Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto's Assassination

Our year ends on a sad note with the inevitable assassination of Benazir Bhutto and rising concerns over the future of Pakistan. It is hard for outsiders to judge the political winds blowing in that volatile country of over 100,000,000 except to intuit that the country's size matters unlike so many other hot spots that are small enough to be easily contained.

Pakistan is a country of grown men playing with fire who perhaps even believe that they have some right to do so. I fear that like Europe, it will take several million dead to cure this disease.

If that can be avoided then the next generation must become educated in the values of the enlightenment, rather than the values of seventh century barbarism. That would quickly release the peoples' energies to build a rich and prosperous nation of energetic people. I doubt if the will yet exists.

What this all means in a classic historic sense is that the famed Northwest frontier continues to brew up and make everyone nervous. It truly is the last sanctuary of the barbarian dream that captivated mankind for millenia. Its ending will be the end of military romance and the completion of the great enterprise of civilization begun in the Bronze age.

Yet I look at those desert hills and dream of building out woodlands wherever possible and building a rich land. It will be very difficult but done along the frontier, it will hugely improve the economic potential of the Indus valley. That is a worthy bequest. It makes politics small and beneath contempt.

The frontier and this remnant barbarism is now an ulcer on the globe that surely must be healed. It captivates and distracts the Islamic world from fulfilling their own destiny. It will not end until leadership emerges within Islam able to confront the horror.

In the meantime the Islamic world has had the benefit of oceans of global spending power through access to oil for two generations. The next generation will see this end. It has already begun.

Of course we see this world through the eyes of the wingnuts who have shaped western perceptions of Islam to date and this makes us nervous. The reality is that a large portion of the Islamic world occupies some of the most unforgiving land in the world.

It is this geography that represents one of the best opportunities to sequester carbon by the re establishment of agriculture and woodlands and their great opportunity to build the future.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Transnational Management Organizations

The one thing that is clear about global environmental problems is that the solution will require a global consensus and a uniform global response. Otherwise we are treated to the silliness of the so called impoverished countries demanding that only the developed world reform while the same countries are importing the polluting industries.

And bad policy such as the Kyoto accord will naturally destroy any tentative consensus before it accomplishes much. Any solution must be both global and universal in its application. And this is obviously very difficult.

Our international institutions are still very tentative and very weak and are lacking leadership. Fault is irrelevant. That is just the way it is. Though every country participates, no one seems willing to develop binding systems that can be properly upheld. The Europeans are solving this problem for the Europeans and seem to be shaking out a solution.

It all comes down to the progressive reassignment of sovereign rights to transnational institutions that are trustworthy. This is a hugely sticky idea that some countries have accepted while others are just coming to grips with the idea. Many will accept this idea on the face of it, yet subvert it at every turn. Others are so new to their sovereignty that they can hardly countenance any disturbance.

And the three most important of all, China,India and the USA, are the most prickly of all. On the other hand, if France and Germany could get past it perhaps even they can.

I think that a global consensus on the creation of governmental transnational organizations is very timely.

It is very easy to select a few very pressing global problems to build such individual organizations around. We do not have to even start with smoke stack emission controls. There we can build a long transition program that gives all participants time to pay off and depreciate the current infrastructure. Even though we know how to eliminate the problem now.

An even better problem, as I have posted on earlier, for developing a transnational organization is the exploitation of the sea. Right now we still have a beggar thy neighbor system maintained in the face of all economic sense. A global system for fish stock ownership and regulation would be a boon that would speed the recovery of stocks and establish sustainable husbandry.

This is so obvious that I do not comprehend why it is not been pursued more aggressively. Then again, even nations have trouble with this idea. Canada has its caribou herds and a very confused approach to their management. Yet they are classic examples of prey - predator collapse cycles that could be easily managed to everyone's profit including the environment itself.

We have presented our options for the resolution of the CO2 problem in this blog. The good news, is that these solutions turn out to be excellent husbandry and will be adopted. It will simply take longer without an international effort.

Monday, December 24, 2007

European Forest Recovery

First, a merry Christmas to all. the season is upon us.

I picked up an article this weekend on the subject of European forests. It appears, that without a lot of fanfare and certainly no publicity, that Europe has adopted a policy of financing the retirement of farmland back into forest. By its nature, it is taking out marginal lands. In other words, it is economically driven.

I also get the sense that it is generational. It naturally recognizes that the best time to accomplish this is upon the retirement of the owner operator rather than his displacement.

This has been in place for some time and the effect is already been seen. The disappearance of borders throughout Europe has sped this effect throughout. It is telling that a farmer in Poland can report half his daughter's income working cleaning floors in London is his farm's best source of income.

People are making up their minds a lot faster than when I was growing up when most of my fellow classmates still looked forward to a life on the family farm(1950's).

This on top of similar news out of China, and I suspect even India shortly, means that the modern world is quietly doing the right thing in terms of land use. It is not quick,nor should it be. But we can make a prediction from this. Since it is a largely low cost process and it has little if any impact on production, we can expect that the restoration of natural forests will be maximized over the next one hundred years.

In these lands, the issue of ownership is not nearly the problem, since the land units are generally small and well within the capacity of the owner operator to maximize efficiency.

This is not quite true in North America, were traditional land ownership sizing was already far too large for one family to get the most of. This has been supplanted by the easy assemblage of larger farms and fields to grow certain mono cultures.

It goes without saying that if you are operating a one thousand acre field, you have little time and resources left over to do much about the couple of hundred acres of associated semi waste land. The point that I am making is that the transition to large industrial farms has left a lot of opportunity on the table and has made it harder to do a managed conversion to forestland were warranted. It still will be done, but it will be a little more costly and will require political will.

What we can take comfort from is this global outbreak of common sense when it comes to land management. It is a long way from perfect and we are still a long way from been proactive, but the easy steps are well under way and they are driven by economic common sense.

Perhaps governments can wake up and actually get a little ahead of the curve for once. Good policy is obvious for once.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Warming Arctic Surface Water

This article highlights an unexpected consequence of the clearing of sea ice from a huge expanse of surface water. The surface temperature climbs way more than expected because the wind has blown any pack ice far away. This was not so obvious in previous years simply because the open areas developed later and were much smaller.

This indicates that summer surface temperatures in the Arctic Ocean will climb to the same levels once full ice removal is possible and a decent summer season is established. This also suggests that a fair amount of moisture will find its way into the Arctic atmosphere increasing precipitation on the Greenland icecap. So while the edges of the cap will experience greater melting, the cap itself will be adding ice faster.

I used to have a copy of the raw ice core data from back in the nineties when they were not charging for it. I had it because I wanted to get a handle of the precise timing of the Pleistocene Nonconformity and even to confirm it was for real(it was). It now strikes me that that same data may be sensitive enough to pick up those time periods in which the Arctic was ice free in the summer. I hate hard drives.

Note also that a direct result of this is winter ice thicknesses dropping from an average of 80 centimeters to an average an average 25 centimeters thinner or about 55 centimeters. This is a huge effect and it alone means that the sea ice could clear even sooner next season allowing an even earlier attack on the perennial ice. We are clearly well past any tipping point because this is a cumulative effect that will happily clear out all the sea ice over the next several years.

For this process to properly reverse now, something radical has to change and permit a large chilling effect. And since that type of response takes a long time to set up, I suspect that we are in for a few centuries of warmer Arctic climate.

Without Ice Cap, Arctic Waters Warm To As Much As 5C Above Average

Written by The Naib

warming arctic

Record-breaking amounts of ice-free water have deprived the Arctic of more of its natural “sunscreen” than ever in recent summers. The effect is so pronounced that sea surface temperatures rose to 5 C above average in one place this year, a high never before observed, says the oceanographer who has compiled the first-ever look at average sea surface temperatures for the region.

Such superwarming of surface waters can affect how thick ice grows back in the winter, as well as its ability to withstand melting the next summer, according to Michael Steele, an oceanographer with the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory. Indeed, since September, the end of summer in the Arctic, winter freeze-up in some areas is two months later than usual.

The extra ocean warming also might be contributing to some changes on land, such as previously unseen plant growth in the coastal Arctic tundra, if heat coming off the ocean during freeze-up is making its way over land, says Steele. (who incidentally is speaking Wednesday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco)

He is lead author of “Arctic Ocean surface warming trends over the past 100 years,” accepted for publication in AGU’s Geophysical Research Letters. Co-authors are physicist Wendy Ermold and research scientist Jinlun Zhang, both of the UW Applied Physics Laboratory. The work is funded by the National Science Foundation.

“Warming is particularly pronounced since 1995, and especially since 2000,” the authors write. The spot where waters were 5 C above average was in the region just north of the Chukchi Sea. The historical average temperature there is -1 C (the salt in ocean water keeps it liquid at temperatures that would cause fresh water to freeze). This year water in that area warmed to 4 C, for a 5-degree change from the average.

That general area, the part of the ocean north of Alaska and Eastern Siberia that includes the Bering Strait and Chukchi Sea, experienced the greatest summer warming. Temperatures for that region were generally 3.5 C warmer than historical averages and 1.5 C warmer than the historical maximum.

Such widespread warming in those areas and elsewhere in the Arctic is probably the result of having increasing amounts of open water in the summer that readily absorb the sun’s rays, Steele says. Hard, white ice, on the other hand, can work as a kind of sunscreen for the waters below, reflecting rather than absorbing sunlight. The warming also may be partly caused by increasing amounts of warmer water coming from the Pacific Ocean, something scientists have noted in recent years.

The Arctic was primed for more open water since the early 1990s as the sea-ice cover has thinned, due to a warming atmosphere and more frequent strong winds sweeping ice out of the Arctic Ocean via Fram Strait into the Atlantic Ocean where the ice melts. The wind effect was particularly strong in the summer of 2007.

Now the situation could be self-perpetuating, Steele says. For example, he calculates that having more heat in surface waters in recent years means 23 to 30 inches less ice will grow in the winter than formed in 1965. Since sea ice typically grows about 80 inches in a winter, that is a significant fraction of ice that’s going missing, he says.

Then too, higher sea surface temperatures can delay the start of freeze-up because the extra heat must be discharged from the upper ocean before ice can form.

“The effect on net winter growth would probably be negligible for a delay of several weeks, but could be substantial for delays of several months,” the authors write. We are getting very close to the tipping point, or maybe we have already moved past it. Either way these continued warnings from the nations best scientists mean that we need to take much more drastic action, and soon. Without an immediate reduction in green house gas emission we are dooming ourselves to a world with a fever. If only our government could pull it’s head out of it’s ass long enough to realize this we might be alright. I suggest you call up your congress person and bitch at them till they hang up on you, do this every week or until we have change. If they keep voting the way you don’t like, vote for someone else who will vote the way you want.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Costing the Algae Economy

Dug made the following comments on how little we know as to the operational costs at the moment.

Could you reference your statements with the final costs per storeable gallon of fuel. I notice you make no mention of fertilizer, extraction, separation, filtration and stablization costs and without addressing them - you haven't produced usable or a cost efficient fuel. As we all know, producing algae is the easy part. Also your production units need to referenced with a time unit. i.e. - X gallons/acre/year.

While we all appreciate enthusiasm and optimism, but you might also want to point out, that to date no one has produced one gallon of algae oil that is competitively priced to petroleum sourced diesel fuel. Competitively priced means that OPEC can't drive the would be producers out of business as they have at least twice over the past 40 years.

The truth is, any cost figures that get thrown out now are early days and must be suspect. I prefer to not bandy them about except to use them as magnitude checks. The company's announcement did spell out that their production system (do look at the pictures) supported a annual through put of 276 dry tons per acre that however calculated is very likely accurate.

It was apparent from the visuals and the obvious design parameters that their input costs will compare favorably to those of commercial greenhouse operations. To say more than that at this stage is speculation and misleading at best. The protocols need to be finessed and even the working algae species have to be successfully worked out. I simply do not believe we are anywhere close today nor will we for a long time.

What we have though is an industrial production platform that is obviously scalable and can be operated in reasonable isolation from wild species. Hopefully they do not have to maintain negative atmospheric pressure.

It is also a platform that promises low capital costs for setting up with mass production techniques which is critical as was critical for the expansion of the green house industry.

Of course fertilizer, extraction, separation, filtration and stabilization are critical but are subject to scaling issues and are not to likely to be fully addressed as yet. We all can imagine a rotory filter press hard at work, but there are many options and such a system has to be optimized around a scale choice.

I personally suspect that the key issue will turn out to be the utility of the deoiled byproduct. I simply cannot believe that this will not make a viable cattle feed, but this is a long way from been sorted out. If that works, then this technology can be quickly integrated with feedlot operations and the oil becomes a shippable byproduct of an operation set up already to deal with similar issues.

As in green house operations the nutrients must be provided, but then there is little wastage unlike most open field agriculture. If those same nutrients end up feeding cattle then we have created a viable link in a meritorious system.

Another option for the usage of the algae meal may be fish food for vegetarian fish at least. No one has gone there yet. The real point here is that there is a need for innovative food stocks for all animal husbandry industries as traditional supplies have been inadequate. I may be possible to blend the needs with the production of oil.

I do not want to dive into the economic practices of the oil industry, except to say that conversion to this source is inevitable in the long term, but postponable in the short term by the advent of additional sources of petroleum. The political will must exist to say that we want to be totally independent of petroleum and we are prepared to support an appropriate premium. I suspect that square mile sized algae oil facilities producing in excess of 80,000 tons of bio diesel (around 20,000,000 gallons) is an attractive option to those tired of been whipsawed by a politicized oil supply industry that is no longer truly based in the homeland.

In the meantime, we have a model greenhouse pumping out 256 tons of biomass per acre per year as a threshold. That will require a predictable amount of fertilizer per ton and associated costs. It is a good start. The rest is subject to incremental increases in efficiency by species selection and management. Hopefully the will, the money and the time exists to complete the job.

By the way, no other source of oil will ever be competitive with petroleum on a cost basis. It has already been manufactured and there are many places were it can be lifted for pennies. So that is an unfair question. It is like mining gold in competition with the US mint. The problem is that petroleum imposes huge indirect global economic costs that are how becoming unbearable that can be completely mitigated by transitioning over to algae bio diesel. And with the prospect of cattle feed, I am trying to show that it can be better than that.

This is so far the only 'business plan' that has any reasonable prospect of keeping our oil based civilization working on a sustainable basis as an oil based economy forever. I also suspect that all other alternatives will usually be too little too late.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Algae Oil Industry will end Foreign Oil

The one reason that I was so happy to see the recent production protocol for algae and its apparent utility is two fold. Firstly, this is the first clear attempt to creates a system not unlike what is prevalent in greenhouses today. It does not look like a chemist's wet dream. It looks like something that can be produced very cost effectively and that can stand up to some operator abuse even. This is mandatory for any planned industrial farm protocol.

The second reason is a little more subtle. Isolation is achieved and appears to something that can be fully maintained or at least quickly restored. That isolation opens the door to the rest of modern agricultural technique. We can safely breed tame species of algae that allow us to maximize favorable characteristics. This is very important.

Right now, using essentially wild algae, we are producing a believable 33,000 gallons of oil per acre from 276 tons of dry bio mass. The remaining fifty percent fraction that is not oil is not yet addressed as to usage. History has shown us that we will be able to hugely increase that production rate through the selection process. If we can do 33000 gallons now, then 100,000 gallons should be within reach. What is just as important, we can select for a usable profile for the remaining by product.

A high nutrient, high protein feed supplement for the cattle industry would be almost too good to be true. If it is possible, then we can end the use of animal protein for the livestock industry and avoid ever having a repeat of the mad cow disease.

The by product of algae production should be very usable. Recovering nutrients will be rather more difficult once we have mastered the production side.

We then must address the problem of cost. This protocol has a good analogy in the greenhouse industry with the added benefit of likely requiring a very low labor component. Certainly the capital outlay will be roughly similar.

And since everything can be automated, large facilities can be operated with a handful of employees not unlike most huge industrial chemical processes.

We know that normal farmland in a season can produce one ton or so of product and perhaps as much as ten tons of biomass per acre. A green house can do several times better than that by shrinking and duplicating the season.

Algae already can produce 276 tons of dry bio mass per acre per year. If the life cycle can be sped up only then the production of 1000 tons per acre does not seem out of reach. Right now the product is without tangible value and that has to be developed. Here even the niches can help out by underwriting the technology.

These potential yields are extremely compelling and merely need to be monetized. Of course it is too early to make a lot of sense on that as yet, but the volume is now sufficient to secure our transportation fuel future.

Even if the oil industry can crank up enough new oil production to tide us over, the need to transition to a fossil fuel free economy is very real and this solution can be put in place to make the developed world and India and China completely independent of any fuel source not under their control.

We really can tell the Middle East that we do not want their oil any more. And if that means paying $3.00 a gallon for bio diesel while a barrel of Middle Eastern oil fetches $8.00 a barrel, then so be it.

We will underwrite a huge global industry that will employ millions and help feed billions.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Algae Production Pilot Plant operational

I am posting this news release by a company that is doing a fine job of tackling the algae oil problem. As you know from earlier posts, we concluded that the only viable replacement for transportation fuel would be biological oil produced from algae. Other sources had no hope of producing enough oil and besides, required the diversion of high quality agricultural land. somehow, we would all use bicycles long before anyone starved to death.

Open pond production of algae can be expected to be ten times more productive of oils than the best oil seed. The question remaining to be answered is: was it possible to develop an economic protocol for industrial style production? This news release goes a long way to answering that question.

They have tackled the first problem of maximizing controlled algae production with the use of racked transparent plastic flow channels that obviously can absorb the ambient light rather well. They have achieved a through put rate in a three month pilot operation that is three times as productive as the open field model.

This at least supplies a threshold and a robust working model that can now be progressively improved upon. And let us not underestimate the difficulties. The best algae blend will likely be uncooperative in working with such a system and will provide plenty of headaches. But I do not see anything that may not be overcome.

We are looking at the building of greenhouses to operate these production facilities and we are also looking to build them in proximity to CO2 producers like power plants. At least at the beginning.

What we have here is a really good start at producing huge amounts of algae with a very low labor and energy input. It would really be wonderful to use the waste heat(hot water) and the CO2 of a coal fired power plant to operate a facility such as this. They are at least the first and best customers.


December 12, 2007 OTC BB: VCTPF; CUSIP: 918881103


El Paso Texas: The Vertigro Joint Venture has released initial test results from its high density bio mass (algae) field test bed plant located at its research and development facility in El Paso, Texas.

During a 90 day continual production test, algae was being harvested at an average of one gram (dry weight) per liter. This equates to algae bio mass production of 276 tons of algae per acre per year. Achieving the same biomass production rate with an algal species having 50% lipids (oil) content would therefore deliver approximately 33,000 gallons of algae oil per acre per year.

The primary focus of the 90-day continuous production test was determining the robustness of the field test bed. Other secondary tests were also conducted including using different ph levels, C02 levels, fluid temperatures, nutrients, types of algae, and planned system failures. It is important to note that the system has not been optimized for production yields or the best selection of algae species at this time. The next phase of development will include increasing the number of bio reactor units from 30 to 100 and then continuing a number of production tests that may further increase production as well as initiating various extraction tests. The results released today are in keeping with data previously announced from the Joint Venture’s laboratory proof of concept test bed. Subsequently, the joint venture intends to build out a one acre pilot plant with engineer design work underway at this time.

As a comparative, food crops such as soy bean will typically produce some 48 gallons oil per acre per year and palm will produce approximately 630 gallons oil per acre per year. In addition, the Vertigro Bio Reactor System is a closed loop continuous production system that uses little water and may be built on non arable lands. Glen Kertz and Dr. Aga Pinowska, who head the research and development program, commented “This is a major milestone for us as we have demonstrated the robustness of the Bio Mass System with satisfactory production results from a system that has not yet been optimized for algae production, which will become part of the next phase of testing” They also noted “We have learned how to produce a very large algal bio-mass under varying environmental and operating conditions in our continuous process photo bioreactors. We believe these initial results are amongst the best achieved to date, and we are confident we can now increase the productivity.”

“We are extremely pleased with the robustness and performance of the Vertigro technology in sustainably producing commercial quantities of algae biomass,” states Doug Frater, Global Green Solutions CEO. “Over the coming months we will further optimize the technology and demonstrate economic algae production for biofuel feedstock purposes.”

The Vertigo system may be a solution to the renewable energy sector’s quest to create a clean, green process which uses mainly light, water and air to create fuel. The Vertigro technology employs a proprietary highdensity vertical bio-reactor that produces fast growing algae which may yield large volumes of high-grade algae oil. This oil can be refined into a cost-effective, non-polluting diesel biofuel, jet fuel and other applications. The algae derived fuel may be an energy efficient replacement for fossil fuels and can be used in any diesel powered vehicle or machinery. In addition, 90% by weight of the algae is captured carbon dioxide, which is “sequestered” by this process and so contributes significantly to the reduction of greenhouse gasses.

Valcent: OTC BB VCPTF (, together with Global Green Solutions Inc: OTC BB GGRN ( are each 50% partners in the Vertigro Joint Venture that has developed a pilot plant in El Paso which became operational in March 2007 and is the primary research and development site for the Vertigro technology. Valcent’s primary responsibility is research and initial development with Global Green’s responsibilities including final engineering and commercialization of Vertigro. For more information, visit:

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cold Winters and the Arctic

I must admit that as anyone who is imbued with the precepts of science, that I always reach for cause and effect relationships. When they fail to materialize, one merely looks deeper, often forgetting that they may not be that well linked. A great example of this is the ongoing effort to link a very real problem of excess CO2 production that must be properly offset sooner or later, to the not so convincing natural problem of global temperature variation. My real fear is that this linkage is a two edged sword. A normal reversal in the current warm spell can be used to defer efforts to manage the CO2 problem.

This winter, our ideas about climate change are getting a really good stress test and it will be very interesting to see how it shakes out.

We have had a unseasonably cold winter to date and we are getting the storms to go with it. And this is hot on the heels of the warmest Arctic summer ever. All of a sudden a clear cause and effect relationship is junk. A warm Arctic does not produce a succeeding warm winter in North America!

Did the new wind system shift more heat into the Arctic leaving less available for the mid latitudes? Will we see the same pattern next year?

We have seen one prospective cause and effect relationship crash. Will a cold mid latitude winter lower the heat influx into the Arctic resulting in a colder Arctic summer?

Is the shift in the wind regime going to sustain itself through another season? Is this new wind regime the engine for shifting mid latitude heat into the Arctic?

We have already seen a shift in Arctic conditions and the changes must be considered at least volatile since they appear to be outside the known range. This means that prior knowledge will be often misleading. The only thing that we can be sure of is that the current regime is not stable yet.

If we have a cold winter, yet the summer shows the same level of sea ice removal as last year, then we are likely seeing a new climate regime been established, which is my inclination anyway. In fact, it would confirm to me that the principal source of Arctic Sea Ice erosion comes from the surplus heat contained in the Gulf stream and that winds and atmospheric heat are largely helpers.

If we have a cold winter followed by a rebuilding of that same sea ice, then we have direct cause and effect relationship between continental winter climate and the successor summer climate, but no such relationship for the reverse.

Of course the factors that impact on the continental regime are ocean temperature regimes such as El Nino and La Nino.

The ebb and flow of heat out of the central latitudes continues to be poorly understood as demonstrated by the sheer folly of predicting the nature of the hurricane system each year. since 2005, we have obviously entered a quiet period as has happened in decades past.

We can presume that so much energy was drawn out of the equatorial waters in that season that it has not been able to recharge. And what sort of special confluence of events creates a major hurricane season? We do not know yet.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Quantum Dots light and energy

I came across this two year old article from Vanderbilt University and I have copied it for you..
Essentially they have produced a nanodot that luminesses as white light. They even formed a paint that lit up properly.

I have already discussed the advent of inexpensive nanodot based solar collectors.

All this stuff is still in the lab, but they are actually working. The lab work now is to establish the best protocols for making this stuff.

We are soon entering a world were personal static energy and personal lighting will be inexpensively available to us. The only trick left is the difficulty still remaining in storing surplus energy for later use.

Of course mobile storage of electrical power would then liberate us from oil.

In the meantime, we are preparing the technologies that will release a huge amount of grid power. Lighting will cease to be a principal power drain and cheap solar energy used at home will almost if not totally make the the household independent of the grid.

We obviously need a real breakthrough in energy storage. And I suspect that there is room here for even the back yard thinker.

Quantum dots that produce white light
could be the light bulb’s successor

By David F. Salisbury
Published: October 20, 2005

ake an LED that produces intense, blue light. Coat it with a thin layer of special microscopic beads called quantum dots. And you have what could become the successor to the venerable light bulb.

The resulting hybrid LED gives off a warm white light with a slightly yellow cast, similar to that of the incandescent lamp.

Until now quantum dots have been known primarily for their ability to produce a dozen different distinct colors of light simply by varying the size of the individual nanocrystals: a capability particularly suited to fluorescent labeling in biomedical applications. But chemists at Vanderbilt University discovered a way to make quantum dots spontaneously produce broad-spectrum white light. The report of their discovery, which happened by accident, appears in the communication “White-light Emission from Magic-Sized Cadmium Selenide Nanocrystals” published online October 18 by the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

In the last few years, LEDs (short for light emitting diodes) have begun replacing incandescent and fluorescent lights in a number of niche applications. Although these solid-state lights have been used for decades in consumer electronics, recent technological advances have allowed them to spread into areas like architectural lighting, traffic lights, flashlights and reading lights. They are considerably more expensive than incandescent bulbs, but they are capable of producing about twice as much light per watt; they last up to 50,000 hours or 50 times as long as a 60-watt bulb; and they are very tough and hard to break. Because they are made in a fashion similar to computer chips, the cost of LEDs has been dropping steadily. The Department of Energy has estimated that LED lighting could reduce U.S. energy consumption for lighting by 29 percent by 2025, saving the nation’s households about $125 billion in the process.

Until 1993 LEDs could only produce red, green and yellow light. But then Nichia Chemical of Japan figured out how to produce blue LEDs. By combining blue LEDs with red and green LEDs – or adding a yellow phosphor to blue LEDs – manufacturers were able create white light, which opened up a number of new applications. However, these LEDs tend to produce white light with a cool, bluish tinge.

The white-light quantum dots, by contrast, produce a smoother distribution of wavelengths in the visible spectrum with a slightly warmer, slightly more yellow tint, reports Michael Bowers, the graduate student who made the quantum dots and discovered their unusual property. As a result, the light produced by the quantum dots looks more nearly like the “full spectrum” reading lights now on the market, which produce a light spectrum closer to that of sunlight than normal fluorescent tubes or light bulbs. Of course, quantum dots, like white LEDs, have the advantage of not giving off large amounts of invisible infrared radiation, unlike the light bulb. This invisible radiation produces large amounts of heat and largely accounts for the light bulb’s low energy efficiency.

Bowers works in the laboratory of Associate Professor of Chemistry Sandra Rosenthal. The accidental discovery was the result of the request of one of his co-workers, postdoctoral student and electron microscopist James McBride, who is interested in the way in which quantum dots grow. He thought that the structure of small-sized dots might provide him with new insights into the growth process, so he asked Bowers to make him a batch of small-sized quantum dots that he could study.

“I made him a batch and he came back to me and asked if I could make them any smaller,” says Bowers. So he made a second batch of even smaller nanocrystals. But once again, McBride asked him for something smaller. So Bowers made a batch of the smallest quantum dots he knew how to make. It turns out that these were crystals of cadmium and selenium that contain either 33 or 34 pairs of atoms, which happens to be a “magic size” that the crystals form preferentially. As a result, the magic-sized quantum dots were relatively easy to make even though they are less than half the size of normal quantum dots.

After Bowers cleaned up the batch, he pumped a solution containing the nanocrystals into a small glass cell and illuminated it with a laser. “I was surprised when a white glow covered the table,” Bowers says. “The quantum dots were supposed to emit blue light, but instead they were giving off a beautiful white glow.”

“The exciting thing about this is that it is a nano-nanoscience phenomenon,” Rosenthal comments. In the larger nanocrystals, which produce light in narrow spectral bands, the light originates in the center of the crystal. But, as the size of the crystal shrinks down to the magic size, the light emission region appears to move to the surface of the crystal and broadens out into a full spectrum.

Another student in the lab got the idea of using polyurethane wood finish for thin film research while working on his parents' summer cabin. He had even brought some Minwax into the lab. That gave Bowers the idea of mixing the magic-sized quantum dots with the polyurethane and coating an LED. The result was a bit lumpy, but it proved that the magic-sized quantum dots could be used to make a white light source.

The Vanderbilt researchers are the first to report making quantum dots that spontaneously emit white light, but they aren’t the first to report using quantum dots to produce hybrid, white-light LEDs. The other reports – one by a group at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and one by a group at Sandia National Laboratories – describe achieving this effect by adding additional compounds that interact with the tiny crystals to produce a white-light spectrum. The magic-sized quantum dots, by contrast, produce white light without any extra chemical treatment: The full spectrum emission is an intrinsic effect.

One difference between the Vanderbilt approach and the others is the process they used to make the quantum dots, Bowers observes. They use synthesis methods that take between a week and a month to complete, whereas the Vanderbilt method takes less than an hour.

A second significant difference, according to Rosenthal, is that it should be considerably easier to use the magic-sized quantum dots to make an “electroluminescent device” – a light source powered directly by electricity – because they can be used with a wider selection of binding compounds without affecting their emissions characteristics. Other research groups have reported stimulating quantum dots to produce light by applying an electrical current. Of course, those produced colored light. So, one of the projects at the top of Rosenthal’s list is to duplicate that feat with magic-sized nanocrystals to see if they will produce white light when electrically stimulated.

The light bulb is made out of metal and glass using primarily mechanical processes. Current LEDs are made using semiconductor manufacturing techniques developed in the last 50 years. But, if the quantum dot approach pans out, it could transform lighting production into a primarily chemical process. Such a fundamental change could open up a wide range of new possibilities, such as making almost any object into a light source by coating it with luminescent paint capable of producing light in a rainbow of different shades, including white.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Little Ice Age ending, Boreal Wind returns

Now that I am not the only voice saying that the perennial sea ice will disappear between five and seven years from now, I don't mind adding a couple more comments.

My first comment is to remind everyone that this effect that we are witnessing is easily explained by a constant surplus influx of warmth into the Arctic. In other words, the excess is likely the same for the past thirty years. It is just that its effect, now that perhaps 80 to 90 percent of the original perennial sea ice is gone, is now more visible and dramatic. We are now in the late collapse stage of this Arctic warming cycle.

My second comment is that this excess warmth will have a large effect on the northern climes once this perennial ice is removed. It will be reflected in a restoration of conditions of the Bronze Age and the warm Medieval period. This means a two degree jump in average temperatures for Scandinavia and the restoration of viticulture in Southern England. To say nothing of good pasture land in Greenland.

I also expect that the already changing boreal winds as reported recently by NASA will strongly reemerge and be restored to their medieval fame in legend and literature. Such winds will hit full stride in mid summer and be as predictable as the trade winds. They will obviously first clear out the winter ice before blowing strongly into Northern Europe.

My last comment is that no additional warmth from anywhere is needed at all. The century by century recovery from the Little Ice Age is progressing at much the same rate as always. And the advent of the first signs of the boreal winds these past two years can be properly used to demarcate the true end of the Little Ice Age. We are now transitioning into the a normal northern climate regime as experienced for centuries at a time in the past.

I am therefore proclaiming that the transition period 2006 - 2015 is now ending the Little Ice Age. I suppose we can call the next several hundred years the 'Ice Free Age"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nasa wakes up and predicts 2012 as ice free

It is good to see someone else waking up to the fact that the Perennial Sea Ice will be gone by 2015 and as early as 2012. I have copied this report in CNN in its entirety since it is current and rather complete. They are also becoming more excited about it all than I am and I am inclined to let them do the cheer leading.

-- An already relentless melting of the Arctic greatly accelerated this summer, a warning sign that some scientists worry could mean global warming has passed an ominous tipping point. One even speculated that summer sea ice would be gone in five years.

Dwindling sea ice is affecting wildlife.

Greenland's ice sheet melted nearly 19 billion tons more than the previous high mark, and the volume of Arctic sea ice at summer's end was half what it was just four years earlier, according to new NASA satellite data obtained by The Associated Press.

"The Arctic is screaming," said Mark Serreze, senior scientist at the government's snow and ice data center in Boulder, Colorado.

Just last year, two top scientists surprised their colleagues by projecting that the Arctic sea ice was melting so rapidly that it could disappear entirely by the summer of 2040.

This week, after reviewing his own new data, NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally said: "At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012, much faster than previous predictions."

So scientists in recent days have been asking themselves these questions: Was the record melt seen all over the Arctic in 2007 a blip amid relentless and steady warming? Or has everything sped up to a new climate cycle that goes beyond the worst case scenarios presented by computer models?

"The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming," said Zwally, who as a teenager hauled coal. "Now as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines."

It is the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels that produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, responsible for man-made global warming. For the past several days, government diplomats have been debating in Bali, Indonesia, the outlines of a new climate treaty calling for tougher limits on these gases.

What happens in the Arctic has implications for the rest of the world. Faster melting there means eventual sea level rise and more immediate changes in winter weather because of less sea ice.

In the United States, a weakened Arctic blast moving south to collide with moist air from the Gulf of Mexico can mean less rain and snow in some areas, including the drought-stricken Southeast, said Michael MacCracken, a former federal climate scientist who now heads the nonprofit Climate Institute. Some regions, like Colorado, would likely get extra rain or snow.

More than 18 scientists told The AP that they were surprised by the level of ice melt this year.

"I don't pay much attention to one year ... but this year the change is so big, particularly in the Arctic sea ice, that you've got to stop and say, 'What is going on here?' You can't look away from what's happening here," said Waleed Abdalati, NASA's chief of cyrospheric sciences. "This is going to be a watershed year."

2007 shattered records for Arctic melt in the following ways:

  • 552 billion tons of ice melted this summer from the Greenland ice sheet, according to preliminary satellite data to be released by NASA Wednesday. That's 15 percent more than the annual average summer melt, beating 2005's record.
  • A record amount of surface ice was lost over Greenland this year, 12 percent more than the previous worst year, 2005, according to data the University of Colorado released Monday. That's nearly quadruple the amount that melted just 15 years ago. It's an amount of water that could cover Washington, D.C., a half-mile deep, researchers calculated.
  • The surface area of summer sea ice floating in the Arctic Ocean this summer was nearly 23 percent below the previous record. The dwindling sea ice already has affected wildlife, with 6,000 walruses coming ashore in northwest Alaska in October for the first time in recorded history. Another first: the Northwest Passage was open to navigation.
  • Still to be released is NASA data showing the remaining Arctic sea ice to be unusually thin, another record. That makes it more likely to melt in future summers. Combining the shrinking area covered by sea ice with the new thinness of the remaining ice, scientists calculate that the overall volume of ice is half of 2004's total.
  • Alaska's frozen permafrost is warming, not quite thawing yet. But temperature measurements 66 feet deep in the frozen soil rose nearly four-tenths of a degree from 2006 to 2007, according to measurements from the University of Alaska. While that may not sound like much, "it's very significant," said University of Alaska professor Vladimir Romanovsky.
  • Greenland, in particular, is a significant bellwether. Most of its surface is covered by ice. If it completely melted -- something key scientists think would likely take centuries, not decades -- it could add more than 22 feet to the world's sea level.

    However, for nearly the past 30 years, the data pattern of its ice sheet melt has zigzagged. A bad year, like 2005, would be followed by a couple of lesser years.

    According to that pattern, 2007 shouldn't have been a major melt year, but it was, said Konrad Steffen, of the University of Colorado, which gathered the latest data.

    "I'm quite concerned," he said. "Now I look at 2008. Will it be even warmer than the past year?"

    Other new data, from a NASA satellite, measures ice volume. NASA geophysicist Scott Luthcke, reviewing it and other Greenland numbers, concluded: "We are quite likely entering a new regime."

    Melting of sea ice and Greenland's ice sheets also alarms scientists because they become part of a troubling spiral.

    White sea ice reflects about 80 percent of the sun's heat off Earth, NASA's Zwally said. When there is no sea ice, about 90 percent of the heat goes into the ocean which then warms everything else up. Warmer oceans then lead to more melting.

    "That feedback is the key to why the models predict that the Arctic warming is going to be faster," Zwally said. "It's getting even worse than the models predicted."

    NASA scientist James Hansen, the lone-wolf researcher often called the godfather of global warming, on Thursday will tell scientists and others at a meeting of researchers in San Francisco that in some ways Earth has hit one of his so-called tipping points, based on Greenland melt data.

    "We have passed that and some other tipping points in the way that I will define them," Hansen said in an e-mail. "We have not passed a point of no return. We can still roll things back in time -- but it is going to require a quick turn in direction."

    Last year, Cecilia Bitz at the University of Washington and Marika Holland at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado startled their colleagues when they predicted an Arctic free of sea ice in just a few decades. Both say they are surprised by the dramatic melt of 2007.

    Bitz, unlike others at NASA, believes that "next year we'll be back to normal, but we'll be seeing big anomalies again, occurring more frequently in the future." And that normal, she said, is still a "relentless decline" in ice.

    My argument is that this has been true for at least thirty years and we are only now experiencing the final collapse. See my earlier posts.

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    Subsistence Charcoal

    I must say that the terra preta group on has continued to steadily increase its traffic. I have recently been bombarded with nearly 40 messages a day and I have over 1000 messages that have gone unread. Most of the action has been around various efforts to pursue aspects of pyrolysis in a modern setting.

    I have seen no alternative to the corn culture earthen kiln approach that I have proposed a few months back.

    Since then we have seen film on the production of subsistence charcoal in Africa and it is very instructive. Firstly, in the modern world, everyone can get their hands on an axe and a simple saw. This makes it easy to hack everything down and to cut it up. Making this woody waste into charcoal is quite another matter.

    It fails to pack well but the charcoalers are still able to create pits and to throw dirt on the burning pile to suppress the flames. This obviously will produce some charcoal, but the yield must be terrible. what is clear though is that the produced wood charcoal is poorly charcoaled at best. We see people carrying bundles of charred sticks and bulky bags of char. It makes great fuel. It is almost impossible to use as a soil additive.

    Whatever lingering thoughts that I may have had in support of the charcoaling of wood for soil remediation can be laid to rest. Only a modern industrial grade charcoaler might be able to produce suitable material.

    Subsistence farmers could not even begin to make wood waste work for them. They needed a helper crop. That was provided in the form of corn to the Amazon Indians.

    I also think that wood charcoal was always too valuable as a fuel as is true today in Africa, to ever be crushed and folded into the seedbed. In fact a man load of charcoal probably weighs a hundred pounds and needs be carried miles back to town. That one hundred pounds needed about one ton of source material to be cut down and stacked and covered with dirt while burning. Maybe they did twice as good in terms of yield. However it worked, that man load of charcoal took two days of labor input at the least.

    There is simply no way that such a production model could be used to produce terra preta. And the Indians did not have steel tools.

    Monday, December 10, 2007

    Roots of Agriculture

    When I wrote my manuscript Paradigms Shift, the one difficulty that I had was explaining the reasons for the abrupt introduction of Global agriculture without any obvious prior development that mirrored the real antiquity of man that clearly spans 40,000 years and possibly a more likely 70,000 years. In short, the capability existed for that time span. The execution apparently commenced wherever possible throughout the globe only with the onset of the Holocene.

    And this has to be appreciated. Since the Pleistocene Nonconformity, our global climate has varied by around one degree at most per century which has allowed the existence of temperate agriculture in the Northern Hemisphere. It also helped that the Ice Cap disappeared opening up vast woodland plains.

    Prior to the Pleistocene nonconformity, the temperature variation was at least five times greater. This meant temperature swings of several degrees in a century. The only possible response was for human tribes to follow the herds.

    With the northern hemisphere eliminated as viable cropping land, we are forced to look to the tropics in particular where this violent climate variation was moderated. There we have Africa acting as a climatic cradle and also South East Asia. The Amazon was prospective but there is as yet no convincing evidence that it was even inhabited.

    That agriculture could exist is made plain in the New Guinea highlands. Taro toot cultivation is at least 10,000 years old and may actually have a far greater antiquity. I think that this is a great place to discover the earliest foundation of agriculture anywhere.

    We also have little understanding of the antiquity of cattle culture. The Masai show us that a cattle culture does not need established homesteads to manage their herds. In fact, actual village life may have come late to societies relying on cattle. They would have first followed the natural migration cycle of the herds themselves.

    Remember the Buffalo herds. The tribes kept themselves mobile and did nothing to hinder the movement of the herds through their grazing lands. That life way could have been maintained for thousands of years before anyone thought to actually tame a buffalo and keep it fenced.

    In fact it almost begs the question of why we bothered. Certainly food security would be improved if the animal was tamed and part of the household. But is was a lot of work, and the usage of the milk needed to evolve. Maybe they started as pets and we simply got better at the husbandry. All of a sudden we had herds and they became a source of wealth and the implied need for stable land holdings. Maybe it was the milking that settled us down.

    This type of culture was quite capable of handling the violent swings of the pre Holocene climate in the temperate zone. what is more, I suspect that Archeology would have difficulty recognizing the difference between herd management and pure hunting until the advent of villages.

    I suspect that the idea of settled agriculture has an antiquity that is vastly more than 10,000 years and was tentatively practiced where possible. The advent of stable climatic conditions finally made it easy after the Pleistocene Nonconformity

    Friday, December 7, 2007

    Chinese Revolution

    As should be understood by those who have worked through my posts, the CO2 climate driver hypothesis is very likely untenable. Simple and obviously normal decade and century long fluctuations in the temperature of the ocean surface is the prime climatic driver. And this is exactly what El Nino and La Nino is all about.

    In our current geographic configuration, the Antarctic has become our principal heat sink and principal control reservoir. It is a very large cold tank. Most of the incoming solar energy is actually absorbed by the oceans and then redistributed very slowly through the various currents.

    The atmosphere is principally influenced and conditioned by these ocean temperatures long before any sojourn over land. It absorbs its share of solar energy, particularly over land and then re-emits that energy as heat which can also be absorbed by the moisture in the atmosphere. The point is is that the ocean is the heat sink for the atmosphere also. This is all very obvious but seems to get forgotten in the heat of this debate.

    If the atmosphere ever truly got a little too hot, the surplus energy will get dumped back into space as certainly happens over the deserts. After all where does all that warm desert air go at night?

    Curiously, building great forests in the desert will actually collect more solar energy on Earth than at present while actually moderating and humidifying that desert air.

    All this leaves the CO2 problem as a pollution management problem which can not be ignored but not as a very convincing driver of climatic change. Left to itself, its impact will be a more robust growth of plant material.

    Those ocean current fluctuations are too large and too compelling to ignore. They are real heat engines comparable only to the impact of a hurricane which strips surface heat from an ocean and moves it a few hundreds of miles onto the adjacent continent.

    I read a very encouraging bit of news today. It appears that the Chinese have successfully implemented a forest management system throughout China that seems to be partially self financing and self sustaining. They are actually going to show us how to do it. The press coverage makes it out to be a great success, but in light of the general tenor of all the previous news that I have ever seen from China about the historic despoliation of the forests I am happy to take this one at face value. After all this was always one fix that simple government policy could easily implement, and they had the manpower to do it.

    Core to the program is the removal of marginal lands from cultivation and the building of forest barriers on the edge of the deserts, particularly west of Beijing. That is actually the most difficult part of all. Any sensitive observer saw that the lands needed this form of enlightened policy and it is wonderful to see it happen. This will make it easier to establish the same sort of practice elsewhere.

    This will be the true Chinese revolution.

    Thursday, December 6, 2007

    John L. Daly and Ocean Cores

    The use of ocean coring is in its infancy, but it has already confirmed the shifting ocean temperatures of the past two thousand years in the Atlantic. It very much maps a change in the influx of Antarctic waters into the Atlantic, or more speculatively, increased upwelling.

    I refer folks to an article by John L Daly written a few years back titled The 'Hockey Stick'. He was a competent and knowledgeable dissenter on the greenhouse orthodoxy for which he gathered excellent evidence. John passed away in 2004.

    Much as I hate relying on a handful of data points, their consistency throughout the Atlantic is compelling. and I do not think a thousand additional data points will change the conclusion. The principal driver of the northern temperature is the heat content of Atlantic. And this is driven by long cycle trends in cold water flow from the Antarctic.

    The maximal response to this is ultimately found in the Arctic where an increase in heat will eliminate perennial ice and allow warmer summers and cleared summer seas. Once this has occurred, collapse will be postponed initially when the heat content goes into decline because of the lack of perennial ice. For example. it is very reasonable that the medieval warm period cleared the Arctic and this remained true into the lare fifteenth century in the face of declining heat. When it finally held on to its winter ice over summer, the impact on the climate was dramatic and completely noticeable to contemporaneous commentators just as today we are witnessing the effects of the decline in Arctic sea ice.

    The point that I wish to make is that the temperature of the water drives the atmosphere, not the other way around. Hurricane Katrina did not warm up the waters of the gulf. So if you think that there are big changes happening, look to the ocean. Every other factor is a sideshow at best even if it is a very big sideshow like the excess particulate content from coal burning.

    This also makes the hypothesis that human activity is a prime driver of climate change very weak. Let us simplify it. We are not the power we think we are. On the other hand we do insist on crapping in the nest and that surely has to stop. And using all that wonderful CO2 to create a highly productive and stable agriculture is a very forgiving solution. Our descendants will merely wonder what took us so long.

    Wednesday, December 5, 2007

    The Sargasso Sea as a proxy

    As I have posted earlier, there is a natural tendency for the Northern Hemisphere to warm while there is an equally natural tendency for the Southern Hemisphere to cool. The 2000 year extended warming of the Bronze Age is the stabilized result of this tendency. This means that for the Northern Hemisphere, that the only important question is how did it cool off in the first place.

    The afore mentioned tendency is simply driven by the fact that the bulk of continental land surrounds an Arctic Ocean that is able to prevent the production of an Ice cap, while we have a mirror image in the Antarctic. It is actually an amazing arrangement that will now be stable for millions of years since the only Ice cap in the Antarctic will continue to calve surplus ice into the ocean. In fact it looks like an extraordinary coincidence and I do not ordinary coincidences.

    And then we have the coincidence of the Maunder sunspot minimum coinciding with the cyclic temperature low that gave us the Little Ice Age. My own thoughts are this is not too much of a coincidence since it would have simply worsened a natural condition. If this one hundred year event had nailed it to coincide with a peak in the apparent 1000 year cycle, then that would have been highly unusual. Instead it hit while the Northern climate was likely already past its cooling phase and simply deepened and delayed the recovery part of the projected cycle.

    The point made is that the loss of that 0.1 percent solar sunspot radiation for a hundred years was enough create the so called Little Ice Age because it actually acted on an already cooling Northern climate. If it were to happen now, the effect would be a great deal less than in 1600 AD.

    One aspect of global warming that was not been talked about is the recent findings of solar scientists of three separate mechanisms by which the sun could warm or cool the Earth, the most important of which is an ongoing increase in ultra violet light. It appears to have led the observed climatic effects for the past several hundred years, although I do wonder how this data match could be possibly reliable. It would be actually nice if solar variation was sufficient too make all the observed changes. It is certainly the big engine compared to all other mechanisms.

    Since the sunspot cycle is hitting a minimum this year, it is reasonable that the next five years should be simply cold as the effect catches up. I am not that optimistic but we may have a standstill in the Arctic for five years, although during this last cycle there was ongoing ice loss. In fact since the cycle is ten years in length and the previous cycle maxima was in 1998 we may face a surprisingly good year for sea ice removal in 2008.

    That brings us back to the most important climate driver of all. That is the temperature of ocean currents and as important the individual seas. Remember that a sea needs to be properly defined as a body of water that is slowly rotating with perimeter currents interacting with other seas to exchange energy and salinity. The South Atlantic gyre is one as is the Arctic. The point is is that the temperature ranges in the Sargasso Sea and in the Caribbean Sea were both 2 to 3 degrees Celsius cooler than today during the Little Ice age.

    This is a huge difference that may have been effected by variations in solar energy. The problem is that my back of the envelope calculations tell me that these variations are actually way too weak by a factor of at least ten. That puts us back into the antarctic cooling engine. As the Antarctic cold zone expands, it is able to stimulate an increase in mixing with adjacent seas and this strongly increases current flow heading north almost as a pulse. This happens in both the Pacific and the Atlantic.

    The problem for forecasting is that this mechanism is going to lead or lag other climatic effects by decades. The north will progressively warm while slowly pushing the triggers to the switch point. When the influx of cold water comes, there will still be plenty of inertia in the climate and it will take a long time for the impact to assert itself.

    In point of fact, using the Sargasso Sea as a proxy, it appears that we had a 1000 year decline from the 1000 BC to 0 AD, a 1000 year advance from 0 AD to 1000 AD and a 1000 year decline from 1000 AD to a couple of hundred years ago. The variation around that curve was at least one degree per century which is exactly what we are experiencing.

    And as I have been observing, we are about to break into warm side of the curve above which the arctic seas will clear. Once the Arctic is clear a warm north will be stable for a while.

    Again using Sargasso Sea proxy, it is obvious that although we have entered an uptrend, we are due for a reversal within that uptrend that could last a century. If we are lucky, we will clear the Arctic before that happens and we will have and extended warm spell.

    In the meantime it would be good to develop a similar database for every sea on Earth so that we can actually map historic global sea temperatures which will then allow us to properly model historic climate conditions.

    Tuesday, December 4, 2007

    Jon Turk and the Jomon road

    I am reading the book written by Jon turk titled 'In the Wake of the Jomon' in which he recounts his expedition in one man vessels from Japan up through the Kurils and along Kamchatka and onto Alaska. Two boat types were used, at first with Windriders to Kamchatka, and finally with sea kayaks.

    This was a practical effort to evaluate the possibilities and the limitations faced by these stone age seafarers. He is successful in doing just that.

    Two principal routes have been espoused for the peopling of he Americas. The earliest been the ice age sea route that allowed mariners to travel the Pacific Coast from Asia down through to the tip of South America starting around 20,000 years ago when making the sprint across the top of the Alaskan gulf was possible. They relied on sea food for sustenance including seals and walruses.

    The second route was the late opening of the passage between the Cordilleran Ice Sheet and The Laurentide Ice sheet after the Pleistocene Nonconformity, allowing big game dependent hunters to break into North America from the Bering North Slope. These are the folks who perhaps created and used the Folsom point to take down the large game around them.

    I was an early fan of the sea route and of course welcome the steady addition of evidentuary support. So perhaps I am a little biased. The point that I make in my book Paradigms Shift is very simple and is based on anthropological reports of hunter gatherers living in a productive ecosystem. It is that a successful group that is able to occupy a hunting ground like a fishing village will have an increase in population over the carrying capacity of the range. This will lead to a calving off of a subset of sufficient young people who will then march over to the next empty hunting range or in the case of the coast, the next available safe landing and build a new settlement. This has been going on forever.

    Jon Turk imagines intrepid voyagers who imagined a new world a thousand mile away. I imagine brave young men who scouted out a suitable location forty miles away and then dragged their wifes there while promising to visit home often. Generation after generation others followed these stepping stones and helped create stepping stones themselves, until they faced long barriers of ice that made return unlikely. Eventually a few would make the sprint, or conditions ameliorated enough to make it easier. In any event, in a thousand years or so, their descendants were moving south along the coast into constantly improving conditions.

    What Jon shows us is that it was all very possible and actually inevitable using the skin boats of the time and place. The folk most likely were living throughout the Siberian coast merely including Northern Japan. In fact we have every reason to suspect that these mariners were also the same stock as the Polynesians and other early stock that made up the populations of 20,000 years ago. Remember that the onset of agriculture selected through population growth several small tribal groups who then became large enough to largely impose their genetic characteristics onto the remaining populations. The Han Chinese is perhaps the best example but is hardly unique.

    Our scholars of the past have been so bound up in attempting to classify peoples as to their characteristics, that they have often been blinded to the obvious. What woke me up was a photo of a crowd of people in the Tibetan mountains. Their features could have been dropped in among the Haida and no one would have noticed. In fact the northern global root stock is discernible as such and it differentiated across Asia Europe and the Americas during the past 20,000 years. Were differentiation was minimized was in those areas where agriculture was a latecomer or never arrived and the tribal ethos was sustained. This describes the Haida and the Tibetans and other constrained northern populations.

    Jon shows us both that the the challenges were daunting in the extreme but yes they could be mastered. And yes, men would die. His own trip rolled the dice several times and it is a surety that ten such trips would kill someone sooner or later. Jon of course, made no serious effort to live off the sea on this trip. It would be neat to retrace part of the route with an Australian bushman aboard just to gain his insight of even for him is a hostile foreign environment. His instincts may inform us.

    Monday, December 3, 2007

    Real Winter and corn biochar culture

    It appears that we are going to have a real winter this year, at least of the basis of what we are getting so far. All Canada is showing temperatures below normal for this time of the year and we are getting plenty of snow. We certainly were overdue.

    Since it kicked in fully with the beginning of December, it is likely to maintain itself right through January. This means that the pine beetle infestation should end in Northern British Columbia. We shall see.

    A good cold winter will stress test our ideas about the Arctic sea ice. It will make watching the ice retreat next summer much more interesting. Remember that sixty percent of perennial ice was lost between 1957 and 2000 during a time in which we barely noticed that the climate was a touch warmer. In fact the pine beetles only noticed it ten years ago.

    I suspect that since 2000, we have lost more than half of the remaining perennial sea ice and that the balance can readily disappear in the next seven years. The question for this summer is whether the unusual wind system of the past two summers will kick in. A cold winter may negate it for now.

    What is important in the long term is the elimination of the perennial sea ice as an Arctic climate control factor. Once it is gone, the summer Boreal winds will sweep the Arctic clear every year much sooner than late august and will open the Arctic to shipping.

    A direct result of this will be a two degree rise in temperatures for Northern Europe and the restoration of Bronze Age climatic conditions. We will be growing grapes in England after all. And no one will have any difficulty placing the world of Ulysses in the Baltic.

    A cold winter will have little effect on the loss of sea ice, although a late spring certainly will. We certainly did not have an early fall, so we will have to wait and see what the spring holds for us. I am expecting a neutral year in which the ice loss is normal if that is at all possible in view of the massive loss of perennial sea ice and the newly resurrected Boreal winds.

    Did you ever wonder why the Boreal winds were an important part of Nordic folk lore? I think that we are about to find out.

    I would like to thank Nicole for her comment on the last post. She posts the information that we have put 200 plus billion tons of carbon in the atmosphere while we manage about 24 billion tons in depleted agricultural soils. This says quite nicely that agriculture needs to sequester ten times the carbon currently utilized.

    Those who have waded through my many posts on the subject know that is completely feasible using the terra preta protocol.

    Otherwise, although I am very sympathetic to the attempts to take advantage of pyrolysis and perhaps high pressure reforming to produce a fuel and a char byproduct, I am not overly optimistic. It also requires expensive engineering and fabrication to achieve the demanded perfection ensuring that it will never be properly deployed.

    I am also not so sure that high temperature charcoal is as beneficial as mid temperature biochar as produced by terra preta techniques. In any event, a corn based protocol will certainly produce a biochar that is already powdered and is likely in the best form for agricultural application. And it is a ton per acre which is ample to meet our needs. It becomes theoretically possible to clean up the problem in even a couple of generations while hugely increasing agricultural productivity.

    The question is also asked indirectly why is charcoal not prevalent in slash and burn soils and in areas that man has cleared and converted to farmland. The reason is simple enough. Hot charcoal will spontaneously ignite, so unless there is intervention to shut off the air supply with a shovel full of dirt it will all burn off. This is what makes the earthen kiln built from the roots of corn so effective. As the fuel is consumed, the stack with its earthen shell will shrink and any breakouts can be quenched with a basket of dirt.

    Such a kiln should yield around 20% plus charcoal as biochar while reducing the balance to CO2. The powdered carbon is then folded back into the soil and is sequestered as the terra preta soils have proven beyond any doubt.

    The original question that I faced was how did they do it. I have demonstrated how they did it and the archaeological evidence conforms it totally. In fact when I worked this all out, I predicted that it had to be by the use of corn as it was the only crop available that was both productive enough and also assisted in the building of a kiln. It was with some satisfaction that I was able to check archaeological pollen tests and confirm that the two principal crops were corn and cassava. And it is also worth noting that corn is not a great crop normally for Amazonian conditions so they had to have a compelling reason to grow it at all.

    The point of all this is that the worlds 2 billion plus subsistence farmers can readily implement terra preta corn culture anywhere, including massive tracts of long cycle slash and burn agricultural lands and create new productive lives for themselves while sequestering all the worlds carbon.

    Any system that converts annual biomass into terra preta biochar is massively carbon friendly and needs to be promoted, although I am sure an army of mental midgets will scream exploitation of the masses, just as they try to argue that no job is superior to a steady job that feeds the whole family. Forgive my impatience.

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