Carbon 14 Idiocy

One day, I was mousing through the net and in a flash of boredom I wandered to the CNN comment boards thinking I might catch some some good LOL. Then one comment caught my eye; one that baited me into a swift crushing blow. It’s times like these that I’m the Human Torch. “FLAME ON.”

The story in question was titled “Did Earth get zapped in the eighth century?” Horrible headline, but the author posted recent findings about a cosmic collision that may have resulted in a ‘short-duration gamma-ray burst’ that bathed Earth’s surface with radiation back in the 8th century. The finding could help explain why researchers find high levels of carbon-14 and beryllium-10 in trees that were cut down during that time. Not exactly front page headliner stuff, but it’s interesting to me.

Most comments that followed were the usual trollish nonsense, but one comment in particular put the flame in my eye. First, let me explain that I loathe nitwits out there who cite “evidence” that carbon 14 tests are so inadequate that the age estimation of dinosaurs (for instance) might be 70 million years or only 6,000 years – who knows <shrug>. This rationale has deeper roots that branch out from a Christian heresy that young Earth Creationism is absolute (e.g., you are not a Christian unless you believe this bullshit wholeheartedly). To the Christian who might stumble on this post – you read correctly. Young Earth Creationism is not biblical, its teaching is false, therefore it is heresy.

Back to the poster:

hubrisdenied: this right here is why i ALWAYS HATED CARBON DATING……its such a huge assumption to say we know for sure what carbon 14 levels were 50 years ago…..let alone millions…

Little did Mr Hubris realize that his hubris jerked me into the conversation.

superbole: What in the friggin world does this event have to do with the decay rate of carbon? Are you a complete moron or are you doing this to get attention?

Actually, what I wanted to say was that unlike YOUR GOD, atoms and the speed of light do not lie. If you want to believe that YOUR deity has TOLD you that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, fine. Don’t use your faith to invalidate a physical mechanical fact. In other words, get the hell out of my face with your stupid comment! But I simplified.

superbole: NOTE – carbon-14 dating is only accurate up to within 50,000 years (or so), so IF there were multiple radiation events, then we’d see a distortion in the 14C baseline – which, by the way, we do; that’s why the disclaimer. BUT… but… the friggin dinosaurs in your museum are still between 60 to 200 million years old. OKAY??

To whit, a passersby added this gem:

are122: There are many dinosaurs in D.C. much younger than that.

Yah. I admit it. I was ready to rip are122‘s head off when a cooler head popped up between my shoulders and said… “yo dude, chill.”

superbole: lol… i was like, “wft? where?” then… i had to laugh. “oh… THOSE dinosaurs

No question about it… this is idiocy at its finest. But dammit… don’t mess with my Carbon 14!

Massive Forest Die-Off Predicted

A dying forest in Colorado: Bare branches and rust-colored foliage denote dead and dying trees in Colorado’s Front Range.

Doubters and climate change believers, draw near. Scientists have collated new data about climate change, and this is probably the most stunning news ever.

According to tree-ring growth data combined with historical information, climate records, and computer-model projections of future climate trends, widespread tree death is likely, researchers report this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.

A group of scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Arizona and other groups used this data from 13,000 tree core samples with known temperature and moisture data. They also blended events from archaeological and other paleorecords, such as the late 1200s megadrought that drove the ancient Pueblo Indians out of longtime settlements such as those at Mesa Verde, Colo. The result was a new “drought index” to help them measure the combined effects of drought and disease.

“This new drought index has the strongest correlation with combined tree growth, tree death from drought and insects, and area burned by forest fires that I have ever seen,” says co-author Thomas W. Swetnam, director of the UA Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

By comparing the tree-ring record to climate data collected in the Southwest since the late 1800s, the scientists identified two climate variables that estimate annual southwestern tree-growth variability with exceptional accuracy: total winter precipitation and average summer-fall atmospheric evaporative demand, a measure of the overall dryness of the environment.

“Atmospheric evaporative demand is primarily driven by temperature. When air is warmer, it can hold more water vapor, thus increasing the pace at which soil and plants dry out. The air literally sucks the moisture out of the soil and plants,” says A. Park Williams of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the lead author of the paper.

These trends, the researchers noted, are already occurring in the Southwest, where temperatures generally have been increasing for the past century and are expected to continue to do so because of accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

There still will be wet winters, but increased frequency of warmer summers will put more stress on trees and limit their growth after wet winters, the study reports.

“We can use the past to learn about the future,” Williams said. “For example, satellite fire data from the past 30 years show that there has been a strong and exponential relationship between the regional tree-ring drought-stress record and the area of southwestern forests killed by wildfire each year. This suggests that if drought intensifies, we can expect forests not only to grow more slowly, but also to die more quickly.”

The study points out that very large and severe wildfires, bark-beetle outbreaks and a doubling of the proportion of dead trees in response to early 21st-century warmth and drought conditions are evidence that a transition of southwestern forest landscapes toward more open and drought-tolerant ecosystems may already be underway.

“When we look at our tree-ring record, we see this huge dip in the 1580s when all the tree rings are really tiny,” Williams said. “Following the 1500s megadrought, tree rings get wider, and there was a major boom in new trees. Nearly all trees we see in the Southwest today were established after the late-1500s drought, even though the species we evaluated can easily live longer than 400 years. So that event is a benchmark for us today. If forest drought stress exceeds late 1500 levels, we expect that a lot of trees are going to be dying.”

Sorry. I have no smartass remark to add to this. Just sucks to be us, I guess.

Fueling the future with fish tank residue: Yum!

Who knows, we may save fish tank scum as a biofuel.

Researchers have turned to algae as a promising new fuel source. The approach has the potential to significantly reduce the nation’s reliance on imported oil while contributing to rural economic development and lowering greenhouse emissions. As the nimrods of oil chant ‘drill baby drill’, the rest of the rational world may l be singing “suck baby suck” (or something to that effect).

Experts expect algae-based biofuels could displace large volumes of diesel and jet transportation fuels. One of the field’s leading experts, Ron Pate, a researcher from Sandia National Laboratories based in New Mexico, presented an overview of the research during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego on Feb. 19.

Pate, who is a principal member of technical staff at Sandia, has been in Washington, D.C. since November 2009 serving as a technical consultant to the emerging algae biofuels program within the Biomass Office of the Department of Energy’s Office of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (EERE).

The DOE program evolved out of an initiative started in 2008 to develop a National Algae Biofuels Technology Roadmap; researchers from Sandia, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and other national laboratories, universities and industry are teaming up with DOE to overcome some of the field’s biggest challenges.

“We’ve been heavily involved in supporting the Office of Biomass Program for the past year and a half on the Algae Biofuels Roadmap and a couple of specific projects that are algae biofuel-related,” Pate said.

Among those projects are two international collaborations: one with industrial partners in Israel and the U.S., and another with the National Research Council Canada.

“Using algae as a feedstock source for biofuels has a lot of potential benefits, but there are also some tremendous challenges. We’ve been working very hard to determine what the needs are, the current state of the technology and the areas that really need some focused investment and work,” Pate said.

Through recent American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (stimulus package) and other program investments in Integrated Biorefinery and Algae Consortia projects beginning in FY2010, DOE/EERE is providing about $180 million in near-term funding specifically focused on algae biofuels research and development.

Pate’s presentation, “The Promise and Challenges for Algae Biofuels: Overview of Approaches and Issues for Sustainable Production Scale-up,” will cover many of the current issues surrounding algae research and development. Algae is emerging as an attractive resource because it reproduces quickly, uses large quantities of carbon dioxide and can thrive in non-freshwater, including brackish and marine water, thus avoiding competition with traditional agriculture’s freshwater needs. In addition, algae can produce biomass and oils, and is attractive as feedstock for renewable fuels, with potentially greater productivity and significantly less land use requirements than with other commodity crop feedstocks such as corn, soy and canola.

Building on earlier work done under the DOE-funded Aquatic Species Program during the late-1970s through the early 1990s, Pate and others have been taking a new look at the nation’s potential for algae biofuels production capacity development and resource requirements. The U.S. has ample sunlight, lower value land and non-freshwater resources in the lower latitude coastal and inland states, including the Southwest region of New Mexico, Arizona and California, to potentially produce large volumes of biofuel feedstock, if high productivies can be reliably achieved.

With algal oil productivities that could potentially reach annual average levels in the range of 3,000 to 5,000 gallons per acre, the land footprint required for large volumes of renewable fuel production would be minimal when compared with other conventional oil crops, such as soy and canola, that produce between 50 and 120 gallons per acre per year.

“With algae, we’re talking about annual average productivities that could reach several thousand gallons per acre per year — with practical values that analysis has shown might be able to reach more than 6500 gallons per acre – so if you do the math, you can see the reasoning behind this research,” Pate said.

“Algae can produce oils, which are nature’s most effective energy storage medium. We already have the technologies coming online to be able to take that and affordably convert it into really useful fuels that are essentially drop-in equivalent to today’s petroleum-based ground and aviation transport fuels. And there is a lot of promise to create quite a bit of oil from algae, but nobody has really done that affordably on a large, routine scale yet so that you can rely on it day in and day out.”

Making the leap from the current preliminary analytical stage to full-scale muck production is challenged by a number of technical hurdles and unknowns. In the last decade, Pate and his colleagues have analyzed factors that are critical to the success of algal biofuels. Sunlight, carbon dioxide, usable, flat land and water are the key ingredients to algae growth, so the researchers looked for areas of the country where those factors were abundant and provided an optimal environment for growth.

The team determined that Southwestern states offer the most sun and large areas of available land, but are lacking in carbon dioxide and water. Although algae can thrive in the region’s brackish groundwater, uncertainties remain about how much water is actually available. The team also had to address concerns that biofuel production will encroach on the nation’s valuable land, water and fertilizer resources currently used for traditional agriculture.

To generate potential solutions, Pate and his colleagues contributed to a three-day workshop hosted by DOE’s Office of Biomass Program in December 2008 in Washington, D.C., to discuss the future of algal fuels research and industry. The event was attended by 200 technical experts and stakeholders from government and state agencies from around the nation, who provided valuable comments and insights.

Pate was part of the DOE-sponsored team that drafted a report based on comments received both at the workshop and from public, and the report, which will outline the nation’s strategy in algal biofuel research, is expected to be published in the next few months and will help drive the nation’s algal biofuels efforts.

Despite the challenges, Pate is confident that algae has a strong chance of becoming a viable source of transportation fuel in the long-term future. “People who are more realistic think this will take at least 10 years for research and investments to get it to the point where it has commercial viability,” Pate said. “I think the jury’s still out, but we’ll likely see an impact in the next decade.”

Glacier Stories

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

I have been collecting ‘glacier’ stories for more than 20 years and it’s pretty evident: change is on the way. Change, as in sudden pivotal change in a Crichton novel where the inevitable disaster is spelled out for us in gut-wrenching detail.

For years, the conservative-biased news media has rattled on about how their counterparts (the liberal-biased news media) exaggerates stories about global warming for political fodder. Ah, but have you ever noticed how some events defy the need for superlative and hyperbole? Oh sure, you can embellish anything, but sometimes the facts stand on their own. A snip or two from recent news:

  1. Greenland’s glaciers are melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed.
  2. A warming trend has increased which has obliterated previous predictions.
  3. Earth’s oceans will rise over the next century, the question is how much and how fast.

So, the ‘oh-shit’ problem we thought was bad, is worse than we thought and now has risen to an ‘oh-shit-shit-shit’ problem. And that’s just the lede. It gets better…

New data from satellite imagery has alarmed climatologists who worry about the role of human activity in global warming. The Greenland data mirrors findings from Bolivia to the Himalayas, scientists said, noting that rising sea levels threaten widespread flooding and severe storm damage in low-lying areas worldwide.

Okay… one could argue that a few of the adjectives are a tad overly descriptive but not so much that they overstate the underlying facts. It’s still a problem that begs our attention and we should be concerned because it could end up roosting in our backyards pretty soon. Need I mention New Orleans?

Scientists now say that they do not yet understand the precise mechanism causing glaciers to flow and melt more rapidly, but they said the changes in Greenland were unambiguous — and accelerating. By comparison, in 1996, the amount of water produced by melting ice in Greenland was about 90 times the amount consumed by Los Angeles in a year. Last year, the melted ice amounted to 225 times the volume of water that city uses annually.

Damn… 225 times the volume of water that LA uses annually? That’s a lot of water.

Scary and super-real as it is, the lack of superbole strengthens authority and believability. It is the kind of story that makes you pause and think – unless of course you are biased.

Elevation ChangeI have attached a little graphic to illustrate another point. Also devoid of superbole, this bit of artistry plots the elevation changes of Greenland’s glaciers. The blue areas have drawn the most attention for two reasons: they are places where the glaciers are most vulnerable to change AND they have seen the largest increase in change during recent years. About 10 years ago the areas of stable or increasing snow/ice pack (yellow and grey) were so large that the blue areas (decreasing elevation) were mere slivers. Click the graphic to see a larger version of this graphic.

If you still believe that there’s no such thing as global warming, then consider this – the climate is changing, glaciers are melting, and we’re all in for a world of hurt.