Sunday, May 19, 2024

Dream big, young scientists

Looking back through old journals for something entirely different, I found the following research proposal that I wrote in Oct-Nov of 1996, shortly before I got awarded my PhD scholarship. It was a pretty good scholarship I got, so I'm repeating this in case anyone else wants to aim high in the planetary science field: 

Knowing the chemical and isotopic composition of the whole Earth would help constrain the mechanics, timing, and efficiency of differentiation and core formation, as well as give valuable information on the partitioning of siderophile elements into the core. Unfortunately, directly sampling the core is impossible using current technology. Many substitutes of this have been explored, including the analysis of the undifferentiated chondrites and the study of iron-nickel meteorites thought to be pieces of a demolished differentiated planetary body. 

Sadly, oxygen and other isotopes show that these objects formed in a region of the solar nebula different to the Earth, and thus their compositions cannot be directly compared to that of the Earth-Moon system without extrapolation. Since the Moon dies not include a substantial iron core, any determination of the whole Earth, or whole Earth-Moon system composition must include the Earth. 

Our proposal is to use Whole Earth Laser Ablation (WELA) ICP-MS to determine the chemical and isotopic composition of the entire planet. Building the mass spectrometer for this will be an easy task, as the Earth is already located in an extremely good vacuum. We are merely asking for enough funding to purchase a laser powerful enough to ablate the planet, so that the resulting plasma can be sampled by our mass spectrometer. We believe that based on its excellent performance in the Alderaan System, the purchase of a Death Star would allow us to use its primary weapon as our Earth-ablating instrument. We ask that you fund the acquisition of this tool, as we believe it will fundamentally alter the way we view our planet.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Geosonnet 70


Geosonnet 70

Amusement parks of resurrected beasts
Traditionally lie on offshore isles.
But dinosaurs, volcanoes now extinct
Might be preserved in sediment’ry piles.
Eroding mountains shed their clastics west
Until they rest in Eromanga seas.
The sand where Muttaburrasauri rest
Has zircons from unknown localities.
Cretaceous rifting pushed the arc offshore.
This thinning crust by newborn ocean drowned.
The Norfolk Ridge and Lord Howe Rise may store
Jurassic arcs where source rocks may be found.
   The dinosaurs and arcs are gone today
   But just like life, the zircon finds a way.

Geology 49 1391 


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 59 60 61 62 63 64  65 66  67 68 69

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Geosonnet 69

An accidental drilling in the deeps
Reveals a sleeper agent- felsic melt
Invisible to seismic, magma sleeps
Until basaltic trigger card is dealt.
Diffraction limits fuzz the chamber’s sides
Viscosity impedes acoustic tests
A covert, dried out dacite simply hides
Above basaltic plumbing, long at rest.
Three hundred years, this hidden magma sleeps
Until it’s poked by hydrothermal drill.
Old pumice, cuttings from the drilled-out deeps
Show magma lurking, poised to blast and kill.
Basaltic dykes wake sleepers from their doze
Do not ignore the hazard this can pose!


Geology 49 521


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 59 60 61 62 63 64  65 66  67 68 69

Friday, November 18, 2022

The Witch King’s Forest Reserve

Yvon Chouinard, the billionaire CEO of the Patagonia company, must be feeling his mortality. A few months back, he announced that he was transferring ownership of his three billion dollar company to a trust, so that the capital and profits can be used to preserve wild spaces and fight climate change. He is not the first person to do this. About a decade ago, Gilded Age heiress Cordelia Scaife May gave her estate to a trust, which attracted notoriety when New York Times reporters revealed that for every dollar the trust gave to bird sanctuaries, more than twice as much was given to white supremacist groups.

Mr Choulnard’s politics and beliefs appear to be very different to Ms May’s, and what criticism I’ve read of his decision seems to be fairly mild, so I’m going to look at this from more of a structural angle. But because finance bores the teeth out of me, I will use metaphor. And since Stranger Things has made D&D cool again*, I will use that terminology.

In D&D, there are all kinds of monsters. But one of the most feared types are ancient witch kings and sorcerers whose magic is so powerful that it has allowed them to continue to roam the earth long after their bodies have died. These liches (or demi-liches, if they are so ancient their bodies have crumbled into a cloud of bone dust and a skull preserved by hate and enchantments) continue to exist and trouble the world long after their time has past, haunting the people and society of the game with their malice and cunning. And that, essentially, is what a trust is.

With a trust, the money is invested, usually in some sort of growth fund, and part of the returns are spent by a board of directors, who basically channel the spirit of the deceased to augur their long dead wishes. It basically gives the dead the power to reach out of the past and use their money to impact the living. And while it is no surprise that monsters like Scaife May would transform themselves in this way, the idea of a “good lich,” of Yvon the friendly neighbourhood witch king, seems a little bit odd.

Ideally, the future should belong to future generations, and the dead should not be able to rise from their crypts with seed money and bribes. At the same time, there is a role for conservation. After all, if the future generations wish to inherit anything other than a wasteland, then some sort of rules will be needed to preserve some of the Earth’s natural wonder for them. But at the same time, with wealth inequality only growing, and with these trusts and institutes compounding investment returns faster than they can give the money away, it makes me wonder. Does their existence doom the future generations to be serfs in a necrocracy, paying rent to long dead landlords who preserve their planet not for their sake, but according to the whims of a long dead plutocrat?

·      *   For the first time since the Cryogenean ice melted.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Shirtfront Shennanigans


Seven years ago today, in the leadup to the G20 meeting in Brisbane, the then Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, said that he would shirtfront Russian President Vladimir Putin over the murder of 298 people, including several dozen Australians, in the skies over Ukraine. While Australians are quite familiar with the former PM, I will give a brief explanation for overseas readers.

There is nothing moderate about Tony Abbott. Not now, and not when he was in Parliament. An unrepentant, abrasive conservative Catholic, he said what he thought, wore his heart on his sleeve, and made such an effective opposition leaver that he won the election in 2013. Just as abrasive in government as he was on the cross benches, he eventually wore his own party out, and got replaced with a technocrat who could actually govern after a few years in the top job.

However, he was still in power in July 2014, when the Russian shot down the Malaysian Boeing 777 airliner MH17 as it was flying over the Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. As Malaysia was then a popular stopover point for travel between Australia and Europe, there were 27 Australians on board, and it was the worst overseas attach on Australian civilians since the 2002 terrorist bombings in Indonesia killed 88 Australians.

In the leadup to the G20 meeting, Prime Minister Abbott said in a media interview that he intended to “shirtfront” the Russian President Vladimir Putin over the MH17 murders. This raised more than a few eyebrows, not only because of the lack of diplomatic tact, but also for the use of a 1970’s era term for tacking used in AFL football, a sport mostly played in Southern and Western Australia, and not on the East Coast, where both the meeting and Abbott’s home electorate are located. However, following the suspension of Russia from the G8 earlier in the year, it was considered a potential flashpoint.

Seven years on, it is fair to look at where things now stand. Putin is still President of Russia. Tony Abbott is no longer in politics. After being replaced as Prime Minister in 2015, he retreated to the back bench, and eventually lost re-election to independent Zali Steggall in 2019. However, it’s not just about him.

All over the English-speaking world, conservative political parties have moved away from straight-talking ideological politicians like Mr Abbott and towards those more like the truth-bending, ideologically flexible, power abusing Mr Putin.

This is of course most obvious in the USA, where strongman apologist Donald Trump took over the Republican Party when he became President, and has been guiding it in a pro-Russian, anti-democratic direction ever since. To a lesser extent it is true in the UK, where Boris Johnson, the creative-tongued, ideologically nebulous anti-European populist is now Prime Minister.

Even here in Australia, where the technocratic Prime Minister who replaced Abbott was himself replaced, straight talking and ideological coherence seems to be out of fashion. While the current Prime Minister is also conservative, straight talking, above board conduct, and consistency aren’t really hallmarks of the current administration.

So all-in-all, the shirtfront seems to come up short. Not only is Mr Putin still in power, but he has ensured that Mr Abbott’s brand of politics doesn’t even have a place in the English-speaking world anymore.