Monday, November 19, 2012

Winds of Life

Pomarine Jaeger by Patrick Coin
Birds often get caught by the fierce winds of hurricanes, finding shelter in the eye and riding a tropical cyclone, sometimes for thousands of miles.  Some storms make landfall and travel far inland, and wayward sea birds settle on foreign coasts or in lakes and ponds.

After the Superstorm Sandy, pomarine jaegers were found in many places as unlikely as Pennsylvania. Rescued pelicans in Rhode Island were flown back to a place more like their natural home, Florida.

Birds of all stripes follow the wind during their yearly migrations.  Sometimes the process is interrupted by violent events like Sandy, and they may end up far from their preferred habitats.  There were many such sightings after that massive northeastern hybrid storm: a Ross gull from the arctic turned up in Upstate New York, for instance, and in New Jersey a red-billed tropicbird was spotted.

Sandy is an example of how life itself is guided by the ubiquitous winds that move and shape clouds and weather.  Sometimes the effects are gentle as well as beneficial.  Throughout the world, the winds bring essential rain far inland, to places that lack their own source of moisture.  The breezes of the earth disperse seeds so many species of plants need to propagate.

See the relationship of wind and current in this NASA Scatterometer Image.
The effects of the wind on the biosphere are great and small.  The prevailing winds push on surface water creating great oceanic rivers, like the Gulf Stream; currents that in turn circumnavigate the globe and help spread the excess, equatorial heat from the direct sun to the rest of the earth.  Without that process the tropics would be scorched of life, and great masses of ice would abound in much of the rest of the planet.

The wind... although we can’t see it, we can feel it as an ever-present force.  Like with Sandy, it reminds us that in life everything changes.  The nature of the wind is written into our very thoughts and words.  If change is near we say there something in the wind.  Unpredictable people are said to be as fickle as the wind.

And on this earth the winds of change forever blow, reminding us nothing is permanent, not even the mountains that over geologic spans of time are beaten down by the wind and rain, and like great swells ultimately return to the waters of the ocean.