California’s volcano threat, “Lost” Atlantis, the newt’s journey, “Dude” Lawrence of Arabia, building against wildfire.

California’s volcano threat…take it seriously.

Credit: Erik Olsen

A new report out from the U.S. Geological Survey documents something many of us already know: California is volcano country.

Nevermind that we already face the potential for a massive earthquake sometime in the near future, but the report says the danger from a small- to moderate-sized volcanic eruption in the state is also a real threat. The report states the likelihood of an eruption is about 16 percent over the coming 30 years in one of the seven areas identified as volcanically active. The areas where these volcanoes exist tend to be away from large urban coastal centers, but the report says some 200,000 people live within volcanic danger zones. Among them are the Long Valley Caldera, quite close to Mammoth Lakes.

There have been at least 10 eruptions in California in the past 1,000 years, including the 1914-17 eruption of Lassen Peak. USGS

California’s Atlantis

20,000 years ago a super island thrived off the coast of California near Santa Barbara. This was the heart of the Pleistocene age, which started 2.6 million years ago and ended about 11,000 years ago. It was a time of ice ages, when glaciers locked up much of the earth’s water, exposing landmasses that have since been submerged.

One of these landmasses, called Santarosae Island, can be found off the coast of Southern California. It was 74 miles long and 829 square miles in area (about the size of Luxembourg). When the climate warmed and the glaciers melted, sea levels rose, leaving behind several small islands. We now call them the northern Channel Islands, including San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Anacapa. KCET’s Lost LA has a story about Santarosae Island and the people who lived there.


The Journey of the California Newt

Credit: First Look, PBS

Every winter, the California newt, one of our most adorable amphibians, makes a major trek, often three miles long…quite a distance for a four-inch-long creature. They go looking for mates, returning to the pond where they were born.

It’s a dangerous journey and many newts perish along the way, some through predation, some getting squashed by cars. In the case of predators like snakes, the newt protects itself by secreting a powerful poison. It’s vivid yellow colors also signal to would be predators: don’t eat me!

The wonderful video series Deep Look has a story about how the newts make their long journeys

Deep Look

America’s Lawrence of Arabia was a Californian

Wendell Phillips, 1952.

He was a daring, swashbuckling explorer, setting out in the 1940s and 50s to explore Africa and the Middle East. His name, little remembered today, is Wendell Phillips, and he was born in Oakland. He majored in paleontology at the University of California at Berkeley, and over some 70 years of life, he not only led several major expeditions (including a famous one to little-known Yemen), and gained worldwide notoriety, he also became fabulously wealthy thanks to oil (but, no, he’s not the Phillips of Phillips Oil).

His life and work were not without controversy, however. Over the years, Phillips was accused of charlatanism, self-promotion and shoddy archaeology (by today’s standards).

Smithsonian Magazine has an excellent feature story on Phillips that sheds new light on his life and helps us reconnect with a controversial Californian. For more, here is Phillips’ 1975 obituary in the New York Times.

Smithsonian Magazine

Protecting homes from wildfire

The wildfires that devastated large sections of California this year have been a wake-up call to homeowners who live in densely forested places prone to fire. New home builders are learning to take measures to lessen damage when fires inevitably break out. Fire breaks, irrigated landscaping, hydrants, 100-foot buffer areas, are all measures some people are now taking when erecting their homes in places that wildfire is likely.

The New Yorker has a powerful video that documents how some people in California are trying to protect their homes

The New Yorker

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