Back to the Future
Submitted by Brandon Bestelmeyer on Wed, 10/21/2015 - 15:09
Happy Back to the Future day! Today is the day that Marty McFly, Emmett "Doc" Brown and Jennifer Parker targeted in their time travel from 1985 to 2015 in the sci-fi film trilogy's second installment in 1989. 4:29 PM today, in fact. The future, as imagined in 1985, offered self-lacing sneakers, hover boards, personal fusion devices running on garbage, and a winning Cubs team. While these predictions have not yet come to pass (sorry Cubs!), flat-screen TVs and Skype have. But could Robert Zemeckis and his writers have imagined lightweight GPS-guided robotic drones that can be controlled with a smartphone, and whose parts can be printed using a 3-D printer? How about drones outfitted with multi-spectral cameras that produce a mosaic of digital photos that are assembled automatically in software to create extensive ultra-high resolution maps of vegetation? “Doc” Jason Karl does this down the hall from me.
The future, I expect, will always be a blend of the predicted, the imagined, and the completely unimagined. And it is great fun to think back to 1985 and compare what you expected to have versus what you actually have now. I especially enjoy doing this, often vicariously, with old photos of landscapes. Interpretations of repeat photos are immensely useful for understanding ecological dynamics. Historical trajectories of change underpin land management and land use policy at a societal level. But they can also alter individual perceptions of how landscapes work. There can be surprises, good and bad. Your assumptions will usually be overturned. This is science at a personal level.
So, in celebration of Back to the Future day, here are some photos of landscapes (mostly from the Jornada Experimental Range and surrounding parts of the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico) then and now. These photo sets circumscribe the primary temporal patterns in the region that we have detected. I also include an example from the Chaco that I wrote about earlier. Imagine what observers were predicting in the left photos (I did in some of these). In the bottom set, middle picture, I don't have to imagine. I threw in some 1985 starting points when I could.