Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Can the Ocean solve the sky’s problems? Can youth “cure” old age?

== Are the only answers puritanism and efficiency? ==

Amid all the sturm und drang over climate change, and whether to try “geo-engineering” or ban even discussing such alternatives, it seems that polemics had trumped science. Leaving "progress" to be done in a fly-by-night fashion. Which brings us to --

GEO-ENGINEERINGHas ocean fertilization been proved? Early indications may be spectacular. 

I've long favored careful experiments in this one kind of "geo-engineering," which simply replicates nature by providing missing elements to some of the vast (90%) of ocean zones that are nutrient poor deserts, almost devoid of life. A senseless enviro-puritan reflex has blocked simple, controllable experiments, which are inherently retractable -- and which I portrayed way back in EARTH (1989). Frustrated by this eco-prudity, a Native American tribe in British Columbia financed the distribution of 120 tons of iron sulfate into the northeast Pacific, in 2012, hoping to stimulate a phytoplankton bloom which in turn would provide ample food for baby salmon.

That is what appears to have happened, on a stunning scale, starting with the expected plankton bloom. The following year - (according to Robert Zubrin, whose notoriety comes from promoting Mars colonization) - "the number of salmon caught in the northeast Pacific more than quadrupled, going from 50 million to 226 million. In the Fraser River, which only once before in history had a salmon run greater than 25 million fish (about 45 million in 2010), the number of salmon increased to 72 million."

These numbers appear to be confirmed … though I welcome participatory research from you folks! (Preliminary indications sometimes prove to be flat-out wrong, upon closer examination.) Please help our group mind to follow up on this! If any cause-effect can be supported, it would seem to offer very strong reason to pursue further experiments in this domain, which promise better side effects than any other palliative measure (e.g. more food from vitalized fisheries) while pulling carbon from the air.

This is an area where moderate folks need to step up, instead of leaving a crucial scientific and ecological matter to be raved-over by fanatics of all sides. Take this article in the conservative National Review, where Zubrin offers up quotations from enviro-obstinates that reveal embarrassing political and mental obduracy on the farthest-left. Only also know this, that Rob Zubrin cherry-picked these quotations, which are extrema from a spectrum wherein most environmentalists are in-fact reasonable people. Rob is a vigorous and interesting fellow -- I like him -- but also a rigidly dogmatic person of the very far-right, which comes out in his article, veering into realms of denialist crackpottery.

Working your way through it will be a test of your ability to pluck (many) pearls from (a lot of) manure. Learn to do that… and accept that similar ratios sometimes are seen on the other side.

Must this always be our fate? Having to pick our way through an opinion-minefield, between opposing, simplistic militancies? 

A pragmatically progressive civilization would shrug off both eco-puritans and fanatical climate denialists and seek precious positive-sum opportunities. We need to explore this one -- this potential win-win of ocean enhancement -- swiftly and carefully. 

Or else it will be done in the dead of night, from boats that dump "fertilizer" without oversight or scientific supervision.

Noteworthy is this parallel - 10,000 years ago we learned to irrigate and make deserts bloom with crops. Add water to land, and life burgeons… but add it WRONG and you poison  the land! As happened to the Fertile Crescent, which irrigators un-knowingly covered with salts, transforming paradise into desert. 

What irrigation requires - we learned painfully across millennia - is drainage to ensure that the water you are adding will ALSO wash salts away.  That's the difference between the Euphrates Valley, which was choked by poor drainage, and the Ganges and Nile which are still fertile after 5000 years of irrigation.

The way to look at ocean-fertiization is the you are doing the inverse of irrigation. You are adding "land" to water in the form of nutrients.  In fact, it's been happening for quite some time and lessons have been learned. Agricultural runoff from modern farming "feeds" life in the sea, all right. When it spills into vigorous ocean currents, there's no visible harm. But when there's inadequate oxygen and circulation, you get lethal algae blooms. The Black Sea is a horror story: virtually dead. Parts of the Caribbean and the Mediterranean are also stagnant and in trouble, choking on our effluents.

But fertilize into very strong currents that are rich in Oxygen? That is exactly how upwellings along the Chilean coast or the Grand Banks engender the world's greatest fisheries. Fertilizing other strong currents would be like well-drained irrigation. It could work, if carefully watched.  

At least, that is a reasonable interpretation of all that we can see. Why not do the validation experiments scientifically and openly, instead of leaving this to fly-by-nighters?

Don't be a puritan of either dogmatic extreme.  Be cautiously curious. Be scientific.

== Can innovation help? ==

canals1Folks have been commenting on whether we will have "solar roads." I find the notion silly. No place has more wear and tear than a road surface. Come on people.

The place to put massive numbers of solar panels, when we truly have the next economy of scale breakthrough, is as roofs over the California Aqueduct. There is no place as perfect. Nearly total sun. Transmission lines have an existing right of way, and savings from evaporation would nearly pay for it all. This has been done for a canal in the state of Gujarat in India (pictured).

== Bio wonders! ==

It sounds like something out of a comic book or a science fiction movie – the first report of a successful biological laser based on a single, living cell. The fan who wrote to tell me about this commented: "It only took thirty-one years, but Culla's eyes in Sundiver are becoming a reality."

Okay! I'm not sure this counts for full points in the Predictions Registry. But partial credit is fine… for now.


LIFEFORMScientists have made living organisms that use SIX nucleotides - the familiar GATC… plus X and Y. They need to be fed special X & Y bearing foods or they die. Many in the press are fretting this is bad news for keeping scientific progress accountable...

...when in fact it is the very opposite!  This is absolutely terrific news! If this pans out, it means we'll be able to keep a much tighter rein on our laboratory creations by creating lines of organisms that absolutely rely upon supplies of nutrients that cannot get, outside of the lab. Why is it that no one ever sees the good side of discoveries?

== Icky-scary… yet intriguing! ==

Only, here’s the ickiest-scariest science news of the month: "New studies show that young blood reverses effects of aging when put into older mice." Argh, the images this brings to mind!! Creepy old billionaires craving the revitalizing blood of pre-teenagers!

Of course it doesn't have to go Hollywood. I am about to be awarded my ten-gallon hat when I reach my 80th blood donation and young people could get college money in exchange for donating five times a year, without the slightest harm. This might be a lot less scary than I fear. In fact, it may lead to great things.

But at first sight, it is a really trashy sci fi flick scenario, come true! (Note countries with a skewed old-to-young ratio might be in trouble.)

In fact, it just gets creepier! Note HOW the researchers got this result. By co-joining the old and young circulatory systems for weeks! Apparently just a pint or two doesn't do it. You need access to the younger creature's kidneys! And it isn't just the oldster getting "younger"... the youngster gets OLDER!

"But for the young mice, getting old blood was a definite setback. When conjoined to an older mouse, the creation of new cells in the young mouse slowed. Old blood seemed to cause premature aging."

Okay, okay, we are back in really scary territory. The only way this won't go very badly is if zillionaires live in The Transparent Society. I mean it. Without an open world, old Struldbrugs will be sending out minions and snatching young people off the streets.

Oh, and science. Pray this news is analyzed and replicated artificially and cheaply, real soon. I'd like that.

== Pertinent Miscellany ==

Since the late 1980s, teen pregnancy rates dropped 51 percent by 2010 and the teen abortion rate declined 66 percent and the teen birthrate declined 44 decreased. Teen pregnancy rates declined in all 50 states. New Mexico had the highest teen pregnancy rate of 80 per 1,000 women, followed by Mississippi at 76 per 1,000 women and Texas at 73 per 1,000 women; while the lowest rate was in New Hampshire with 28 per 1,000 women, Vermont at 32 per 1,000 women and Minnesota at 36. (Um... who is in a position to lecture us, morally?)

A new type of 3D printer developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research Pittsburgh can turn raw wool and wool blend yarns into fabric objects that people might enjoy touching.

In the category of I Kid You Not... Argentina’s INTA governmental research body has developed cow backpacks that use a tube from the cattle's rumen leading to a bag, to trap the methane they produce in order to turn it into green energy. You'd think this a joke, till you realize its 250 liters of methane a day. Question. At some point do they float away? Or by accident rocket away?

Google wants to create a fully, 100 percent self-driving vehicle — something that needs no human being at the steering wheel — the company is building a car without a steering wheel. 100 cars will be in the first run. Google X -- the inventor's central within the company that is (among other things) creating balloon-borne internet broadband hubs -- has "started developing prototype vehicles that actually are built from the ground up to be fully self-driving." says a lead developer at Google X, Chris Umson, working with Dmitri Dolgov. The car has a steel frame to protect passengers, but the front face is made of a soft foam that causes less damage in an accident. It'll go no faster than 25 mph, and focuses on city street driving.

Sven Beiker, a professor at Stanford's Center for Automotive Research, doesn't think he's going to see a fully self-driving car in his professional lifetime. "Right now in, the year 2014, we're just making the steps towards partial automation. That means the driver still needs to be in the loop," he says.

Google engineers have developed a simulated quantum computer called Quantum Computing Playground that allows you to write, run, and debug software using quantum algorithms.

The use of C60 (fullerene) nanorods, which have unique optoelectronic properties, including high electron mobility, photosensitivity, and conductivity, could make possible low-cost medical and security cameras that would empower even cell phones or Penny Cams, or micro probes inside the body.


Anonymous said...

If we could have large solar arrays in orbit, we could both block some of the heat from reaching the surface, and have vast amounts of stored energy waiting for us in near space. It could reduce the payload weight for trips to Mars and so forth, and could eventually lead to vast amounts of cheap and even free energy. Dave.

Tacitus said...

From the last thread:

"Again Tacitus... all "polls" of military personael will be skewed. The corporals are far more numbers than generals..."

"CORPORAL Hicks is a offense intended."

"None taken."

I try to stay on topic, but darn it all this is a Sci Fi oriented place

If you want to have some insight into the thinking of the next generation of military leaders I offer this, a conservative commentator's observations at the recent annual Strategy conference at the US Army War College. (fascinating place, I did some research there once.)

I am not sure which is more interesting, that he found Rachel Maddow's talk heartfelt and appropriate, or that Rachel Maddow was considered to be someone whose views were sought at such a venue!

I shall be more topic centered henceforth...


LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

It sounds like something out of a comic book or a science fiction movie – the first report of a successful biological laser based on a single, living cell. The fan who wrote to tell me about this commented: "It only took thirty-one years, but *SPOILER REMOVED* in Sundiver are becoming a reality."

You might not want to spoil a climactic big reveal from your own book. Just sayin'.

Still, that was what immediately leaped to mind, even before I finished the paragraph.

Tim H. said...

Climate is going to require everything we can do, and the resolve to keep doing it, because we (Mostly) won't see the climate benefit in our lifetimes. Good thing there are immediate benefits associated with most of what might be done.

Lars said...

This ( might be of use wrt the iron fertilization experiment. Note that the authors, actually knowing something about marine ecology, are very careful not to make any connections between effects upon plankton and effects on fish productivity.
It's also worth noting that West Coast salmon populations appear to have been fluctuating quite wildly in the past decade or so.

Alex Tolley said...

I would be very skeptical of the Salmon increase with ocean fertilization story. Salmon have a 4 year life cycle. The fry are spawned in the rivers, head out into the ocean. That cohort is caught 4 years later at river mouths. To increase the salmon run, the fry need a higher survival rate. The bottom line is that this cannot mean the following year catch can be larger. The only way that could be is if the salmon grow much larger - that is not likely.

As a geo-engineering project, this makes no sense to me. The carbon has to be sequestered. Increasing algal blooms and eating the results (to respire it again) makes no contribution to the carbon sink. What is needed is net carbon loss, e.g. algae sinking to the bottom.

In the meantime we do know that algal blooms can paradoxically cause anoxic zones as they die or are killed by bacteria. We know that ocean acidification is stressing organisms that secrete calcium mineral skeletons and shells, most notably coccolithophores.

Yes, we should do controlled experiments to try to determine which conditions, if any, are useful for alleviating ocean acidification. By this is likely a side show to the better approaches.

Alex Tolley said...

Young blood. My reading was that the relevant blood protein had been isolated and was being looked at as a potential template for a drug. No need to prey on youngsters quite yet ;)

Alex Tolley said...

@Lars - quite right. We've had bans on salmon fishing in California to try to increase numbers and increased hatchery activity to increase numbers. This has been confounded by drought that is making it difficult for wild salmon to spawn.

David Brin said...

Alex your argument would make sense if all of the carbon grabbed by iron-stimulated phytoplankton wound up on our dinner plates. The ratio is huge, however.

Tacitus, there is nothing surprising about Maddow speaking intelligently to intelligent people. She is partisan… and I do not like MSNBC (especially their effort to be the “Fox of the left.) But there is no question that the discursive content of her missives is vastly higher level than anything on Fox.

You think it partisan of me to say that? But I did not say Maddow is smarter than Megyn Kelly! Kelly is said to be brilliant, a law school grad… and most of the other blonde harridens at FN are actually brainiac graduates of Yale and such!

But their schtick is to disingenuously pretend not to understand any 3-syllable word that they encounter while on the air. Ah, the populist common touch! Can you spell PATRONIZING?

rewinn said...

My friend Tacitus, you are to be forgiven, as one who does not follow Maddow, for not knowing her reportage on military affairs is much more accurate and, in practical terms, pro-troops, than that of the entire yellow ribbon brigade.

Tacitus said...

I take the profession of friendship seriously. Thanks.
I actually do not watch much television of any sort.

Alex Tolley said...

@DB - there is no evidence that I am aware of that suggests that carbon absorbed by phytoplankton is sequestered from the ocean. An algal bloom results in a zooplankton "bloom" afterwards with classic predator-prey dynamics. We also know that bacteria rapidly increase as well. This suggests to me that the carbon will rapidly cycle from CO2 -> fixed carbon -> CO2 in the surface ocean waters.

If you want to sequester carbon from CO2, grow terrestrial plants and sequester the carbon in soil (e.g. biochar) and even oceanic subduction zones.

However, if you just want to increase ocean productivity, well we've know almost forever that open oceans are deserts and that the addition of limiting nutrients will stimulate plankton and subsequently fish stocks. (I was looking at this when I did my masters in oceanography back in the mid-1970's.)

Acacia H. said...

Okay. Here's the thing. By increasing the growth of small organisms in the ocean through "fertilizing" the oceans, you encourage the growth of larger organisms which eat the small ones. But these large organisms do not make 100% use of the small organism and excrete some of it as waste which descends to the ocean floor - and includes carbon. While some of the carbon does return to the atmosphere and some of it remains in the ocean, some will end up as organic waste materials.

Now let's go one step further. Let's assume for a moment that many of the fish that grow in this "fertilized" region are caught and eaten by humans. We don't utilize 100% of that material. The skin, bones, and organs often end up being tossed into landfills or used in animal feed... and ends up as waste material in turn. The carbon in those parts are sequestered - on land, rather than the ocean.

It might not be the 100% sequestration that biochar dumped in the ocean in theory could provide... but it has a far greater economic benefit while continuing an ecological benefit.

No system is 100% efficient. Looking for 100% efficiency is what has caused fossil fuel companies to throw their hands up at solar and wind. Yet coal and natural gas is not efficient. If you captured as much efficiency from a gas-powered plant, you could for a higher start-up cost double or more the energy you extract from that gas. We just don't bother with that because the cost-benefit is further down the line and the current investment system wants immediate front-ended profits, not long run benefits.

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

@Robert - the issue is whether this is a sigficant sequestering of carbon. In a steady state food chain, once the ecosystem has maximized biomass, the new inputs are just respired away back to CO2. If oceanic food waste (even whole trash fish) was put in a landfill, it should decompose back to CO2. Carbon in animal flesh is not nearly so efficient as plant cellulose (and lignin) for sequestering carbon. Ideally you want to use primary producers to capture carbon, and that would either require macro-algae (like kelp) in the oceans or terrestrial plants.

If we look at the big carbon sinks, they are rocks like chalk and limestone, and organic minerals like coal and oil. To make a dent in our net carbon emissions, we would need to increase their production by many orders of magnitude. Burying wood (fresh or as char) is the only viable approach that could even remotely make an impact.

Even if we entirely stopped carbon emissions today, it would take thousands of years to reduce the carbon trapped in the oceans as it circulates and exposes its surface to the atmosphere. This suggests that we need to extract carbon from the oceans directly to reduce its acidity. Just maybe growing kelp on submerged anchors in the open ocean and then harvesting it might be a solution. I would need to run the numbers on kelp growth rates to see what impact this could have on carbon fixation.

thrig said...

The whales used to fertilize the ocean—Jules Verne in 20,000 leagues under the sea has a harpoonist among others stabbing and shooting and nomming their way through the infinite bounty of nature. Whoops! Tee-hee. Also interesting may be that the Native Americans held a ritual for the first returning salmon, hoping for many more in the future, showing their respect, and other such ignorant savage heathen superstitions. Us modern, civilized folks instead pitch-forked the salmon onto fields for fertilizer, and generally carried on surprised when that Kleenex box came up empty.

Alex Tolley said...

Some quick and dirty numbers on kelp as a carbon sink.

Kelp production => 0.4->2.38 kg dry mass/m^2/yr
As C = 40% of CO2 by weight and assuming an upper bound growth rate
=> 1 kg C/m^2/yr.

Global Co2 emissions => 35E9 tonnes/yr. => ~ 1E10 tones => 1E13 kg C/yr.

Using the kelp growth rate, that translates to

1E13 m^2 needed => 1E7 km^2 = 1000 x 10,000 km of ocean.

That seems like a start.

You create nets suspended by buoys to allow the kelp to be anchored and harvest the kelp periodically. The kelp will need nutrients (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorus and some minerals to maximize growth rates). Unfortunately they also increase the dissolved organic material in the ocean, although that might be cleaned up by micro organisms.

So if you could imagine vast swathes of the ocean covered in kelp farms (also acting as fish farms), periodic harvesting and sequestration of the dried kelp, you just might be able to reduce ocean acidity while mopping up excess CO2 emissions and keeping the planet's climate stable.

nth order impacts are ignored here.

Alex Tolley said...

source for kelp growth rates:

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, I'd just like to take a brief aside to thank you for your take on a valid and reasonable online community that encourages diverse beliefs and discussions. After having been "unfriended" by both "I Fucking Love Science" and "Space and Astronautics News" for posting non-offensive comments in disagreement with the editors of those social networks... well, it made me realize just how much this site has spoiled me.

We might not agree on everything and I might call you out on some of your beliefs... but you are a damn fine person for encouraging contrary viewpoints on your blog. *raises a glass in toast* Thank you for being true to the spirit of science.

Rob H.

Tacitus said...

I second the toast.

Since the Royal Navy toast for Thursday is less appropriate I shall skip ahead to tomorrow, raise a glass and say:

"To a Willing Foe and Sea Room"


DRHuff said...

Bovines with potentially explosive backpacks?

That would be abominable...

locumranch said...

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Climate Change has become a refuge for puritanical ‘enviro-prudery’ when the CC argument meets all the sociological requirements of an Apocalyptic Cult, complete with its own (1) apocrypha, (2) quasi-religious ideology and (3) obsessive (often faddish) devotion to, or veneration for, a person, principle or thing, as exemplified by our insistence that the current theory is ’scientific’ and therefore ‘treowe’, ‘true’ and 'faith worthy’.

In this sense, ‘geo-engineering’ is a heresy on a grand scale (one I heartily endorse, btw) that flies in the face of established Sierra Club doctrine which declares that trees (and only trees) are capable of either making O2 or fixing CO2, irregardless of the scientific fact that the oceans conservatively (1) produce 70% to 90% of the world’s 02 via plankton and (2) fix at least 50% of atmospheric CO2 via inducible diatomaceous & phytoplankton populations, single-celled organisms being much more important than multi-cellular kelp 'trees'.

Finally, I wish to point out that the 51% decline in teen pregnancy rates represents a moral rather than scientific victory and, as such, is no cause to celebrate, the painful truth being that teens (having better biological outcomes) should be having more babies than women aged 30 or older, assuming that the Moral West 'gave a hoot' about science in the first place (which it obviously does not).


Hank Roberts said...

> iron fertilization

Consider World War II: a pause in the stripmining of whales and fish in the Atlantic, and a plateau in global temperature increase. Not to mention sinking a lot of iron in the ocean, though rusting takes a while.

If we're lucky, what's getting washed into the ocean from melting ice caps -- both off the surface and from the sediment below -- and what's getting washed off the land surface as precipitation extremes increase -- will be useful.

What could go wrong?

Well, glad you asked. You need to feed the desirable plankton, not the ones that produce domoic acid. Know the difference in their dietary requirements? What the limiting nutrients are?

Hank Roberts said...

> Blogger Alex Tolley said...
> Salmon have a 4 year life cycle.

Alaska Fish and Game said: " 2013 ... a record pink salmon harvest "

'oogle finds: "these "age at return" patterns vary from simple (virtually all pink salmon return as 2-year old fish) to the very complex (chum salmon can return as 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-, ..."

Trust, but verify.

locumranch said...

Point of clarification:

Shouldn't bovines with tubes in their rumens leading to potentially explosive backpacks be thought more 'abdomenable' than 'abominable'??

As in 'Those modified cows are an adbomenation' ??


Hank Roberts said...

So look at Scholar:
1996 iron fertilization experiment, massive plankton bloom

Nature 407, 695-702 (12 October 2000) | doi:10.1038/35037500; Received 6 January 2000
A mesoscale phytoplankton bloom in the polar Southern Ocean stimulated by iron fertilization

Natural experiments:

Iron fertilization of the Subantarctic Ocean during the last ice age
2014 -
Abstract John H. Martin, who discovered widespread iron limitation of ocean productivity,
proposed that dust-borne iron fertilization of Southern Ocean phytoplankton caused the ice
age reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO 2). In a sediment core ....

Volcanic iron fertilization of primary productivity at Kerguelen Plateau, Southern Ocean, through the Middle Miocene Climate Transition
Palaeogeography, …, 2014

ODP Site 747, central Kerguelen Plateau, contains a nearly compete record of the Middle Miocene Climate Transition (MMCT).

The contribution of aeolian sand and dust to iron fertilization of phytoplankton blooms in southwestern Ross Sea, Antarctica
Iron is a limiting micronutrient for primary production in the Ross Sea, Antarctica.
Recent observations reveal low dissolved Fe (dFe) concentrations in the Ross Sea polynya ...

There is nothing new and exciting about this guy's uncontrolled experiment, except that it sets the anti-science ranters going.

We already know somewhat about the ocean -- and we know enough that we can say dumping iron into the ocean to claim carbon change credits for tax purposes is premature and likely not supported.

Volcanic dust also contributes iron; so will all the runoff from climate change.

That angry beast that we've woken up? Now that it's awakened, further pokes with sharper sticks in more vulnerable locations isn't all that smart a procedure.

Acacia H. said...

@locumranch - I'd say it's more the wider acceptance of birth control, better education of young teenagers that dispels pregnancy myths (you can't get pregnant on your first time, you can't get pregnant by rape, condom use isn't manly, etc.), and altering social systems that is behind the decline in teen pregnancy - especially as those "moralistic" states that resist sex education and providing teenagers with birth control have the highest rate of teen pregnancy.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

ALex said: “there is no evidence that I am aware of that suggests that carbon absorbed by phytoplankton is sequestered from the ocean.”

Right! Which is why it is time for real experiments!

Robert thanks… this community here is actually kinda miraculous. I am amazed how it’s stayed mostly civil for years and years.

Alex Tolley said...

@ Hank Roberts - well my assumed knowledge of salmon just took severe nosedive. You are correct and that blows my salmon argument out the window.

@locum - your comment on algae vs kelp is true, but not relevant. The key is to remove fixed carbon. You can certainly fix it in the algal biomass, but then what - convert it to fish/whales via 2 trophic levels, harvest and bury them? Harvesting single celled algae is far too energy intensive (filtering seawater through fine meshes). The clear answer is to live with the less productive kelp, but to extensively farm and harvest it just like any other crop. The biomass can be dried and sequestered.

I think we are better off reducing the energy intensity of the economy and concerting to non-fossil fuel energy generation. Kelp might even be a good source of biofuel, although I think gene engineered algae in bioreactors are still superior in that regard.

Acacia H. said...

Actually, if you measure the speed of algae blooms and the speed of whales and fishes that eat plankton and algae, then create a bloom in the path of these fishes or whales then you generate a large amount of food for these animals, they will store it in their fat and will have removed the carbon from the atmosphere.

Rob H., only partly joking

Alex Tolley said...

@DB Which is why it is time for real experiments

I don't disagree with that. What might also be worth while is looking for natural experiments in the geologic record to provide clues, although it might turn out that mass algal accumulation in the rocks was due to some rather unpleasant environmental conditions!

What we do see in the ocean is a constant "rain" of organic matter onto the bottom muds (that white stuff in all those deep sea submersible video). Bottom feeders and bacteria in the mud feed on it, as well as the odd sunken whale or shark.

Corals are one major sink, but the rising acidity is reducing that mechanism.

At this point I am not sure what mechanism is going to convert surface algae fixed carbon to sequestered carbon in the anoxic muds. maybe radio isotope tracking can help elucidate any mechanism? If so, might the Fukushima disaster might offer an unplanned experiment in that regard?

Hank Roberts said...

In other news, we know the density of fewer than ten small asteroids, and on checking the one that NASA intends to capture, it turns out "this one is 65 percent empty.”

M. Mommert et al. 2014 ApJ 789 L22. doi:10.1088/2041-8205/789/1/L22

That's going to make it harder to capture.

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, if I were to make an observation as to why this community has lasted with civility compared to others, it is because you lead by example. For the most part you are polite and listen to others and show respect for them even if you disagree with their viewpoints. (It's called "maturity" I think!) If a site retains that sense of maturity and has an active blogger who leads by example, then while you have an occasional troll, most of the community remains calm and doesn't descend into factionalism and the like.

It would be an interesting experiment to replicate elsewhere. We should find a social psychologist willing to do the research and encourage him or her to establish a blog on a topic that might be controversial (such as science) but retain that sense of civility and request people to behave the same. :)

4chan can be the control group. ;)

Rob H.

matthew said...

Locum gets big points for his groaner pun. Just sayin'.

Hank Roberts said...

> Tolley
> no evidence that I am aware of ...

>> Right! Which is why it is time
>> for real experiments!

It's a poor memory that doesn't work both ways, as the Red Queen said. For everything else we have libraries, as much has happened since the last time any of us read anything on any subject.

There is ample evidence already for what happens; a Scholar search will find you the experiments. One of the papers already cited speaks directly to the question.

It's not simple yes or no.

Guys, I'm sorry for being pedantic here, but the scientists working in the field _do_ know more than we and they _do_ publish.

Want to get them involved in the conversation? Dr. Brin could email the corresponding author on any of those papers and invite a conversation (or, better, ask for an invitation to a conversation already in progress, as scientists _do_ talk about this stuff among themselves, where they don't have to constantly remind people to look it up).

Suggestion: Print the picture from that link. Post it over your computer.

Alex Tolley said...

National Review Article;

In addition, since those diatoms that were not eaten went to the bottom, a large amount of carbon dioxide was sequestered in their calcium carbonate shells.

This is just plain wrong. Diatoms have silaceous skeletons - i.e. SiO2, not CaCo3. So the diatoms do not act as potential carbon inks even if they sink to the bottom (not proven).

As an aside, Zubrin simply has dismissed all the other -ve effects of warming as CO2 increases, even if one is to believe the increase in plant growth cited.

Here is a report on Alaska Salmon.

Alex Tolley said...

This expt reported in Nature in 200 is equivocal about the effect of iron.

This article published in 2012 is very positive about blooms and sequestration:
<a href=">EIFEX Experiment</a>

Larger, longer term experiments would be needed to test the idea to determine its value.

Anonymous said...

At a glance, there are some obvious factors in those teen pregancy statistics that need to be analyzed further: NM, Texas and Mississippi are among the least white states in the USA, whereas New Hampshire, Vermont and Minnesota are some of the most. I know it makes liberals uncomfortable, but there is almost certainly a racial factor here complicates the story. As a general rule, the less white a state is, the worse it scores on most statistical measures of civilizational success, and I don't think this isn't can all be attributed to the dreaded "racism". And yet, the continued ethnic displacement of whites continues, and we are supposed to believe that this equals progress. This is surely the greatest delusion of the modern progressive, which only the "dark enlightenment" folks seem willing to even discuss.

A.F. Rey said...

A quick apology.

I just discovered that the free, on-line course "Climate Change in Four Dimensions" is being offered again, starting July 1. Details at

Sorry about saying that it was too late. Next time I'll double-check.

Acacia H. said...

Anonymous, there is another factor involved as well. Those states with high levels of minorities also have policies that de-emphasize sex education, emphasize religious values, and are anti-birth control. What you would want to do is look at two states with similar levels of minorities but different views concerning sex education, birth control, and the like. And then look at the differences in teen pregnancy.

I'd be willing to bet you'd see those states with an emphasis on allowing birth control and sex education will have lower teen pregnancy rates among minorities. This would suggest then it's the quality of education, not the minority status.

Rob H.

locumranch said...

On the issue of phytoplankton & carbon sequestration:

There are many different kinds of phytoplankton. The kind that sequester carbon (calcite; calcium carbonate) are called ‘coccolithophores’; the kind that have silica shells are called ‘diatoms’; and both types exist in dynamic equilibrium and prefer opposing climes.

Calcium carbonate shelled phytoplankton (coccolithophores) tend to prefer living in warmer surface water with more free Ca, more CO2 and lower pH, whereas silica-shelled phytoplankton (diatoms) are less pH dependent & prefer living in colder waters with more free silica.

Either way, both types of phytoplankton are highly inducible, exhibiting rapid doubling-times & explosive ‘blooms’ when suitable conditions, nutrients & CO2 concentrations exist, meaning that things are not as bleak as the CC Cultists predict.

On the issue of teen pregnancy:

My point is (one honed by 9 years of practicing obstetrics) that teen pregnancy is a 'GOOD' thing from a purely scientific & biological perspective because teens have better pregnancy-related outcomes (including higher fertility, greater recuperative powers, fewer co-morbid conditions, fewer birth defects & a much lower complication rate) than mothers of 'advanced maternal age', whereas the argument that teen pregnancy is ‘BAD’ is based on a perspective that is simultaneously moral, political, non-biological & speciously ‘unscientific’.


Alex Tolley said...

argument that teen pregnancy is ‘BAD’ is based on a perspective that is simultaneously moral, political, non-biological & speciously ‘unscientific’.

Are you dismissing economic benefits of avoiding teen pregnancy?

Tim H. said...

Off topic, Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos is out on disk, bought a copy and enjoying it.

rewinn said...

@locum - you seem to be using "scientific perspective" in a curious way.

If may be true that young mothers are healthier than older mothers (I don't know), but many women see purposes in life other than, or in addition to, giving birth. Delaying pregnancy is a matter of freedom and to be celebrated as such.


Getting back to OP: an application for the self-driving cars would be communities of the elderly. My dear mother was a holy terror in her powered wheelchair, and having HAL override her instructions from time to time might have been a blessing for her neighbors.

sociotard said...

Re: Blood transfusions for youth:
Somebody owes Lady Bathory an apology.

Re: Ocean Geoengineering:
I don't think you mentioned your thought that we could simulate 'seeding' more naturally by pumping air to the depths, so the bubbles could add O2 and carry up particulate minerals. I got to speak to some marine types from an Oregon university, and their first thought was about sound pollution (something they study). It really bothers your beloved cetaceans something fierce, and I had to admit that pumping high volumes of air into bubblers seemed like a noisy venture.

Duncan Cairncross said...

As far as ocean fertilization is concerned
I like the ocean thermal power schemes
Generating electricity using the temperature difference between the surface and the deep

The effect is to pump the deep (mineral rich) water to the surface (as well as generating electricity)

Jumper said...

Megatons of existing calcium oxide would be just the thing. Except we don't have it. What we have is CaCO3, which shows up as very basic on my pH meter. I don't know how this would affect the sea, though. Perhaps a source of undercarbonized lime can be found, as it is in basalt but unconcentrated.

Tacitus said...

For RandyWinn

".. having HAL override her instructions from time to time"


Ideal age for pregnancy is a highly debatable topic. For most of human history the answer would be: before you starve in the next famine.

Some issues such as pre-eclampsia are more common in the very young. Socioeconomic issues aside, probably 18 to 25 makes the most sense medically.

But of course you can't just discount such matters. It is a rare and commendable teen mother who can set aside her own life as well as muster the needed support and resources to become what we generally think of as an ideal mom.

Naturally all of us dads and moms fall short of ideal in one way or another.


Alex Tolley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Tolley said...

A Duncan - the problem with OTEC is that the temperature differential between icy deep ocean water and surface waters is so low that energy production is very inefficient (less than 10%). You just cannot get away from thermodynamics.

It does offer a much better way to transfer mineral rich deep water to the surface than using bubblers.

@Jumper - you could decarbonate limestone (no shortage), sequester the CO2 and dump the CaO or Ca(OH)2 into the ocean. It would then recarbonate and sink. The result would be a net transfer of ocean CO2 to your CO2 sequester site. Of course we now have to maintain the sequestered CO2. Ultimately, we need to permanently bury it in a stable form as a mineral to keep it "permanently" away from the biosphere. If we wanted to return atmospheric CO2 concentrations to pre-industrial revolution levels, we would in effect have to "unburn" much of the fossil fuel energy we used. The only sensible way to do that is use non-fossil fuel energy, either using natural processes or artificial. Where we are now, natural processes, such as increased photosynthetic carbon fixation will likely be inadequate on their own.

DP said...

“Give me half a tanker of iron, and I’ll give you an ice age,” -biogeochemist John Martin, former director of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratory.

While ocean fertilization with iron sulfide holds great promise as a means to stop global warming, there could be too much of a good thing. So I suggest we be very careful and apply this in incremental doses.

Besides, this is something a Bond villain would say: "Well Mr. Bond, before I kill you with my laser armed sharks I must tell you my master plan for world destruction and domination! Behold that tanker ship filled with iron sulfide dust. Soon it will dump its load in the middle of the ocean and the world will be plunged back into a deep Ice Age with me as its absolute overlord! BUWAWAWAWAWA!"

P.S. Aren't we about 1,000 years overdue for another ice age? And has global warming from CO2 emmissions been keeping the glaciers from covering half the planet? It would be very ironic if we stop CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere in order to return the Earth's climate to normal only to find out that "normal" is another ice age.

Acacia H. said...

The short answer? No.

The medium answer: We're still at the tail-end of an existing ice age.

The long-term answer? Not for a couple thousand years, and global warming could kick it off by shutting down ocean circulation and freezing Europe.

Rob H.

DP said...

"Argh, the images this brings to mind!! Creepy old billionaires craving the revitalizing blood of pre-teenagers!" - David Brin

"Exxxxxcellent" - Montgomery Burns

locumranch said...

It’s inarguable that delayed childbirth carries certain economic benefits in western society, just as it’s inarguable that our society rewards and values every sort of delayed gratification as either admirable or honorable, but that is a moral, social or political construct.

Biology is an entirely different matter and it cares not a whit for morality or politics. Pregnancy-related risks increase in proportion to maternal age, so much so that the risk of fetal trisomy goes from 1 in 526 at age 20 to 1 in 66 at age 40, meaning that healthy babies are born mostly to young women and delayed reproduction leads only to high risk complication, ill health and heartache.

"Teen Pregnancy is bad, this I know, because my mommy tells me so. Also, she isn't so keen on masturbation, homosexuality, loud music, disobedience and geo-engineering."

All in all, moral preference is a poor substitute for empiric trial, error & observation.

Since Howard Hughes was right about young blood, expect tissue boxes as footwear during fall fashion week.

Jonathan S. said...

Just looked up some demographic information for a couple of states in the same region, to investigate the contention that minority population correlates in any way with birth rates. (This is hardly a thorough survey, just what I could skim in the early morning with a chatty 8-year-old autistic perseverating about Minecraft in the same room.)

California's population is approximately 39% non-Hispanic white, making that "majority" very nearly a minority in the state. California's teen birth rate, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, is 31.5 per 1000 population.

New Mexico's population is 40.5% non-Hispanic white, a clearly quite comparable number. Its teen birth rate is 53 per 1000.

Clearly, in these cases at least, the difference cannot be attributed solely, or even primarily, to minority population.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alex

Re - OTEC its worse than that - more like 3%!
But the energy source is free!

Coal may be 30% but I have to mine the stuff

OTEC is more like wind power, it's then a question of the capital cost/the return

But each m3 of seawater at 10C difference has 42MJ of energy
Or in non std (but more useful units) 11.6Kwhrs

David Brin said...

The real value of OTEC is that it would spread nutrient rich bottom water into nutrient poor but sunlight rich top waters.

locum: older parents are generally simply better parents. Far more often than not. Vastly, in fact. Also, they can afford the impact of parenthood, financially. People who spend their youths advancing themselves get richer! Couples who spend their early twenties as DINKS - double income no kids - wind up with a house and savings and investments for college, before decorating the nursery.

Alfred Differ said...

In a world where women choose to stop at two kids, as most appear to be doing, it is reasonable to use an economic metric for success rather than a purely biological one. The new optimization problem shifts the age window at least into the twenties for women.

For men, the optimization problem is different. Since many of us have no children at all, I don't think it is safe to assume men follow one strategy through their lives.

Since many of us disagree on what makes sense as a metric of success, I suspect we will never agree on the value of pushing out the age of a first time mother. For me, it is a no-brainer. Not only are older parents better equiped in terms of resources and knowledge, it also slows the rate at which we change our traditions. This gives us a bit more time to think about and discuss the changes before the next generation adopts them and makes it a moot point.

Alfred Differ said...

Regarding the farming of kelp, it is important to watch prices. People already do this, but it is a low tech industry right now even though demand appears to outstrip supply. Expanding this niche faces regulatory hurdles in some countries, but absent those it can be accomplished by finding a use for the stuff that also happens to sequester the carbon. Do that and investment will move that direction no matter what people think of the climate change value of the effort.

I live along the coast of California where we have large kelp forests grow each year. The storms tend to wreck them each year and it seems it all washes up on the beach. Until then, though, the predatory mammals out there love the stuff.

Jumper said...

With sequestration you could just remove CO2 from the smokestack. Grinding native formations might be cheaper, although expensive too. Several volcanoes would do the trick for free but they aren't in my command structure...

Alfred Differ said...

I wonder if our distant hunter/gather ancestors wondered if the domestication of plants and animals would work. Whenever people wonder if geoengineering will work, that's the context I used to frame the question. 8)

rewinn said...

Much of the point of civilisation is defeating biology (say I, peering through glasses to chat with people beyond the teach of my voice)

Unknown said...

Collecting cow gas. I can just envision Kinalsi's farm*, hooking up udders underneath, and a gas-bag on top.

*Kinalsi was the dairy farmer down the street where I grew up - not certain how you'd spell his name.

LarryHart said...


My point is (one honed by 9 years of practicing obstetrics) that teen pregnancy is a 'GOOD' thing from a purely scientific & biological perspective because teens have better pregnancy-related outcomes (including higher fertility, greater recuperative powers, fewer co-morbid conditions, fewer birth defects & a much lower complication rate) than mothers of 'advanced maternal age', whereas the argument that teen pregnancy is ‘BAD’ is based on a perspective that is simultaneously moral, political, non-biological & speciously ‘unscientific’.

Teen pregnancy is "bad" if the teens have to be personally and economically responsible for raising the babies to adulthood.

If our society wants to encourage teens to have babies (and you make a case for just that), then our society has to first organize itself in such a way that actual adults share in the child-rearing roles other than "human incubator" and "sperm donor".

Note, I'm not dismissing or disagreeing with you except to say that your way is not compatible with our present socio-economic expectations.

locumranch said...

I too once believed that teen pregnancy was socially undesirable and therefore bad, until I realized how unscientific and insane such a view point is, to alter the facts to suit a moral theorem rather than alter the moral theorem to suit the facts, the moral theorem in this case being that teen pregnancy is undesirable because society institutes policies to make it so despite a plethora of biological evidence to favour teen pregnancies over those of advanced maternal age, the same type of circular reasoning that perverts every aspect of our lives and dooms our civilization to eventual irrelevance.


rewinn said...

It is a fundamental error to define biology in terms of the individual, rather than a population. Practices that may in some sense be better for an individual become .... to use the word provided ... insane when applied to a population. Teen pregnancy is one such; it is completely irrational to evaluate the 'scientific' attitude solely in terms of whether the body of a teen mother may be healthier than that of a 30 year old, for humans exist in society and for purposes other than childbearing. We humans would be insane to surrender the use of eyeglasses merely because they are unnatural, to cease the distribution of insulin to diabetics or of condoms to teenagers merely because they contravene the will of God, er I mean our innate biological nature.
It is, as always, the whole point of civilization to do better than nature alone permits.

Tacitus said...

Teen pregnancy and salmon harvest are actually related concepts. Random distribution of gametes and waiting for years to see how it all turns out...

As it happens I know a few things about Pacific NW salmon. Enough to say that dumping some iron and counting some fish is very simplistic. Salmon have a very complex life cycle and much is unknown regards their activities outside of the stays in their "home river" that bookend their lives.

I suggest King of Fish by David Montgomery for the interested.

If you really want to help out the salmon for sure get rid of dams, something of an issue for places that need water for hydro power and agriculture.

Right now the situation up in Alaska is very mixed up. Great runs of sockeye (a plankton eater, so there's that point for a test subject) and collapsing runs for chinook/kings. Even from one river to the next things vary wildly as there are genetic differences in fish from different streams. Add in the impact of hatchery fish. Allow for such oddities as the occasional ATLANTIC salmon that wanders to the wrong side of North America. Try to juggle the competing interests of commercial trawlers, Alaska natives subsistence netting, sport fishing.

It is a very complicated world. Most of which the salmon ignore. Swim upstream. Breed. Die happy.


Alex Tolley said...

To follow up on Randy Winn's point. Reproductive success is the important outcome over time. If the environment (in our case, the socio-economic one) is best handled by later reproduction, that is the "biologically best" time to reproduce. One thing we know from history is that marriage age was reflected by economic situation of the time - poor economic conditions delayed marriage. Today no-one starves in the west (although some get pretty close) but clearly having the resources to nurture a child to adulthood is more likely to result in future success (biologic reproduction) than having few resources.

@Randy Winn - kelp farming. I don't think I ever see the offshore kelp ever get depleted offshore (Santa Cruz-Carmel shores). Kelp certainly will break off and cover the beach area at the high tide mark.
Kelp farming today would be very different in scale to deep water farming. You raise an interesting issue about the use of such a resource on such a scale. What could we use it for beyond carbon sequestration? Animal feed? But the big issue is one you raised tangentially. Storms will break the stipes and result in kelp drifting off. That might become a shipping hazard. Imagine the impact on land if corn stalks blown down in a tornado just drifted about in the air currents rather than stay put on the ground.

Alex Tolley said...

@Tacitus2. Your thoughts on Atlantic Salmon in the Pacific? This 2002 report is the only reference I found (via Wikipedia) over the possibility of breeding population survival. Not good, but have conditions changed since them"

David Brin said...

There goes locum again, strawmanning. I do not recall a single person here dissing teen pregnancy from a “moral” perspective. Economic, maturity and practical drawbacks were all raised here, not one “moral” one. But locum feels fine erecting a strawman that represents the views of no one hewe, then calling it “insane.” I despair that he will ever actually learn to paraphrase his opponents before screaming and leaping..,.

…in directions where his opponents are not standing, at all.

David Brin said...

There goes locum again, strawmanning. I do not recall a single person here dissing teen pregnancy from a “moral” perspective. Economic, maturity and practical drawbacks were all raised here, not one “moral” one. But locum feels fine erecting a strawman that represents the views of no one hewe, then calling it “insane.” I despair that he will ever actually learn to paraphrase his opponents before screaming and leaping..,.

…in directions where his opponents are not standing, at all.

Tacitus said...

I skimmed your reference. Atlantic salmon turned up in Alaska in times past as a rare curiosity. Survivors from previous stocking attempts in BC? Really lost North Atlantic travelers? Now of course they are more common and the concern is that they are fish farm escapees. If they were just love lorn fish looking implausibly for a mate that would be ok. But there are some nasty diseases that concern fisheries biologists. So far....we are OK.
There are some interesting genetic tinkerings possible with salmon, makes 'em grow really fast. Frankenfish some would say. But given the implosion of fish stocks generally I think some well supervised tinkering might be ok.

Pacific salmon don't seem to farm all that well.


Mal Adapted said...

David Brin: "There goes locum again, strawmanning." An observation that bears repeating, David 8^D! I see no one has responded to the first sentence of locum's comment @11:00 AM yet, perhaps because one scarcely knows where to begin:

"It should come as no surprise to anyone that Climate Change has become a refuge for puritanical ‘enviro-prudery’ when the CC argument meets all the sociological requirements of an Apocalyptic Cult..."

Should we reserve judgement on whether he's attacking a straw man with that sentence too, until he tells us what he thinks "the CC argument" is?

locumranch said...

I beg to differ, sir.

As the term 'morality' refers to the quality of being concerned with or relating to human behaviour, custom, conventionally accepted standards of conduct and the qualified distinction (value judgment) between things good and bad or right and wrong, then our discussions about teen pregnancy and geo-engineering are entirely moral in nature, including the majority of our discussions about 'things we' should or 'ought to do anyway'.

All of the objections to teen pregnancy raised here are moral, just as the term 'economics' refers to human financial customs, the term 'maturity' refers to socially acceptable standards of human conduct and the phrase 'practical drawbacks' refers to value judgments of what constitutes appropriate juvenile behaviour, whereas the existence of quantitatively superior fetal and maternal outcomes favors teen pregnancies over those of advanced maternal age.

And, so it goes with geo-engineering, a process that is both practical and proven by the climate change process, excepting that many of us still consider climate change to be an unmitigated evil that possesses no 'upsides' besides lower heating bills, longer growing seasons, improved polar access and (possibly) more fish. [See ‘Climate Change Cultists’]

And, I didn’t even mention the moral morass that is politics !!


Hank Roberts said...


"Law-abiding citizens everywhere will be happy to know our planet also obeys Benford's Law, with the duration and size of volcanic eruptions showing the same sort of pattern."

More by the same author:

David Brin said...

The escape clause. Define "moral" so broadly that it can stand for anything at ll.

David Brin said...

Isaac Asimov once commented: "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." In this new article, Texas professor John W. Traphagan suggests that this cult of ignorance is the most serious national security issue facing the U.S. today.

“It is more important than the external threats from terrorists or the rise of a politically and economically powerful China. And a major part of the reason it is such an major issue for Americans to fix is that our immediate competitors, particularly those in Asia, have managed to create a culture in which rather than a cult of ignorance, a cult of intelligence plays a major role in shaping attitudes about the world and, thus, policies about dealing with other countries.”

Dig this well... this cult pervades all ends of the political "spectrum"... though yes, it is a central catechism on one side.

FOLLOWUP: Yes, Polarization Is Asymmetric—and Conservatives Are Worse. Both sides are more politicized these days, but it's not equal.

rewinn said...

Getting back to the article for a second:

Perhaps the impulse towards "solar roads" is a response to the sensible feeling that our hyperextensive road network creates large waste spaces. The average square meter of residential street is, at any give moment, mostly empty, yet at all times it subtracts from the amount of land that is converting sunlight into useful stuff, moving rainwater in useful ways and in general contributing to our biosphere. It's a dead zone, except for the minority of time that it facilitates transportation.

I don't know that there is a universal solution for all of it, but a pragmatic solution for at least some streets would be porous paving. For example, concrete lattices that permit clover or strawberry to fill in can reduce runoff into stormdrains (thereby recharging groundwater) and convert sunlight into biomass (probably not commercially usable, but better than reradiating it as heat). It would also (very slight) improve the biological complexity of our urban environment by opening up more niches.


Another thought electric-road thought: as electric cars become more popular, road design might take gravity-powered motion more into account. Whenever I drive up a hill (which happens a lot here in Seattle), I am banking energy into my car, to could be used when I go downhill, but is mostly wasted.

Recently I took the ferry. The assembly point is a huge parking lot, pointed at the dock, and it's perfectly level - as a result of which, when the ferry arrived we all ran our gasoline engine at or near idle while slowly moving to get to the ship. Had we all had electrics and the lot were slightly tilted, we would have used nearly zero energy to get on board.

While a road can't run down hill both ways, many of Seattle's one-way streets can be traversed without running an engine at all (e.g. 2nd between the Market and Yesler), especially at rush hour when we're creeping along - and stinking up the air - anyway. There are practical problems doing this with a conventional gas engine that would seem not to apply to electrics, but our roads have naturally not been designed with this in mind.

Alex Tolley said...

@Randy I am banking energy into my car, to could be used when I go downhill, but is mostly wasted.

Buy a hybrid. I have found that average fuel consumption is not changed whether driving on the flat or up and down hills, as the regenerative braking recharges the batteries reducing downhill consumption. In the ferry parking lot case, the newer version of the Toyota Prius would comfortable use electric power only.

Alex Tolley said...

Completely OT, but this materials piece caught my eye.

3D printed lightweight micro latices that can support 160,000x their own weight.
If it can be made inexpensively, this could be very interesting for making strong, lightweight structures. Very much in the Buckminster Fuller philosophy of "less is more".

Unknown said...

Solar power panels over parking lots would be a good idea. Parking lots are largely useless empty spaces and covering them with solar panels would make them much more useful. The panels would also provide shade on hot sunny days so that cars would not become suffocation devices.

Jumper said...

Found myself agreeing with locum and Tacitus. I see implicit moral disapproval of teen pregnancy here, and ubiquitously "everywhere."
Also interesting is locum is on the side of Ms. Clinton, acknowledging that it takes a village to raise a child. As do I.
Which is the delayed gratification? The energy levels of twenty-somethings surely can add tremendously to a kid's rearing. I suspect kids with young parents get more exercise.

As for solar panels, almost any man-made desolation is suitable and surely better than moving new panels onto virgin territory. I propose a solar interstate highway system: roofs on 50% of all of it. And electric rails for people's electric cars. Imagine exiting the interstate with a full charge, rather than needing one.

Jumper said...

Thaks, Alex. I noted the tetrahedra in the article. Made me think of this
and this
and definitely about 3-D printing.

David Brin said...

Are black voters in Mississippi taking my advice and voting in the Republican primary?

Jonathan S. said...

Jumper, you misread the discussion. We're commenting on the hypocrisy of those so-called "red states" where they have declared teenagers having sex, much less getting pregnant, to be "immoral" - and yet these "moral" folks have the highest teen birth rates.

Why, you'd almost think actual behavior was only tangentially related to public "morality" or something...

Jumper said...

I thought it was about the circumstances such that there are no men between 18 and 35 who are worth squat for marriage and how everyone accepts that as normal.

Hank Roberts said...

Jun 17, 2013

"... It is unclear why the diatoms incorporate iron in their shells. Ingall suggested it could be because the element is freely available, which makes the diatoms hog it in order to place other types of plankton at a disadvantage.

“Just like someone walking through a buffet line who takes the last two pieces of cake, even though they know they’ll only eat one, they’re hogging the food,” said Ingall in a statement.

That would mean little iron is available for other types of plankton more efficient at capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The ecology of the ocean would shift, from a plankton bloom that is better at removing carbon to a bloom dominated by diatoms that are best at removing iron...."


Paul Briggs said...

The impression I've always gotten is that if the idea is to get the carbon on the bottom of the sea and out of circulation, a diatom bloom is exactly what you want.

Paul451 said...

Re: Teen pregnancy.

The problem with Locumranch's rant is that he focused entirely on the pregnancy-health outcomes as the sole measure of a child's life. There are other issues that go into a child's chance of success and there's been plenty of research to show that children with older parents are, for example, less likely to suffer familial murder or abuse, or even accidental death, and as adults less likely to spend time in prison or die violently. (Even when corrected for wealth, or (for our newly resident Nazi) race.) The increase in pregnancy complications, or the higher incidence of, say, autism, is more than offset by the lower rate of dying young from violence, having a poorer education or a poorer life.

When talking about teen pregnancy as a measure of social welfare, I think people don't feel the need to repeat the reasoning every time because it's been done to death and they assume everyone is aware of the arguments. But apparently not.

"I thought it was about the circumstances such that there are no men between 18 and 35 who are worth squat for marriage and how everyone accepts that as normal."

Odd non-seq. Care to elaborate?

Problem with porous roads is that the water undermines the road bed, eventually causing the road to collapse. You'd an extra plumbing system underlying the whole road, not just gutters.

Re: 3d lattice meta-materials.

What I'd be fascinated to see are the properties of a "fractal" material. Picture the basic shape of those 3d lattices, but at the scale of a bridge support, large enough that you could stand in the gaps between the struts. But each strut is then itself made up of a 3d lattice at a smaller scale, but still big enough to put your fist through the gaps. But each strut in that lattice is made up entirely from a smaller scale lattice. And each strut in that lattice is made up from a yet smaller lattice. In theory, all the way down to nanotubes, graphene, or some other nano-scale structure, but I'm curious how many iterations we could go in reality and how the properties change as we increase the number of iterations.

Acacia H. said...

Given the recent questions concerning how U.S. soldiers consider Obama and Bush, I thought I'd share with you this goodbye letter from a dying vet concerning what he thinks of Bush and Cheney and Iraq. It does seem that some soldiers, at least, consider Bush and Cheney to be war criminals and do not consider Iraq as a just war or the like.

Our soldiers are smarter than the politicians realize. And probably smarter than us "intellectuals" realize as well.

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451 - materials scientists are working on fractal structures. I also recall that one of the earlier NIAC presentations assumed a fractal structure for the beams on am expandable space habitat.

Acacia H. said...

I wonder if these ultralight, ultrastiff materials could be used to create a space elevator. I mean, the problem with this is that conventional materials lack the strength at the lengths needed to make an elevator... but if you can lighten the material then might this allow for larger structures... including the cable needed to build a space elevator?

I have to wonder if we could build one in Hawaii...

Rob H.

locumranch said...

The problem with the social welfare canard is that it is a circular argument (self-fulfilling prophecy), the equivalent of arguing that (1) women merit lower pay than men because men choose to pay them less or (2) minorities require higher incarceration rates because we incarcerate them on a more frequent basis.

The same goes for the social consequences of teen pregnancy: We 'know' that teens make lousy parents because we, as a society, systematically deprive our teenager of all the things they need to be 'good' parents such as employment, independence, income & appropriate housing. Unless we happen to be Swedish, that is.

And, don't get me started on the poor (who deserve to be poor or they would have more money), the unemployed (who would not be unemployed if they had jobs), those whiny 99 percenters (who now live with their parents because they were left poor AND unemployed by the pursuit of education) or our pathetic veterans and POWs (who would not have been either crippled or captured if they had been better soldiers).


Hank Roberts said...

> salmon increase
There was an Alaskan volcano that put far more iron into the ocean a few years before that large return.

Feeding iron to plankton is a bottom-up approach; halting whaling is a top-down approach worth watching. Whale poop is a high-iron fertilizer; that may be the way to prevent the plankton blooms from sinking.

> space elevator
off-equator attachment has major issues compared to equatorial anchor.

Jumper said...

To clarify, the "morality" I was misunderstood to mean, was based on David's "Economic, maturity and practical drawbacks" to having children at a young age, suggesting to me that with these factors, it might be "immoral" to have those children at that age, because of those disadvantages. And I agree, so far as it goes. I wasn't talking about the religious stuff.

locumranch then, correctly I think, notes "We 'know' that teens make lousy parents because we, as a society, systematically deprive our teenager of all the things they need to be 'good' parents" to which I would add the education, which comes not from age but a willingness to learn the right stuff, such as a little developmental psychology, and a little home economics.

rewinn said...

Hey Jumper - Teens, as a whole, make lousy parents not because society has failed to train them, but because they have little life experience and not much money.

I propose a compromise: we can agree that teens can make EXCELLENT PARENTS once they acquire 10-30 years of life experience and income. Personally I like to think of myself as a teenager with umpty-ump years of experience.

( I was going to talk about population dynamics and other scientific stuff but Paul451 said it earlier and better so nevermind.)

David Brin said...

We could alter our social patterns. Let twenty year olds breed a couple kids but another couple - older, richer, calmer, more experienced - provides the main home to which the young parents can come and participate as co-parents but still be young-foolish-free.

Later, it's their turn to be the older-richer-wiser co-parents.

It is done today. I know several folks who as grandparents are doing the heavy lifting.

Alfred Differ said...

I don't think Locumranch's definition for 'moral' is too broad. That particular word comes with many (nested) meanings, so it doesn't surprise me when people talk at cross-purposes when they use it. Stepping back and defining it can help terminate the argument that isn't woth having.

I get the self-fulfilling prophecy thing too, but I have to disagree. A 14 or 15 year old girl might have all the money and connections she need to raise a child, but she doesn't have the life experience of someone twice her age and that matters. By the time her child is old enough to start to develop a conscious, she will be near 21 and will have accumulated a lot more knowledge, but it will likely be knowledge of raising a child and not necessarily knowledge that the child could use to develop better options than the mother had.

Raising children comes at a cost to us with the most important type being opportunity costs. A woman planning to have only two children who are very likely to survive to have their own children faces a different optimization problem than the purely biological one our ancestors faced. Our 'moral' objection to teen pregancy is related to this recent change in what we know to be optimal. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, our social traditions have been adapting in recognition of this economic fact. It is not easy to distinguish faith positions from economic ones when justifying social traditions and I'd argue most people don't bother trying. The success metric is 'does it work well enough to be imitated' and delaying pregancy obviously does.

matthew said...

The Mississippi primary is interesting and Thad Cochran is indeed hoping that some African-Americans take your primary voting advice. And the Tea Party are dispatching "poll watchers" to African -American neighborhoods to try and scare off the voters.You see, Mississippi has a law that states that you cannot vote in the open primary if you intend on voting for the other party in the general election. And since Tea Party patriots are in fact, mind-reading superheroes, they can tell that any African-American that votes in the Republican primary, is, in fact, breaking the law. 'Merica!

I suspect that you saw this one coming, too, DB. But how do you think our society should react to "poll watchers" who are there for thinly-veiled intimidation tactics? If I were a Mississippi African-American I think I'd get together twenty or so of my neighbors and head on down to polls in the white parts of town and do some "poll watching" of my own. But then I'm a hothead when it comes to racism. And I can pass for white.

matthew said...

Here's a link to the poll watching story:

Alex Tolley said...

@Robert - the space elevator requires material strength that cannot be obviated by architecture or structure. What structures can do is mitigate other issues, e.g. meteoroid damage. We still need linearly aligned carbon, either as carbon nanotubes or possibly diamond.

David Brin said...

Anyone know what to make of this?

"Greek pantheon by way of David Brin"

David Brin said...


Paul451 said...

Re: Space elevator to Hawaii.

[Repeats what others said about off-equator tethers increasing forces on the tether, and Earth space elevators requiring nearly the theoretical carbon-bond strength anyway; which meta-materials merely get you closer to, they can't exceed.]

Also, the highest point is an active volcano. Not the best site to drill miles deep anchor piles. :)

"We could alter our social patterns. Let twenty year olds breed a couple kids but another couple - older, richer, calmer, more experienced - provides the main home to which the young parents can come and participate as co-parents but still be young-foolish-free."

That is how we used to do things, judging by remnant tribal societies. (At least those still functional.) Older men and women are universal "uncles" and "aunties" to all the kids. And in doing so, the elders "raise" the young parents, not just the kids.

"Anyone know what to make of this? "Greek pantheon by way of David Brin" "

Judging by their previous paragraph, I think they meant David Lynch and merely had a brain fart.