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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