Saturday, May 8, 2010

Our Addiction to Energy

has claimed at least eight more lives.
A methane blast at a large Siberian coal mine killed at least eight people, and dozens more were still underground hours after the explosion, emergency officials said on Sunday.
Like the perception of increased earthquakes this year though, I'm pretty confident it really is just a matter of perception, not reality. The fossil fuel industries are environmentally destructive and dangerous. If you really want to see a reduction in these sorts of tragedies, figure out how to cut your energy usage.


Cheating a little with this first one... it was originally released in 1987, but it wasn't until I got a copy on one of Sarah McLachlan's Lilith Fair albums that I realized how powerful this song is. Suzanne Vega, Luka:

Mike Oldfield (with Pepsi DeMacque doing vocals, something I had always wondered about- gawd what a voice!), Family Man:

And I can't believe I haven't thought to post this one before...Tommy Tutone, Jenny, Jenny (867-5309):

There Is No Try

Dew... or dew not. (From Bad Astronomy, with the comment, "When 30,000 feet you reach, look as good you will not.")

Beyond Predictable

(Blackadder) And below, from Vigorous North, accompanying another thoughtful piece on the ramifications of the spill.

Spill Spin

The Washington Post and New York Times are both reporting that the attempt to place a dome over the leaking riser have "hit a setback" in the form of gas hydrates forming inside the dome. In particular, the icy material is blocking the port through which the leaking oil was to be recaptured. Below, from the wiki page on methane clathrate (some very interesting information there), is a photo of this material from closer to home: the subduction zone off Oregon's coast.For a number of reasons I was sort of dubious about how well this approach might work, but it's an area in which I have very little knowledge. I wanted to be optimistic, but there were plenty of reasons not to be, including the hydrates that have, for the time being, gummed up the operation. That's not to say there isn't a possibility that someone will figure out a way to get it to work- they might. This is still disappointing.

But I had to shudder at this little bit of doublespeak, quoted in both the news articles, from a BP executive:
“I wouldn’t say it has failed yet,” Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer, said at a news conference in Robert, La., “what we attempted to do last night hasn’t worked.”
Because “what we attempted to do hasn’t worked” is so totally not the same as "failed."

Followup, 3:37 PM: BBC has a more thorough report up.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Biggest Dam Beaver Dam on Earth

Continuing my exploration of frustration in Google Maps, here's the largest beaver dam known to exist. It's a bit southwest of Lake Claire in northeast Alberta.

View Larger Map, because God forbid that we would give you the embedding code for a vast swath of blank white

I had seen an article on this discovery at The Telegraph (UK) a few days ago, but the geographical description was not good, and the image reduced to the point I couldn't make out the lat-long numbers. Then a few hours ago, Dave Bressan at Cryology and Co. posted a better image, and linked to an older discussion of the role of beavers in shaping landscapes. It's also visible in FlashEarth, but the resolution isn't nearly as good.

If you had asked me where Lake Claire was a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn't have known. I might have thought you meant Lake St. Clair. But on April 24, I was exploring the area in flash earth after seeing a very odd delta posted by Anne at Pathological Geomorphology. And now I can tell you that Lake Claire looks as if it was once part of Lake Athabasca, but has been isolated from the larger body of water by a strange coalescence of deltas from the Peace and Athabasca Rivers. So this beaver dam is just one more pathological landform in an area that's lousy with them.

As long as I'm on the topic of Beavers and the geoblogosphere, in the past two days, there have been two Oregon State Geoscience faculty in here at my favorite coffee shop. One of them came to my attention by talking about geology nearby, and pulling out a drool inspiring geological map of NW OR. The other I recognized from photos I've seen of her. I know of two OSU alumni (other than myself) who are involved with the geoblogosphere: Anne (mentioned above and in the previous post), and Erik Klemetti at Eruptions. Are there any other OSU Geotypes out there?

Followup, 7:02: The NYT has a little more info.

New Accretionary Wedge at Highly Allochthonous

You know you're a geo-nerd when you can spell "allochthonous" correctly without double checking (but misspell "correctly" on your first try). Anne and Chris will be hosting the next AW, with the theme of a "Geo-Image Bonanza!"
It could be a photograph you've taken of an outcrop or process in action; a diagram from a classic geologic paper or text book; a satellite image of an incredible landscape; an optical microscope picture of your favorite mineral; something topical, or an old and inspirational favorite. Whatever strikes your fancy. You might consider writing a little about what your chosen images shows or why you chose it, but wordless entries are OK too. We're also OK with recycled submissions if you've got a post in your archives that fits the carnival theme.

The deadline for submission of posts will be Friday, May 28. To submit your entry, leave a link to in the comments section here or at the Accretionary Wedge blog. We encourage our non-blogging readers to contribute their favorite images as well: we'll be happy to publish your image here.
Some things I'd like to emphasize here are 1) you do not need to be a geologist; 2) you do not need to be a blogger; 3) it probably is necessary for you to have web access; and 4) it would definitely be a good thing if you understand that everyone here in the geoblogosphere loves them some pretty pictures of... well... pretty much everything geoscience-related. So send some!

The deadline is Friday, May 28th. I know that for me, the issue is going to be limiting the size of my submission, not finding good material. (Cross-posted at The Accretionary Wedge)

Sweet Home, Alabama

Alabama Hills, that is. (Image from Flickr) Above is a scene shot along Tuttle Creek Road, west of Lone Pine, California, one of my favorite drives anywhere. The landscape is simply surreal.

The reason this comes up is that there's a nice travel piece today from the NYT on exploring the Owens Valley. Yeah, there's the typical "let's find the most upscale eateries and coffee shops in the region" stuff I expect from these pieces, but there are some nice descriptions (and a slide show) of natural and historical features as well. There's even a shout-out to the Tuttle Creek Campground- a very nice one for when higher elevations are closed by snow- two or three miles up from where the photo above was taken. One location discussed, Manzanar, a WW II Japanese internment camp, is something I've always wanted to stop at, but never taken the time to do so.

Of course, the author missed the single thing in Lone Pine that I would consider most "must-see:" the scarp west of town. Often described as the result of the 1872 earthquake, there was an article in either the GSA Bull. or in Geology claiming that, on the basis of rock varnish, the escarpment was the result of multiple quakes.
To find the site I'm most fond of, take Whitney Portal road (it's well marked as you drive through town), and cross the LA aqueduct. Shortly afterward, there's a pullout-rest stop-parking area sort of thing. Note that in the embedded map, it's the paved loop beyond (west of) the much lighter unpaved road. (I think the gravel road is LADWP property, and gated) Park there, then walk north around the hill and onto the alluvial fan.

View Larger Map Because this stupid thing didn't embed, even though it shows up in the preview window.

As you round the hill, cut diagonally to the northeast. You can't miss it. I may not have the exact spot labeled with precision, but there's a linear feature that I'm pretty sure is the scarp (hence the '?').
Note also that Tuttle Creek Road turns south off Whitney Portal just before the aqueduct. It's a relatively short loop drive up that road to Horseshoe Meadows Road, then back to Whitney Portal. Of course, if time limitations are not in place, there's years worth of stuff to see in the area. I'm reminded of another state-named song: Almost Heaven...

Tea Party Jesus

I had had already read through the previous two lolz before I realized these were actual quotes from actual politicians. The above comment was from Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ). Four others here. Mind boggling.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I'm Reminded

It seems like weeks that I've been seeing this headline, "Gulf coast waits as oil laps at offshore islands," though surely it has only been days; likewise, it seems like I've seen that headline thousands of times, though surely it can't be more than a few dozen.

I'm reminded of this scene (starting about 24 seconds in):

I'm rather terrified the results will be similar, too, albeit with not as much blood.

Tired of This Image?

Rachel at 4.5 Billion Years of Wonder doesn't care. What she does care about are the stupid attitudes all round that allowed this image to be captured. And no, neither you nor I are off the hook. Matty Boy of Lotsa 'Splainin' 2 Do says much the same thing, from a non-geological perspective. And Sunday, I linked to an op-ed in the NYT that said the same thing too.

Basically, we're squandering a precious, and for all practical purposes, irreplaceable, resource.

I have said before that I have lived with this in mind since the oil crises of the 70's. In one of those on-line "carbon footprint" quizzes, I discovered that I use 1/17th of the energy of an average American. Not 17%, but a seventeenth. Further, I found that 2/3 (!) of that was from flying back east to see my family every couple of years. If I dropped that from the calculations, my footprint was 1/50th of the average American.

This is not to say that I think everyone should blow up their car, and grow all their food in their back yards. I don't. In fact, I'm probably more dependent on our vehicularized society than many. My back yard is a parking lot. I appreciate my coffee from southeast Asia, the Austral-Asian Islands, Africa, and South America. I need my food from all over the place. I love my rolling tobacco from Europe. These are not things I'm likely to give up prior to dying.

But the point that all three of the above links make so abundantly obvious is that the vast majority of people in this country look at the above, and think "oh, that evil BP is to blame." Or, "that darned congress regulates too much/doesn't regulate enough." Some wackaloons think it was an evironmentalist plot.

You want to see who's to blame? Look in the mirror. And go read Rachel's post, "Thoughts from a future petroleum geologist." It's the best commentary I've seen on the issue. My comment there was, "An excellent post that captures my own feelings better than I could myself. Thanks."


From Eruptions, I followed a link to the Volcano Picture of the Week, or VPOW. That acronym is pretty much what it will do to your mind. Below is a reduced version of a picture that I found mesmerizing:That's Oldoinyo Lengai Volcano, in Tanzania, and it's the only volcano in the world that is known to have erupted carbonatite lava in historic times. These bizarre melts are dominated by carbonate liquid phases, unlike "normal" melts, which are almost entirely dominated by silicates. As a result of this unusual chemistry, the lava above is unusually cool (500 to 600 C), and unusually fluid. I think the way the picture captured those last two qualities with a dull but ethereal glow is very appealing.

As a side note, I went through the entire collection (18 images presently) in one sitting. That doesn't really do justice to the quality of the photos: I was pretty numb by the end. I suggest starting at the archive, and just looking at a few at a time. These deserve to be savored, not flipped through.

Fake Science

Here's a site I found via The Daily What: Fake Science.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Gonna Be A Cold One

According to OregonLive, there's a frost advisory for most of the Willamette Valley tonight. After all the comfort I got from our abnormally warm January and February, the last couple of months have done everything they can to make up for it. Last night got down to 36; the prediction for tonight is 34... but variations of two or three degrees can be expected. A little more cloud cover than models suggest, and it'll stay a bit warmer. Clear skies mean cold nights around here.

I'm glad I went and looked this up; the date I remembered was March 20... but that didn't sound right: "Corvallis has an average of about 220 frost-free days per year. The average date of the last 32°F temperature in the spring is April 20."

Tomorrow is supposed to be mostly sunny with highs in the mid to upper 60's. I'll survive the next 12 hours. Still, yuck. If you are celebrating Cinco de Mayo, have one for me, think warm thoughts, and call a cab.


It's 6 PM here on the left coast, 9 on the east... which means, I'm sure, most of you are well into your tequila shots (ewwww!). I'm late with these, but like most holidays, this is one I basically ignore. It's not clear to me what Americans think they're celebrating. A Mexican defeat of a French army? (It's not "Mexican Independence Day," whatever you might have been told.) Mexicans themselves don't pay much attention to this holiday. I have to admit, I'm powerfully curious if the supporters of Arizona's new "Papers, please" law are celebrating.

On the other hand, I have a well-known, if regrettable, love of puns, so here you go.
The Daily WhatFuckYeahAlbuquerque
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

...But With A Heart of Gold

So, yeah, a lot of fluffy blogging today. Trying to get caught up with a bunch of stuff I've backburnered. Lots of those are funnies looking for broader audiences. No apologies.The Far Left Side

And Designed by A Munitions Expert!

This Modern World... click over for the other 2/3.

I Hate It When That Happens

This cracked me up, but I think part of it was the way I happened to catch the presentation. I was scrolling down, and Firefox was being sticky and slow... so I saw the door, the text bubble, the character, the pen, the desktop and the desk front discretely before I saw the floor. Maybe you had to be there. (Jack Ohman, Oregon Live)

Pathological Geomorphology... In Spaaaaaaace!

Via Emily Lakdawalla, blogger extraordinaire at The Planetary Society, I have just come across The IAG Planetary Geomorphology Working Group's Image of the Month. Here's May's image......and here's the index. I found the description fairly accessible, though I think you'd want a good background in geofundamentals to make sense of it. Putting it another way, it's not as technical as many journal articles I've tried (with varying degrees of success) to slog through... but if you don't know your geo, chem, planetary geo, spectroscopy, etc. at least a little, it'll be a tough go. Which is where Emily steps in (same link as the first one above): not only does she provide a stripped-down, translated explanation of the results, she provides some really useful and interesting background information for what we're seeing in the images above. For example, (click for full size) (Credit: Emily Lakdawalla ) the graphic below compares two aspects of imaging satellites orbiting Mars. The size of the squares represent the pixel size of the images- essentially the resolution- while the height of the stack represents the number of discrete spectral bands the satellite can resolve.

I'm going to make you read at least Emily's post to find the results and interpretation for the tres kewl landscape shown above. And I'm really looking forward to going through the previous entries in this series. There's one on Phobos that I'm particularly stoked about. See ya!

Kill It With Fire

Look, I know the research says burning off the oil ends up being more good than bad. I'm just saying I'm still uncomfortable with the idea, okay? (Bits and Pieces)

Wednesday Wednesday

From here. Quote from
Morticia: Children, what are you doing?
Wednesday: I'm going to electrocute him.
Morticia: But we're late for the charity auction.
Wednesday: But, Mother...
Morticia: I said no.
Pugsley: Pleeaaaase?
Morticia: Oh, all right.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Graphic via US Coast Guard District 8 & Flickr; forecast for 6 PM tomorrow, central time.I wasn't actually paying close attention to this incident when the explosion occurred, beyond the headlines and the first paragraph or two of the many, many articles I saw. It was only with the announcement of a five-fold increase in the estimated rate of oil release that I started paying closer attention. Given that I wasn't paying much attention, it's not all that surprising to me that others are a bit confused about what exactly the situation is... of course, under a mile of water, many miles offshore, no one knows exactly what's going on. But there is some information that's pretty clear. A quick definition necessary to understand the situation: the riser is the metal pipe extending from the borehole on the ocean floor- the well- to the ocean surface, and into the drill rig.

From the Times-Picayune, via a very good post at Wry Heat:
As the author points out, this is somewhat speculative, but it's the best description and explanation I've seen of how the explosion may have happened.
At this point, some speculation begins. The leading hypothesis is that the cement plugs failed. The drilling crew wouldn’t be expecting a failure and perhaps weren’t monitoring the systems that detect an influx of fluids into the well, drill string, and drill pipe riser. Unbeknownst to those on the rig, a mixture of gas and water was coming up the drill string and riser to the surface and the deck of the Deepwater Horizon. The volatile mixture of high-pressure hydrocarbons likely ignited quickly and unexpectedly, killing the 11 individuals who were on the drilling floor itself.

Normally, one of these drillers would have hit the “panic button” that closed the blowout preventers (BOP) on the seabed, but likely didn’t have the time to do it. The toolpusher a bit farther away also has access to a panic button, but he himself may have been incapacitated in the explosion or, if the electrical switches to the BOP were cut when the riser exploded, may have been unsuccessful in his attempt.
The rig, badly damaged, burned out of control, then later sank. (Quite a number of photos at Americablog, including the following.)
Which put out the fire, I guess. But as it sank, it bent, kinked and opened holes in the riser. And it's through those holes the oil is leaking. This is one of the issues I've found confusion over in my discussions with friends. Some have assumed it was a container of oil, like the Exxon Valdez, or an enormous fuel tank. Others have the impression it's leaking directly out of the ground. The following clip from Al Jazeera (of all places) does a good job of looking at the causes of the ongoing gusher, and the solutions that are being implemented:

The official estimate, so far as I've been able to tell, is still 5000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons, of oil leaking per day. Since late last week, I've been seeing reports I didn't consider trustworthy enough to pass along of a "cover up" of the actual amount being leaked. I took these semi-seriously, but chose to wait until I found more credible sources. Then yesterday The CSM posted this story:
Calculating the exact flow of crude out of the bent Deepwater Horizon oil rig "riser" pipe on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is difficult. But it's now likely that the actual amount of the oil spill dwarfs the Coast Guard's figure of 5,000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons, a day.

Independent scientists estimate that the renegade wellhead at the bottom of the Gulf could be spewing up to 25,000 barrels a day. If chokeholds on the riser pipe break down further, up to 50,000 barrels a day could be released, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration memo obtained by the Mobile, Ala., Press-Register.
A government report obtained by the Mobile, Ala., Press-Register explains that "choke points" in the crumpled riser are controlling the flow from the so-called Macondo well at Lease Block 252 in the Mississippi Canyon. But scrubbing action from sand in the oil is further eroding the pipe. There are likely tens of millions of gallons in the deposit that BP tapped with the Deepwater Horizon.

"The following is not public," reads National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Emergency Response document dated April 28, according to the Press-Register. "Two additional release points were found today. If the riser pipe deteriorates further, the flow could become unchecked resulting in a release volume an order of magnitude higher than previously thought." An order of magnitude is a factor of 10.
NOAA has claimed the report noted in that quote is a worst-case-scenario, not an official prediction. I haven't seen any confirmation that the "deterioration" is from the "scrubbing action," or whether sand is even present in the oil stream- I suspect that may not be technically possible. [clarification- Meaning I'm not sure it would possible to confirm or observe this with an ROV. The abrasion certainly sounds possible to me, but I don't know.] I'm afraid this is a wait-and-see situation. But the long and short of it is that we may- and I emphasize, may- already be looking at a million-plus gallons per day spill, the equivalent if an Exxon Valdez every ten days. And if the worst case plays out, the same every five days. And though the Al Jazeera clip and the graphic mention 60-90 days for completion of the relief well, most other sources have said something along the lines of "at least 90 days."

Remember that after oil, the gulf coast's major sources of income are from fishing and tourism. All three of those are going to be mired in mousse for years... maybe decades.

On the other hand, if the dice fall favorably, it's still possible that my gloom and doom is premature. The NYT has a somewhat more optimistic take, also from yesterday. I guess we'll see.

Followup, 7:08: Hmph. One of the sources cited by the above NYT article turns out to be a "non-profit environmental group" whose board of directors consists almost entirely of executives from the... wait for it... oil industry. (H/T)

Magnetic Fields

From the BBC comes the news that paleomagneticists have discovered newly sensitive techniques to examine remnant magnetism in ancient rock (above, the Barberton greenstone belt in Africa), pushing back the oldest known evidence of the young Earth's magnetic field, to 3.45 billion years ago.
The Barberton samples indicate the nascent field was considerably weaker than today's protective shield.

Whereas the modern boundary between our planet's magnetosphere and the solar wind might be located ordinarily at about 10 Earth radii, the ancient boundary would have been much closer - perhaps three to five Earth radii, said Professor Tarduno.
To me, though, the earth has always held a certain magnetism...

Tuesday Tits

Coal tit, from Wikipedia. Geology and tits. Gotta love 'em!

Star Wars Day

Last year was the first time I ever heard this date referred to as "Star Wars Day." It took me a moment, but it was good for a groan. Picture from Bits and Pieces.

Tin Soldiers and Nixon Coming

40 years ago today...
these four young people died. For no particular reason that I've ever heard.

I was ten. I can't claim to remember the event very well. What I do remember is this: I was living in another town in Ohio, Athens, home of Ohio University. I don't remember the ensuing riots; we lived a ways from campus, and we stayed the hell away. I do remember seeing the damaged businesses downtown and the damage around campus: broken windows, smashed doors, debris in the streets, smoke stains from fires. I remember grim National Guardsmen everywhere. Being stopped by armed guards when we tried to drive back into town. Personnel carriers with guns pointed out over their tailgates.

It was a scary education for a ten-year-old boy.

But nothing like the education those Kent State students got on that spring day so long ago.
However disgusted I may be with politics in this country, my faded memories have put things in a different perspective today. Hard as it is to believe, things could be worse.
"Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio."

For a more substantive analysis of the context and lyrics, the source of the four portraits above is a gripping read. History largely saddles Nixon with this atrocity, but I'd like to give a special shout out to James Rhodes, Ohio's governor at the time, as a pigfucker of note.Sorry ma'am. Your kid won't be coming home. Ever. Governor Rhodes felt that carrying signs was too threatening to the stability of his government. So he had'em shot from a football field away. Have a nice day.

Followup, 12:03: Via EB Misfit, here's an essay by one mother whose child never came home from college.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Oil Right Now

I spent much of the day chatting with friends yesterday, so I was behind on most of my reader stuff. Then the innertubz were down here at the Interzone until early afternoon. After an admittedly cursory scan through ~1700 items (paying more attention to science and humor than news), I mostly caught up... mostly. So this is just a quick note to tide me over until I can cobble together some more substantive posts tomorrow. Here's an op-ed comic from Jack Ohman at the Oregonian, posted with the title, "Tropical Depression."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Snarky News

From The CSM:
A Wednesday article in the the Sun, a British tabloid, carried the headline 'NASA: Evidence of Life on Mars,' leaving scientists from the US space agency wondering if there's intelligent life in the Sun.
I think if news sources themselves were more aggressive about ridiculing bad reporting, it might provide some motivation to get it right. I have commented positively on the the overall quality of science reporting at the Christian Science Monitor in the past... a fact that I still find kind of surprising in the context of what I know about the Christian Science Church's belief system. But once again, they come through with a politely scathing critique of bad reporting.
The piece claimed that the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which have been wheeling around the surface of the red planet since January 2004, found pond scum, which the paper calls "the building blocks of life as we know it."

"I think they have taken this stuff out of context," Brown said.

Such a discovery would truly have been groundbreaking, since pond scum, scientifically known as cyanobacteria, are actually a form of life themselves, not just building blocks for it.

"I can only assume that the Sun reporter misunderstood," said Cornell University planetary scientist Steve Squyres, principal investigator of the Mars Exploration Rover project, who was quoted in the story. "What Spirit and Opportunity have found is sulfate minerals... not organic materials, not pond scum, and not the building blocks of life as we know it.
More like this, please!

Sunday Funnies

The weekly funny dump returns...The Daily Irritant
Bits and Pieces
The Daily What
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
demotivational posters
see more demotivators
Sober in a Nightclub
Spaghetti and Meatball Cake: Chocolate cake covered in spaghetti icing, with Ferrero Roche meatballs smothered with raspberry sauce. This is Why You're Fat
M thru F
Bits and Pieces
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
Friends of Irony
In an item in the April 21 “Slatest,” Nicholas Jackson misquoted a CNN article, stating that the new $100 bill includes an embedded “security threat.” It includes an embedded security thread. Link (Regret the Error)Blackadder
The Daily What
john cleese
"Says Björk To Release Charity Song To Benefit Suffering Airlines." see more Lol Celebs
Sober in a Nightclub
M thru F
The Daily What
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
Criggo, posted with the title "Film at 11." Actually, I posted the film a year and a half ago.
funny graphs and charts
see more Funny Graphs
Eyjafjallajökull volcano, Iceland
see more Political Pictures
i forgot what i was going to google
see more autocomletions
Bits and Pieces
demotivational posters
see more demotivators
Sober in a Nightclub
Abstruse Goose
Señor Gifs
johnny depp
see more Lol Celebs
Bits and Pieces
very demotivational
see more Demotivators
A McCain campaign bus
see more Political Pictures
Darius Whiteplume's Tumblr
Allergy season sucks... I've been through better than a dozen napkins already, and it's not even noon yet. Darius Whiteplume's Tumblr
Friends of Irony
Calamities of Nature
Señor Gifs
Chuck & Beans
see more Political Pictures
Friends of Irony
Darius Whiteplume's Tumblr
The Daily Irritant
Señor Gifs
what do you say we make apple juice and fax it to each other
see more completionsBits and Pieces
Epic Win
Señor Gifs
Bits and Pieces
demotivational posters
see more Demotivators