Thursday, December 08, 2016

Geosonnet 47

For two times in a hundred million years
The Earth froze solid, snowball world in space.
The pitcher stretched, the batter’s frozen tears
Held metazoan terror on his face.
If frozen oceans struck for a third time,
While animals were trying to evolve,
Could they survive anoxic paradigm,
A sea ice-covered hunger games to solve.
The timing of the third ice age is key,
And CA-ID-Tims unlocks the truth.
The Gaskiers ice age ended suddenly
Timing constrained by isotopic sleuth.
  A modern ice age, mostly at the poles?
  Or thaw too swift for carbonate controls?

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 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

I am cooking a Thanksgiving feast again this year. Last year, I was in Japan, so I ate toxic fish with the nerve agents cut out by an overworked chef instead of cooking a Turkey. When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was at Grandma’s every year. We would play with the cousins and uncles and aunts, and Mom would help Grandma, and Granddad would tell stories about anything from fishing to the War in the Pacific, and we would eventually eat, and then play games or watch TV until we were too tired to do anything but sleep. After my Uncle died, my Grandparents moved farther away, and it was generally just our nuclear family at home until I finished college and headed off to make my way in the world and get as far from New York as possible. My first Thanksgiving away from family was 20 years ago, at the house of a guy I met in field camp who kindly took me in with a bunch of other recent arrivals to silicon valley. At the time I thought that was strange, but two years later I found myself cooking Lasagna in an apartment in Northeastern Brazil, with a woman who was kind of coming onto me but was the ex-wife of the guy I was working with and the ex-daughter in law of the people who were putting me up. My Portuguese was not really good enough to talk my way out of the trouble I somehow avoided, but a couple years later in Australia I met my wife-to-be at another Thanksgiving dinner hosted by another ex-pat PhD student from Arkansas. And somehow, over a decade and a half later, I have a family, a job I can ride my bike to, a house, and a wife who still miraculously puts up with me, despite my lifelong habit of biting off more that I can chew, not succeeding at anything, but somehow finding a continual series of third doors that miraculously allow me to avoid total failure. Despite my constant feelings of inadequacy and dread that I have wasted my potential and lost my way, I seem to somehow be doing OK. I have a lot to be thankful for, and I hope that you all have the same. Have a wonderful thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Molten metal metamorphosis

The Australian Aluminium smelting industry is having a rough time. Built to utilize electricity from Australian coal from the 1960’s through the 1980’s, our smelters are ill equipped to deal with the migration of the Aluminium industry to a rapidly industrializing China or cheap low-carbon energy areas such as Iceland or New Zealand. As a result, the Kurri Kurri smelter closed in 2012, the Point Henry smelter closed in 2014, and the future for the Portland smelter is currently uncertain, with the contract for electricity due to be renegotiated this month.

At the same time, Australia is lagging the rest of the developed world in the transition to low emissions electricity. Although certain jurisdictions, like South Australia, are making progress, the fragile nature of the grid connections and the intermittent nature on renewable energy is slowing its uptake, and potentially contributing to supply instability, as was seen during this winter’s South Australian storm.

The production of aluminium metal requires a huge amount of electricity. An aluminum smelter basically consists of a huge tub of molten salt, from which the enormous electrical currents basically force the electrons onto aluminum ions, depositing them on the cathode atom by atom at a rate that allows several tons of production per day.
As a result, aluminium smelters are typically located in areas where there is a large, cheap supply of electricity. Traditionally these have been areas of hydroelectric power, or in Australia’s case, cheap open cut thermal coal. With coal getting more expensive, and with concerns over the impact of CO2 production on the climate, these coal-powered smelters are finding it harder to compete in high wage countries. So Australia has facilities which are designed to take a substantial proportion of the energy grid’s electricity, which are getting closed down just as the requirement for storage of large amounts of variable renewable energy is appearing.

One proposed solution of the “storage problem” is the use of a new technology known as the liquid metal battery. Like the aluminium smelting process, the liquid metal battery consists of a molten salt, which can have ions driven out of it to the anode and the cathode when power is applied. Unlike aluminium, the anode is a base metal instead of graphite, so instead of oxidizing the anode and making CO2, the metal is deposited. This allows the battery to discharge by dissolving the anode and cathode back into the molten salt. So if aluminum smelters are going obsolete in areas which are in desperate need of battery storage, it seems like modifying the smelter to store energy is a option worth at least considering.

There are technical issues, of course. An industrial Hall-Héroult cell is the size of a city bus, and a smelter contains lots of them. The liquid metal technology is being developed by a small company, Ambri, which seems to be starting small (like bottlecap scale), and scaling up. So there is a bit of a gap between the emerging battery technology and the aging smelter technology. But it is in everybody’s interest to bridge it.

Ambri is trying to raise cash and start production. South Australia is still investigating their state-wide blackout.  Alcoa and Hydro have two shuttered smelters which they need to remediate or repurpose, and Portland has 11% of its population working at the smelter. In addition, Boyne Island and Tomago are supposedly facing similar market pressures.

Portland would be a particularly useful place for a pilot project, since the smelter is still operating, even though the pain of closing a big industrial center in a small isolated town looms. It is also located in prime wind power country, on the Victoria / South Australia border, close to the interconnector. So it would be nice if the union, the council, the state and federal governments, and the industry groups could work together to see if there is a solution that benefits everybody.

As for Kurri Kurri and Port Henry, the Kurri Kurri remediation plan comment period closed in August, but Port Henry is still open, even though the last public hearing was last week.Thus the rushed, not completely researched blog post.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Blogular quiescence

Earlier this year, I left Australian Scientific Instruments to take a job as Senior SHRIMP Specialist at Geoscience Australia. In between those jobs, I pushed a couple of bottom drawer manuscripts out into journal submission. One has already been published (see Geosonnet 42 for details and link). Others are currently in review or revision. So most of my writing energy is going there, not here. So don't expect a lot of blogular activity in the near future.

Friday, August 05, 2016


Macbeth is my favorite play. My favorite book. My favorite collection of English words. The poetic beauty of the text, the directness of the plot, the representations of madness, supernatural, and reality, and the shear magnitude of the tragedy are what makes it so fantastic. But although, for all of these reasons, it is one of the easiest of Shakespeare’s plays to read, by the same token it is one of the most difficult to play. The sheer beauty of the spoken words, many of which are directed to nobody, makes it particularly challenging for  actors to value-add through their interaction with each other. Thus it is a rare stage performance which does the masterpiece justice. Luckily for me, the Canberra Repertory Theatre here in town has just put on a great production of the Scottish Play.

This is a gaunt production of Macbeth, with a spare stage and simple costumes. From the opening with the witches as a maleficent blur in the gloom of the stage, the focus quickly shifts to an astoundingly dynamic portrayal of Duncan King of Scots. He imbues the opening scenes with a generosity and a charismatic presence that shows all a king can be. Generous, charismatic, leader of a band of brave yet fragile Scots besieged by Vikings, and completely without guile, it is against this that the brutal but utterly bewitching ambition of Lady Macbeth must seduce, and the two of them wrestle over Macbeth’s heart for all of a lively Act 1.

Of course, we all know how that turns out, and from the moment the blood touches
Macbeth’s hands, he comes into his own, playing off a terrifying Lady Macbeth and a wavering Banquo in the maddening spiral that ends with Banquo’s Banquet. That astoundingly potent scene is followed by the intermission, presumably so that the audience can steady their nerves with a glass or two before coming back for Hecate and her hands.

The last two acts do drag a bit, as they feature many minor and less developed characters, and the witches riddle hasn’t been fresh for 410 years. However, the approach to Lady Macbeth’s downfall was new (at least to me), and as Malcolm and Macduff rouse themselves from their personal grievances and man up to take back control of their country, the play builds back up to its bloody triumph.

All in all, it is a superb production of the great play.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Geosonnet 46

If decompression melting is enhanced
When glacial loads are washed away by rain
Then letting go the ice sheets that advanced
Might wake volcanoes in an arc again.
Unloading helps silicic lavas blow
And then the magma chambers must recharge
Desire for huge eruptions simmers low
Five thousand years ‘till ash beds become large
A glacial load weighs heavy on the soul
Unfreezing lets the middle crust rebound
Explosive lava, free from amphibole
Bursts forth like summer flowers from the ground.
   Frost claims ice will suffice to wreck the world.
   But should it melt, eruptions are unfurled.

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

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Geosonnet 45

When zircon needs to leave its life behind
Clastic witness protection can be used.
Trace element analysis can’t find
The host whose hospitality’s refused.
Once protolith identity is gone
Stool pigeon phase inclusions spill the beans.
When D value deductions can be drawn
In apatite or sphene, we have the means
To fingerprint magmatic strontium
Deducing silica at the same time
Then using cerium and yttrium
Included zircon’s fingered for its crimes.
  A river cruise while host weathers to dust:
  A sedimentary crime of hate, or lust?

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

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Geosonnet 44

Antarctica’s a frozen realm of ice
Yet troglodytic hydrospheres remain
Radar reflectors, frozen lakes entice
Ice fishermen to see what they contain
Before the ice age, glacial domes were seas
Below sea sediments can still be found.
The lake is mostly glac’ers which unfreeze
Trapped ocean water seeps up from the ground.
The surface sediments are oxidized.
The sulfate in the brine is unreduced.
Lest oxygen at depth leave us surprised
Dissolved O2 in meltwater’s deduced.
   Alas, no fish were sampled by the drill
   Just microbes that an ice age couldn’t kill

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

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Geosonnet 43

Marsupial invaders from the South
Make North America their newfound home.
Alpacas, llamas, spitting from the mouth
Run off to South America to roam.
The rocks in Panama suggest the land
Connected continents by Miocene.
Pliocene movement, on the other hand
Means radiative retardation’s seen.
A sea of trees, could rainforest impair
Migration of savannah-dwelling beast?
The ice age brought colder and drier air
And grasslands on which ungulates can feast.
   Tectonics may have built the bridge of land.
   Ten million years unused, we understand.

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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Geosonnet 42

An alpha particle can break the bonds

Of diamond as it crashes to a halt.
Each glowing lattice defect corresponds
To trace uranium ore by default.
Proterozoic water then dissolves
These min’rals when they weather from the ground.
The age of weathering therefore resolves
Why He but no U in these stones are found.
The sediment’ry age is reconciled
With orphan daughter isotopes of lead
Archean atmosphere O2 reviled.
It must have been in groundwater instead.
   So read this study; cite it frequently.
   (Disclaimer: journal article by me.)

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Geosonnet 41

The rock of rocks, zircon is not disturbed
As mountains grow, then wash into the sea.
Its isotopic clock is not perturbed
Providing billion year chronomotry.
But like Smaug’s waistcoat, or Achillies’ heel
The Earth’s timekeeper has a fatal strain
A brine containing fluorine is ideal
For mobilizing metals from this grain
Earth’s body’s precious fluids rearrange
The normally immobile REE
And actinides, and other metals strange
To fluid induced rock mobility.
   The thermal history is not innate
   When heat producing elements migrate.

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

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Geosonnet 40

The muddy bosom sunset turns to gold
Contrary runs to playa, or to sea.
But though the flow of human blood seems old
‘tis but a spray, seen by geology.
The shady banks, by forests overgrown
Are stabilized by roots of growing trees.
Far different are the rivers Langston’s known
To those which ran ere plants emerged from seas.
The math predicts, and Tombador confirms
Meanders become braids without a plant.
The shallow floodplain channels build up berms.
The mud in verdant floodplains now is scant.
   So when at last we cross the Styx, beware:
   Its lifeless banks will split the channels there.

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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Geosonnet 39

The Kelly Caves, where bushrangers once hid
Were shelter of a venerated kind.
Cro-Magnon ancestors did not forbid
Shelter, and art, in caverns thus confined.
But holes in rock as habitat might date
To early in our planet’s history
The microbes and the cavemen can relate
Archean prelude Pleistocene story
Both sheltered in a mineral cavity.
The upside-down microstromatolites
Cling to the roof, outlaws of gravity
Not methane, autotroph metabolites
   These outlaws hid beneath the algal mats
   Kerogenated troglodytic bats

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

Geosonnet 38

A Daal is more than just a spicy meal
Tsunamis, mighty earthquakes it informs
Shear diffusivity it can reveal
The mechanism by which it deforms.
The humble lentil, pressed into a box
begins to slide, but not on just one plane
The shear migrates when grain rotation locks
Without localization of all strain
The superlentils, strong but not congealed
Not Marvel men with tights and curried food
Anastamosing fabrics are revealed
Transposing when the pulses become skewed.
A legume in the larder shows the way
A devastating earthquake slides today.

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

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Playhouse Creatures, the Q

It has been a long time since I was active in the Canberra theatre scene. This is a shame, because there is some amazing stage talent in this town, and since becoming a father I’ve have hardly any time to even go to shows, much less have any involvement. But I’m hoping to turn over a new leaf this year, and Mrs. Lemming and I finally managed to organize a babysitter and get out to the Q to catch Playhouse Creatures last weekend.

April de Angelis’s play is a historical fiction set during the English restoration, when women were first allowed to perform in the Theatre. Historical accuracy is sacrificed for the sake of getting many of the era’s iconic performers on the stage together. This works very well.  Not many modern Australians care that the Bettertons and Nell Gwynn worked for rival companies (although both performed with the Marshall sisters). But anyone who goes to the show will appreciate having them sparring on the same stage.

The play tells a story of Ms. Gwynn’s drive to break into the theatrical profession, and follows her and her contemporaries through the various challenges that faced women working in the field at that time. There is a strong feminist element to this, as the actresses navigate the fickle tastes of theatre patrons, recriminations of spurned ex-lovers, witch hunts and fires. The similarities between these struggles and the challenges facing modern working women were effective, and added another of many layers to the performance. Anyone interested in feminist takes on these pioneers of the stage should definitely catch the show this week before it closes.

But even for those who are not drawn to the stage by feminism, the play has a lot to offer. The roles are deep and challenging and diverse, with the actresses playing historical actresses both back-stage, practicing their craft, going about their lives in and around the theatre, and in something like half a dozen plays within the play, as excerpts of various period performances which the characters performed. Fortunately for the audience, the roles were performed by some of Canberra’s finest actresses, with expert direction from Jordan Best. As a result the show is worth the price of admission simply to see great performers bringing challenging roles to life with humor, yearning, and passion. Anyone wishing to see great performers rise to the challenge of complex roles should enjoy this show.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Geosonnet 37

A micromole of photons, moonshine bright

Illuminates anoxic microbe mat
Bacteria, archaea use the light
The autotrophs of relict habitat.
Three thousand million years ago they rule
Methanogenic empires of brine
But oxidative phytoplankton’s cruel
Conquistador of oceanic shrine.
The madness of Antarctic mountain vale
Left dry but for this saline alpine lake
The hibernating old ones can prevail
Extremophiles long dormant, now awake.
   A benthic mat with whiffs of oxygen
   ‘twas once their planet; now they’ve come 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