Thursday, December 08, 2016

Geosonnet 47



For two times in a hundred million years
The Earth froze solid, snowball world in space.
The pitcher stretched, the batter’s frozen tears
Held metazoan terror on his face.
If frozen oceans struck for a third time,
While animals were trying to evolve,
Could they survive anoxic paradigm,
A sea ice-covered hunger games to solve.
The timing of the third ice age is key,
And CA-ID-Tims unlocks the truth.
The Gaskiers ice age ended suddenly
Timing constrained by isotopic sleuth.
  A modern ice age, mostly at the poles?
  Or thaw too swift for carbonate controls?


Other geosonnets: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

I am cooking a Thanksgiving feast again this year. Last year, I was in Japan, so I ate toxic fish with the nerve agents cut out by an overworked chef instead of cooking a Turkey. When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was at Grandma’s every year. We would play with the cousins and uncles and aunts, and Mom would help Grandma, and Granddad would tell stories about anything from fishing to the War in the Pacific, and we would eventually eat, and then play games or watch TV until we were too tired to do anything but sleep. After my Uncle died, my Grandparents moved farther away, and it was generally just our nuclear family at home until I finished college and headed off to make my way in the world and get as far from New York as possible. My first Thanksgiving away from family was 20 years ago, at the house of a guy I met in field camp who kindly took me in with a bunch of other recent arrivals to silicon valley. At the time I thought that was strange, but two years later I found myself cooking Lasagna in an apartment in Northeastern Brazil, with a woman who was kind of coming onto me but was the ex-wife of the guy I was working with and the ex-daughter in law of the people who were putting me up. My Portuguese was not really good enough to talk my way out of the trouble I somehow avoided, but a couple years later in Australia I met my wife-to-be at another Thanksgiving dinner hosted by another ex-pat PhD student from Arkansas. And somehow, over a decade and a half later, I have a family, a job I can ride my bike to, a house, and a wife who still miraculously puts up with me, despite my lifelong habit of biting off more that I can chew, not succeeding at anything, but somehow finding a continual series of third doors that miraculously allow me to avoid total failure. Despite my constant feelings of inadequacy and dread that I have wasted my potential and lost my way, I seem to somehow be doing OK. I have a lot to be thankful for, and I hope that you all have the same. Have a wonderful thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Molten metal metamorphosis


The Australian Aluminium smelting industry is having a rough time. Built to utilize electricity from Australian coal from the 1960’s through the 1980’s, our smelters are ill equipped to deal with the migration of the Aluminium industry to a rapidly industrializing China or cheap low-carbon energy areas such as Iceland or New Zealand. As a result, the Kurri Kurri smelter closed in 2012, the Point Henry smelter closed in 2014, and the future for the Portland smelter is currently uncertain, with the contract for electricity due to be renegotiated this month.


At the same time, Australia is lagging the rest of the developed world in the transition to low emissions electricity. Although certain jurisdictions, like South Australia, are making progress, the fragile nature of the grid connections and the intermittent nature on renewable energy is slowing its uptake, and potentially contributing to supply instability, as was seen during this winter’s South Australian storm.

The production of aluminium metal requires a huge amount of electricity. An aluminum smelter basically consists of a huge tub of molten salt, from which the enormous electrical currents basically force the electrons onto aluminum ions, depositing them on the cathode atom by atom at a rate that allows several tons of production per day.
 
As a result, aluminium smelters are typically located in areas where there is a large, cheap supply of electricity. Traditionally these have been areas of hydroelectric power, or in Australia’s case, cheap open cut thermal coal. With coal getting more expensive, and with concerns over the impact of CO2 production on the climate, these coal-powered smelters are finding it harder to compete in high wage countries. So Australia has facilities which are designed to take a substantial proportion of the energy grid’s electricity, which are getting closed down just as the requirement for storage of large amounts of variable renewable energy is appearing.

One proposed solution of the “storage problem” is the use of a new technology known as the liquid metal battery. Like the aluminium smelting process, the liquid metal battery consists of a molten salt, which can have ions driven out of it to the anode and the cathode when power is applied. Unlike aluminium, the anode is a base metal instead of graphite, so instead of oxidizing the anode and making CO2, the metal is deposited. This allows the battery to discharge by dissolving the anode and cathode back into the molten salt. So if aluminum smelters are going obsolete in areas which are in desperate need of battery storage, it seems like modifying the smelter to store energy is a option worth at least considering.

There are technical issues, of course. An industrial Hall-Héroult cell is the size of a city bus, and a smelter contains lots of them. The liquid metal technology is being developed by a small company, Ambri, which seems to be starting small (like bottlecap scale), and scaling up. So there is a bit of a gap between the emerging battery technology and the aging smelter technology. But it is in everybody’s interest to bridge it.

Ambri is trying to raise cash and start production. South Australia is still investigating their state-wide blackout.  Alcoa and Hydro have two shuttered smelters which they need to remediate or repurpose, and Portland has 11% of its population working at the smelter. In addition, Boyne Island and Tomago are supposedly facing similar market pressures.

Portland would be a particularly useful place for a pilot project, since the smelter is still operating, even though the pain of closing a big industrial center in a small isolated town looms. It is also located in prime wind power country, on the Victoria / South Australia border, close to the interconnector. So it would be nice if the union, the council, the state and federal governments, and the industry groups could work together to see if there is a solution that benefits everybody.

As for Kurri Kurri and Port Henry, the Kurri Kurri remediation plan comment period closed in August, but Port Henry is still open, even though the last public hearing was last week.Thus the rushed, not completely researched blog post.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Blogular quiescence

Earlier this year, I left Australian Scientific Instruments to take a job as Senior SHRIMP Specialist at Geoscience Australia. In between those jobs, I pushed a couple of bottom drawer manuscripts out into journal submission. One has already been published (see Geosonnet 42 for details and link). Others are currently in review or revision. So most of my writing energy is going there, not here. So don't expect a lot of blogular activity in the near future.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Macbeth!


Macbeth is my favorite play. My favorite book. My favorite collection of English words. The poetic beauty of the text, the directness of the plot, the representations of madness, supernatural, and reality, and the shear magnitude of the tragedy are what makes it so fantastic. But although, for all of these reasons, it is one of the easiest of Shakespeare’s plays to read, by the same token it is one of the most difficult to play. The sheer beauty of the spoken words, many of which are directed to nobody, makes it particularly challenging for  actors to value-add through their interaction with each other. Thus it is a rare stage performance which does the masterpiece justice. Luckily for me, the Canberra Repertory Theatre here in town has just put on a great production of the Scottish Play.


This is a gaunt production of Macbeth, with a spare stage and simple costumes. From the opening with the witches as a maleficent blur in the gloom of the stage, the focus quickly shifts to an astoundingly dynamic portrayal of Duncan King of Scots. He imbues the opening scenes with a generosity and a charismatic presence that shows all a king can be. Generous, charismatic, leader of a band of brave yet fragile Scots besieged by Vikings, and completely without guile, it is against this that the brutal but utterly bewitching ambition of Lady Macbeth must seduce, and the two of them wrestle over Macbeth’s heart for all of a lively Act 1.

Of course, we all know how that turns out, and from the moment the blood touches
Macbeth’s hands, he comes into his own, playing off a terrifying Lady Macbeth and a wavering Banquo in the maddening spiral that ends with Banquo’s Banquet. That astoundingly potent scene is followed by the intermission, presumably so that the audience can steady their nerves with a glass or two before coming back for Hecate and her hands.

The last two acts do drag a bit, as they feature many minor and less developed characters, and the witches riddle hasn’t been fresh for 410 years. However, the approach to Lady Macbeth’s downfall was new (at least to me), and as Malcolm and Macduff rouse themselves from their personal grievances and man up to take back control of their country, the play builds back up to its bloody triumph.

All in all, it is a superb production of the great play.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Geosonnet 46



If decompression melting is enhanced
When glacial loads are washed away by rain
Then letting go the ice sheets that advanced
Might wake volcanoes in an arc again.
Unloading helps silicic lavas blow
And then the magma chambers must recharge
Desire for huge eruptions simmers low
Five thousand years ‘till ash beds become large
A glacial load weighs heavy on the soul
Unfreezing lets the middle crust rebound
Explosive lava, free from amphibole
Bursts forth like summer flowers from the ground.
   Frost claims ice will suffice to wreck the world.
   But should it melt, eruptions are unfurled.



Other geosonnets: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Geosonnet 45



When zircon needs to leave its life behind
Clastic witness protection can be used.
Trace element analysis can’t find
The host whose hospitality’s refused.
Once protolith identity is gone
Stool pigeon phase inclusions spill the beans.
When D value deductions can be drawn
In apatite or sphene, we have the means
To fingerprint magmatic strontium
Deducing silica at the same time
Then using cerium and yttrium
Included zircon’s fingered for its crimes.
  A river cruise while host weathers to dust:
  A sedimentary crime of hate, or lust?



Other geosonnets: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Geosonnet 44



Antarctica’s a frozen realm of ice
Yet troglodytic hydrospheres remain
Radar reflectors, frozen lakes entice
Ice fishermen to see what they contain
Before the ice age, glacial domes were seas
Below sea sediments can still be found.
The lake is mostly glac’ers which unfreeze
Trapped ocean water seeps up from the ground.
The surface sediments are oxidized.
The sulfate in the brine is unreduced.
Lest oxygen at depth leave us surprised
Dissolved O2 in meltwater’s deduced.
   Alas, no fish were sampled by the drill
   Just microbes that an ice age couldn’t kill



Other geosonnets: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47