Archive for January, 2010
Hi folks, here are some of the thoughts that came to my mind over the last few days.
AGU — looking back
The AGU fall meeting happened a couple of weeks ago now. However, it’s still vividly in my mind and there are still thoughts popping up:
it was such a big meeting, so that it was impossible to see or hear everything. Hence it is a great thing for the people who attended the meeting, as well as for people who did not, that some of the lectures are available online. Here is a great example, the online version of of a presentation, the Bjerkens Lecture, given by Richard B. Alley from Penn State University. As it happens, the best live talk I have attended at the meeting was also by Richard B. Alley, when he talked about flying buttresses and ice shelves. The Bjerkens Lecture is on the role of CO2 in earth’s history. Here are a few of my thoughts:
for times when there are no more ice cores available, those earth scientists (that is the climate-earth-scientists as opposed to “us hydrogeologists”) need to do the same thing as we do — look for other sources of data that help them to infer what they were looking for in the first place. One example that Alley presents is that they look for the density of openings in ancient leafs. Leaves “have to decide” if they put many holes in their leaves, which allows them to take in a lot of CO2 which they need for breathing, but which also dries them out quicker – or if they put few holes in their leaves, allowing little CO2 to come in but at the same time allowing only little water to go out. If the atmosphere contains little CO2, plants need relatively more holes in their leaves. I think this is a great example of “complimentary independent data-sets“, a term coined by John Cherry. Call me a geek, but I do like this term!
Alley mentions snowball earth, and there is also a cool picture in his talk from Namibia, which can be found here
- Alley mentions very briefly something along the lines that the mid-range models are right. Well, I don’t think that’s surprising. I would argue that the more important question is, if the extreme models get the extremes right…
There are two other blog-posts related to AGU which I want to point out:
Soil in the News
Two sites, “ScienceDaily” and “ScienceBlog” have the exact same story today, with exact the same heading: “Water hits and sticks: Findings challenge a century of assumptions about soil hydrology”. That sounds quite intriguing. Both articles stat that the research they write about is published on Nature Geoscience, but neither link to the paper. It is here. The “paper” is actually called in Nature Geoscience lingo a “letter”, and I am not sure what that implies.
Here is how I picture the process: it rains, some water enters the soil below the root zone, it continues it’s path towards the water table, some might flow laterally (towards a stream), some other part might be perched, and finally the rest makes it to the water table. On its way to the water table, it is commonly assumed, as the authors point out, that “water entering the soil as precipitation displaces the water that was present previously, pushing it deeper into the soil and eventually into the stream”, a concept referred to as “translatory flow”. Here is my first complaint, as stated above, I don’t think all the water below the root zone must go straight into a stream. But I agree with the (so far commonly used) concept of displacement.
The authors collected isotopic data, which suggests that “a pool of tightly bound water that is retained in the soil and used by trees does not participate in translatory flow, mix with mobile water or enter the stream.” And I think this is the key finding of this letter. Some water of the process I described above, might stay very close to the root zone.
This finding makes the authors suggest that their implications “are perhaps most profound for biogeochemical cycling and transport of nutrients to streams”. At the same time the authors concede that
“(t)his conceptual framework requires further testing to see if the underlying mechanisms are true, and if such separation of water resources holds for different climates and locations.”
I am wondering, how these two blog posts in ScienceDaily and ScienceBlog actually happened. Who wrote them? With what intentions?
More Water-Related News
- WaterWired has put up a great list of “Well-Worn Water Words” in two parts (part 1, part 2). Here is my favourite:
Water is the new oil because whisky is for drinking and water is for fighting, unless you are already in a water war, in which case you are probably already in water-power nexus from which only integrating science and policy will begin to address the fish versus farmer conflict defeating all efforts toward sustainability.
Scott Long on NASW reports on a previously unknown toxin in treated water. This is intriguing, because during the process of trying to eliminate as many bad substances as possible, another and possible quite a few other bad substances are created. Even worse, probably not many people look for those “by-products”.
Waterlogged points to a new documentary about the global water crisis, called “Flow”. Waterlooged links to two videos in which Maude Barlow (author of Blue Gold ) and Amy Goodman (of Democracy Now) http://waterblogged.info/2008/03/02/new-water-crisis-documentary-flow-for-the-love-of-water/
The IAHR student chapter at the University of Stuttgart recently held a colloquium on “Social, Economic and Political Perspective of Water”.
At this colloquium, Dr. Ulrike Pokorski da Cunha gave a presentation entitled “Nexus: Poverty–Water–Development”. Two of her slides were the ones that stuck in my head. I will show them in this post. Mrs. Pokorski da Cunha works for the “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit” (GTZ), a federally owned institution that supports the German government in achieving its development-policy objectives on a technical level, in the “water policy” branch.
The first slide shows how different sources of water (on the x-axis) cost a different prize (y-axis). There can be made the distinction between public and private supply and between piped and unitized supply. The most cost efficient water supply is public water supply in a piped network. The most expensive water supply is if you need carters. The source of this chart is the PPIAF database
The second slide I want to share shows how the economy of Zimbabwe is affected by precipitation. The line underlain by yellow shading represents the positive or negative change in GDP for Zimbabwe. The dark blue line represents the change in precipitation relative to the long term average of precipitation. This line is positive, if it rains more than on average and this line is negative, if it rains less than on average. Both line correlate well: Generally, if it rains a lot, the economy is doing well, if it rains little, the economy performs poorly.
Thanks Ulrike Pokorski da Cunha for allowing me to share those two slides!
There are two stories that are worth mentioning again. The one is the incredible amount of garbage in our oceans. The second is more general, and related to this blog only in a very general way: computers are important for scientists and engineers, they are at the moment at the centre of my daily work, and hence it might be appropriate to reflect on them.
Garbage and Poison in the Oceans
The area in the pacific which is most severely polluted with plastic now has a name, “the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch” — even though I’m not sure what’s great about it other than its size. It is featured on position eight of the top 9 eco-stories of 2009 and there are articles including animations around now at the mother nature network or at public radio international(link via @JeremiahOsGo)).
There even is a twitter account called “oceanplastics” where you can “read the latest buzz about plastics in our oceans”.
Reflections on Computers
netzpolitk.org has linked to an article by Detlef Borcherts entitled “Die Zukunft, die nicht geschehen ist”. In 1997, IBM celebrated its 70s year of existence. The German office of IBM contributed to the “birthday” a study that should outline how the use of computers could look like in the year 2010. Some of the thoughts have actually happened, like
“until 2010 the computer will be a commonly used tool. Human beings will be used to the fact that computers are useful, and also that the computer is superior in many areas, and that human beings don’t want or can’t abstain from them. Typical for today  is that we have no feeling whatsoever which areas that might be”
There are many more thoughts in this study whose lead-author was Theo Lutz, who has learned programming on a Z22 and who worked on “stochastic texts“, which by itself is a very interesting topic.
Borcherts mentions that the study was influenced by a verdict of the German Federal Constitutional Court from 1983, which granted every citizen the right to data to be deleted. Subsequentially, one of the thoughts in the study was that
also in 2010 the enlightened and democratic society will have its specific fears, but those fears will have little to do with computers. Topics such as ‘fear of surveillance’, ‘jobkiller’, ‘data privacy’, and others will not be related to computers anymore
Borchert writes that this optimism “frontally collides with reality in 2010” and points to a blogpost by Christiane Schulzki-Haddouti in which she calls the years 2000-2010 the “lost, catastrophic decade of data privacy”
Where are we heading?