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Monday, November 4, 2013

The destruction of Planet Earth

Sorry, I just wanted to get your attention.  There is no way (well almost no way) we could destroy Earth*.  In the words of my second favourite comedian**, George Carlin, the world will be just fine.  We may not be here but the world will be hunki dori.

* I've included a way at the end of this blog but it is pretty far "out there".
**My favourite is Bill Maher

It's true we may bring nature to a state where there is no animal larger than a cat remaining on the surface but evolution will refill all these lovely empty ecological nitches and it will do it surprisingly fast  in a wild flurry of evolution.  In one or two million years, we won't recognize the place???

The first people who arrived on any uninhabited  island or continent eliminated a huge range of megafauna.  Most of it was done within a few hundred years.  Then when European man arrived with his modern technology, he destroyed and is still destroying whole ecosystems.

When Europeans arrived in, for instance, North America, Australia and New Zealand, the fauna they saw was but a pale remnant of what was there before the first humans arrived.  The first humans had wiped out anything they could eat.  Then European man got busy, trying, quite successfully, to eliminate even this pitiful remnant and doing his best, as well, to eliminate the first people.    Who eliminate who often seemed to depend on who had the best armoury of diseases that they, but not the other side, were immune to but that's another story.

About the only area that has retained some semblance of her megafauna is Africa and only because animals  evolved escape capabilities as humans improved their hunting techniques.  As our killing methods advanced, the more wary animals survived to breed.  Later European man, in South Africa, had almost eliminated Africa's megafauna when he realized that everything he held dear was about to vanish and set aside large parks and brought back the major megafauna that had survived early man. Once more under the first people but with European killing technology, the animals are on the way out again.

As long as we don't destroy too many animals there are all sorts of animals just waiting in the wings to appear and fill all sorts of empty places in nature at a rapid rate.  I know that sounds pretty strange so let me explain.

Let's use the tail of a monkey as an example.  Our monkey has a prehensile tail which he uses as a fifth hand.  As he travels through the trees, he holds on to branches with his tail, freeing his hands (and feet) to pick fruit.  Any monkey that suffers a mutation that makes his tail less effective has a greater chance of falling and hence of not passing on his genes to the next generation.  This constant removal of monkeys with less effective tails highlights one of the characteristics of evolution.  Once an animal or plant is pretty well adapted to its environment, natural selection has far more to do with keeping animals (and plants) the same  than it has  to do with producing new species.

Now let's suppose that some of these monkeys start to move out on to the nearby plains to use a previous unutilized source of food.  They no longer need a prehensile tail.  Monkeys with less effective tails are no longer selected against and all sorts of tail mutations can be retained in the population.  Let's suppose that a tail is even a disadvantage.  At the very least, it takes resources to make a large specialized tail so perhaps that would tip the balance in favour of monkeys without tails*.  Here something interesting can happen.

*This assumes that the tail is not co-opted by evolution**  into some new function.  If so, natural selection will fit it closer and closer to whatever function it is now being used for. 

**Sorry for the anthropomorphism but you know what I mean.

Genetic sequences to produce some characteristic have actuator genes at the start of the sequence.  They turn the sequence on and off.  You can see this in your development.  You aren't born able to father (or mother) children.  The genes to do this are actuated at puberty. See this neat link.

If one of these actuator genes is mutated in the forest monkeys in such a way that the animal has no tail, that monkey is at a great disadvantage but in our hypothetical  monkey, by contrast, who lives on the savanna,  no tail is an advantage.  Having the actuator gene turned off imparts an advantage and leads to this characteristic being fixed in the plains living monkeys.

Even though the actuator gene is turned off, the gene sequence is still extant.    Without the pressure of a constant selection against animals with less effective tails that was occurring in the jungle, this dormant sequence can slowly degenerate.  Most mutations are harmful and the sequence for a tail will slowly be mutated and degraded.  It is a very slow process.  Occasionally an animal will be born in which the starter gene is turned on and this animal will have a tail.  The longer the time since the actuator was  turned off, the more degenerate the tail will be.  In fact, even though we humans are multi-millions of years away from the last of our ancestors that had a tail, very occasionally a human is born with a vestigial tail.  How does this all relate to a rapid radiation of new species, that I mentioned,  to fill empty ecological nitches.

Suppose now that man has hunted all the jungle monkeys with prehensile tails for their beautiful skins.  This nitch is empty and there are monkeys close by on the plains that occasionally have a "throw back" to a monkey with a tail.  If too much time has not gone by, and the tail is still effective, such a monkey finds that he is much more adept in the trees than his fellow monkeys and he no longer has competition from the much more tree-adapted jungle monkeys since man has wiped them out.  That nitch fills up again and natural selection once again selects for more and more effective tails*.

This process of starting up a disabled genetic code is sometimes called atavism activation and also works in the opposite sense.  For instance, in the ontogony (embryonic development) of a chicken (and presumably other birds) a "dinosaur" tail starts to develop.  Then another sequence actuates which re-absorbs the tail.  Evolution works in wierd and wonderful ways.  If you could turn off this tail absorbing sequence, a chicken would be hatched with a a tail.  To go into all the inns and outs of the way you could produce new species from the genetic material hidden in the present species would get very messy.  This is just a hint. Incidentally, the same sort of thing occurs in the "hand" of a bird with the fusion of the distal bones.  Turn this one off and a chicken will have an "arm" much like a dinosaur.  Also, teeth begin to develop and are absorbed before a chicken hatches.  Turn off these three genes and  Presto "dynochicken".

Of course this all depends on the fact that we didn't hunt all the plains monkeys to extinction as well.  The more populations that exist, the more possibilities there are for rapid radiation of species to fill empty nitches.  Otherwise, evolution has to start from scratch again.

This site gives some amusing  speculations about what might evolve

However, even if we were to eliminate everything except single celled organisms, evolution would once more populate the earth.  It would just take far longer and the results would likely be less recongnizable than if more familiar animals were still alive to radiate into the emptyness.

For that matter, we would be very unlikely to eliminate all humans.  We are like cockroaches.  Very hard to kill.  Our present civilization would become the stuff of legends with these fabulous beings (us) having supernatural characteristics.  Humans of the future would have all sorts of inventive explanations for what uses the artifacts they found were used for. I'd love to be a fly on the wall and hear how they explained, for instance, those little plastic bits that we use to close the bread bag.  If it didn't fall so close to home it would be rather fascinating to see us eliminate ourselves as a species.

Destroying the Earth
When I talk about destroying the earth, I am talking about the biosphere and taking it back to an environment with only single celled organisms extant.  There is a way and we are pushing the system in that direction.  However even our awesome ability to destroy would be hard pushed to cause this much destruction.  Let me relate a little story first.

In a previous life I worked for a research outfit and we did some work for the Tsawassen ferry.  The Ferry takes off from Tsawassen which is located on the BC coast near the American border.  The bottom shelves off very gradually so they had to construct a causeway of fill to get into deep enough water for the Ferries to dock.  They found that seaweed was collecting in the angle between the beach and the causeway on one side and this thick collection of organic material began to rot.  It was thick enough to be anaerobic and one of the break down products of anaerobic decay is Hydrogen Sulphide.  Besides being smelly, and in fairly low concentrations, lethal, it was turning the nearby houses black.  In those days, the white pigment in paint was white lead and when Hydrogen sulphide reacts with Lead oxide it makes lead sulphide which is black.  We sorted out the problem but that is another story.

It has been suggested that previous extinction events, the production of Hydrogen sulphide from the oceans was a contributing factor.  Let's look at the most widely known extinction; the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.  Apparently a large chunk of rock slammed into the Yukitan peninsula and disrupted a layer of gypsum.  Gypsum is Calcium Sulphate and the extreme heating that occured would have produced acids of sulphur.  The total effect was a shading of the world, perhaps for a few years, and a sharp decrease in photosynthesis.

With photosynthesis largely shut down, the only oxygen entering the oceans would have been by diffusion and many of the oceans probably became deficient in oxygen and even anaerobic.  All the life in any part of the ocean that was depleated of oxygen would have died, rotted and produced Hydrogen Sulphide.  The food chain would have been totally disrupted since it depends on the growth of phytoplankton.    Hydrogen sulphide is highly toxic and would have contributed to the woes of the animal life on the land and in the seas.

At present, we have destroyed many of the fisheries of the world and are turning the oceans into jelly fish cultures.  Places where polluted rivers flow into the sea have huge blooms of algae which die periodically and turn the water dead*.  We are acidifying and warming the ocean.  It is conceivable that we could start a chain reaction by killing enough of the ocean that it depleats the oxygen in other areas which generate hydrogen sulphide and kill even more etc.

* These areas are not actually dead.  They still grow anaerobic bacteria but to us oxygen breathers this is a close to death as it gets.

It would be so easy to reverse all this but we seem as stupid as a species as we are intelligent as individuals.  Sad.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Solar power and the Ratchet Effect

The Ratchet Effect is why solar power won't be worth while for you to invest in --- or at least not as worthwhile as it should be.  For anyone who has true net metering, that is to say a single meter turning backwards when they are generating excess power, forget about this article.  It's not about you*.  But for anyone who is double metered (or stuck with a single meter with a  double read out) monitoring the output from his solar array,  wind turbine or small hydro system, read on.

*Actually, there is a way the power company and the government can still shaft you if you are net metered but it is diabolical.  I hate to mention it in case I give them the idea but, I suppose, it is better out in the open so that we can be prepared.  I have described it at the end of this blog.

The Ratchet Effect is most easily understood, by using the example of a day in which you  generate just exactly as much power as you  use but applies equally to any day in which you generate and use electric power (that is to say, every day).  I have written about it before but I want to put a name to it so from now on we can talk in Short Hand.  We can talk about  the Ratchet Effect without having to go into the whole explanation again.  So let's look at our hypothetical day in which you generate just as much power as you use.

Say you use and generate 60kWh on this day.  That is not what is registered on your meters.  Fortunately, in my jurisdiction (New Zealand) we are allowed to use our home generated power and only top up if we are short or send power to the grid if we generate an excess.  This is not so in all jurisdictions.  In Germany, for instance, every kWh they generate goes through one meter and every kWh they use through the other.  Do the calculations on that little lot and see what a scam it is.  At any rate, let us say, with the ratchet effect, your meters each read 10kWh.  That is the sum of the instantaneous amounts you imported and exported throughout the day.  Remember, that this happens because your meters record any instant that you are importing or exporting and no meter turns backwards..... And you will hardly ever be using exactly what you are generating.

This occurs because of the following.  Firstly, even if it is sunny all day from daybreak to sunset,  the amount of power you generate throughout the day looks like a sin curve.  That is to say, it starts at nothing, rises to a maximum in the middle of the day and falls to nothing in the evening. Your power use does not follow this pattern.

Then, few days will be sunny all the time.  There will be clouds passing in front of the sun, greatly reducing your power generation.  It rises again as the cloud pass by.

Then there is your use.  In a usual use profile, you will have a small peak of use in the morning, a larger one in the evening and automatic devices such as your refrigerator go off and on during the day.   If you are at home, you may turn your computer on for an hour sometime in the day and then turn it off.  So why is all this important.

What it means is that at practically no time will your power use balance your power generation.  In our hypothetical day even though you generate, over the whole day, exactly what you use, at any given moment, one or other of your meters will be running.  Both only run one way and that is up.  Neither of them goes backwards.  In this hypothetical day, at the end of the day, let's say that both of them read 10kWh.

Now you would think on first thought that the power company will simply take note of these two readings and say that, overall,  you have neither generated or used power.  Wouldn't that be nice.  Not on your nelly.   Ever ask yourself why they bother with two meters* if this is what they intend to do.  Why go to the added expense.  All they would have to do is to install a little electronic device to disconnect you if the grid goes down so that you don't electrocute the lineman that comes to repair the broken wires.  Then they could leave the old analogue meter with the rotating disk where it is, at no expense to you.

*which in most jurisdictions, you will have to pay for and also pay for installation.

The various ways  that the government and the power company can set up  the system are numerous.  Just remember, though,  that once you have installed your system, the power company (and the government) has you by the short and curlies (in politeze 'can change the rules any time they want').  They may tempt you into installing your system with a promise simply to subtract one meter from the other for billing purposes, and the government may say the same for tax purposes.  They may even do as in Germany and promise you a greater rate for excess that you generate than for extra you use.  This will generally be for a specified period*.  Ever get suspicious when something seems too good to be true.  It usually is.  Let's look at one variation.  There are many and each jurisdiction will have their own scam.  Remember that one or other of your meters is ratcheting up at any given moment.

* 20 years from installation in Germany, for instance.

Suppose that the power company gives you less for power you buy than for power you sell. That is fair and right.  The power company has to earn a profit from their business*. Let's say in our example they charge you 20c per kWh and pay you  10c per kWh.  In our example you have used a make up of 10kwh and sent d 10kWh to the grid.  You pay $2 and get $1 for that day and despite having generated just exactly what you have used,  you still pay a dollar. If that is the daily average over the year, your yearly bill is $365**.  Remember, this is the excess sent and received due to the fact that both your meters ratchet.  They record the instantaneous export and import and meters only go upward.  No meter turns backward.  Of course the situation will be worse than this.  We still haven't talked about summer vs winter or about totally overcast days vs totally sunny days.

*Note that the way the power companies structure their costs is to charge you some fixed costs, correctly characterized as Line Charges, theoretically for the maintenance of the lines, and charges per kWh you use.

** Plus, of course your line charge which is a fixed charge for the privilege of being connected to the power company.

A second possibility is that they give you exactly the same price for the 10 in and 10 out.  Your bill is zero but hold on.  The government is something else again.  They will charge you tax at your marginal rate (say 33%) for the power you sell to the power company and GST at 15% (in New Zealand) for the power you buy from them.  If again power costs 20c per kWh, you will pay 66c and 30c = 96c to the tax office for the power you used and generated that day.

What is more likely is that you will pay the dollar to the power company and the 96c to the government despite having generated all the power you used that day.  In actual fact, in my jurisdiction, the typical price the power company pays is nearer to 5c

I'll leave you to work out other possibilities.  They depend on the system which is in place in your bally-whack and there are many  possible variations.

Just remember, with your twin meters ratcheting up - the Ratchet Effect - small renewable power becomes far less attractive.

The Net Metering Ploy
I mentioned at the start that the power company and the government can still "pull one" even if you are net metered.  It goes like this.  With the advent of small power generation and the installation of new meters, it is likely that "smart meters" will be deployed.  This is for, the most part, to the benefit of the consumer since the smart meter should be able to talk to your devices and turn them on and off to take advantage of less expensive power when there is excess generation.  However the smart meter will also talk to the power company.

There will no longer be any necessity for meter readers since the company can read your meters remotely whenever it wants to.  Suppose your power company sets up its computer to read your meters as often as possible.  It should be possible, for instance, with today's computer power to read them every minute if they so desire.  You see where we are going with this.  In one particular minute interval your single meter increases from X to X+x.  The x is how much net power you have used, above your home generation, in that interval.  This is accumulated with all other x's in your power import file.  In a different one minute interval, your  meter decreases from X to X-y.  The ]y[* is how much you have sent to the grid in that meter.  These are accumulated in your export file.

*The absolute value of 'y'

We are now, essentially in the same situation as we were with double metering and the company can charge you as they decide.  The government, will, of course charge you both types of tax.

Watch out.  Any scheme a government puts in place is rarely as attractive as it seems and the more attractive it seems, the more likely that it is a scam.  It may be a scam now or in the future when they change the rules.  A good first blow for the consumer is to have true net metering but even then you have to keep your guard up.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The ice recovery of 2013

Much has been made, especially amongst the climate change deniers, of the recovery of Arctic ice in 2013 when compared with 2012.  The ice extent (area covered) in the middle of September 2013 is approximately 60% greater than the ice extent of 2012.  A few comments are in order.

Firstly, this a recovery from a very low level.  This is 60% above the totally unexpected (at least by climate change deniers), exceedingly low ice extent of 2012.

The second point is that even though this was a big increase above this low level, if you look at the trend line (linear regression) in the following graph, you see that the ice extent of 2013 is only just above the trend line.  The September ice extent since 1978 has been decreasing at 13.7% every 10 years and the value for 2013 is very much in keeping with this trend.  Looked at another way, the ice extent for 2009 which you will see is just above the trend line was 5.63 million square km while for 2013 it was 5.35 million square km;  a slight decrease. There have also being other "recovery" years, notably from 1995 to 1996 without any lasting effect.  Looked at still another way, if this was really a recovery of the ice, you would expect the 2013 dot to be as far above the trend line as the 2012 dot was below it.

September 2013 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly September ice extent for 1979 to 2013 shows a decline of X.X% per decade.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center |High-resolution image
Figure 3. Monthly September ice extent for 1979 to 2013 shows a decline of 13.7% per decade.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center 

Going out on a limb here, it would appear, looking by eye, that a downward curving, exponential line would fit the data points better than a linear regression (straight line).  In which case we can expect, in the coming years, some very low ice extents  in September, rivalling and exceeding the 2012 values.  In other words, ice melt is accelerating.  Even if the decrease in ice extent only continues as per the linear trend line, the Arctic will be ice free in a couple of decades.  If ice decrease is actually accelerating, we only have a few years to go.

Note that here we are talking about the ice extent in the middle of September when it is its lowest.  Following a zero ice extent on September, with small ups and downs, the ice free period will increase year by year.

If you want to see what ice volume has been doing click here

One further point.  In a previous blog, I described how Coriolis tends to concentrate surface water and ice into the centre of high pressure (sunny weather) systems while low pressure systems (cloudy weather)  spread things out that are floating on the surface.  2013 has had predominately low pressure systems and the ice extent could, to some extent be an artifice.  NSIDC measures ice coverage above 15% as complete ice coverage so spread out ice would appear as more ice even if it is not.  But let's say, for the sake of the argument that the 60% increase in ice extent is real.

The check on this should be the results from ESA (European Space Agency) satellite, Cryosat2.  By measuring free board (the height of the ice above the water), it can calculate the volume of ice in the Arctic.  As has often been mentioned, ice volume is a better measure of the true amount of ice floating on the Arctic ocean than ice extent.  It may be that I just can't find the data but if not, I would urge the ESA to release the information.  Then we could see if the ice really has increased 60% from Sept 2012 to Sept 2013.

ps.  Gaia has many mechanisms to try to keep the temperature constant on the earth (sorry about the anthropomorphism) We apparently are seeing one of them here.  With warmer Arctic water, air rises and gives rise to clouds which shade the Arctic ocean and reduce ice melt.  I wish Gaia luck in the attempt.  We are pushing her pretty hard.

This is one of the best graphs I have seen.  It shows that this year is only just a line width above the 2010 to the present average.  Not much of a recovery.  Sorry about the size. Click on the image to see a decent sized version.

You will notice that the space between successive decade averages gets wider and wider.  In other words, ice melt is not increasing linearly but is accelerating.

Just an amusing thought to finish with.  There will come a year when the ice extent is zero.  The year after that, there is likely to be a recovery.  Look at the graph.  It is a ever decreasing saw tooth pattern.  On the year after the zero ice extent, no matter what the level of the recovery, the climate change deniers will be able to claim an infinite increase in ice extent.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

NSIDC, PIOMASS and Cryosat

The NSIDC (The National Snow and Ice Data Centre) measures the extent (area) of the ice floating on the Arctic Ocean. With it's satellite, any area with more than 15% ice cover shows up as covered with ice so this will always be an over-estimate. 

PIOMASS (Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System) models the volume of ice floating on the arctic ocean.  It is a model with limited observational inputs from ground truthing.

Cryosat is a European Space Agency satellite that measures the the freeboard of the floating ice and hence, combining this with the extent of the ice can calculate the volume of the ice floating on the Arctic ocean. As of 2013, they have been operating for three years and their satellite is estimated to be capable of a few decades more of observations.  Try as I may, I haven't yet being able to find a site which shows the results they have measured over the past three years.  There is a nice qualitative animation but I can't find any quantitative results.

Before we have a look at the results from these three sources, we need a pinch of physics and a modicum of meteorology. 

1) If you haven't caught up with how Coriolis works, click here. What is important to this discussion is that in the Northern Hemisphere, any horizontally moving object veers to the right and the effect is greater, the closer you are to the North pole.

2) Most* of the radiation from the sun passes through clear air without being absorbed.  When it hits the ground, it is absorbed or reflected, depending on the nature of the surface.  This heating from below is what powers the earth's weather.

* Some of the ultra-violet wave lengths are absorbed high in the atmosphere.

3) When the Arctic Ocean is covered in ice and snow, most of the incident energy from the sun is reflected back into space.  The air above the ice is therefore  not warmed.  The air itself above the Arctic, radiates heat as does any object with a temperature above zero degrees K (minus 273 degrees Centigrade) and cools.

4) As the air above the Arctic cools it contracts,  it's density increases and it descends.  When it reaches the ground it spreads out southward in all directions.  You can see this effect when you open your fridge on a humid day.  The humidity condenses into a little cloud which makes the flow of air visible.  You will notice that the air spreads out across the floor.  If you have bare feet you can feel the effect.

5) Since the air is moving horizontally southward across the land, coriolis veers it to the right.  Instead of a North wind (moving toward the South) you have a North East wind (moving toward the South West).  This is a typical high pressure clockwise weather pattern with generally clear skies. The skies are clear since as air descends it is compressed which warms it and it can hold more water vapour.  ie.  If there were water droplets in the air, they would evaporate as the air descends.

6)  This clockwise wind pushes on the ice and water of the Arctic inducing clockwise water flow.  The Beaufort gyre north of Alaska is  a good example of such a current.  Note what happens to the ice (and the layer of fresher water which floats on the surface of the Arctic Ocean).  Here it gets interesting.  If something is spinning, common experience tells you that it gets flung outwards.  However here Coriolis comes into play.  If something is moving clockwise, 'to-the-right' is into the centre.  Clockwise gyres tend to move surface objects and surface water into the centre of the gyre. You see the same effects in the garbage gyres of the world oceans.

7) To the contrary, counter clockwise currents tend to fling floating objects and floating water outwards.  Counter clockwise air currents are caused when air warms  at the surface, rises and pulls air inwards.  The air flowing in toward the rising air is veered to the right resulting in a counter clockwise flow.

Pulling all this together, we are still somewhat blindfolded in our observations of ice floating on the Arctic Ocean.  The NSIDC results are a model somewhat constrained by observation and the observations read any area of water with more than 15% ice as complete ice cover.  If the prevailing weather patterns are clockwise and the ice is pushed together, their result should be pretty accurate.  In addition, if they compare clockwise years with clockwise years, the trend they show will be a good indication of which way ice cover is evolving from year to year.

However, when prevailing conditions are counter clockwise, ice will tend to be scattered and show up as a greater area of ice.  They may apply a correction factor for this effect based on ground-truthing but it will be an estimate. 

What we are missing here is the three years of the ESA results from Cryosat and as far as I can find they haven't been published.  The Cryosat web site talks about how they measure freeboard but not how they measure ice extent.  It would seem to me that by comparing the strength of the ice signal from water and from ice for any patch of water, they should be able to get a much better measure of ice extent than the NSIDC satellite gets.  There would probably have to be a correction factor applied for the relative reflectivity of ice and water to the wave length they are using but that would be pretty simple to do.

Who knows.  NSIDC reports that this year is the sixth lowest since measurements have been made.  Cryosat was operating over 2012 and 2013 and so should be able to shed some more light on the relative amount of ice on Sept 15 for these two years.  Perhaps ice volume this year was not as high reletive to 2012 as reported.  Where is the data.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Obama and Syria

The comments by the right wing in America on Obama's actions vis a vis Syria would be amusing if so many people didn't take them seriously.  Obama has never gone into dick measuring contests and he isn't in one with Putin now.  Obama goes for achievable results and look at what he is achieving with respect to Syria.

His Secretary of State, Kerry, in answer to a reporters question* "is any way to avoid bombing Syria",  throws out the comment that Sure, if they were to give up their gas munitions but they will never do that.  Putin picks it up and sees a way to preserve the only regime in the Middle East that he has as an Ally and puts pressure on Assad to give these weapons up.  If America used her precision weapons on the Syrian Army, it would cease to exist as an effective force and who knows what the new regime would think about Russia.

The bait was skillfully dangled and the fish went for it.

* I wonder if the reporter was primed to ask the question.

So what was (or may be - it isn't certain until it happens) achieved.  Syria which has never admitted that it has gas munitions is ready to give them up, Putin gets to prolong the Assad regime and Obama doesn't have to bomb Syria, something that he is opposed to do at the most basic level of his being. Obama had to give something to get something and what he gave is just a temporary reprieve to the Assad regime.

Incidentally, having Assad come out on top in this conflict is not all bad.  You know for certain who will try to take over if Assad falls and then we have another fanatic fundamentalist regime in the Middle East even more bat shit crazy than the American tea party.  With Assad at the helm there is at least a chance of evolution rather than revolution.  Evolution always gives a better, more long lasting result than revolution.  One hopes that Assad has been sufficiently shaken by this challenge to his power that he begins to include other factions in his government.  Only time will tell.

Incidentally, as I see it, America has one last chance but I don't think she will take it.  The half term elections are coming up and it would be possible for the American people, if they could look beyond the rhetoric to see what is actually happening to their country, that they could give Obama a majority in the Senate and Congress.  Obama would than have the final two years of his time in power to sort out America. 

Even with a majority in both houses, it would be an uphill struggle.  The Democrats are only a little less self interested and corrupt than the Republicans but at least he would have a chance.  In fact, to really be effective, each house would have to have a large enough majority to stop filibuster by the hoary old reptile.  That is pie in the sky dreaming and will never happen. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Open letter to Pres. Obama

Dear President Obama

I hope you won't bomb Syria unless you really do have proof that the regime was responsible for the gas attacks.  You are dealing with an area outside the day to day experience of most of us in the west.

Many of the Middle East anti-regime organizations deem it completely acceptable to send their young people festooned with explosives to blow themselves up along with their targets.

Many of the anti-regime organizations regularly put their offices and bases in areas crowded with civilians with the sure and cynical knowledge that if they are attacked, there will be lots of civilian casualties that they can use to whip up sympathy for their cause.

Do you really think it is unthinkable that at least one of the organizations that is opposing the Syrian regime could have made the gas attack themselves.  These anti-government regimes are highly fractured and often they are more at war with each other than with the regime.  One of them could easily have arranged a gas attack at the time that the Syrian government was bombarding an area of a rival faction.

President Obama, your FBI is a very corrupt organization as revealed by Sibel Edmons (Classified Woman) and your CIA and NSA highly incompetent as revealed by WMD's.  I imagine that the CIA and NSA is also just as corrupt as the FBI.

You have incredible pressures on you from Kerry and others to attack and I have no idea how you can resist this but I hope you do.  This is the test of a truly great man and president.

And just a final thought.  If it is proven that one of the factions is responsible for the gas attack, what are you going to do.  You certainly can't bomb them.  They are too diffuse geographically to be a target for even a targeted bomb.

Don't misunderstand me.  I am not defending the Assad regime.  It is at least as nasty as the Sadam Hussein regime was in Iraq but you (America) has been made to look foolish in the Iraq affair.  One more like that and you will loose all credibility. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A methane spike

Recently (early 2013) there have been back and forth arguments about the possibility of a rapid methane emission from the Arctic Continental Shelves and especially from the very wide shelf off the north coast of Russia.  Sea level was 120 meters lower during the last glacial and apparently there is still permafrost under the sediment of the ocean bottom from this period despite the overlying layer of water which is above zero degrees centigrade. This layer is said to be up to 1.5km deep.   Although we don't yet have a very good handle on the subject, it is hypothesized that this permafrost is locking in enough methane as methane hydrate, either within or below the permafrost, to greatly increase global warming if it was released suddenly.

Since the permafrost is apparently still there and has been over the  10,000 years since the last glacial ended, the conduction of heat downward to this layer must be very gradual and hence,,  so the argument goes,, a sudden belch of methane is unlikely.  For the purpose of this blog, I will assume that such a reservoir does exist and speculate on a mechanism(s) by which it could be released suddenly.

Before starting, though, we should look at the true strength of Methane as a green house gas.  While it is oft quoted as 20 or 25 times as effective as Carbon dioxide, this is "on a 100 year basis".  As odd as it seems, instantaneously, methane is more than 100 times as effective as Carbon dioxide and hence a 4ppm increase in methane in the atmosphere would have a greater effect in the short term (a few decades) than our present 400ppm Carbon dioxide.    Click on the above link to see why this is so.  Reverse engineering the figures, I came up with a figure of 140.  In other words, the approximately 2ppm methane in the atmosphere at present has the warming effect of 280ppm carbon dioxide.  Just recently (Dec 2013) the NSIDC site quoted a figure of x86.

It should also be noted that ever increasing amounts of methane are being observed bubbling out of Arctic Ocean.  It is possible that this may is due to more intense observation.  Whether or not methane emissions are actually increasing will become apparent over the next few years.  Curiously enough, despite a likely increase in methane emissions over the past decade or two, methane levels in the atmosphere have hardly increased and this needs some explanation.

This is an exerp. from the NSIDC web site on the subject.

The Siberian continental shelf is a vast region of shallow-water covered continental crust, comprising about 20% of the global area of the continental shelf. During the last glacial maximum, much of the shelf was exposed to the cold atmosphere and froze to a depth of about 1.5 kilometers (about 1 mile). Layers of sediment below the permafrost slowly emit methane gas, and this gas has been trapped for millennia beneath the permafrost. As sea levels rose at the end of the ice age, the shelf was once again covered by relatively warm ocean water, thawing the permafrost and releasing the trapped methane. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas but is relatively short-lived in the atmosphere (about 12 years), leading to reduced global warming potential over time. In the short-term however, methane has a global warming potential 86 times that of carbon dioxide.

So what mechanisms could lead to rapidly increasing breakdown of Clathrates in or under the permafrost.

The added 120m layer of water over the Arctic continental shelves will have added extra stability to any underlying clathrates due to the increased pressure.  Therefore a greater temperature rise will be necessary to start the disintegration than before the sea covered these deposits .  Once enough heat has reached the clathrates to start this break down, the pressure will begin to rise.  If the overlying cap of permafrost is strong enough and continuous enough, this increase in pressure will have a negative feed back on the further break down of the underlying clathrate*. 

* Think of putting a piece of clathrate into a very strong sealed container at room temperature.  As the clathrate begins to break down, pressure in the vessel increases.  The warmer it is, the higher the pressure has to rise before clathrate break down ceases.  For instance, clathrates are stable at 17 degrees centigrade at a pressure equal to a depth of 1600m.

The problem arises if  pressure from the   methane which has been released from the clathrate is sufficient to crack the overlying permafrost and create a tunnel or crack up to the ocean bottom.  Now instead of the weight of the sediment (SG about 2), the pressure of the overlying water and the mechanical strength of the frozen sediment keeping the pressure on the clathrates, you have only the pressure of the water column from the ocean surface to the clathrate layer.  Some of the clathrate has already broken down and the methane is just waiting for a breach in the overlying  permafrost for it to rise to the surface.

On the other hand clathrates have latent heat just as does ice which creates a negative feed back on the rate of clathrate break down.  Clathrates can only break down as fast as the inflow of heat allows.  Already broken down clathrate will release its methane suddenly but remaining clathrate will break down only as fast as heat can reach it.  As more an more gas is evolved, the tunnelling increases and sea water with it's heat content gains access to these layers.  You have a sort of geyser as in Yellowstone park.  The process accelerates.

You also have an air (methane) lift effect.  Gas rising through any channel between  the clathrate deposit and the bottom of the ocean further reduces the pressure on the clathrate increasing its break down. The shallower the bottom of the sea where such a break occurs, the greater the reduction of pressure on the clathrate deposit.  Now yet another effect is kicks in.

At some locations along the continental slope, it is likely that all that is holding the sediment together is the permafrost and clathrate ice.  Once this layer starts to loose it's integrity due to the break down in the clathrates, small tremors can induce large slumps, releasing the pressure on large deposits of clathrate.  Picture the land slide on Mt St Helen that released the pressure on underlying gas-saturated magma.  I'm not suggesting anything so dramatic but the basic principle is the same.

Another factor at play is that the clathrate itself likely caps deeper deposits of free methane.  Heat from the centre of the earth seeps upward to meet the "cold" seeping down from the sea floor*.  Above about 200C clathrates don't form. On average, temperatures rise 25 degrees per km you go down into the earth.  Below the permafrost layer, one would expect to find free methane.    If methane is seeping up from deep deposits of liquid or gas hydrocarbons, from coal measures or from  shale, as it hits the deep cold pore water of sediments it is absorbed by water and forms clathrates. This caps underlying methane and any crack is quickly sealed as methane seeps up such cracks and forms clathrate.  It has been observed that some of the methane seeping out of permafrost areas on land is young methane (likely from the break down of organic material) and some is old (likely from deeper hydrocarbon deposits).   Such rising methane will sit below its cap of clathrate ice just waiting to be released.

When it was initially calculated how fast our ice sheets could melt, only thermodynamics was taken into account.  At that time it wasn't realized the effect of, for instance, moulons increasing the slide of ice into the sea and it also wasn't realized that a warmer ocean was melting floating ice sheets from below.  As these ice sheets disintegrated, ice flow to the ocean increased and the contribution to sea level of ice was larger than thermodynamic considerations would have predicted.

We may be making the same mistake here with clathrates as we only consider how fast heat can be conducted down through the layers of sediment toward the deposits of clathrates.  We could be in for some wee surprises as some of the above "convection" type phenomenon cut in.

ps.  There is another wrinkle in this story.  If the permafrost isn't conventional permafrost; in other words frozen ground, but is itself methane clathrate; ie permafrost with a methane component dissolved in it, it will not melt at just above 00C.  It's melting temperature will depend on how much methane is in the ice and on what depth, and hence what pressure, it is at.  It would be very instructive to have a few hundred cores taken on the Arctic continental shelf to see what is actually down there and at what depth.  Methane clathrate can exist at 200C with sufficient pressure.  Such cores would allow a much better estimate of how prone we are to a sudden release of methane.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Monsanto, Blackwater, Bill Gates

I have copied and pasted this blog in my blog to widen it's publication.  Most of my readers are in the USA and will be much more familiar with the people mentioned in this publication than I am.  Here is the link to the original blog.  I have no problem believing that Monsanto would do as described but Why on earth would Bill Gates support this legalized  criminality.  True, he is a hard nosed businessman in his core business but he has done so much good outside his business.  It's hard to understand.

Monsanto Buys BLACKWATER the largest mercenary army in the world


Cross Posted from Political Blindspot

A report by Jeremy Scahill in The Nation revealed that the largest mercenary army in the world, Blackwater (later called Xe Services and more recently “Academi”) clandestine intelligence services was sold to the multinational Monsanto. Blackwater was renamed in 2009 after becoming famous in the world with numerous reports of abuses in Iraq, including massacres of civilians. It remains the largest private contractor of the U.S. Department of State “security services,” that practices state terrorism by giving the government the opportunity to deny it.
Many military and former CIA officers work for Blackwater or related companies created to divert attention from their bad reputation and make more profit selling their nefarious services-ranging from information and intelligence to infiltration, political lobbying and paramilitary training – for other governments, banks and multinational corporations. According to Scahill, business with multinationals, like Monsanto, Chevron, and financial giants such as Barclays and Deutsche Bank, are channeled through two companies owned by Erik Prince, owner of Blackwater: Total Intelligence Solutions and Terrorism Research Center. These officers and directors share Blackwater.
One of them, Cofer Black, known for his brutality as one of the directors of the CIA, was the one who made contact with Monsanto in 2008 as director of Total Intelligence, entering into the contract with the company to spy on and infiltrate organizations of animal rights activists, anti-GM and other dirty activities of the biotech giant.
Contacted by Scahill, the Monsanto executive Kevin Wilson declined to comment, but later confirmed to The Nation that they had hired Total Intelligence in 2008 and 2009, according to Monsanto only to keep track of “public disclosure” of its opponents. He also said that Total Intelligence was a “totally separate entity from Blackwater.”
However, Scahill has copies of emails from Cofer Black after the meeting with Wilson for Monsanto, where he explains to other former CIA agents, using their Blackwater e-mails, that the discussion with Wilson was that Total Intelligence had become “Monsanto’s intelligence arm,” spying on activists and other actions, including “our people to legally integrate these groups.” Total Intelligence Monsanto paid $ 127,000 in 2008 and $ 105,000 in 2009.
No wonder that a company engaged in the “science of death” as Monsanto, which has been dedicated from the outset to produce toxic poisons spilling from Agent Orange to PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), pesticides, hormones and genetically modified seeds, is associated with another company of thugs.
Almost simultaneously with the publication of this article in The Nation, the Via Campesina reported the purchase of 500,000 shares of Monsanto, for more than $23 million by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which with this action completed the outing of the mask of “philanthropy.” Another association that is not surprising.
It is a marriage between the two most brutal monopolies in the history of industrialism: Bill Gates controls more than 90 percent of the market share of proprietary computing and Monsanto about 90 percent of the global transgenic seed market and most global commercial seed. There does not exist in any other industrial sector monopolies so vast, whose very existence is a negation of the vaunted principle of “market competition” of capitalism. Both Gates and Monsanto are very aggressive in defending their ill-gotten monopolies.
Although Bill Gates might try to say that the Foundation is not linked to his business, all it proves is the opposite: most of their donations end up favoring the commercial investments of the tycoon, not really “donating” anything, but instead of paying taxes to the state coffers, he invests his profits in where it is favorable to him economically, including propaganda from their supposed good intentions. On the contrary, their “donations” finance projects as destructive as geoengineering or replacement of natural community medicines for high-tech patented medicines in the poorest areas of the world. What a coincidence, former Secretary of Health Julio Frenk and Ernesto Zedillo are advisers of the Foundation.
Like Monsanto, Gates is also engaged in trying to destroy rural farming worldwide, mainly through the “Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa” (AGRA). It works as a Trojan horse to deprive poor African farmers of their traditional seeds, replacing them with the seeds of their companies first, finally by genetically modified (GM). To this end, the Foundation hired Robert Horsch in 2006, the director of Monsanto. Now Gates, airing major profits, went straight to the source.
Blackwater, Monsanto and Gates are three sides of the same figure: the war machine on the planet and most people who inhabit it, are peasants, indigenous communities, people who want to share information and knowledge or any other who does not want to be in the aegis of profit and the destructiveness of capitalism.
So why were so many media outlets, editorialists and bloggers clamoring to say that the purchase was a “hoax”?
That’s a good question. The more cynical among us might suspect a financial incentive from Monsanto itself to such “journalists.” Monsanto indeed has hired a public relations team to seek out critical blogs and websites reporting on their crimes against both Nature and humankind. We have seen this first hand in comments on articles on Monsanto. It is not beyond the realm of possibilities that they have created blogs where seemingly legitimate authors write organic thoughts, observations and rebuttals. The public presumes these are real-world people, when in fact they are working PR for the company.
But the core argument of those who claim that the Monsanto purchase of Blackwater is not true lies in the fact that we can only officially document Blackwater being hired by Monsanto for years. Immediately following this extensive work that Blackwater did for Monsanto, they sold the company. Because of the nature of how the sale transpired, it is impossible to document who the sale was to. The obvious and logical conclusion to insiders (particularly in the private security industry), however, is that the sale was in fact to Monsanto who had been employing the group.
Xe (now Academi) has, indeed, been purchased, and while there’s no way of DOCUMENTING who the new owners really are, the logical conclusion would be that Monsanto, who had been employing them prior to the sale are the new owners. This, of course, would also make sense of the secrecy surrounding the deal and the identity of the new owners. The company was bought out by private investors via private equity companies that don’t have to divulge any of their dealings, with Bank of America providing much of the $200 million in financing for the deal.
New York-based USTC Holdings said it will acquire Xe and its core operating subsidiaries, but did not disclose the price or terms of the agreement in a statement.
USTC Holdings is an investor consortium led by private equity firms Forte Capital Advisors and Manhattan Partners.
Various researchers have been trying to document the buy via a paper trail, but so far without much luck. That, of course, is the point…
Keeping it private
One thing that is known: Forte Capital Advisors is the baby of long-time Blackwater ally Jason De Yonker:
DeYonker has unique experience with the Company that dates back to its founding in the late 1990s. He advised the Company through development of its early business plan and expansion of the Moyock training facility as well as supporting negotiations of its first training contracts with U.S. government agencies. Between 1998 and 2002, Mr. DeYonker co-managed Xe founder, Erik Prince’s family office which included management of Mr. Prince’s portfolio companies.
What does that mean? The guy is a glorified accountant.
Prior to joining Forté, Jason co-managed a +$100 million family office. In addition to actively managing various platform companies, Jason was a part of the executive team responsible for family wealth management.
Jason has spent the last 18 years advising on various mergers, acquistions and divestitures with an aggregate transaction value greater than $1 billion. Jason’s experience include: transaction advisory, portfolio management, real estate development, venture capital and cross border dealings. Jason began his career with Arthur Andersen Corporate Finance Group, and was a Director in Deloitte & Touche’s Corporate Finance Group. He also was the Finance Director for the West Family Trust, a venture capital group focused on cross-border transactons.
Jason recieved a Bachelor of Business Administration, with a concentration in finance and accounting, from the Univeristy of Michigan.
The other investor? It looks like the very junior partner will be Manhattan Partners, a private equity company – a shop that gathers money from anonymous rich investors and uses the pool of cash to  leverage buyouts of big companies they wouldn’t have been able to take over on their own.
Manhattan Partners invests in “compelling growth and special situation transactions,” but this will be their first known foray into defense industries – reports (via Spencer Ackerman):
Manhattan Growth Partners is led by Dean Bosacki and Patrick McBride. Bosacki serves on the board of “the world’s largest commencement photography business,” among other companies. Manhattan Growth Partners, which describes itself as “a progressive thinking private equity firm,” also holds a majority interest in Hugo Naturals, a line of organic, vegan-friendly soaps, lotions, scents and soy candles sold at Whole Foods and other greenwashed retailers.
At the end of the day, it would seem the logical conclusion is that in spite of arguments to the contrary, Monsanto in fact did buy the Blackwater mercenary group… or at least the renamed Blackwater Xe (now Academi) Services group. The big question now is why?
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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sibel Edmons - Classified Woman

Sibel Edmons is the author of the book Classified Woman.  In it she exposes corruption at the highest levels and deep breaches of National Security in the USA.  Let me give you a brief summary of her life.

She was brought up in Turkey and in Iran where her father was a doctor and a freedom fighter.  She is fluent in Turkish and very competent in Farsi.  She immigrated by herself to America and did her degree at an American University.  She is very competent in English.  At one point, after 9/11 she was approached by the FBI to join their translation department.  She did and was soon in great demand by field agents.  Because of her deep knowledge of her homeland, she could not only translate verbal and written material but could give the agents the likely background of the people that were being targeted.

On joining the FBI she at first thought that translating would be a mundane sort of a job with very little responsibility.  She soon discovered otherwise.  Since only the translator could give an initial evaluation of the material that they were reading or listening to, it was at their discretion to mark a document as not worth translating, worthy of a brief summary or of great importance and to be translated verbatum.

At first she found only the usual abuses that occur in a typical bureaucracy.  There was empire building to the detrement of the core function of the translation department, great wastes of money, extremely sloppy security, in-house wars between translators on opposite sides of the fence in their home countries (Israelie vs Arab translators, for instance) and in short, what you would probably find in any Washington government office.  When she first started, she was told to look at a few past translations to get an idea of how the job was done.  She soon discovered highly incompetent translations and even cover ups by translators that should have been brought to the attention of the agents in charge of various operations.  The files in question were quickly taken from her by other translators and 'dissapeared'.

Following 9/11, the FBI was going over past translation to see if in hindsight, any clues were overlooked that 9/11 was about to happen.  There were but Sibel found out that hindsight was not even necessary.  Briefings had been sent up the chain before 9/11 and should have reached the periodic briefing to the president on terrorism.  Of course, at her level, she had no idea if someone above her had thought that the intelligence was of no importance and hence hadn't sent it on, if the intelligence had reached the highest level and they had thought it of no importance or if there was a cover up and high officials knowingly let 9/11 happen.

Then she  was approached by one of the other translators at her home who tried to recruit her to falsify translations for money.  She worked out that the translator in question was actually on the payroll of an organization that the FBI was targeting.  In addition she found threads that seemed to lead to extremely serious corruption amongst government officials, both elected and civil servants including the selling of nuclear technology to the highest bidder.  So what did she do. Did she do as Snowdon and Bradley did and publicly  expose the rot.  Not on your nelly.

She did what any civil servant should do and went to her immediate boss.  She was stonewalled and lectured on internal solidarity and loyalty to her division.  She finally went to the agent in charge of the division and on up the chain until after a hard fight she reached the head of the FBI.  At some levels she received help and a sympathetic ear.  At most levels she was stonewalled, threatened and ignored.  People in the chain of command that tried to help her get the message across were similarly treated.  Eventually she was fired.  She didn't give up the fight but managed, through lawyers, to get a hearing at seniour government oversight comittees.  She was likewise stonewalled.  Finally she wrote the book, Classified Woman.  I would highly recommend it.

Oh! by the way, the reason for the title of the bookis that at the highest level she was classified as top secret.  I don't mean that she had a top secret clearance for viewing documents.  I mean, she herself was classified as top secret.  It is considered a crime in the land of the free to say anything about her.  You mustn't reveal where she was born, what university she studied at, what degree she got, what languages she speaks and so forth.  Remember, this is in America.  Her book is available at Amazon in hard copy and for your Kindle. I'd get it quickly before they manage to remove it.

Some further reading you might find interesting

A Peoples History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, Hoodwinked and The American Empire by John Perkins

Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner

The price of Inequality by Joseph E Stiglitz  

Just an afterthought.  We have recently had a series of American officials, up to and including president Obama, bemoaning the effect on National Security of the leaks by Snowdon and Bradley.  If their concern is National Security, then Sibel should be their darling, their heroine.  Investigating and dealing with what she discovered would do far more for national security than all the electronic spying that is occurring.  You have to ask yourself, why a person that has exposed such serious breaches of National security has been treated the way she has been.  The answer is pretty obvious.

By the by, you can access Sibel's web site here.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Suzuki Carry

What a neat little vehicle - The Suzuki Carry.  Great features where needed such as four wheel drive but no frills, making it a most affordable, useful vehicle.  I wonder if we could persuade Suzuki to manufacture the Suzuki e'Carry.  'e' for electrical of course.*

*I just looked a little closer at the Suzuki web site.  Guess what.  They are about to introduce the Suzuki Every.  This is an electric mini van.  It's a tad short on range (100km) and hasn't got solar panels on the roof but what great news.  They are on the right track.

There are many versions made under licence by many manufacturers in many countries.  The two main types of configurations are vans and pick up trucks and generally the latest ones will carry half a ton and go at up to 130km/h.  I am particularly interested in an electrical van mode, for reasons that will become clear.  So what features would I like to see on the e'Carry.

Use the present body style.  No need to retool.  Keep it the same for ever.  The people at Suzuki have already realized the advantage of this and the first version is remarkable similar to the 9th.  What a great idea.  Retooling, just for style, costs money and this is one way they have kept the price of the Carry reasonable.  However, if they want the e'Carry to become iconic, it must look distinctive. Just think about the Volkswagen beetle and combi, the Mini, the Deaux Cheveau and the model T ford.  None of them are things of beauty but all are so iconic.   Here we can kill two birds with one stone.  Cover the roof of the van with solar panels.  No one expects to drive only on solar power but in areas with about three peak hours per day, one should be able to gain about 25km of driving for a day the vehicle is parked in the sun.  Peak hours around the world vary from one to two hours in Germany to 6.6 hours in some parts of Hawaii and some of the deserts of the world.   A roof covered with solar panels would give the owner a nice little bonus.

The best type available for fast charging, longevity, safety and so forth.  When new battery technology comes available, make sure that the new batteries will fit where the old ones sat.  Batteries must be easily and totally recyclable. Batteries which no longer have the capacity to run a car will find a ready market for home use with solar panels.

Four Wheel Drive
Keep this feature.  It is very useful.  The existing petrol model will go places that challenges a tractor.  What a fantastic off road vehicle this is.  Perhaps, if the technology allows, one could have a rim motor in each wheel.  This already gives a sort of automatic ESC system to some extent.  When a wheel spins, say on ice, the back EMF of the spinning wheel increases and  power is diverted to the wheels that still have traction.  This, of course, could be augmented with electronics.  A major advantage of a motor on each rim is that all that connects the wheel to the battery is a wire.  There is no drive train to use up power.

Make sure that the e'Carry is very easy to work on.  This should be easy.  An electric vehicle is inherently so much  simpler than a petrol vehicle.  To change a motor should be as simple as undoing 6 nuts, pulling out the motor and sliding a new one into it's place.  If there are wheel rim motors, a few nuts should allow the offending motor to be replaced.  Provide a repair manual done by Time Life or Readers Digest.  Their manuals are works of art and so easy to follow.

Tool Kit
Ensure by the standardization of nut and screw sizes that the minimum number of tools is needed.  Supply a tool kit that fits into a purpose built nitch in the car. If any unusual tools are needed (bearing puller, for instance) they can be rented from the supplier.

None.  Zilch.  The vehicle should be so reliable that a warantee is not necessary.  Besides any joker with a basic set of tools should be able to repair virtually anything by himself.  Warantees cost money.  At the very least make them an optional extra.

LSD's of course everywhere a light is necessary to save power.  Make sure that they have a standard socket so that in a pinch one could find a replacement even if it was not an official Suzuki lamp.  Besides, owners of other cars will be buying the Suzuki lamp because it is more reliable and is better priced.

Hand wound.  Make it a reliable, long lasting winding system.  Perhaps use brass gears and racks rather than plastic.  They should wind up as smoothly after 200,000km as they did  the day the car was bought.

Regenerative, of course.

Put out a quarterly magazine discussing how to do various proceedures, stories how people had built their own bodies out of wood, travel stories and any other quirky item that comes to the  attention of Suzuki.  Give a one year's subscription with each purchase of a new car.

Have one outlet in each major city.  Locate in the inexpensive industrial area of town.  No need to do repairs there.  These outlets are only there to sell vehicles and parts.  Mechanics will soon learn to do anything that the owner is too lazy to do himself.  

Start with 10 vehicles given to everyone from the boss of Suzuki to the tea lady.  Let them drive them for a year and iron out any bugs that are found.  Then make 100 and give them to a variety of businesses in a variety of countries.  After a year, debug any further problems.  By this time, the public will be clamoring for the e'Carry.  Go into production.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Negative Feed Back in the Arctic

We have all being focusing on positive feed backs  which enhance  climate change in general and arctic ice melting in particular.  The most commonly quoted positive feed back is the fact that as more of the Arctic ocean is open water, it can absorb much more heat from the sun than when it was ice and snow covered and this will melt more ice.  Give the system a push and it goes further in the direction of the push than you expected.  Now we see a negative feed back.

If you have been following the NSIDC web site with it's graph of sea ice extent, you see that as of today (June 28, 2013) the rate of decrease in Arctic Ice Extent is going down parallel to the average line from 1979 to 2000.  It is about one standard deviation below the line but running parallel to it.  This time last year, the ice extent graph had already dipped sharply downward and was diverging from the average line.  So what is happening.

For the last few weeks there has been a strong low pressure, counter clockwise weather system bouncing back and forth between the shores of the Arctic ocean. Low pressure is, of course, an area of rising air; a storm.  As air rises it reaches the dew point and clouds form.  Clouds, of course reflect heat back into space and keep the land below cool.  Earlier in the year, a great deal of fracturing occured north of Alaska and this may well be the source of the added heat that is powering the  low pressure area.  In addition, the ice is thinner which would allow more heat into the air.  Remember what happened last summer.

The ice extent was falling rapidly when on Aug6, 2012, a hurricane moved into the Arctic.  This sent the graph plummeting even faster.  Why the difference between these two storms.

The present storm is happening with the Arctic ocean almost completely covered with ice.  The wind can not act on lots of open water and build up large waves which break up the remaining ice.  It can't stir the water, bringing up the deep, salty, warmer water from below.  The August storm, with much less ice covering the sea,  did all this. plus flinging ice outwards into the trans-polar drift to be sent out through the Fram Straight.  We may have a mechanism here that will cause some stalling of the rapid year to year decrease in the extent of the ice.

One wonders what is powering this low pressure system.  Classically, the power comes from sensible heat from  the ocean below and latent heat as water vapour condenses.  With the Arctic ocean covered with ice, where would the water vapour be coming from.  Perhaps the ocean is not as covered as the NSIDC web site indicates.  Apparently the satelite that measures ice extent reads any area with more than 15% ice as completely covered.  There could be a lot of open water between the ice flows and still appear to the satellite to be completely covered.

Did you see earlier this spring a time lapse of the ice North of Alaska.  The clockwise weater system was apparently in effect and you see pictures of the ice splitting up leaving lots of water between the flows.  Water, is, of course, around zero degrees while the ice can be much colder.  Cosiderable water vapour could be contributed from a significant area of openings between the ice flows.

Whatever the mechanisms of this phenomenon, we have a low pressure area over the Arctic shading the area from the sun.  This year is going to be fascinating.  Apparently a storm early in the melt season is not equivalent to a storm later on.

Of course, to at least some extent, the effect could be an artifact.  Since any area with more than 15% ice cover is seen by the satellite as being completely covered.  In another blog, I described how a counter clockwise air circulation pattern tends to spread ice out.  It could be that there is much more clear water than the satellite indicates but in small leads between the ice flows rather than in one area as is the case with a clockwise air circulation system that tends to pull the ice together leaving open water outside the location of the ice.  In fact clear water has been observed by the North pole.  The existence of a low pressure, counter clockwise system over the Arctic tends to support this possibility as it is a sign of energy being transferred to the air from the water. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Gulf Stream

Let's brain-storm a bit on the Gulf Stream.  This blog has come about because it has been reported that  more of the Gulf Stream, which splits  as it reaches it's northern limit , is flowing  into the Arctic ocean through the Fram Strait than previously.

The Gulf Stream is the northern flowing, western branch of the North Atlantic Gyre.  The Gyre consists of the Gulf Stream which flows from Florida to roughly the latitude of Newfoundland, the North Atlantic Drift which takes this water eastward towards Europe.  the Norwegian branch that splits off and flows along the North West coast of Norway and the Southern Canary Current that flows southward along the coast of Europe and the Northern part of Africa.  Finally there is Equatorial current that returns water along the Equator to North America in the region of the West Indies.  Part of this Equatorial current enters the Gulf of Mexico, warms and leaves the Gulf in the region of Cuba to complete the circuit and become the Gulf Stream.

This gyre is primarily powered by wind.  The Hadley cells which circulate air around the world, with the help of Coriolis result in Equatorial winds blowing westward from Africa to America and mid latitude winds in the latitude of Newfound land and the UK blowing eastward from Canada to Europe.  These push the water resulting in the North Atlantic Gyre.

Even with a wind, water doesn't readily flow uphill so what could be sucking some of this reletively warm surface water into the semi enclosed Arctic ocean and what could be increasing this flow.

 The obvious possibility is that somewhere water is leaving the Arctic ocean to be replaced by surface water sucked northward.  Since the amount of water entering the Arctic Ocean is apparently increasing, the amount leaving should also be increasing.

First there is the possibility that evaporation is increasing.  Evaporation, the transfer of H2O into the air from water, is far stronger than sublimation,  the transfer of  H2O into the air from ice.  A molecule of water at 0 degrees C has far more energy than a molecule of ice at 0 degrees C not to mention water molecules which are above zero degrees.  Year by year, there is more and more open water and so more water vapour should be entering the atmosphere.

Whether or not increased evaporation is increasing the exit of water from the Arctic ocean depends to some extent on where this water is falling.  If it is falling on the catchment of the Arctic ocean and flows back immediately, the effect would be limited.  If, however it falls as snow, even if it falls in the Arctic catchment, there would be a temporary exit of water until the snow melts and sends the water back to the ocean.  If  the water  falls outside the Arctic Ocean catchment, there would be an overall effect.

A second effect is the freezing of sea water.  As sea water freezes, it makes fresh water ice and the salt remains in the water below the ice.  This increase in salinity plus the coldness of the water makes it heavier than the surrounding water and it flows down to the bottom and out through the Fram Straights.  This outflow is balanced by a surface inflow.  Why should this be increasing?

When the Arcic ocean is pretty well covered in ice at the September mimimum, to make more ice, heat has to conduct through the ice out into the air to created more ice at the bottom of the ice sheet.  The thicker the ice, the greater the insulating effect.  With a cover of snow on the ice, the insulation is even greater.  Snow is full of air making it a very good insulator. 

However if you subtract the minimum from the maximum ice volume, year by year, you find that,  while the volume of ice which has formed each year,over the past few years has increased over the long term average, the increase is small compared to the total amount of ice formed.  The average amount of ice formed each winter since 1979 is about 16.39km3 while over the past six years, starting in 2008, ice formation has been 18.69, 17.98, 16.51, 17.51, 17.91 and 18.56km3.  This doesn't seem enough to explain much more warm surface water being sucked into the Arctic basin although 2008 and 2013 stand out as particularly high years.

Online Graphing

The last effect I can think of is wind.  If the wind is blowing more often from the South which with the added effect of Coriolis, will result in winds from the South West, this will push surface  water toward the North East.  In other words, it should increase the flow of the current that flows along the coast of Norway.  This should tend to make it ice free along the coast of Russia more than was the case historically.  So what could increase the incidence of winds from the south.

The jet stream, which is the marker between the Ferrel cell and the Polar Hadley cell has been creeping northward.  In addition, the Rossby waves have been increasing in amplitude.  Winds to the south of the Jet stream are westerlies so the further north the Jet stream, the further north the westerlies and hence a greater proportion of the Gulf Stream flowing up the coast of Norway.

I have long thought that the polar jet stream may close down and the Ferrel cell extend up into the Arctic.  If this happens, we should have westerlies much further north and hence much more of the warm water of the Gulf Stream entering the Arctic Ocean Basin.  This may explain the observations that in the past, temperate conditions extended right up to the shores of the Arctic ocean.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Solar electric - not worth it.

By now, with the rapid decrease in the cost of solar panels, it should be worthwhile for every household and business to put solar panels on their roofs.  For years, energy pundits have said that when the cost of solar panels falls to $1US per nominal watt*, solar will compete with fossil fuel**. Panels are now being offered at and  below a dollar per watt.

*a nominal watt refers to the power a panel will give when facing into the noon day sun.  If you buy an 250 watt panel, it will give 250 watts of power at noon on a sunny summer day if it is at right angles to the sun.  If it operates for an hour at this rate, it will generate 0.25kWh (kilowatt hours- sometime called units) of energy.

**this will depend on other factors such as how many peak hours*** you have at your locality and how expensive your local electricity is.

***a peak hour refers to how much sunshine you have per day, averaged over the year.  The generation of your panel, on a sunny day will be a sine curve or if you like, a bell curve.  You will generate a little in the morning and afternoon and most in the middle of the day.   Peak hours are how many hours of noon-day-equivalents you generate, averaged over the year.  The very best locations in the world have about 6.5 peak hours.  Germany has between one and two, depending on location. Where I live in New Zealand we have a little over 3 peak hours per day although looking out my window today, it is hard to credit.
There is nothing wrong with the cost or the technology.  The problem is with the financial relationship between the small generator, the power company and the government.  There are fish hooks at every turn. 

In New Zealand It is mandated by the government, probably encouraged by the power companies, that any small user with a generating system will have a  meter with two read outs.  One read-out records any excess you  send to the grid, the other any top up you draw from the grid*.  Neither read-out ever turns backwards.  Most power companies will give you less for the power you send them than for the power they send you** although at present in New Zealand there are two companies that give you one to one up to a certain limit of excess power sent to the grid. 
 It sounds OK until you realize that for the most part you will be generating when you are not using and using when you are not generating.  If you are a working couple with kids at school, you will have a small peak use  in the morning as you get everyone off to school and work and a large peak of use in the evening after you come home. This will be more so in the winter than in the summer.  Your main generation, on the other hand, will be over a few hours either side of noon and on a seasonal basis, more in summer than in winter.

This is marginally better than the German system which measures every kWh you generate and every kWh you use. In New Zealand only the excess you draw from or send to the grid is measured.

**The German system gives you a FIT (feed in Tarif) which is approximately 3 times as much as you pay for power.  Sounds great!!  It is a scam.

Your first question will be, what is the problem.  If the power company will pay you the same for power you produce as for power you use, you are sweet.  No problem.  Suppose your power company says,"not to worry.  We will simply subtract one meter from the other and pay or charge you according to the difference".  You have to ask yourself why they insist on two read outs if this is their intention.  They are thinking ahead and hoping you are not. 

 If you don't have a contract with them they can change the rules at any time.  If you do have a contract, they can change the rules when your contract comes up for renewal. 

In addition, If you have a double read-out you will end up paying income tax at your marginal rate on every kWh recorded on your export meter for which the power company pays you (typically around 33%)  and GST at 15% on every kWh recorded on your import meter, that you buy from the power company. Here in New Zeland at present (june 2013), Contact Energy double taxes while Meridian subtracts one read out from the other for tax purposes (but not for billing).  Either company could change the rules whenever they want or when the government tells them to (in the case of GST)

You have probably spotted the flaw in the argument.  The power company has to earn money from their relationship with you so that they can maintain the grid.  Without the grid, you will need to buy a battery bank to store, not only enough power to carry you through the  morning and evening, but enough to carry you through some cloudy days.  To be secure, you might need, for instance, enough battery to supply 4 or 5 days of power and you will have to get new batteries about every 7 years*.  You can make your batteries last longer by not drawing them down so far but to do this you will need even more batteries.  If, for instance, you only draw down 10% of your battery capacity, you will greatly increase their life but you will need 10 times as many batteries to have a given amount of battery power available. 

* Note that the battery companies will tell you that their batteries will last for 14 years.  Not on your nelly they don't.

You will also need more panels to ensure that when the sun shines, your batteries will be fully recharged.   If you don't fully charge your batteries they will sulphate and you will loose capacity. Then you will need more batteries to hold the power when in the summer  you are generating lots of power.  Then you will need..................   You get the idea,  Short of a new type of battery*, it is pretty well impossible to balance your batteries with your panels and your use of electrical power.  With Lead Acid batteries,  excessive draw down and  incomplete charging, both degrade your batteries.  
At my last check, Tesla, the electric car manufacturer sells a 60kWh lithium battery for $10,000US.  Unlike Lead Acid batteries, it apparently can be fully drawn down and has no memory but I haven't got any information on other vital characteristics.  The above comments relate to deep cycle lead acid batteries.  A revolution in battery technology could change all this and some battery storage could be worthwhile.  I haven't got my head around this yet but it may be worthwhile to have a small amount of battery storage in your system as a buffer.  In this case, your batteries will be more likely to get fully charged fairly often and the capacity they hold may buffer you against short term fluctuations (the ratchet effect)  and stop your import meter turning each time a cloud goes in front of the sun.
The simple, honest solution to this dilemma is for the power company to simply charge you a line charge for being connected.  It is worthwhile for the small generator to pay this fee since it eliminates the need to buy batteries.  However here the government must mandate that the line charge will be the same for everyone; user and user/generator.  You can imagine what the power company will do if they can structure the line charge and power charge differently for the user and for the user/generator.

Clearly, it will not be worthwhile to install solar with the present double read out system.  You will virtually never be producing exactly the amount of power that you are using so at all times, one or the other of your read outs will be turning.  Once you have these two read outs, the power company and the government can change the rules whenever they want.  With a single metre, called net metering, your meter simply turns backwards when you are exporting power.  Incidentally, some solar panel salesmen call this two read out system net metering.  It is not.  We have one last fish hook to go.

Even with true net metering, the reconciliation period is very important.  Let's take a particularly onerous example.  Remember, your smart meter  talks (or soon will talk) to the smart devices in your home. This is very much to your benefit since you can turn devices on when power is least expensive.  

Your smart meter will also talk to the power company.  Once this is automated, they don't have to hire a meter reader and your meters can be read as often as they want at no extra cost to them.  Suppose the power company reads your meter once a day.    One day is your reconciliation period and let's say that your billing period is every two months. If you have exported power on a given day, this is recorded, if you have imported power on another day this is recorded.  Keep in mind that at almost no time during the day will your power use balance your generation.  One or other meter will be turning.  Let's say, for example, that over this two month billing period you have produced exactly the same amount of power you have used.  However some days will be positive, some negative.  The power company then adds all the positives together and all the negatives together and charges and pays you accordingly.
Of course, the government also demands Income tax and GST on the amounts on the respective meters.  If your reconciliation period was the same as your billing period; that is to say if  they simply checked your single meter at the end of two months, in our example, in which you produced the same amount of power that you used, your power bill and your tax bill would be zero.  We still haven't balanced summer with winter.  The principle is the same.

It can get even more insidious.  There is nothing to stop the power company from recording your meter reading every minute once you have a smart meter.  Run the case on that and see where you come out.
The best system for the small generator would be to read your single meter once a year - to have a one year reconciliation period.  Then it hardly matters how much they give you on your excess or charge you on your make up.  At the very least, reading your meters at the same frequency as your billing period would be a step in the right direction.

In case you think that the above suggestions would be  all for the benefit of the small generator, there are some significant benefits for the power company of having wide spread distributed generation.
Benefits to the Power company
1)You are generating power when businesses are operating and hence the power company is selling your power at a good rate.   

2) You and all the other small generators together constitute a new power station which the power company doesn't have to bear the capital costs of building.  They just buy and resell your electricity.

3) You are generating closer to the end user so there are less line losses. 

4)You allow the power companies to leave water in their dams during the day which they can use during the high demand period in the evening which is caused by household use.  The worse time for the power companies is in the winter in the evening.  Fortunately, the winter is when, in general, most water is available here in New Zealand.  Overall you allow them to use less of the expensive fossil fuel power* and more of the inexpensive hydro power.

        5) You allow the power company to avoid buying power from a rival which here in New Zealand can cost them far more than the 25c we pay for power.

*The direct cost of fossil fuel is only part of the story.  New Zealand has generously signed up to Koyota so our carbon dioxide production cost the country as a whole.  A large uptake of solar technology will reduce the tax burden for all New Zealanders.

Benefits for New Zealand of a high uptake of solar.

1) We reduce our carbon footprint and hence our financial obligation under Koyota.

2) We enhance our clean green image to the benefit of our exports.

3) We gain the internet effect.  Diffuse generation is far harder to knock out by natural or man made disaster than point source generation.

4) In the near future we will be able to charge our electric cars during the day when we are at work at a preferential price.  This depends on us adopting the Space Shuttle version of demand balancing rather than our present model T ford system.  This involves power charges being related to power availability rather than to a certain time of the day as is the case at present when you heat your water cylinder.

5) We wil reduce our import of fossil fuel as electric cars penetrate the market to the benefit of our balance of payments, reducing the amount we have to borrow each month.

6) An improved balance of payments puts downward pressure on inflation with benefits to all Kiwi's.

I'm sure with a little creative accounting, the government and power companies can put more fish hooks  in the system  but we will have to face them when they arise. The first battle  is to get simple, single read out, net metering in which your meter turns backwards when you are exporting power.  A line charge will be necessary to make the system fair to the power company.  There is no need for the ridiculous, unsustainable FITs (feed in tariffs) that exist in other jurisdictions in which they pay you three times as much for the power you produce than for the power you buy.  All we need is simple net metering.

Smart technology is coming which will allow you to turn on your devices in the house during the day when you are generating most power.  This will be a benefit to you and the whole system.  If you can do your dish and cloths washing, heat your water and so forth when demand is low and power is cheap, you reduce the demand for electricity when the demand is high.  The power company can decide when power is in excess and send a signal to turn on your devices at a preferential rate.

Below are some other articles on renewable energy 

ps. (September 2012)

I made a rash statement at the beginning indicating that the technology is everything it should be.  Since I have started on the road to putting solar panels on our little shop (use profile much more closely matched to our generation profile than the house), I find it is not so.

First, when the power of the grid goes down, your system disconnects from the grid.  That is perfectly fine.  Otherwise you would be sending power to the grid to the danger of anyone who is coming along to repair the  grid.  But here is the rub.  I always assumed that when your system disconnects from the grid, if you have sun, you would be able to use your own power that you are generating.  Not so.  When the grid is down, despite the fact you could potentially generate your own power, you can't.  Your system stays down until the grid comes up again.  I have heard there are hybrid systems (hybrid between stand alone and grid tie) and I must investigate this.  It seems silly to have your own expensive system and not to have power when the grid goes down.

Secondly, when you generate excess power it goes to the grid.  This is fine and depending on the relationship you have with the power company, this should defray some or all of the cost of the power you buy from the power company.  However, you are far ahead if you can use your own power.  You may want to dump excess power into your electric car or even to use it to heat water in your hot water cylinder.  

We need a system with a couple of outputs, one to your regular house and one to dump power into an electric car, water heater or any other sort of system that can take power when it is available.  If you are still generating more power than you use, then this can go to the grid.  Basically we need a system which in technaleze says "when there is excess power to what is been used in "A" class devices (ones you use on demand) then the power is sent to "B" class devices (your hot water cylinder and electric car, for instance).  Only if there is still power left over or if your car is fully charged and your cylinder fully heated up, is power sent to the grid.