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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs also caused a temporary but devastating “impact winter” — darkening the sky, cooling the Earth and inhibiting photosynthesis, new research suggests.

Sixty-six million years ago, a 6.2-mile-wide asteroid known as Chicxulub struck the Earth off the Yucatan coast, setting off a series of catastrophic events that led to one of the world’s worst mass extinctions.

Computer simulations suggest that in the hours immediately after the impact, life on Earth was rattled by massive earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as global wildfires.

Then, dust and soot rose into the atmosphere, absorbing sunlight and keeping it from reaching the Earth’s surface. Plants had trouble getting enough light to photosynthesize, causing a wide-scale collapse of the food web. At the same time, the surface of the planet began to cool.

Because water holds onto heat longer than land or air, there were initially significant temperature differences between the atmosphere and the oceans that led to large storms and hurricanes.

The impact winter did not last long, however. Over a few months or possibly a few decades, the dust and soot fell out of the atmosphere and rained down onto the land and oceans, allowing sunlight to warm the planet once again.

It’s a compelling story, but one that has been difficult to prove — until now. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of scientists from the Netherlands say they have found the first hard evidence of the hypothesized impact winter, buried deep in the geological record.

To take the temperature of the Earth 66 million years ago, the researchers looked at lipids produced by an ocean-dwelling microorganism called Thaumarchaeota, preserved in sediment rocks near the Brazos River in Texas.

Thaumarchaeota adjust the composition of the lipids in their cell membranes to the temperature of the sea water. When the organism dies, it sinks to the sea floor, and the lipids in its membrane are preserved in sandy ocean sediments.

Because the impact winter didn’t last long, it was difficult for the researchers to find a place where there was a thick enough sediment layer to look for the tell-tale lipid composition that would imply a short but severe cool spell.

But at the Brazos River site they got lucky. Back in the Cretaceous period this site was covered by a warm sea, said Johan Vellekoop of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and the lead author of the paper. When the giant asteroid hit, a tsunami rolled over the site and covered it with a series of sandy layers. On top of that, the researchers found a thin layer of sediment that is more fine at the top than at the bottom, and it is in this layer that they found lipid evidence of a major cooling.

According to Vellekoop, the story embedded in the rocks goes like this: Initially, the lipids tell us there is a warm climate. Then, the asteroid hits, and a wash of sandy layers from a resulting tsunami arrives. Next, storms and hurricanes churn the ocean waters stirring up sediments in the ocean. Finally, the storms subside. As the seas settle, bigger sediments fall to the seabed first, and the finest sediments fall last. Embedded in this layer are the lipid evidence of cooler temperatures.

In other words, it seems the computer models were right — and evidence of the impact winter has been found at last.

Flickr via Rupert Taylor-Price

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]