projects in southern Europe's future, boulevards, roadsides, and empty fields with dwindling stands of native vegetation being backfilled with drought-tolerant plants. Cities will want to do this just to control the amount of topsoil being lost to wind and rain, and to limit the amount of dust in the air. Beijing is suffering from this problem as the northern desert advances on it despite China's best efforts. City and courtyard walls will become more popular in an effort to stop the dust storms from choking everyday life. People will build sandbreaks instead of snowbreaks. The landscape will become a human-managed landscape or will suffer virtual ruin. I hope that somewhere in Europe, horticutural researchers are busy identifying the most promising native plants to control the situation.

Much of Southern Europe is already quite dry. The problem they face is exacerbated by the fact that our models of water usage are essentially no different than those of our earliest ancestors. We take the cleanest water we can find, use a little bit, waste a gigantic amount, contaminate most of what we touch, and then pour it out someplace where we don't have to live with the resulting foulness. When our population was 1/10 or 1/100 its current size, the natural filtration processes that the contaminated water went through while percolating through the earth could keep up with our usage. Today our rate of water contamination seems to be rather higher than the rate of natural reclamation. It doesn't help that the contaminated water we produce today is contaminated at a higher level with pollutants that have a geologically-long half-life. As water usage increases commeasurate with population in Southern Europe, more and more rethinking will have to be done about its appropriate usage.

I used to live in Arizona. Every time I passed through Phoenix, I was astounded by the vast expanses of green grass that grew there in the middle of summer. There is simply not enough water in the ground to support that sort of usage model. So it's being diverted from the Colorado river, and will continue to be diverted until there is no more to claim. On a semi-related note, I was disturbed to read that wildfires are becoming more and more of a problem in the Sonoran desert because of an introduced non-native grass. (http://www.werc.usgs.gov/invasivespecies/sonorangrassfire.html)

I don't really expect any serious efforts at dealing with desertification will happen in Southern Europe until the problem gets worse. One or two wet years now and most people will forget or at least stop worrying. It's quite probably already too late to do anything about stopping the change. Perhaps Paris will look like Cairo in 200 years.

Anyways, enough rambling.

January 13, 2006 10:45 AM  

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