Posted by: chrismaser | March 9, 2010



Change, as a universal constant, is a continual process of inexorable novelty, which means that no two things in the entire universe ever have been—or ever will be—exactly the same, either in configuration or in our human notion of time. Change is a condition along a continuum, whether expressed in appearance or embraced in the eternal moment. Although it is a neutral dynamic of eternal novelty, our human valuation of change invariably renders a verdict of either/or: good as opposed to bad, creation as opposed to destruction.

With respect to structure, no two raindrops, no two snowflakes, no two flowers, no two leaves, no two people have ever been—or ever will be—exactly the same, which presents one of life’s paradoxes: Everything is different while being the same, and the same while being different. On the other hand, a ripening piece of fruit, like our ripening body, may reach a momentary pinnacle of harmony within our senses that we consider perfection, but then the very process that created the harmony takes it away and replaces it with something else—always with something else.

Change requires constancy as its foil in order to function as a dynamic process of eternal becoming, which we humans recognize as life’s ever-shifting contrasts. Without constancy, change could neither exist nor be recognized.

We all cause change of some kind every day. I remember a rather dramatic one I made inadvertently along a small stream flowing across the beach on its way to the sea. The stream, having eroded its way into the sand, created a small undercut that could not be seen from the top. Something captured my attention in the middle of the stream, and I stepped on the overhang to get a better look, causing the bank cave in and me to get a really close-up view of the water. As a consequence of my misstep, I had both altered the configuration of the bank and caused innumerable grains of sand to be washed back into the sea from whence they had come several years earlier riding the crest of a storm wave.

Whereas mine was a small, personally created change in an infinitesimal part of the world, others are of gigantic proportions in their effects. People of civilizations that collapsed centuries ago are a good example of such gargantuan effects, because they were probably oblivious to the impact that could be wrought by long-term shifts in climate. Although not likely to end the debate as to what caused the demise of the Roman and Byzantine empires, new data suggest that a shift in climate may have been partly responsible. The plausibility of this notion has been given a scientific boost of credibility through studying the stalactites of Soreq Cave in Israel.1

Stalactites are the most familiar, bumpy, relatively icicle-shaped structures found hanging from the ceilings of limestone caves. They are formed when water accumulates minerals as it percolates through soil before seeping into a cave. If the water’s journey takes it through limestone, it typically leaches calcium carbonate and carbon dioxide in its descent. The instant the water seeps from the ceiling of a cave, some of the dissolved carbon dioxide in the fluid escapes into the cave’s air. This gentle, soda-pop-like fizzing process causes the droplet to become more acidic and so results in some of the calcium carbonate crystallizing on the cave’s ceiling, thereby initiating a stalactite. As this process is performed over and over, the separation of calcium carbonate from within the thin film of fluid flowing down its surface allows the stalactite to grow. The procedure is so slow it typically takes a century to add four-tenths of an inch (one centimeter) to a stalactite’s growth.2 Moreover, stalactites, like tree rings, can tell stories of paleoclimatic events, such as the severe drought that took place on the Colorado Plateau in the mid-1100s.3

By using an ion microprobe, it has become possible to read the chemical-deposition rings of the Soreq-Cave stalactites with such precision that even seasonal increments of growth can be teased out of a given annual ring. The results indicate that a prolonged drought, beginning in the Levant region as far back as 200 years BCE and continued to 1100 A.D., coincides with the fall of both Empires. (Levant is the former name of that region of the eastern Mediterranean that encompasses modern-day Lebanon, Israel, and parts of Syria and Turkey.) Although determining why civilizations collapse is always more complicated than one might imagine, an inhospitable shift in climate might well be part of the equation that either forces people to adapt by changing their behavior or eliminates them.4 The latter seems to be the case in China.

The historical record of the Asian Monsoon’s activity is archived in an 1,800-year-old stalagmite found in Wanxiang cave in the Gansu Province of north-central China. Mineral-rich waters dripping from the cave’s ceiling onto its floor year after year formed the stalagmite (a mirror image of a stalactite) that grew continuously for 1,800 years, from A.D. 190 to 2003. Like trees and the stalactites in the Soreq Cave of Israel, stalagmites have annual growth rings that can provide clues about local environmental conditions for a particular year. Chapters in the Wanxiang cave stalagmite, written over the centuries, tell of variations in climate that are similar to those of the Little Ice Age, Medieval Warm Period, and the Dark-Age Cold Period recorded in Europe. Warmer years were associated with stronger East Asian monsoons.

By measuring the amount of oxygen-18 (a rare form of “heavy” oxygen) in the stalagmite’s growth rings, the years of weak summer monsoons with less rain can be pinpointed due to the large amounts of oxygen-18 in the rings. The information secreted within the life of the stalagmite tells the story of strong and weak monsoons that, in turn, chronicle the rise and fall of several Chinese dynasties. This is an important deliberation because monsoon winds have for centuries carried rain-laden clouds northward from the Indian Ocean every summer, thereby providing nearly 80 percent of the annual precipitation between May and September in some parts of China—precipitation critical to the irrigation of crops.

In periods when the monsoons were strong, dynasties, such as the Tang (618-907) and the Northern Song (960-1127), enjoyed increased yields of rice. In fact the yield of rice during the first several decades of the Northern Song Dynasty allowed the population to increase from 60 million to as many as 120 million. But periods of weak monsoons ultimately spelled the demise of dynasties.

The Tang Dynasty, for example, was established in 618 A.D., and is still determined to be a pinnacle of Chinese civilization, a kind of golden age from its inception until the ninth century, when the dynasty began to lose its grip. The Tang was dealt a deathblow in 873 A.D., when a growing drought turned horrific, and widespread famine took a heavy toll on both people and livestock. Henceforth, until its demise in 907 A.D, the Tang Dynasty was plagued by civil unrest.

Weak monsoon seasons, when rains from the Indian Ocean no longer reached much of central and northern China, coincided with droughts and the declines of the Tang, Yuan (1271-1368) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties, the latter two characterized by continual popular unrest. Weak monsoons with dramatically diminished rainfall may also have helped trigger one of the most tumultuous eras in Chinese history, called the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, during which time, five dynasties rose and fell within a few decades, and China fractured into several independent nation-states.

Data from the stalagmite indicates that the strength of past Asian Monsoons was driven by the variability of natural influences—such as changes in solar cycles and global temperatures—until 1960, when anthropogenic activity appears to have superseded natural phenomena as the major driver of the monsoon seasons from the late twentieth century onward. In short, the Asian-Monsoon cycle has been disrupted by human-caused climate change.5 Here, an observation by the British biologist Charles Darwin is apropos, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”6


Related Posts:

• The Law Of Cosmic Unification

• Principle 1: Everything is a relationship

• Principle 2: All relationships are inclusive and productive.

• Principle 3: The only true investment is energy from sunlight.

• Principle 4: All systems are defined by their function.

• Principle 5: All relationships result in a transfer of energy.

• Principle 6: All relationships are self-reinforcing feedback loops.

• Principle 7: All relationships have one or more tradeoffs.

• Principle 9: All relationships are irreversible.

• Principle 10: All systems are based on composition, structure, and          function.

• Principle 11: All systems have cumulative effects, lag periods, and           thresholds.

• Principle 12: All systems are cyclical, but none are perfect circles.

• Principle 13: Systemic change is based on self-organized criticality.

• Principle 14: Dynamic disequilibrium rules all systems.


  1. Lee Dye. Did Climate Change Kill the Roman Empire?
    id=6428550&page=1 (accessed December 10, 2008).

  2. (1) Sid Perkins. Buried Treasures. Science News, 169 (2006):266-268; (2) Martin B. Short, James C. Baygents, and Raymond E. Goldstein. Stalactite growth as a free-boundary problem. Physics of Fluids, 17 (2005) 083101. 12 pages. Accessed December 17, 2008; and (3) M. B. Short, J. C. Baygents, J. W. Beck, and others. Stalactite Growth As a Free-Boundary Problem: A Geometric Law And Its Platonic Ideal. Physical Review Letters, 94 (2005) 018510. 4 pages. Accessed December 17, 2008.

  3. D. Meko, C. A. Woodhouse, C. A. Baisan, and others. Medieval drought in the upper Colorado River Basin. Geophysical Research Letters, 34 (2007) L10705, doi:10.1029/2007GL029988 (accessed December 17, 2008).

  4. (1) Ian J. Orland, Miryam Bar-Matthews, Noriko T. Kita, and others. Climate Deterioration in the Eastern Mediterranean As Revealed By Ion Microprobe Analysis of a Speleothem That Grew From 2.2 To 0.9 Ka in Soreq Cave, Israel. Quaternary Research, (in press); (2) A. Kaufman, G.J. Wasserburg, D. Porcelli, and others. U-Th Isotope Systematics From the Soreq Cave, Israel and Climatic Correlations. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 156 (1998):141-155; and (3) Avner Ayalon, Miryam Bar-Matthews, and Eytan Sass. Rainfall-Recharge Relationships Within a Karstic Terrain in the Eastern Mediterranean Semi-Arid Region, Israel: δ1bO and δD Characteristics. Journal of Hydrology, 207 (1998):18-31.

  5. (1) Pingzhong Zhang, Hai Cheng, R. Lawrence Edwards, and others. A Test of Climate, Sun, and Culture Relationships from an 1810-Year Chinese Cave Record. Science, 322 (2008): 940-942; (2) Kallie Szczepanski.
    a/ChinaMonsoon.htm (accessed January 5, 2009); (3) Ker Than. Chinese Kingdoms Rose, Fell With Monsoons?National Geographic News, (accessed January 10, 2009); and (4) Yongjin Wang, Hai Cheng, R. Lawrence Edwards, and others. Millennial- and Orbital-Scale Changes in the East Asian Monsoon Over the Past 224,000 Years. Nature, 451 (2008):1090-1093.

  6. Charles Darwin. On The Origin of Species. Modern Library, a Division of Random House Publishers, New York, NY. (1998) 689 pp.

Text © by Chris Maser 2010. All rights reserved.

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This series of blogs is excerpted from my 2009 book, Social-Environmental Planning: The Design Interface Between Everyforest and Everycity, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. 321 pp.

If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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