Sunday, September 01, 2019

Geosonnet 58

Three narratives, like Roshomon they vie,

To frame suboceanic mantle growth.
Sea water infiltration cannot tie
The isotopes and concentrations both.
A diff’rent melt, cryptic in its disguise
Will spin the tale to take the starring role.
From clinopyroxene we can surmise
The melting source, not multiple, is sole.
Assimilation, favored by the Borg
Sees itself eating altered seafloor crust
This theory dies, is buried in the morgue
These melts are far too primitive, robust.
     Unlike the movie data can constain
     Remelted sulfides crystallized again.

Other geosonnets: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Belfast Girls

Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre through August 31

Belfast Girls, a play by Jaki McCarrick, is currently playing a The Q. This is a play about five women who were transported to Australia from Ireland at the height of the potato famine. Set entirely on the ship, from its berth in Belfast to the arrival in Sydney, it is the story of these refugees and their journey from starvation to salvation at the ends of the Earth.  Envisaged by the British sponsor as a noble humanitarian plan to save the innocent girls of Ireland from the depredations of the famine, the reality of these desperate refugees are shown on stage. As the ship sails and the story develops, the relationship of the women with each other, and with their pasts comes into vivid focus. Haunted by their pasts, and confined to a cabin by the nature of the voyage, their secrets and sins are gradually unmasked.

Director Best puts the play on straight up- Irish accents, a marvellous wooden ship set, appropriate period costumes and no pretentious reinterpretations or changes. However she excels at extracting the maximum drama from he cast in each scene. And the acting is great. Natasha Vickery is fantastic, as is Joanna Richards in their frequent tempestuous clashes, and the other three women are also compelling.

The play was written by an Irishwoman living in England. As far as I can tell, this is the first production in Australia. This makes it a bit of a treat for us, as the characters shown (and their compatriots) are the family of almost all of us Australians. While we have no idea how the Aborigine’s ancestors got here, from 1788 on, we have been peopled by convicts, refugees, swindler, liars, cheats, sadistic imperialists, and other opportunists. And it is riveting to see the desperate schemers, cast off by the old world, on their journey to a better place and a life remade. Of course, Irish refugees didn’t just go to Australia, they fled to other places as well, including the USA. As such, it reminds me of the poem which has been in the news of late, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This play is a poignant reminder of the colourful, passionate, desperate beginnings of those who left Europe for a better future. In this age of refugee demonization and callous border militarization, it is a reminder that we are all the children of the unwanted starving masses, whose crimes and limitations were left behind when they crossed the seas to a new beginning.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Geosonnet 57

A black extrusive, collared for a crime
Won't flow, or run, or put up any fight.
When faced with doing geologic time,
Repeat offenders recognize their plight.
The good cop gives LIP service to concern
"We know you've had these outbursts in the past."
Bad cop cuts in, "A poisoner's return:
The mercury's more widespread than the last."
They double down- he's in the hot spot now,
"The plankton and the magnetite are slain
Effusive toxic volitiles are how
We know biotic crash occurred again."
   Defiantly, he scans the gloomy sky
   Where shines his cometary alibi.

Geology 44 171

Other geosonnets: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57

Friday, July 12, 2019

Geosonnet 56

White walkers turn the maple leaf to ice
A glacial edifice, three miles in height
Continuous, and ringed by edelweiss?
Or intermittent, phasing like a wight?
The sediment’ry basin, Hudson Bay
Has hollows which survived the glacial scours
So forty thousand years ago, they say,
The land had beaches, forest, meadow flowers.
A verdant corridor split west and east
The Hudson Bay was then an inland sea
Migration route for plankton, grass, or beast?
For many thousand years it was ice free.
   The Night King’s kingdom melted, split in two
   But when the Ice age deepened, it regrew.

Other geosonnets: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Geosonnet 55

A plotter’s pause to synchronize his watch
Is often preparation for a heist:
A bank vault? Tardy mail train full of scotch?
A drug syndicate’s freighter full of ice?
Geologists scheme on a grander scale
Where ice envelops Earth, a mile thick.
Should cryospheric pilfering prevail
The melting must be synchronous, and quick.
Boron reveals (in sonnet twenty five)
Cap carbonates have one last common flaw
A rapid deposition crooks derive
A catastrophic warming's last hurrah
   The zircons say less than a million years.
   CO2 melts the ice, then disappears.

Other geosonnets: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Geosonnet 54

A horoscope yon wand’ring planets make
Predictions of our facies, lives, and death.
Is graveyard orbital influence fake?
A sediment’ry burial shibboleth?
Milanković, that fortune-telling Serb
Used planet motions to predict the ice
Can continental weathering perturb
A fossilizing chemical device?
The Ordovician pyritized remains
Of soft parts every point one million years
Suggest orbit obliquity explains
Whether flesh is preserved or disappears..
   A fool’s gold coin beneath a dead worm’s tongue
   Exquisite fossil afterlife’s begun.

Other geosonnets: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54

Friday, April 26, 2019

Midnight in Chernobyl

by Adam Higginbotham

This book is a retelling of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, and its effects on the people and landscape around it. It is presented as a narrative, and is based on the translation of several Russian books on the topic, interviews with the survivors, and evidence which has been preserved in the Chernobyl museum in Kiev.

The book starts with the selection of what was initially a forested site in a Ukranian backwater, and describes the building of the plant, the construction of the futuristic atomic town of Pripyat, the disaster, cleanup activities ,and further health and career trajectories of the people who were involved in the meltdown of reactor number 4 at the V. I. Lenin nuclear power station exactly 33 years before this post went up.

Chapter two, which contains a brief introduction to the science behind the nuclear power station, was not clearly written and contained a few glaring errors. This put me off for a while. After all, I’ve encountered Chernobyl science in a few forms over the years. The meltdown resulted in molten uranium oxide (the fuel) and zirconium oxide (from the zirconium fuel rods, after they combusted) melting its way through the concrete lower radiation shield of the reactor. As the melt assimilated concrete (which is sand and Portland cement), it gained enough silica that when it cooled, zircon crystallized as a major phase. Some of the SHRIMP labs in Europe were interested in analysing this “chernobylite” zircon, and asked us detailed questions when we built them their instrument. Additionally, we had a visit from several potential customers from the Kurchatov Institute, so it was interesting to learn about the organization’s role in the Soviet Nuclear Power system. However, I soon realized that the science was only a bit player in the disaster.

The nuclear power plant exploded because at 1:26 am 33 years ago, Leonid Tuptunov followed his checklist for shutting down the reactor, and pressed the emergency stop button. He was unaware that the reactor had entered an unstable configuration, or that the fuel rods engaged by the emergency stop would briefly increase reactivity before suppressing it- a brief increase that was long enough to a runaway nuclear reaction.

In other words, this was not a technological failure so much as a managerial and information handling one. And as such, it is very relevant to today’s scientific, technological, and governmental culture.

In recent years, I have seen a trend towards a butt-covering, information-poor, checklist-heavy, auditable approach to safety in various workplaces here in Australia- this is a departure from the deep knowledge, situational awareness, information-rich approach that I learned earlier in my career. So it was illuminating to see that this 150 billion dollar disaster was caused by a combination of information siloing, image management, and undereducating, along with the inevitable corner-cutting that unrealistic expectations produce. This book is just as relevant to those who want to prevent the next technological disaster as it is for history buffs interested in the previous one. I highly recommend it to anyone with these interests.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Geosonnet 53

An opal is the desert’s hidden gem
Precipitating from a torrid brine
Geologists from arid zones condemn
Ideas that ice, not heat, can redefine.
The glacial polish, hiding in plain sight
Amorphous silica precipitate
Dissolved from glacial floured andesite
It coats the scoured rock with silicate.
Will Coober Pedy yield to Mawson Base?
Should new chums and their ratters venture south?
Probably not; a glaze on orthoclase
Will not put food in hungry digger’s mouth.
   For chemical erosion makes a rind
   So thin that only TEM can find

Other geosonnets: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58