Socrates Died for our Sins

Was Socrates a troll? Maybe. He was not a diplomat. He sought no consensus.

Still, hemlock?

Given the chance to recant or drink, he drank.

Human superstition is boundless. We are not enlightened beings.

Posted in Climate | Leave a comment

Barefoot Gophernating

Barefoot gophernating is one of those senseless acts of beauty.

First of all, it requires an illegal fuel-air bomb assembly a la Caddyshack. Actually, it is not illegal as a welding rig. Mine uses a standard torch handle and propane rather than the traditional acetylene as the solvent gas. Many ironworkers use propane for cutting as well. It is cheaper and has more BTU’s.

Whenever the neighbors complain, I point to my welding rig and explain that sometimes it makes a pop.

If you have ever watched a tomato plant disappear from your garden, pulled to the subterranean netherworld by these nefarious creatures, you will understand.

This sort of terrorism demands revenge.

Enter the illegal by various Torts of nuisance gophernator.  You can blow fifty feet of gopher tunnel ten feet in the air. Even if you miss the gopher, it is enormously satisfying.

It is dangerous, like many satisfying things in life. The barefoot thing is extra spice. The directions admonish you to wear sturdy shoes. It is like brazenly standing on the second step of a three step ladder that says, “This is not a step”.

Have a great Fourth of July. My fireworks will be underground.

Posted in Climate | Leave a comment

Star Trek and the Internet

This may seem a large span to bridge, but there was a unique concept of disassembly and reassembly In Star Trek that the internet converged to, if it didn’t copy it out right…

“Beam me up” presumed not only that matter and energy were equivalent, but that information, the organization of matter and energy, could be disassembled and reassembled as well.

The internet has proved the point for information. Every email, text, or twitter we send is immediately decomposed and spread across the entire grid; to be reassembled only where it is desired. Casting seeds to the wind.

Matter and energy are not cooperating just yet. Information has no mass, and therefore infinite energy. Information is high energy of position…high entropy.

Posted in Climate | Leave a comment

Construction and War

I was a union carpenter in the late seventies. I began as an apprentice, but quickly moved to journeyman in a few months. The master carpenters of that era were all surviving servicemen from WWII. They had an entirely different perspective on life, risk, and construction.

More like this. The construction veterans of the seventies approached construction as if it were war. All in, get it done, don’t screw it up.

The world seems pregnant with war. I worry that the current generation of construction workers, coddled with bright vests, safety harnesses, and extra water breaks when it gets hot, will not be ready for war.

Construction has changed, war has not.

Posted in Animal Behavior | Leave a comment

Paradise to Ice: Carbon Starved Planet Chapter 2

Chapter one can be found here.


Where Carbon Comes From


Water and element number six in the form of Carbon Dioxide are the two largest gaseous products of volcanic activity. Having floated around the universe for a while, element six was part of the cosmic dust that coalesced into our solar system and planet. Still mysterious internal churnings spew molten rock and these gasses continuously on our planet today. The current annual volcanic production of CO2 is thought to be only about a third of a gigaton, so it is considered insignificant in the annual Carbon cycle. Oxygen is two doors down at number eight in our cosmology and there are two of them in CO2. The atomic numbers are proportional to the weight so total annual volcanic Carbon is a measly tenth of a gigaton. We will be talking about gigatons a lot. It is easy to become cavalier about moving hundreds of them around. A gigaton is the weight (on earth) or mass of a cubic kilometer of water.

Nasa volcano


This is a USGS photo of a volcano in Alaska. If we take the tenth of a gigaton for an average year and extend it back three billion years to when things had settled down enough for the earth to have a crust and some sort of oceans with stromatolites in it, we get three hundred million gigatons of Carbon that should be found in various reservoirs. The totals for the reservoirs in a typical Carbon Cycle imodel are only about sixty thousand gigatons, so you can see we have a lot of missing Carbon. More serious estimates put the total Carbon stored in the earth’s crust at as carbonate and fossil fuels as high as one hundred million gigatons. This is still short by two thirds.


Stromatolites like these in Australia were producing Oxygen from CO2 three billion years ago. The real question seems not to be where did the Carbon come from, but where did the Carbon go?

Some carbonate is subducted back into the crust at ocean trenches. There is reason to believe that volcanic activity may have been higher in the dinosaur era but we really don’t have much to go by before that because the ocean floor has been recycled. It is possible we live in a volcanically active time that does not accurately represent the last three billion years.

We will chalk the missing Carbon up to just another unsolved mystery. It seems more than just coincidence that volcanoes produce the elements essential to life. Carbon and Oxygen alone comprise eighty three percent of human body weight and that lightweight Hydrogen another ten percent. For all this you can thank volcanoes. You can also thank them for the water in the oceans.

Posted in Climate | Leave a comment

Paradise to Ice

There are Edens on earth today. They are not found toward the North and South Poles today, but for most of earth history they were.  What causes the planet to transition from paradise to ice? This is a matter of considerable interest to naked apes.

We live in an ice age. Fortunately, we are towards the end of a warm fibrillation within our ice age, but we have ice at both poles. In Paradise there was no ice at all.

A lot off of effort has gone into figuring out the fibrillations within our ice ages. Slight orbital changes certainly have an influence on fibrillations, but no known orbital changes are long enough to explain ~200 million year paradises between episodes of ice.

It is often suggested that changes in the position of continents govern paradise. In particular,  that the separation of South America and Antarctica, allowing a powerful vortex of wind and ocean currents around Antarctica, set the stage for the ice age we live in.

While this is certainly an important influence, we will show that in prior transitions from paradise to ice, the continents prevented a South Polar Vortex.  The plate tectonic reconstructions in the header image and below are by by C.R. Scotese, PALEOMAP Project.

Above is the configuration of continents during the Carboniferous ice age. The colors show the motion: magenta 340 mya, tan 320 mya, grey 300 mya. Conditions at the North Pole are unchanged, and  a South Polar vortex was impossible.

Here is a similar map for the Ordovician ice age. The green is 460 mya and the magenta 440 mya. The configuration is weird in this projection.

A South Polar view above is better. Once again, a large landmass between 40 and 60 degrees south blocks any Antarctic vortex.

There were a couple of ice ages in the Proterozoic. The continental positions are sketchy three quarters of a billion years ago, but there are considered to be two near “snowball” episodes about 100 million years apart with the continents looking something like this.

The little green squares are “tillites”, glacial moraine deposits. Some are near the equator.

This configuration favors a Panthalassic “meridional overturning” circulation, but not a vortex at either pole.

My intuition is that all the transitions from paradise to ice had a similar cause. Just my intuition. It is conceivable that they all had different causes.

We can say with certainty that if they all had different causes, only one out of five resulted from a polar vortex.



Posted in Climate, Paleoclimate, Paleogeography | 4 Comments

The Missing 13C

A couple years back we decided to try making an isotope integrated Carbon cycle model, to see if we could replicate the isotopic “excursions” evident in the geological record. This effort foundered because we couldn’t even balance the current Carbon cycle when we integrated isotopes.

The problem is that the per mil 13C PDB of atmospheric Carbon (-8), is probably the best measured and least uncertain value in the entire Carbon cycle. Yet this value is unsustainable and would drop like a rock when the best estimates of the isotopic fluxes in and out of the atmosphere are used.

Basically, the atmosphere needs more 13C. An additional input 60 GtC at +5 PDB per year to get a reasonable approximation of the -.02 PDB measured yearly decrease.

A lot of people (including me) suspect that the estimates of yearly volcanic Carbon output is low. The current estimate is .1 GtC yearly, and is ignored in the model as insignificant. This would seem an attractive place to look for the missing 13C. One might suspect that volcanic Carbon might be above the Pee Dee Belemnite (PDB) baseline. Positive numbers mean more 13C, and negative numbers less 13C than the standard.

Unfortunately, data from the Encyclopedia of Volcanoes below indicate that volcanic Carbon is predominantly negative.

Volcanic d13C credit Encyclopedia of Volcanoes.png

Adding more volcanic carbon will make the problem of stabilizing atmospheric 13C content even more difficult.

Aggregated First Year Delta 13C Per Mil Atmospheric Inputs
-0.47315 Deep Ocean
-2.08708 Mixed Lay
3.797101 Vegetation
-0.01217 Swamp
-0.00464 Plankton
-1.02431 Soil
-0.20601 Humans
-0.01025 Total (-.16 measured)

It can be seen that only the interaction with vegetation results in increased atmospheric 13C. Seemingly, this is where we must look for the missing 13C.

Either plants are absorbing more CO2 than we think, or they are respiring more than we think, or both. The run above achieves a rough balance by supposing that plants are respiring more than we think. This approach is attractive, because if plants are only absorbing more, there would be a large increase in plant biomass. Measurements indicate that plant biomass expressed as Carbon (about half of plant dry mass) is increasing about .4 GtC per year. It would take about 20 GtC/yr of increased absorption (alone) by plants to achieve a similar balance. This would result in about fifty times more biomass increase than we measure.

Any accounting for the Carbon isotope values applied to supposed fluxes indicates that current conceptions of the Carbon cycle are incorrect. The well measured isotopic value of the atmosphere would be unstable, and the measured rate of change cannot be replicated without a large additional 13C input, or a large reduction in the 12C input.

We expect the atmospheric mass as Carbon to increase yearly somewhat below the one way inputs of humans and soils, ~70 Gt. Large reductions in 12C inputs would push this mass balance in the wrong direction. The large increase in 13C from increased plant respiration proposed here puts the yearly change in bass balance in the expected range (~61 Gt).

It seems we must look to vegetation for the missing 13C


Posted in Carbon Cycle, Isotope Integrated Carbon Cycle | Leave a comment