Crowning achievement of Deep Carbon Observatory

The media have much coverage of the new paper Extending full-plate tectonic models into deep time and its marvelous visualization of a billion years of movement of the Earth’s continents and tectonic plates in 40 seconds.  The paper generously acknowledges the Deep Carbon Observatory as well as Sloan and Lounsbery foundation grants arranged by Jesse.  Congratulations to the brilliant leader of the EarthByte Group, Sabin Zahirovic, lead author Andrew Merdith, and the rest of their team.  The paper will become a citation classic and earn them many prizes. For history of the Deep Carbon Observatory, see Jesse’s Foreword to Simon Mitton’s new From Crust to Core (A Chronicle of Deep Carbon Science)

Precision agriculture in Wall Street Journal

Robert Paarlberg’s article “The Environmental Upside of Modern Farming” cites our work about land-sparing. Rob has just published a new book Resetting the Table: Straight Talk About the Food We Grow and Eat.

We continue to follow the achievements of farmers. Corn yields have gone insane.  Average USA yields have continued the gradual climb to about 170 bushels/acre or 12 tons/ha. Peak yields have soared.  The National Corn Yield contest in the conventional category  was 476 bpa or 32 tph in 2020. In 2019 however, David Hula and Randy Dowdy, doing some unconventional things, got to ~600 bpa or more than 40 tph.

At yields this high, the question is what to do with the product – vast surpluses and low prices are not good for farmers.  The amounts are so immense that they must become hamburgers and ethanol, but if we wanted polenta, we could release enormous amounts of land for Nature. The incentive to lift yields further is probably going to be weak the next few decades.  It would not surprise us to find corn farmers stay on a plateau now for a couple of decades until humans figure out what to do with all the product.  This may not be true of some other crops.

The Dutch greenhouses are another important story, another big step toward what in the 1980s we started calling Landless Agriculture. This National Geographic story 2017 shows the importance of greenhouses. .

The potential for land-sparing, for E O Wilson’s Half Earth strategy remains very real.

Retrospective on the Census of Marine Life

The Consortium for Ocean Leadership (COL) hosted a virtual symposium entitled Observing Life in a Changing Ocean: Exploring a ‘Census of Marine Life’ Today, on January 27, 2021.

The Census of Marine Life was an international program of discovery of life in the ocean, from microbes to whales and from coral reefs to abyssal plains. The Census ran from 2000-2010 and was a model for building collaboration and a global baseline of knowledge of marine diversity, distribution, and abundance.  COL convened the symposium to highlight the need and generate excitement for a sustained, collaborative, and systematic program in marine biodiversity research and observation.  Jesse Ausubel gave an opening 25-minute retrospective on the program beginning 5 minutes 40 seconds into the video.

10th Anniversary of Census of Marine Life

Marking the 10th anniversary of the completion of the first Census of Marine Life, the Consortium for Ocean Leadership organized a virtual symposium 26 January 2021: Observing Life in a Changing Ocean Exploring a Census of Marine Life Today.  Jesse Ausubel gave the opening talk, a 25-minute retrospective on the CoML.  We post a pdf of the slides here.

We highly recommend re-visiting the concluding report of the CoML, Highlights of a Decade of Discovery, and much other material still available at

Passing of Robert A. Frosch

Our great friend and colleague Robert A. Frosch passed away 30 December 2020 at age 92. Jesse Ausubel met Bob in November 1977 at the first meeting of the NASEM Climate Research Board, and we cooperated for the next 40 years. Bob chaired the National Academy of Engineering study group that produced the 1989 book Technology and Environment with the opening essay, Technology and Environment: An Overview by Jesse H. Ausubel, Robert A. Frosch, and Robert Herman. A Remembrance will follow.

eDNA of Red Gate Farm waters, Martha’s Vineyard

At the end of August 2020, Jesse Ausubel sampled 7 locations in parts of what will become the new Squibnocket Pond Reservation (Red Gate Farm) in Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard for the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation (SMF), which will manage the property together with the MV Land Bank. The late fall 2020 SMF newsletter runs a good article by Kate Feiffer about the findings, analyzed by Mark Stoeckle, which include a lot of eel and muskrat DNA and a little bit of black-crowned night heron.

Passing of Janusz Kindler

Polish water resources engineer Janusz Kindler passed away on 8 December 2020 in Warsaw at the age of 86. Janusz served as chief of the Resources and Environment group at IIASA during the early 1980s and thus as Jesse Ausubel’s boss. Jesse has written a Remembrance.