Sunday, January 31, 2010

Earth, Air, Fire, Water

Is a 33% improvement over "Hydrogen, Helium, Metal".

Friday, January 29, 2010

Some thoughts on the uranium cycle

Nuclear power is in the news again after the State of the Union speech, so here’s a few thoughts:

1. The current limiting factor of U production is the price of U. Finding sub-economic deposits is easy. Getting the tonnage and grade necessary to cover infrastructure costs is not.

2. Phosphate, which is currently mined for fertilizer production, contains a reasonable amount of U. It is currently uneconomical to remove it, so it dissolves into the H3Po4 during the phosphoric acid production, and stay there through ammonization until it eventually gets dumped on the fields that grow the food we eat (take a scintillometer to your favorite agricultural warehouse sometime). Somewhere around $100/pound it becomes economical to extract it to burn in a reactor instead. So correctly calculating the risk of increasing U production needs to take into account the benefits of not dumping the stuff on crops.

3. Radiation is very dangerous, and can easily kill you if you are stupid. Unlike the days of the Manhattan project and the cold war, we now know a lot more about how to mitigate the risks and how it behaves in the environment.

4. Knowledge isn’t going to help anyone unless it is used to craft effective regulation and enforcement. Corporate boards aren’t going to approve expenditure on non-profitable activities unless they are forced to do so.

5. Well-run, well-regulated projects can be safe. On our drill projects, the only radiation badge to register anything was the one that someone took home in their carry-on and sent through the ASP airport x-ray machine. The only radiation injury to occur was sunburn from solar UV. While skin cancer is a real risk for outdoor work in Australia, it presumably also applies to workers in the solar industry- and the person involved was not following procedure.

6. Making energy is dangerous! Coal mine accidents alone kill thousands of people every year (mostly in China), and even in well-regulated countries like Australia, there are still fatalities. So radiation hazards need to be looked at in the context of all the alternatives, especially other indirect risk factors like respiratory ailments from combustion, toxicity in silica manufacturing, etc.

7. Regulation works best in a culture of openness, trust, and transparency. Anything that inhibits these things, whether it be military secrecy, corporate paranoia, or activist stunts, will ultimately increase risk.

8. As in many other fields, we need to properly weigh the risks of numerous, isolated, unobtrusive injuries (e.g. asthma) vs. rare spectacular photogenic catastrophes (e.g. Chernobyl).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Nature Geoscience

So it has been two years since the Nature Publishing group launched their geoscience-focused journal Nature Geoscience. What do y’all think of it? Is it a badly needed multidisciplinary journal, or a sloppy seconds repository for failed Nature papers? How does it relate to Geology (aside from profiting shareholders instead of the GSA)? And most importantly, do you have a subscription?

When I was at Geoscience Australia, we did not subscribe, so I have only browsed a few issues. However, it seems to me that a lower impact physical science-wide journal would be more useful than another 4-page general geoscience journal. On the other hand, maybe there is wide-spread dissatisfaction with the editorial board of Geology. Or maybe it is too hardrock. Thoughts?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Inchworm my ass

Get thy antiquated units off of the internet. This, my friends, is a decimeterworm. I'm gonna assume that this is a larval Mothra, but if anyone has a more educated guess as to what this beastie will turn into, I'd love to hear it. LLLL was captivated.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Credit where credit is due

From a fairly influential 90's era cosmochemical paper that I was recently reading:


We thank one (of the two) anonymous reviewers for constructive comments related to astrophysical problems.

That's a line worth plagiarizing, should the need ever arise.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

An open letter to the chemical rubber company

Dear CRC,
Ever since I was in high school, I have found your “Handbook of chemistry and physics” to be a useful reference tool for finding a variety of important physical and chemical constants quickly. Even in this internet age, having a dog-eared copy of the “Rubber Bible” in lab is useful when someone wants to know how to get unusual elements into solution, or remember which metals catch fire when put into water.

So it was with mixed feelings that I noticed your 2008 edition contained a one-page geologic timescale.

On the one hand, the inclusion of a geologic time scale is great. On the other hand, a book that is updated every year should endeavor to be current. And the time scale you included was from 1983.

The inclusion of radiometric numbers on a geologic time scale requires and accurate and precise method of determining geologic ages. And most of the methods used today were still in their infancy in 1983. The earthtime website shows just how much the timescale has been revised over the last century as methodology has improved. If you are going to include a timescale, please ensure that it is up-to-date: The International Commission of Stratigraphy updates the timescale regularly, and the Geological Society of America also has a recent timescale available.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Has someone hacked Earthtime?

UPDATE: According to the Earth-time webmaster, a likely offender has been removed. The page now loads normally for me. Anyone else still reporting problems?

Original content:
I got this on the Earthtime home page. Anyone else had problems?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some thoughts on the President’s first year

According to the conditions under which I hold my blogging license, I must comment on the current US political situation or be banned from the blogosphere. So here are a few quick grades for the feds a year on from Obama’s inauguration.

President Obama: B
Let’s face it. When the guy took office we were quagmired in two wars, the economy was in free fall, and the federal government couldn’t tie its own shoelaces. The president’s job is to execute, and I think he has done this pretty well. His appointments have mostly been smart, capable people, the wars have plans, goals, and time tables. The relief effort in Haiti- a third-world country 600 miles away- is proceeding more smoothly than the New Orleans program did back home. And while the economy might only be getting better for rich people and Asia, it isn’t getting any worse. So he seems to be getting things done, which is good. McCain’s inability to lead his own senate colleagues in response to the economic crisis is what led me to change my vote in the dying weeks of the campaign back then. So I’m glad this guy is competent.

As for his legislative agenda, I’m not real interested in expanding the scope of government, especially if it is having trouble doing everything currently on its plate, which leads me to:

Democratic Congress: C-

The economic stimulus package was not particularly forward thinking or well-constructed. But it was probably better than nothing, and it seems to have at least stopped the free-fall. The House also passed some form of greenhouse gas legislation, but I don’t recall it being a particularly innovative or aggressive program. And then there’s the health care debacle.

The way I see it, congress had two choices. Bring US healthcare standards up to the standards of the rest of the civilized world, or expand the current crappy coverage to everyone. As far as I can tell, they’ve chosen to do the latter. Well, I guess they tried, unlike:

Republican congress: F

These guys have done nothing. And I mean nothing. The US, and indeed the world, has a number of serious problems. These need to be addressed. They don’t have to necessarily be addressed with Federal intervention, if a program of lateral regulation and connectivity can do the job better than a 20th century style central bureaucracy. But the Republicans haven’t come up with any better plans. They’ve just obstructed and complained. And I think that is just pathetic.

We'll see if this new guy can breathe some life into the GOP, and if the election result prompts the President to execute more and legislate less. On the other hand, if the house puts blinders on and passes the senate version unchanged, that will be the slimiest, scumbag move ever to cross the floor of congress.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

CAI and enstatite chondrite cheat sheet:

On the off chance than anyone else has trouble keeping all these bizarre phases straight…
Corundum: Al2O3
Tistarite: Ti2O3
Perovskite: CaTiO3
Hibbonite: CaAl12O19
Grossite: CaAl4O7
Mellilite: SS between:
Gehlenite Ca2Al2SiO7
Akermanite: Ca2MgSi2O7
Oldhamite: CaS
Larnite: Ca2SiO4
Rankinite: Ca3Si2O7

Albandite MnS
MgS component in Niningerite (along with FeS and albandite)

Daubreelite FeCrS4
Brezinaite Cr3S4

Pyroxene components:
Al-buffonite: (CaMg0.5Ti0.5AlSiO6)
Davisite: Ca(Sc,Ti+++,Mg,Ti++++)AlSiO6

Osbornite TiN
Cohenite Fe3C
Schreibersite: (Fe,Ni)3P

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Amorphous silicate question for astronomers

To a first approximation, Earth is a giant ball of magnesium silicate. This Mg-silicate is crystalline, with a low pressure composition that is a mix between fosterite (Mg2SiO4) and enstatite (MgSiO3). These phases (particularly olivine) are notoriously hard to quench to a glass. I have read* that when astronomers observe interstellar dust clouds, they mostly see amprphous magnesium silicates, not crystalline ones.

Given that interstellar space is cold (compared to terrestrial labs), and poorly shielded from radiation, I was wondering how easily crystalline Mg-silicates can be amorphized by radiation damage. Trouble is, most papers I find are done at room temerature, where self-annealing may occur. And they mostly focus on spectral reddening of Fe-bearing olivine, which is a different issue.

Does anyone know if a cryogenic amorphization experiment has been done? Anyone? Bueller?

* but not been able to chase the reference paper-trail to the primary source.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everybody!

Let's be honest here folks. Last year was a bit hectic. Hopefully this year will not involve losing jobs faster than they can be found. I don't expect 2010 to be completely smooth sailing, but if we're lucky, some of last year's hard work just might start to pay off. Which would be nice.

A few months back, I visited a nature reserve where they recently upgraded the facilities. As with many upgrades, this improvement involved paving a perfectly happy forest so that access is improved for people trying to escape the urban jungle.

Pouring asphalt is generally detrimental to the ecosystem of the forest floor. But at least in this particular case a bracken fern was too stubborn to quit. May this be an omen to the rest of us.