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Friday, November 25, 2011

Car ChargingPower Points

With electric cars finally beginning to enter the domestic fleets of the world, we are going to need lots of charging points.  Everyone with an electric car will have a power point at home.  In fact you already do.  As long as you don't want fast charging, all you need is an extension cord from the nearest outlet.  This will give you somewhere between 10 and 25 amp charging, depending on your individual electrical set up.  However, here we are talking about charging away from home.

Commercial charging points will spring up in company parking lots, along streets instead of, or integrated into parking meters, at restaurants, in high rise commercial parking lots and so forth.  What characteristics should they have.

You should be able to swipe your card and then choose a number of options.

  With respect to the amount of power you want, you should be able to choose full charge or a given amount of money or a given number of kWh (kilowatt hours).  If, by chance, you chose more than your car can take at the time, you would only be debited for the amount you used; not the amount you asked for.

With respect to the supply options you should be able to choose Charge now (at the full day time cost per kWh) or option 1, 2 or 3.  Option 1 would cut in when the power company sends a signal down the line or over a dedicated phone chip that because of extra generating capacity, somewhat cheaper electricity is now available.  Option 2 cuts in when the uptake of electricity by offering Option 1 is not enough to balance the load with the supply and option 3 a further reduction in price to bring  even more load on line.  Each option gives the consumer less expensive electricity than the previous option and allows the power company to sell more electricity and not waste water.
This is supply balancing and has some definite advantages over the present supply balancing.  Every kWh you take when it is available is one less that you take when supplies are low.

At home, if you have a dedicated, smart-charging point you might even have option 4.  Option 4 is "Charge and Supply".  You would use this one when you are not going to be using your car for a while.  You might be on vacation overseas or you might only use your car on weekends so the car during your holiday or during the week  would be plugged into Option 4.  With this option, your car will receive charge when option 3 (the least expensive electricity) is available and will send power back to the grid when the power company signals that it needs some peak shaving (high load and hence a short term need for extra electricity).  In this mode, your electric vehicle will generate a small but very welcome revenue for you.

Hopefully, the power companies will be smart enough to realize that if they set up the system to allow the customer to save money and to have options, they gain as well.  They gain by being able to sell more of their power rather than letting water flow over the spillway or having to feather their wind turbines.  They gain by not having to build a dedicated, very economically wasteful  power station just for peak shaving and they gain by having the good will of their customers.  They also help their country and the world by putting less carbon into the environment.  Systems as described above are ideal for using intermittent renewable power sources such as wind, hydro and solar and if you have a charged battery in your car, charged when excess energy is available, you will  demand less  power when fossil fuel must be used to generate it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Selling off our SOE's

The present New Zealand government (Nov 2011)  is proposing to sell off shares in our SOE's (State Owned Enterprises).  These include power companies and the State Airline. They propose to keep 51% of the shares in the hands of the government and to give Kiwis the first chance to buy the  shares that are 'on offer'.  At present, the dividends from these companies go into the government coffers and reduce the amount of tax the citizens of New Zealand have to pay.  Reportedy, one of the power companies that they are proposing to sell off is earning a 20% dividend on  the government investment.  Their proposal to sell off part of our SOE's is a little like a trucking company selling off  a profit making-truck to get money to pave the parking lot.  Not a great business move.  I have a problem or two with this proposal.

My first problem is I can't see how these shares can be sold to us.  We already own them.  They have been paid for by generations of Kiwis through their taxes.  It's like taking empty bottles from the back of a convenience store and selling them back to the owner.  Since we already own these shares collectively, surly they could only be sold to a non Kiwi.  Then the proceeds should be divided up and sent to each of us - every man, woman and child of us.  How silly would that be.  Far better that we, the people of New Zealand, keep the ownership of the shares and use the dividends to defray taxes.  The present government doesn't own the shares except in-so-far as each member of parliament owns exactly the same amount of these companies as every other Kiwi.

Tax Increase
Of course, if we sell off the shares and reduce the amount of dividends going into the government coffers, taxes will have to increase.  Yes, the government will have some extra cash to do it's work  from the proceeds of the sale but when this money has been used up taxes will increase.  

Taxes will increase for all Kiwis but at least more well off Kiwis who had the spare cash to buy the shares will have some dividends to make up for the extra taxes.  Less well off Kiwis will simply pay more.  In effect we are taking money from the less well off and putting it in the pockets of the more well off.  A typical money-go-round.  The one saving grace of this whole sorry event is that we will get back a third of the dividends in taxes from the Kiwis who have bought the shares.  A very cute system.  We the people of New Zealand will no longer  own a large part of  our SOE's but we still  get a third of the dividends to defray taxes.  That is, unless the better off Kiwis have some system to avoid paying taxes.  Surly they wouldn't do that!!!!

Final Ownership
Eventually, when the owners of these shares need money or when the shares have increased in value, the owners of these shares will sell them.  In fact all we need is another economic crisis (think PIIGS*) to make people desperate to get a little ready cash in their hands.  I don't know how you read the economic climate in the world today but I suspect we have only begun to see a series  of crashes, each one more serious than the previous one.  Who will  buy these shares.  Who has lots of ready cash from selling cheap goods to the rest of the world.  They won't necessarily buy the shares directly.  There are plenty of people who are willing to be a front company or a front company for a front company etc. etc. for a share of the profits.  The shares will go overseas and we become, to a greater and greater extent, tenants in our own country.  

* Portugal, Ireland, Italy Greece and Spain

Banks are lining up to reap the benefits of selling these shares.  One estimate I have heard is that they will end up keeping 1% of the value of the companies they sell.  Do we really want this money flowing off shore to Australia (most of our banks are owned in Australia) 

These banks will likely buy and retain some of the shares.  More money in dividends flowing into Australia.  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Helping President Obama

I don't think most Americans understand how the American political system works.

Congressmen and Senators
The only thing these folks fear more than not being re-elected is not being reelected and not getting a cushy job as a lobbyist or as a high paid executive in some part of the corporatocracy.  This explains many of their actions when they are in power.  We can use this fear.

The President
When you have elected a good one your president is the true representatives of the people and you have one of the best you have ever had in the White House right now.  When you elect a lemon, the  president is the representatives of the corporatocracy.  Guess who reduced controls on big business and the banks and allowed them to regulate themselves.

 Don't get me wrong.  I'm not against business and certainly not against the so called Capitalism.  Business is good, and properly regulated Capitalism is by far the best system we have come up with.  In the majority of cases, what is good for business is good for the people but this is not axiomatic.  A business that does most of its manufacture overseas is not good for it's country.  A business that pollutes the environment and sickens people living nearby is not good.  Businesses that do not recycle are not good. A business that builds in obsolescence in its products is not good for the citizens of it's country. I'm sure you can think of other examples.

America has a habit of throwing out their best presidents.  Look what happened to Jimmy Carter.  For once you elected a highly intelligent president with the needed vision to protect and nurture America and take her into a bright future.  If you had elected him for a second term there is a very good chance that you wouldn't be a declining country controlled by the industal-military complex, the banks and the  corporatocracy.  You wouldn't be dependent on fossil fuels and you would have a decent medical and general safety net.  Better yet, you would hardly need  this safety net because people would have jobs.  If you get in behind Obama you will get the same result.

A president can't go it alone.  He needs a mandate from the people and he needs this mandate for everything he does - not just the mandate of being elected.  Even if he has a Democratic Party majority in the congress and the senate, it is hard enough for him to get things done.  Even the Democrats are hoping for these cushy jobs if they get thrown out of office.  If the old reptile ###holds sway in the senate and the congress, the president is truly stymied.  What to do.

###  This link sometimes doesn't work.  If it fails, google Bill Meher thanks Teabaggers and Sarah Palin

Also look at this message that Obama sent Xmas 2011.  This is what I mean
"Earlier this week, it looked like Congress would go home for the holidays without preventing a tax increase that would mean millions of American families would have about $40 less in each paycheck.
But then something pretty incredible happened.
It began when we asked everyone to show us how that missing $40 would affect them and their families. In a matter of hours thousands of vivid, powerful stories from Americans of all ages, all backgrounds, from every corner across the country were pouring in. For some, $40 means dinner out with a child who's home for the holidays. For others it means a tank of gas or a charitable donation. In just two days, tens of thousands of Americans were making their voices heard.
You spoke up. Your voices made all the difference.
Thanks to you, Congress reached an agreement to extend the payroll tax cut.  On top of that, vital unemployment insurance will continue for millions of Americans who are looking for work."

Demonstrations are good.  A good example is the demonstrations of Oct. 2011.  "The man" is taking notice of these demonstrations against corporate greed and bank bail outs.  Look at how much money the banks are contributing to the police to put down the demonstrations.  Incidentally, who's money do you think this is that they are giving to the police.  But demonstrations are not enough.  And in reply to these demonstrations, the powers-that-be are asking for specific measures that the people want.  I don't know why the demonstrators are so reluctant to get down to specifics.  What would be wrong with carrying around placards with  the following messages.

Maximum pay for a CEO 6X the lowest wage in his company

95% tax on bonuses

Banks that make the loan carry the risk

No speculation by banks

Ban derivatives.  They are gambling - not investment

Banks that speculate can not call themselves Banks

Banks invest,  They do not speculate.

If you speculate, you are not a bank

Pre-Reagen rules for banks

No more toxic mortgages

A flat tax rate for individuals and business but no loopholes

Jim Hansen's Tax and Dividend

Zero tax up to the poverty level, Flat rate above that

Clean legislation.  No attachments.

Stop using our money.    
To pay the police.  
To suppress our demonstration. (Four plackards marching behind one another to do this one)

How about this one.  It will really set the cat amongst the pigeons

Creating money is a sovereign right


Debt money created by the bank is sinking us

watch the bankers squirm with these two

see this link

and so forth. 

But what else is needed.  You must bombard your congressman and senators (two per state as I understand it) with letters and e-mails telling him what you expect him to do and how you expect him to vote on every issue.  Never make a letter more than one page.  Never be abusive.  Always get someone  you trust to read over your letter before you send it.  Give the reasons why you expect him to vote that way.  Always run your letter through spell check.  Leave it for a day at least and re-read it before sending.

And to someone out there, please put up  a web site which has an easily understood list of the voting record of your representatives.  Study it and see if he is truly representing you or if he is cow-towing to the corporatocracy.

Use blogs and social media to clearly express why you are for or against this or that policy and why.

And finally, vote with your purchasing power.  Buy from businesses that are good for America.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Leagalize Cannabis

Do I think Cannabis is harmful??


If the research is anything to go on, used in large quantities it can cause psychosis.  It is often used by teenagers, just when their brain is undergoing another surge in growth similar but smaller than the post birth surge.  It is at this time that they are laying down much of the knowledge of physics, geology, biology, math, literature and so forth that will stay with them for a life time.  Instead they are mellowed out.  It is like taking a finely honed wood carving chisel and dragging the edge across a stone. The smoking of cannabis is also just as carcinogenic as tobacco.   So why do I want to legalize cannabis.

Clearly, the present system is not working.  It is resulting in a huge prison population, it is making the drug peddlers rich, it is leading to crime as people steal to get money to pay for their fix and arguably, the use of cannabis is less harmful than the use of alcohol.  Making it illegal is having many of the same effects as prohibition and we have to try something different.

What I would propose is letting out of prison anyone who's conviction was only for the use or sale of cannabis.  As they leave prison, let them take a 5kg package of confiscated cannabis with them.  If the stock of confiscated cannabis is not sufficient, buy in more.  Flood the market and trash the price.

At the same time, use all the money saved from not having these people in prison and all the money saved by the police not having to police cannabis, to fund an educational program, similar to the one on cigarettes showing the danger of cannabis.  Go all the way with this with freed up police talking about the down side of cannabis at schools and public meetings.

And all the while, make cannabis freely available so that there is absolutely no incentive for anyone to grow or sell the stuff.  I know this sounds a little crazy but the present system hasn't worked.

While we are talking about drugs, how about party pills.  If you look at any beneficial drug, it has to go through an incredibly expensive, time consuming process to prove that it is safe and effective.  Even then, some drugs come on the market that have to be recalled when unexpected side effects come to light.  Why can anyone formulate a party pill from anything he wants and sell it without similar checks.  Clearly, forcing party pill peddlers to jump through the same hoops would make it far too expensive for them to market their products.  Recently here in New Zealand a party pill came on the market that was primarily composed of bovine worming medicine!!!  Go figure?

I know there is a conflict between these two messages.  Put on restrictions - take off restrictions.  At the bottom of the whole problem is why we think we need to alter our minds with all these drugs. Life is such a blast when you are completely sober.  It boggles the mind.  In the end, I have to admit, I really don't know what the solution is.  Personally, I would hang anyone caught making or selling drugs like P and Heroine but that is not PC.  I would treat users like alcoholics.

Part, but only part of the problem is the number of people out of work and this comes down to the way governments set up regulations to do with imports, exports, taxes and so forth.  To a large extent, if we all had worthwhile jobs that gave us a good living, a lot of us would not  turn to drugs to make a crust or to help us forget our troubles.

I suspect the path we should take is to consider growers, producers and  dealers, as high end criminals, but users, sick people in need of help.


A few years ago, the government started KiwiBank.  I may have my facts crossed up here but below is my understanding of how it was set up and how it operates.  My information is  from bits and pieces in the press and on the radio.  And it is brilliant.  No, I'm not being my usual sarcastic self.  It really is brilliant.

The government provided the seed capital for the bank.  I have heard that this was $200m.  The bank is therefore an SOE (State owned enterprise).  The difference between this SOE and others is that the government doesn't insist on a dividend.  KiwiBank is allowed to put her earnings back into the business.  This is the first brilliant move.  KiwiBank can grow organically by plowing her profits back into increased capitalization.

KiwiBank was set up to operate from existing post shops.  If you have gone into banks in many countries you will see that they are the most opulent of any business you are likely to visit.  Marble counter tops,  paneling of rare and expensive wood etc.  Where do you think the money came from.  You guessed it.  Higher charges to borrowers, lower interest to depositors and so forth.  Not in KiwiBank.  The shops are already there, the workers already in place and earning their crust, primarily from the post shop.  In addition, once you have set up your bank account with KiwiBank, almost everything you have to do can be done online.  Once again, very low overheads.

I'm not sure if this is still so but initially, KiwiBank didn't have any other shareholders.  This is the third brilliant aspect of  KiwiBank.  If you have shareholders, you have to give dividends.  This a stream of money leaving the bank that could better be used to decrease interest for borrowers and/or increase returns for depositors and/or  increase the capitalization of the bank.

The fourth brilliance of KiwiBank is that it is wholly owned by Kiwis.  To the best of my knowledge, all our other banks have a majority Australian ownership.  Ausi shareholders  expect a dividend, and this is a stream of money pouring out of the country.  A recent item on Nat Radio suggested that this revenue stream is around $4b.  None  of this is from KiwiBank.

All is not clear sailing, however.  There is talk (perhaps it has already happened) of selling shares in KiwiBank in order to increase its capitalization.  In other words, borrowing money.  It would be far better to grow KiwiBank organically.  As profits are made, they increase the capitalization of the bank and it can loan more money*.  I would even go so far as to say that as it grows, KiwiBank should pay back the government seed money.  This way it becomes completely independent.  It becomes a bank that can serve the needs of New Zealand and not rich shareholders and bosses with expectations of completely unjustified bonuses.  Am I worried about an uneven playing field.  Not a bit of it.  I want our KiwiBank to have an 'unfair' advantage.

*Banks must have a certain legislated level of liquidity.  In other words, they must have X amount of money in their vaults in order to be allowed to loan Y.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

New Zealand Going Under

America has finally woken up. (funny way to start a blog on New Zealand).  As of early October, 2011 she is talking about bringing back manufacturing from overseas and providing jobs for Americans.  This has nothing to do with virtue amongst the American Corporatocracy.  They haven't finally started to think about the good of the country that spawned and nurtures them.  They haven't suddenly put the good of their fellow citizens above their own highly inflated salaries and bonuses*.  No, the reason is far more prosaic although I'm sure they will try to claim the moral high ground.  The truth is that the Chinese Yuan is beginning to rise with much more 'up' inevitable in the near future and the wages of Chinese workers are rising, by latest reports, at about 15% per year.  American firms see the writing on the wall.

*Their latest ploy is to join with a small country overseas and, while staying in America physically, pay taxes overseas. Have a look at one of Elizabeth Warren's Youtubes to see a full description.

By the by, did you ever wonder what happened to that fabulous dream we had a few decades ago that we would all soon be working 30 hour weeks with 5 week annual vacations plus all the other holidays throughout the year.  What happened to the story that with automation, fabulous goods would become less and less expensive and we would all be living in the lap of luxury.  Well to some extent it came true.  Look at this fabulous invention, for instance, thanks  to Steve Jobs, that you are using to read this blog.  Look how the price has come down from it's first inception.  However, the futurists, as they usually do, forgot one part of the puzzle.  You have to have a job in order to buy things.  In a perverse way, some of us have lots of free time.  We are on welfare.  As long as our needs are modest and we have somewhere to live, all our time is our own.  If we can earn a little money under the radar we are 'sweet'.  Not a pretty picture.  But this is supposed to be a blog about New Zealand.

New Zealand is just as prone to corporate greed and government short sightedness as any country in the world.  We are always decrying our low productivity, complaining about the lack of jobs and even more so, about the lack of worthwhile jobs.  Our diaspora is somewhere around a million of our best and brightest and most enterprising people.  We wonder why our young and not so young people search for a better life overseas.  Lets look at how we are operating New Zealand Inc. and how we could operate.

Our Lumber Industry
New Zealand has the basis of a great lumber industry.  We have slightly more land than the UK and a population of 4.3 million (UK - 62m) so we have lots of land on which to plant trees............ and we have   lots of trees planted.  Our main species is the Monterrey Pine, Pinus radiata and with our fabulous growing conditions, the cycle is from 17 to 25 years.  You should see the growth rings on  our pine logs.  They are typically  a cm or two wide.  We plant them, prune them (lifts) to ensure clear, value added wood and replant as soon as the trees are cut.

 Then we send raw logs overseas!!!  Our lumber mills have closed in droves.  In the mean time, Canada is undergoing a boom in value added timber products.  Question:-Where does she sell her ply wood, milled timber and even fully made up struts?   Answer:-  To the same markets where we send our raw logs!!!   How come Canada can get it right and we can't.

Mean time, our lumber mill workers are either packing super market shelves or leaving for Australia and points North.  A skilled lumber mill worker will have a productivity, measured as the value of what he produces divided by the hours he works.  Lets call his productivity 'X'.  When he changes jobs and starts to pack super market shelves, his productivity will drop to 0.1X.  If he goes on welfare his productivity is minus 0.1X.  No wonder our productivity stats are low.  We are trashing all the high productivity  jobs.  No wonder our tax take is down.

Could this trashing of one of our primary industries be due to the nature of our much vaunted free trade agreement.  Note that when China felt herself in danger of not having enough Rare Earth Metals, her free trade agreement didn't stop her from curtailing their sale*.

* If you think this is an exaggeration, let's send a trade delegation to China to buy their REM concentrate.  We will refine it here and sell, either the refined metals or the electronic equipment made from these Rare Earth Metals. Since we have the inside track, overseas companies will be pushing and shoving to set up here in New Zealand.  Any idea what China will say when we invoke the Free Trade Agreement in order to buy her REM concentrate. I'm sure she will put it very politely.

We have just had a disastrous earthquake.  This could be and element of our salvation with respect to the lumber industry.  Let's put a major research effort into the building of wooden buildings from composite wood-epoxy beams which laugh at earthquakes.  Then let's export made up beams and other wooden building materials to other earthquake areas.  Let's not export the technology.  That is a short term gain for a long term loss.

Our Fishing Industry
Our fishing industry is another example.  We allow foreign fishing boats to fish our waters.  They must land their fish in New Zealand (at least we got that right)**.  Recently there has been a great bro ha ha (sp?) about the terrible conditions of Indonesian fishermen on Korean boats that are doing our fishing for us.  As usual we are looking at the right hand while the left hand does the trick.  Why do we allow foreign fishing boats anywhere near our fish stocks.  Does anyone think that these Korean paragons of virtue will treat our fishing stocks better than they treat their Indonesian fishermen***.  In the mean time, our people are out of work.  Out of work, on welfare, not paying taxes, not shopping at local businesses (who therefore pay less taxes) and ultimately looking for work overseas.  Once again, the same story as with our lumber industry.  People out of work, negatively productive, fleeing New Zealand, breaking up families and not paying taxes.  No wonder we have to borrow money.  We have to borrow to make up for the lost tax take and to pay welfare to the out-of-work Kiwis.

*Incidentally, much of our fishing industry is owned and operated by Iwi (Maori Tribes).  Here we have the unedifying sight of Maori bosses putting their own people out of work so that they can get higher salaries and bonuses and so that the Iwi can make larger profits. The bosses then get mana by passing on a dribble of this larges to their members.  Maori were given large concessions to fish our marine waters.  They sell these concessions to companies who aggregate them into worthwhile bundles and sell them on to foreign fishing companies.  One of the reasons for giving these concessions to the Maori was so that they would employ Maori in the fishing industry.

** I got that one wrong.  It has now been revealed that much of our fish is processed overseas.

***This same boat was later found to have dumped a hold full of our fish in order to have room for a more valuable catch she made.
12 June 2017  I just learned that one of our salmon farm businesses, King Salmon is Malaysian owned by a company with very a very questionable record on human rights and sustainable fisheries practices.

Fisheries policy - let's change tacks.
Whale Poo

Rolling Stock Manufacture
We are going back into rail and Electrified rail at that. GREAT MOVE.  We have seen what is rolling down the turnpike at our stalled car (Kiwi Inc.) and have made a very sensible decision.  Then we go and buy our rolling stock overseas despite having a local industry that is perfectly capable of manufacturing them!!!  Are we nuts*.  See:

* Incidentally, a news item on National Radio sometime in Sept 2012, following the closure of yet another industry, suggested that for every  job lost in a primary industry, another 4 ancillary jobs are lost.  I have no idea if the 4:1 ratio is in the ball park but the principle is sound.  Imagine how many jobs would be created, just by producing our own rolling stock in New Zealand, not to mention all the other industries mentioned (and not mentioned) in this blog.

Sale of our Land
We are at the beginning of a boom in agricultural markets overseas as other countries continue to grow their GDP, Increase their middle class,* trash their environment mine their water and send their soils downstream to the sea.  The way the world population is growing and, far more important, the way they are increasing their "standard of living", the future for an agricultural country is bright.  Then we sell our farm land to overseas interests!!!

In Asia.  On the contrary, much of the western world is trashing their middle class.

No argument about selling land to someone who wants to come here as a permanent resident, buy and operate a dairy farm, join the local volunteer fire brigade, send his kids to our schools and be part of the community.  Why, though, do we sell blocks of land to vertically integrated overseas companies that will take the profits overseas.  If they were bringing some vital technology here there might be some justification but to the contrary, In so many branches of agriculture and especially in dairy, we are the experts in the field.

The worst example of this is the recent sale of the Crafer farms.  These are a block of 10 or 12 dairy farms that the receivers peddled overseas.  They insisted on selling them as a block which pretty well eliminates individual Kiwi share milkers who want to become dairy farmers from purchasing them.  Instead they sold them to a Chinese dairy business.  Are we nuts!!!

The government has argued that this selling of our farms (and our houses) to overseas concerns does not raise the price.  The liquidators of the Crafer farms obviously thought otherwise.  If they thought they could have got more money by selling them individually to  local farmers they would have done so.  After all, they work on commission. 

Sat, June 3, 2017.  I just read in today's press that our major parking company in Christchurch is a Hong Kong company.  This is beyond a joke.

Energy Policy
I'm not going to type  all this again.  We show very little imagination or creativity.  Have a look at these links:

1.  The government, with very little expense, could make the uptake of solar electric much more financially feasible.  Panel prices are coming down and correct government action could set us well on the way to energy independence. Absolutely no subsidies needed.

2.  Having solar panels is financially identical to having a pension  right now,  long before we retire.  There is a good argument for allowing access to our KiwiSaver to finance them

3.  Much nonsense has been talked about the unsuitability of renewable energy because of its intermittent nature.  This totally ignores such coming innovations such as demand balancing, electric cars, new types of batteries and smart grids. It further ignores the function of the grid to pass power from places with wind to places without and areas where the sun is shining to areas where it is not.

4.  We mustn't fall into the German trap.  Their uptake of solar electric has been fantastic but there are fish hooks.  There is a better way.

5.  Same as "4"

6.  The steady replacement of our fossil fuel powered domestic fleet with Electrics has many benefits.  The function of government is to set the stage, not to actually do anything.  Again, no subsidies needed.

7.  Wind farms are been shot down all over the country.  Some of the concerns may be justified, Most are pure nimbiism.  The government should sort out this mess.

8.  Get real guys.  Wind energy is clean, competitive in price and highly compatible with our Hydro rich energy mix.  Let's get on with it.

Our policy on Climate Change
We could be far more innovative here as well.  We must be completely selfish here and look after New Zealand.  We can't do anything of significance about world climate change ourselves.  If we stopped all our emissions of greenhouse gasses, it would have no effect on the world output.  We could:

a) set an example as we have often done in the past,
b) guard our clean green image,
c) future proof New Zealand against a likely collapse of the ecology and economy of our major trading partners and
d) reduce our financial obligation under Kyoto

Note that our lumber industry should get carbon credits, not a carbon charge.  The trees we grow are taking Carbon dioxide out of the air and because our forests are young and growing (not mature forests in which net CO2 uptake is zero) they take up a lot of carbon.  Very close to 50% of the dry weight of wood is carbon.  In-so-far as part of this wood is built into long lasting furniture and buildings it is a long term sequestration of  carbon.  Then instead of using the highly polluting lignite coal to manufacture urea, we could equally well be using all the wood waste.  This would bring more carbon credits to the lumbering industry and the ability to sell green urea.  We could even burn this wood in such a way to leave charcoal and enrich our soils, especially in the far north with it.
Urea from wood waste 
The value of Charcoal in the soil.

Carbon Tax
Our Cap and Trade policy to control our carbon emissions is designed to make the banks rich**, most of them not even Kiwi owned. Australia has just introduced a carbon tax system and the banks are lining up, rubbing their hands together vying for the business.   If much of the commentary is correct, Cap and Trade will not even be effective.   Jim Hansen has proposed a far better system called Tax and Dividend which has every chance of being effective and will protect the citizens of any country that adopts it, from the temporary increase in the price of just about everything which will be caused by switching to renewables.  Best of all, from the point of view of the political party that proposes it, it would be a real vote catcher.
Jim Hansen's climate change solution

Why are our political parties so reluctant to propose Hansen's Tax and Dividend instead of cap and trade.

**By the by, if we do insist on making the banks rich, with whatever carbon tax system we put in place or, for that matter, if we insist on the disastrous policy of selling our family silver,,,,, give both jobs to KiwiBank.  Are we really that intent on making Ausi banks rich.  Does someone (Everyone??) in government own shares in Ausi banks???  Give the job to KiwiBank who would then increase her capitalization and her ability to make loans and her revenues  would stay in New Zealand to the benefit of all. 

Our Agriculture
We could be producing green urea (sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?). Instead we are proposing to use our lignite which is the dirtiest form of coal.  Even worse, the company that is proposing to do this is an SOE for heaven sake!!!  A government company.  Note that Urea only contains the nutrient, Nitrogen but we could also be producing high quality whole (with all the nutrients) fertilizer for our farms at a very low cost.  We could also have truly green dairy farms. 

Selling off our SOE's (state owned enterprises)
The government is now talking about selling off 49% of our State Owned Enterprises to make up for the money we are borrowing.   This is like a trucking company selling off it's trucks to make the end-of-year books look better. I have a "problem or two" with this.  It is unbelievable that she is selling off assets which are reported to return dividends of 20% (I don't believe this either) instead of borrowing money at 4%.

1) We, the citizens of New Zealand, already own these companies.  The SOE's are the property of every Kiwi.  They don't belong to the government except in the sense than every member of parliament owns just as much of them as every other Kiwi. Selling us our own SOE's is like stealing empty bottles from behind a convenience store and trying to sell them back to the owner.  (at the age of 9, I tried this, was caught and this was the end of my career in crime).  Where in the legislation does it allow these very temporary directors of Kiwi Inc. to sell off the family silver.

2).  All Kiwi's will have to pay more taxes because  of the reduced dividends coming in from these SOE's

3) Who will buy them.  Clearly Kiwi's who have some spare cash.  They will then get the dividends*.  The rich Kiwis who have bought shares will have some income to make up for the increased taxes.  Poor Kiwis will be simply out of pocket.  The bottom line.....  Money coming out of the pocket of poor Kiwis into the pockets of rich Kiwis. A typical  money-merry-go-round that we have, in the past, associated with America, not with New Zealand.

*incidentally, it is very clever on the part of government.  They sell us our own property, we get the dividends and then we pay tax at our marginal tax rate on these dividends.  The government gets a third of the dividend back even though they no longer own the shares.  Very cute.

4)  As soon as the buyers of these shares need money or when the shares have gained some value, they will sell them.  Who will buy them.  Who has lots of American dollars because of their low wages.  You guessed it.  And they don't necessarily buy up our SOE's directly.  There are front companies and front companies for front companies and......  you get the picture.  Same result.  We end up with 49% of our strategic assets owned overseas.  We end up being tenants in our own country.

5.  Apparently, shareholders which own 25% or more of a company have quite a few rights in controlling a company.  I am not familiar with the inns and outs of this situation but it would appear that owning 51% of a company does not give the control that is implied by the Key government.

And finally KiwiSaver.  It has the potential to be the most important innovation in our history (OK, that may be a little exaggerated --- but only a little).  KiwiSaver is Kiwis investing in their own economy, the dividends coming back to Kiwis to be spent in Kiwi businesses which pay taxes to the Kiwi government etc.    The benefits are far more extensive than sketched above. See:
KiwiSaver - Good for new Zealand

But it is a terrible investment....... and not to put too fine a point on it - a scam.  The poorness of the investment is obvious when you see the bribes that the government had to offer to get people to invest in it.  To provide these bribes, the government has to a)borrow more money,  b)lower services or  c)hike taxes.  The present government has done all three.  Sure, the present world economic situation has a lot to do with our economic woes but KiwiSaver bribes are a contributing factor.  Money is simply taken out of Kiwi Pockets in order to bribe other Kiwis to save.  Government debt is increased while private debt is decreased.  A zero sum game as far as our overall New Zealand debt is concerned.  No wonder our credit rating has gone down from AAA to AA.  It would be so easy to fix it.  (See the above link).  Simply stop all the government and employer contributions (another scam) and let us invest before taxes.  Go all the way and tax our real (above inflation) dividends rather than our nominal dividends.  This way KiwiSaver becomes a viable investment in its own right.

Why should the rules around KiwiSaver be different from the rules around other investments??(that is a retorical question).  Because we are asked to put a large proportion of our disposable income into an investment fund for all of our working life for the good of New Zealand.  This is not an investment such as we would make when we buy shares or a rental house and should not be treated the same way by the government.  It is not an investment that we can cash up when we decide to.  Surly we deserve a fair return on this sort of investment.  And imagine the money coming into the economy as Kiwis retire and have a decent pension fund.  Instead of being a burden, retiring Kiwis become a positive asset to the economy.

New Zealand is a great innovator.  We lead the world in so many ways but we could do so much more.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Whale Poo

It turns out that Whale Poo# is vital to the ecology of the oceans.  Or at least it was when we had plenty of whales.  The lack thereof may explain part of the decline of our world fisheries.  I am not arguing against the devastating effect of our overfishing.  I'm not arguing against the destructiveness of our fishing methods.  They too are clearly trashing our fish resources but, with lots of whales, the amount of fish we could take sustainably would increase.

#Also see New Scientist, 9 July 2011,p36

It turns out that whales pump nutrients from deep water and urinate and defecate them into surface waters.  Even better, whale defecation is floculant and tends to float in surface waters where it powers the surface ecology.  You probably immediately thought of Sperm Whales who eat giant squid from great depths but some of the baleen whales also pump nutrients.  For instance Gray Whales skim the sea bottom collecting bottom organisms and mud.  They filter out the mud through their coarse baleen.  Humpbacks herd shoals of fish and Krill to the surface where they can trap them against the surface to feed on them.  It has been found that Krill, in contrast to what was once thought, often are also found at great depths feeding on the bottom.  Undoubtedly, as we learn more about these animals we will find more about how they bring nutrients to the photic zone.

Moreover, whales are part of the trapping of nutrients in surface layers.  Let me digress for a moment.

There is often confusion between the observed biomass and the biodiversity of an environment on the one hand and the amount of  sustainable harvesting which is possible on the other.  The first people who looked at tropical forests and tropical coral reefs saw a huge biomass of animals and an astonishing diversity of animals and plants. It was fairly natural to assume that one could harvest huge quantities of food and other valuable resources from both.  Unfortunately, the large biomass relates more to the ability of these environments to hold and recycle nutrients within their ecological system.  The incredible diversity of species is partially related to how long they have been stable ecological regimes with huge spans of time for diversity to occur.    In the Amazon jungles, for instance, the huge area covered by jungle obtains its nutrients from the weathering of the Andes mountains to the West and from dust blown from the Sahara desert.  When parts of the jungle are cleared and farmed, it has been found that after a couple of crops, the soil is exhausted.  Similarly, coral reefs when heavily fished are soon exhausted.  Coral reefs exist in very nutrient poor water.  In fact, they can only live in very clear and hence nutrient poor water.    Coral polyps contain zoozanthellae, a type of algae, and they need sunshine to live.  Corals polyps have evolved to grow in very poor waters by evolving a symbiotic relationship with internally contained algae and  now can not grow in rich, algae filled water as their symbiotic algae will not get enough light.  Not a lot of nutrient enters the coral environments and so not much food can be sustainably removed.

Compare this with any of the upwelling environments off desert coasts such as the coast of Peru or the coast of South West Africa.  There, nutrient rich water wells up from below and the productivity and harvestability is astounding.  Much of the fish meal for the world, for instance, comes from the anchovy off the coast of Peru.  The species diversity is nowhere as great as on a coral reef or in a jungle but the productivity and hence the amount that can be sustainably harvested is huge. 

So back to the whales.  There are two factors that lead to huge biomass in an environment.  As we have seen one is the influx of nutrients and the second is the ability to hold these nutrients in the system.  If you only had phytoplankton and krill in a region, the krill would  eat the phytoplankton and new phytoplankton would grow at a rate that depended on the amount of nutrient coming from outside of the environment.  Feces and dead krill would sink to the bottom of the ocean and nutrients would be lost from the surface.

The ultimate limiting factor in the growth of algae is the amount of sunshine falling on the water.  With an unlimited supply of nutrients in the water, the maximum amount of  sun energy can be used.  However, as nutrients are depleted, the total productivity is limited by the nutrients left in the system**.  In oligotrophic environments, productivity is very low despite the amount of sunshine falling on the water.  Whales, feeding on the surface, are  continually  mineralizing* the krill and excreting nutrients in a form that can be taken up by the algae.  More sun energy is being used and nutrients are being fixed into whale biomass.  Krill grow at a huge rate, fed by the huge primary productivity.  Nutrients entering the system are captured and kept at the surface.    This is a very simplistic painting of the picture.  There are many many other parts to the web of life that capture and use feces from all the surface organisms and mineralize them and all of them conspire to keep nutrients in the photic zone.  Add to this the  upwelling and the nutrient pumping due to the whales and productivity can be truly astounding.  So, whales not only pump nutrients from below the photic zone but contribute to keeping the nutrients within the photic zone.

*Mineralization:  The break down of proteins, sugars, starches etc into a form in which algae can utilize them.
** The law of the minumum which states that the growth rate of an organism (or a system) is proportional to the input which is smallest in comparison with the amount just needed for unlimited growth.

The law of the Minimum Resource

Widening out our horizon a little, the same idea holds true in the ocean when looking at the productivity of an area.  Water is no problem as growth is in water.  Nutrients can be present in larger or smaller quantities depending on upwelling, biological activity and so forth.  The ultimate limit over which we have not control is sunshine.  It powers the bottom layer of productivity, the phytoplankton, and determines the maximum productivity that can occur.  When looking at a fisheries such as the Anchovy off Peru, it is interesting to note that anchovy are at the third trophic level.  They eat zooplankton that in turn eats phytoplankton.  The total productivity of Anchovy is therefore only about 1% of the productivity of phytoplankton#.

#as a rule of thumb, 10% of the biomass of any trophic level is passed on to the next level.  100kg of phytoplankton makes 10kg of zooplankton which makes 1kg of penguin which makes 0.1kg of sea lion.

The bottom line is that with their dual function of bringing nutrients from below the photic zone and of keeping the nutrients at the surface, whales greatly enrich the environment for the growth of other organisms, some of which are commercially exploitable fish. 

Another aspect of the story involves where whales go to give birth.  This is generally in tropical waters such as around our Pacific Islands or in the Gulf of California.  The adult whales for the most part do not feed there but they nurse their young and the young poop nutrients out into the water.  By killing whales we are robbing people in these tropical waters of their source of food.

To anyone that doesn't buy the argument that we should not kill whales because they are such magnificent animals or because they are good for tourism, perhaps this is a more hard nosed argument for leaving them alone.  Whales increase the productivity of fish.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Continental Glacier Meltdown

Over the past 2.5m year ice age numerous glaciated periods (glacials) and warm periods (interglacials) have come and gone.  The most recent continental glaciers began to melt around 20,000 years ago and really got underway away about 11,000 years ago leaving ice sheets only in Antarctica and Greenland.  The end of glacials appears to be synchronous with one of the Milankovitch cycles; namely the variation in the tilt (obliquity) of the earth's axis.  At the beginning of the present  ice age, which we are in the middle of, the cycle was 41,000 years.  However over the past million years of the present 2.5 million year Glacial Age, only every third or so obliquity nudge has resulted in an interglacial.  Glacials over the past million years or so have been lasting on the order of 100,000 years.  Coincidentally with the melting of continental glaciers there is a sharp rise in Carbon dioxide  

As suggested in a previous blog it seems unlikely that some sudden source of Carbon dioxide would occur exactly in sinc with the Milankovitch cycle.  As odd as it seems it is more likely that the rise in CO2 is somehow the result of the melting.  Of course, once sufficient CO2 is released, a run-away melting will occur.  One likely positive feed back (warming causing more warming) is the ability of the oceans to hold less Carbon dioxide when they are warm than when they are cold.  As warming starts, presumably as a result of obliquity, the oceans could give out Carbon dioxide or at the very least, not absorb as much.

In a previous blog, I suggested that methane clathrates and carbon dioxide clathrates could accumulate under an ice sheet once it had thickened to a few hundred meters.  Sources of methane and Carbon dioxide include coal measures, liquid and gaseous hydrocarbon deposits and shale beds as well as the decomposition of organic material buried by the accumulating ice.  If the ice covered over an area of permafrost**, the methane stored in the permafrost could also find its way to the bottom of the ice sheet.   Ice sheets cause the depression of the land by about a third of a km for every km of ice added# and this might well act as a natural 'fracting', increasing the escape of such gases from all the mentioned sources.  All this carbon would be sitting there  at the bottom of the ice sheet ready to be released if the continental ice sheet started to melt.  If sufficient was released in a burst, the green house effect could lead to a feedback, melting more ice causing the release of more gas and causing more melting etc.  This run-away greenhouse effects would only end when the ice sheet was all melted.  Following the melt, the slow ever present sequestering of carbon in the various carbon sinks would continue until it was possible for the accumulation of snow to start again.

# The basaltic rock on which the continents float has a specific Gravity (SG) of just over 3. Hence a km of ice with a specific gravity of  a tad under 1 would push down the continent about a third of a km.

**It is interesting to note that if snow is accumulating on an area of permafrost, the snow will insulate the underlying ground.  The 0 degree contour at the bottom of the permafrost will move upward as geothermal heat melts it.  Eventually, as the ice sheet deepens, all the permafrost, often rich in organic soil and methane clathrate, will be melted.  The permafrost undergoing anaerobic break down and any already stored up methane* would be available to combine with the bottom layer of ice and form methane clathrate.

In this blog, I would like to suggest  mechanisms which would explain why every nudge from the Milankovitch cycle does not end an ice age.  Lets do a mind exercise.  

Consider for simplicity a large continent like Australia.  It is shaped like a hockey puck, flat on top with very little slope in any direction.  Enough carbon has left the atmosphere and become sequestered in sinks for some snow to  last through the summer.    The process of going into a glacial is gradual.   The accumulation of snow can only proceed at the rate of precipitation in the area of accumulation minus sublimation and melting.  The process is somewhat accelerated by the albedo effect.  When a significant area is covered with white snow, incident light is mostly reflected back into space increasing the  cooling.

Snow occupies about 10 times as much volume as an equivalent weight of water but as the snow deepens, the weight of overlying snow on the bottom layers increases and air is squeezed out.  By the time there is a hundred or so meters of snow, the bottom layers have been squeezed into ice with some inclusions of air.  The ice at the bottom occupies about 10% more volume than an equivalent weight of water.

When the ice is only a few hundred meters thick it just sits there getting deeper and deeper.  The land is flat so it doesn't move down hill and there isn't enough pressure yet to squeeze ice outward.  At about 300m depth, there is enough pressure at the bottom of the ice layer for clathrates to form.  Any methane or Carbon dioxide which is coming from the underlying land combines with the ice and is trapped.

When the ice has reached a km or so in depth, the pressure is great enough that ice begins to be squeezed toward the edges.  Right in the middle of our hockey puck continent, there is no motion with respect to the underlying land.  As you go toward the edges, the motion is faster and faster.  Fast is all relative.  Even in glaciated continents such as Greenland with 3 or so km of ice at the center, the motion at the edges is only a few to a few tens of meters per year.  There are some individual glaciers which carry ice from the interior which are moving as much as 12km per year but this is down specific valleys and not along the entire perimeter of the glacier.   Averaged over the years, ice can only fall off the edges at the rate that it accumulates on top.   Since continental glaciers reach depths of at least 3km,  clearly, less ice was expelled than has was accumulated over the formation of the 3km deep ice sheet.   At some point, as the ice thickens, the rate of loss of ice will equal the rate of accumulation.  It is likely that toward the middle of the continent, the ice doesn't move at the bottom relative to the land but is rather squeezed out of the middle layers of the ice.  Toward the edges, ice would be moving over the ground.

Each Milankovitch nudge will probably result in some melting.  If it is correct that clathrates have been collecting at the bottom of the ice sheet, this will cause an increase in the output of green house gases  and the thicker the ice the faster this might occur due to faster rate of spread caused by the thicker ice. Also, the faster the ice is moving, the further into a melting climate the ice will be pushed.   This may be the explanation for the start of an interglacial only every few Milankovitch nudges.  Presumably a certain amount of green house gas is necessary to initiate a run away melting.  The older an ice sheet, the more clathrate could accumulate at the bottom and the thicker the ice sheet, the faster its borders are moving outward. Therefore, the older and thicker an ice sheet and the more clathrate it has accumulated, the greater the chance of a run away melting when an obliquity nudge occurs.

As a further factor, with a thick ice sheet, the glacier at the edge will be moving across the ground and expelling clathrate.  It would be expected that the concentration of clathrate would increase as you go toward the centre of an ice sheet.  As the ice sheet edge melts back, more and more clathrate breaks down into the atmosphere.  The thicker the ice, the more clathrate is likely to be stored under the ice and the faster the ice is moving at the edges.  Thick ice should be much less stable than thin ice.

Another factor which might be relevant is the heat coming out of the earth.  Although it varies widely from location to location, the temperature increases as you go down into the earth at about 25 degrees C per km.  Put a layer of ice on the ground and this heat has to work it's way up to the surface of the ice.  I haven't been able to find the factor for heat transmission in rock and in ice  in  order to compare them but for the sake of the argument let's say it is the same.  Let's also assume that the average temperature at the top of the ice sheet is -50C.  If the ice is 1km thick, the temperature at the bottom of the ice would then be -25degrees.  If the ice is 2km thick it would be 0 degrees.  If three km thick, +25 degrees.  Of course in this latter case this wouldn't be so.  The heat comes in contact with ice which melts at 0 degrees and absorbs a lot of heat doing so (latent heat of fusion).  Have a look at this link (maps half way down in the PDF file) which show calculations for the basal temperature of the Antarctic Ice sheet.

The result is that with over 2km of ice depth and given some time to reach equilibrium, there should be water at the bottom of the ice sheet.  Here we run into another wee codicil.  If, as was suggested in a previous blog,  methane clathrate has accumulated at the bottom of the ice sheet, it can stay frozen up to 18 degrees centigrade with sufficient pressure.  Whatever the actual case, the general principle is that with a sufficiently deep ice sheet, the bottom layer should be melting.  This may be another part of the explanation as to why only every three or so nudges by the Milankovitch cycle sets off an interglacial period.  A sufficient depth of ice has to first collect to cause heat from the earth to liquefy its bottom and increase its horizontal movement on this lubricating layer .  So what sort of evidence would support this hypothesis.


     A) at the bottom of present ice sheets, the temperature should be around 0 degrees.
     B)  There should be lakes below deep ice sheets where the topography allows.
     C)  It should be possible in some locations at least, to detect methane and possibly Carbon dioxide being evolved from the edges of  ice sheets where they are melting.
     D) Where ice sheets exit into the ocean and are at least 30m above sea level (and hence their base is 300m below sea level) there may be clathrates on the bottom layers in some locations.
     E) Since the carbon released from the bottom of a 100,000 year ice sheet would be "old carbon" (in other words, carbon depleted in C14) There should be a dating anomaly from the end of the last ice period, 11,000 years ago*.  This sudden influx of old carbon into the atmosphere should make wood, growing after the melting, look older.  For wood from about 11,000 years ago, one might see successive growth rings from a tree looking older and older despite the fact that they each successive growth ring is younger than the previous one.  A place to find suitable wood might be in tropical swamps where a log had sunk into the anaerobic mud or high mountains where trees such as the Bristle Cone Pine exist.
    F) if the bottom layer of an ice sheet is composed of clathrates, you might find that even though a core found solid ice right to the bottom of the core, the temperature could be above 0 degrees.  Clathrates can exist up to 18 degrees centigrade with sufficient pressure.  In fact, you might find a liquid layer at the bottom of the ice with a clathrate layer below the liquid layer. 

Of course, if the bottom of the glacier is moving horizontally at locations where there is permafrost, it will be scraping off the permafrost layer and carrying it toward the edge of the ice sheet with it's entrained load of clathrates.  If the ice sheet is frozen to the base and is only moving laterally due to the middle being squeezed out, the clathrates will only be released when that part of the glacier melts. 

A last contributor to sudden melt down and release of Carbon dioxide is Moulins. Moulins are  vertical shafts which are caused by melt water pouring down fissures in continental glaciers.  At present this phenomenon is best observed on the Greenland ice sheet where there is increased melting each summer.  Pools of water form on the surface of the ice and if they find a fissure, they pour down to the bottom of the ice sheet.  This water has to come out somewhere and presumably it will find its way out at the edges of the ice sheet.  It would be expected that it would carry with it the material from the bottom of the ice sheet.  Part of this would be the clathrates that have accumulated there.  At each Milankovitch nudge there would be expected to be surface melting and a wash out of some of the bottom material.  If great enough, this would result in a run away green house effect. It should be possible to detect methane where streams come out under continental ice sheets.

All the above scenarios depend on the supposition that clathrates will accumulate under continental glaciers ready to be released when the glacier melts.  The longer the glacier exists, the greater the accumulation should be.   If this is indeed happening, it should be observable under our two remaining continental glaciers on Antartica and Greenland and even possibly Iceland.

*At a pinch, carbon dating can go back 50,000 years.  Hence it would be perfectly useful for dating objects from the end of the last glacial but wouldn't extend back to the previous interglacial which was 125,000 years ago.

In summary
The older and thicker an ice sheet, the more unstable it should be.  This may  be due to:
1) Higher temperatures at the bottom of thicker ice sheets than more shallow ice sheets due to geothermal heat being insulated from escape due to the insulating properties of the ice.  At a sufficient thickness a layer of water at the bottom of the ice sheet would accelerate its flow outward.
2)  A greater accumulation of carbon in the form of clathrates the longer a glacial lasts and hence the larger available green house effect if the ice sheet starts to melt.
3) A greater speed of spread at the edges of an ice sheet, the deeper the ice is, pushing ice into geographical areas where it will melt.  If this ice has got a bottom layer of clathrate, this will be entering the environment.  Above some critical amount of carbon added to the atmosphere, a run away green house effect would occur. A nudge by the Milankovitch cycle would release more methane from a thick ice sheet than a shallower one.
4) Outwash of bottom material by surface melt and Moulins at each Milankovitch nudge.  The longer the ice sheet exists, the more carbon there should be available to be washed out.

Note that methane is often quoted to be 20 to 30 times as effective a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.  This only holds on a 100 year basis.  Methane oxidizes in the atmosphere to Carbon dioxide with a half life of about 8 years.  If we look at the effect of, say, a cubic meter of methane over 100 years and calculate how much warming it will cause, it will cause 20 to30 times as much warming as a similar amount of CO2.  However, the actual strength of methane as a greenhouse gas is more like a hundred times as much as Carbon dioxide.  This is only important if methane is being introduced into the atmosphere in very large quantities (as seems to be the case now).

PS (Dec24, 2012)
A recent paper by German authors has shown that volcanic activity increases following strong ice melt.  This would also go some way to explaining the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere following, rather than before ice melt.


Monday, September 12, 2011

By by Coral Atolls

There is much to-do in the press about the immanent drowning of coral atoll islands due to rising sea level.  While climate change could well destroy coral atolls, it  won't be due to the rise in sea level.  Some background:

The present ice age, which we are in the middle of,  started roughly 2.5million years ago.  It has had numerous glaciated periods (glacials) and warm periods (interglacials).   The  interglacial before the one we are in now was  the Eemian.    It was centered about 125,000 years ago.  That is 62 times as long as from now back to the Roman empire.  The present interglacial we are living in is called the Holocene.  At the end of Eemian interglacial, sea level started to fall as more and more water was deposited as snow on the continental glaciers.  At its greatest extent, sea level was 120m below its present level.  Of course the corals that were growing within 120 meters of the surface of the ocean during the Eemian interglacial, were killed as sea level dropped.  Without live corals to resist the effect of waves, these islands would have eroded.  They may well have eroded down to the level of the  low tide mark, 120 meters below present low tide.   A lot of erosion can occur in more than 100,000 years.

As the ice started to melt, some 20,000 years ago and really got under way 15000 years ago, sea level rose quickly as the continental glaciers flowed into the oceans.  The main melt ended 7000 years ago with a slow rise since then of about one mm per year.  Today, coral reefs all over the world are at about the current low tide level and Atoll islands are a few meters above high tide.  Clearly, corals have grown as the ice melted and sea level rose.  The corals have filled in the 120 or so meters between the low tide level at the maximum extent of the recent glacial to the present low tide level*. The lesson is, as sea level rises, the restraint on coral growth is removed and they grow up to the current low tide mark.  The average sea level rise was about 14mm per year during this rapid melt with isolated periods of as much as 56mm per year. (today sea level is rising at about 3.5mm per year)

* Incidentally, the Calcium carbonate of which coral skeletons are made are a tad over 60% Carbon dioxide!!which ultimately came from the atmosphere. This, under natural (without humans) conditions would be contributing to sliding us into the next glaciation.

OK, so if corals are limited by low tide, why are the coral atoll islands meters above the level of the growing corals.  This question pertains to the present fear that coral islands will be swamped as the sea rises.

The answer is Parrot fish.  Parrot fish eat corals to get at the polyps.  They poop out coral sand.  A parrot fish typically produces 90kg of sand per year.  A thousand parrot fish in a lagoon and you have a production of 90 tons of sand per year.  The sand is moved by wind, currents and waves, especially during hurricanes,  and collects where the total energy is low*.  As long as the seas are healthy for corals, new ones grow providing more food for Parrot fish and hence more sand.

 Now we come to the function of hurricanes.  In a hurricane waves are longer and higher*. so they pick up, not only coral sand but coral rubble and deposit it where the energy of wind, currents and waves is low.  It is sort of a one way valve.  This keeps the atolls supplied with sand and rubble which keeps them growing upward.  As long as nothing kills the corals (or the Parrot fish) coral islands will keep up with sea level rise.

*For those of you with a mathematic bent, for every ninth of a wave length  you go down in the ocean, the circle of rotation of a wave halves.  For instance, if you have a wave length of 18m and a height of 1m, if you go down 4m, the circle of rotation will be 25cm.  A long wave with a long wave length has an effect much deeper than a short wave.
Once the sand forms a bit of land above sea level, bird transported seeds can germinate and the resulting plants will dampen the force of the wind crossing the island.  This results in an increased catch of wind blown sand on the island and a root system to retain what sand there is.  Once there is a bit of an island above the high tide, rain will accumulate in the soil of the island, floating as a lens above the sea water.  Varieties of plants, which need fresh water can then grow. Bird poop (Guano) will add to the fertility of the soil created.

So under natural conditions, it is unlikely that sea level rise will destroy the Atolls.  In fact some satellite pictures show them growing.  The real problem that climate change will cause is primarily due the increase in Carbon dioxide.  Two effects are at play here.  As the sea becomes more acidic due to the absorption of CO2, it becomes harder and harder for Calcium carbonate depositing animals to extract the calcium from sea water.  A bit more acidic still, and  shells and corals will start to dissolve.  

The second problem which could come from climate change is temperature rise*.  The lethal temperature for corals is only just above the temperature of maximum growth which is only a few degrees above the present water temperature.  There are a number of reasons that tropical seas could warm.  A major one is the shut down of the ocean circulation which is powered by two phenomenon.  The first is  freezing of Arctic (and Antarctic) water.  Fresh ice crystallizes out of the sea water leaving the salt behind.  This forms brine which sinks down to the bottom of the Arctic ocean and flows out of the Arctic.  This outflowing deep water causes surface water to be sucked toward the poles, bringing with it calories.  Heat is being pulled from warmer waters.  Stop the formation of deep salty ocean water and no longer will this flow of heat exist and tropical areas will warm.

The second effect that powers the Gulf stream is the cooling of the somewhat saltier water that flows up the East coast of North America.  It only stays on top because it is warmer than the underlying water.  As it flows north into cooler climes, it cools until it is dense enough to sink down through the colder water below.  If there is an outflow of fresh water from melting continental glaciers, the mix of the surface water with the fresh water will no longer sink as it cools.  Once again you get a reduction of the formation of deep oceanic water, and hence the reduction of surface water flowing northward with it's supply of calories and the heat remaining in tropical waters.

If the arctic overturn is stopped by increased melting of Greenland ice sheets, and by a reduction in the formation of oceanic ice,  we will have very cold winters in Europe despite the general warming of the planet.  The corollary is that heat will not be removed from southern waters.  If either acidification or temperature rise occurs, there is nothing that the people of the coral atolls can do**.  Without live corals and parrot fish to provide a constant source of coral sand, the islands will erode.   

** Note that in 2016, toward the end of a very severe El Nino there was wide spread coral bleaching.  Overall, each bleaching event seems to be more severe than the previous one.

Jason Buchheim reports 
As reef building corals live near their upper thermal tolerance limits, small increases in sea temperature (.5 –1.5 degrees C) over several weeks or large increases (3-4 degrees C) over a few days will lead to coral dysfunction and death. Anomalously high sea temperatures have often been reported in the Caribbean-wide series of bleaching events that occurred during 1986-88, leading to hypothesis that global warming was having an effect on the coral reefs in this region.

*If climate change results in an ice free Arctic ocean, it becomes a massive solar panel and could rapidly melt the Greenland Ice Sheet.  If fresh water pours into the sea sufficiently fast, this could shut down the ocean circulation system.  This system, as it warms northern Europe, cools the tropics.  Stop this cooling and tropical waters could reach a lethal level for corals.

However, Short of global acidification or a rise in the temperature  of the tropical oceans, the health of the coral atolls is in the hands of the local people. 

The three basic principles to avoid your atoll being swamped by the sea are:
A) do nothing that damages corals, 
B) never kill a parrot fish and 
C) make sure the islands are vegetated so that any wind born sand across the island will land on the island for the root system will to hold there.  

More specifically:

*  Don't use fishing methods that damage coral reefs.  This includes dynamite.
*  Don't use chemical fertilizers on land.  They can damage corals when they seep into the sea.  If land sourced nutrients are sufficient they can lead to phytoplankton blooms that shade the zoozanthellae that are necessary for coral health.They can also fertilize sea weed growth which can smother reefs.
*  Don't allow sewage to flow into the sea or into the water table unless it is fully treated.  Primary or even secondary treatment is not sufficient.  The nutrients must be removed.
*  Don't use pesticides or herbicides as they can harm sea organisms.
*  Don't over utilize the fresh ground water.  The vegetative cover of the island 
depends on this fresh water
Never ever ever harm a parrot fish
*  Leave the rabbit fish (Siganid sp.) alone too.   They eat algae that can smother corals. (third fish down in the link)
Reintroduce the system of Tapu (taboo) in which large sections of the reef are off limits to utilization of any kind for a number of years.  Every decade or so the area is changed.  Fishing in  areas not under Tapu will be greatly improved as a bonus because of the recruitment from the tapu area.

Short of a global situation that kills the corals, the fate of the atolls is in the hands of the local people.   The elephant in the room, of course is population control.  All the strains on coral atolls mentioned above are exacerbated by over population.  Atolls are microcosms of the situation the whole world is in at present.  With stable or decreasing numbers of people on coral islands, all the bad effects decrease to manageable proportions.

By the by, an interesting experiment to try would be to plant some mangroves in shallow water by the land. If they grow, they will catch sand from the water currents which will further increase the available real estate and will protect the land during hurricanes.  Mangrove  areas are also apparently great breeding grounds for fish. They are also areas of low energy where sand will accumulate during hurricanes.  Just a thought.

Final conclusion 
The future existence of coral atolls depends on the health of the corals and the presence of fish which turn corals into sand.  The corals respond by growing upward and providing fresh material to be turned into sand.  Kill the reef and the supply of sand and coral rubble will dwindle and storms will no longer have material to keep pace with sea level rise.