Recently in Science Category

Happens every fourteen months or so - from the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network - Blog:

Next ETS Expected any time now
The next 14-month Magnitude 6+ slow earthquake (Episodic Tremor and Slip) event is expected after a quiet period in Cascadia... or has it been that quiet..  (skip to: Winter 2017 ETS page)

Tremor throughout Cascadia seems to have been relatively quiet over the past four months; only 5,600 tremor locations from the wech-o-meter compared to an average of 15,300 for the six previous four month periods.  In fact the whole past year seems quieter than previous years.


Interactive Tremor Map


Deep Tremor News

From Central Washington University's Pacific Northwest Geodetic Array comes a nice explanation of ETS and what it means to us:

Slow Earthquakes, ETS, and Cascadia
In 2001, CWU researchers with the continuous GPS network Pacific Northwest Geodetic Array discovered periodic slow-slip across the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Previously undetected by seismic networks, these slip events exhibit regular recurrence intervals thus changing current understanding of earthquake behavior. Since this time, definitions for this newly discovered phenomenon have evolved. At first, the term "silent-earthquake" was employed to illustrate the absence of a seismic signature. Subsequent investigations and recent discoveries have led to a change in characterization. Now these slow-slip events are defined as eposodic tremor and slip (ETS).

In short, an ETS is a discreet time interval (episode) of relative tectonic plate movement (slip) coupled with high frequency seismic energy bursts (tremor). ETS usually last for around a few weeks duration as opposed to regular earthquakes where energy is released within seconds to minutes.

During an ETS relative plate motion occurs within a transition region of a subducting lithospheric plate. This transition delineates an area between the upper-locked and lower-slipping interface of a subduction zone. Stress between these two colliding plates builds since differential movement between the two zones is not entirely compensated from ETS displacement. Quick slip across the upper locked portion of a subduction zone occurs in large megathrust earthquakes when accumulated stresses surpass the upper region's locking threshold.

In contrast, the subtle motion caused by ETS is so "slow" it's difficult to record at the surface. One might say "quiet" or possibly "silent" in nature, but definitely important since these events affect lithospheric plate interactions that are responsible for damaging "fast" earthquakes. Will the size of future large-scale megathrust earthquakes be reduced or will the time interval between these earthquakes increase with an ETS? A process with such imposing consequences is hardly "silent" in terms of relevance. In fact an ETS is not silent at all.

A lot more at the site - basically, tension is building and the release will happen with a magnitude 9 unzipping of the zone between these two plates. This happens every 300 to 500 years and the last one happened over 300 years ago. This zone is located off the California, Oregon and Washington coastlines - communities on the coastline will be devestated. Further inland, there will be major damage but not as bad.

Whole lotta shaking going on

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Last night around 9:00PM there was a mag 4.1 quake near Belfair, Washington on the Olympic Penninsula - about ten miles down so it would have been felt on the surface.

Coming home - Ancient One

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AKA the Kennewick Man - finally - from The Seattle Times:

‘A wrong had finally been righted’: Tribes bury remains of ancient ancestor known as Kennewick Man
In the high desert of the Columbia Plateau, more than 200 people gathered early Saturday to lay the Ancient One to rest, returning his 9,000-year-old remains to an undisclosed location not far from the Columbia River.

There was a feeling of finality and catharsis for those who had fought for 20 years to reclaim and repatriate the remains of an ancient ancestor who came to be called Kennewick Man, said Chuck Sams, communications director for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

There was also sadness in remembering those who didn’t live to see the Ancient One’s reburial, but also a sense of accomplishment in seeing him returned after two decades of court battles and scientific studies, Sams said.

Scientists who had argued that Kennewick Man was not an ancestor of the Columbia Plateau tribes were proved wrong, and the return of the Ancient One’s remains “validated what we said all along — Kennewick Man had been one of our own,” he said.

Very cool - the remains were found in 1996 in the bank of a river by two guys looking for a better view of the hydroplane races. The remains were being uncovered by gradual erosion and would have washed away and never been known if not for the work of the archaeologists. Now, they have been studied and then, 20 years later, revered and laid to rest. 40 years from now when I am done with my body, I do not give a shit about what happens to it - burn it and scatter the ashes on my farm. Other people have different ideas and this is part of what makes our human condition so wonderfully "interesting".

Now this is interesting

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The levels are not high enough to be dangerous and it has a half-life of about eight days but still. From The Barents Observer:

Radioactive Iodine over Europe first measured in Finnmark
A trace of radioactive Iodine-131 of unknown origin was in January detected over large areas in Europe. Since the isotope has a half-life of only eight days, the detection is a proof of a rather recent release.

Where the radioactivity is coming from is still a mystery.

The air filter station at Svanhovd was the first to measure small amounts of the radioactive Ionide-131 in the second week of January. The station is located a few hundred metres from Norway’s border to Russia’s Kola Peninsula in the north.

Soon, the same Iodine-131 isotope was measured in Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland. Within the next two weeks, traces of radioactivity, although in tiny amounts, were measured in Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, France and Spain.

And taking a look-see for ourselves - from The Aviationist:

U.S. Air Force deploys WC-135 nuclear sniffer aircraft to UK as spike of radioactive Iodine levels is detected in Europe
On Feb. 17, 2017, U.S. Air Force WC-135C Constant Phoenix Nuclear explosion “sniffer,” serial number 62-3582, using radio callsign “Cobra 55” deployed to RAF Mildenhall, UK.

As we have already reported the WC-135 is a derivative of the Boeing C-135 transport and support plane. Two of these aircraft are in service today out of the ten examples operated since 1963. The aircraft are flown by flight crews from the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron from Offutt Air Force Base while mission crews are staffed by Detachment 1 from the Air Force Technical Applications Center.

The WC-135, known as the “sniffer” or “weather bird” by its crews, can carry up to 33 personnel. However, crew compliments are kept to a minimum during mission flights in order to lessen levels of radioactive exposure.

Effluent gasses are gathered by two scoops on the sides of the fuselage, which in turn trap fallout particles on filters. The mission crews have the ability to analyze the fallout residue in real-time, helping to confirm the presence of nuclear fallout and possibly determine the characteristics of the warhead involved: that’s why the aircraft is important to confirm the type of explosion of today’s test.

Did Russia have some reactor problems with one of their subs or surface vessels? That would be a logical explanation. Sounds like a loss of coolant with containment vessel breach to me - pretty serious...

The Oroville Dam - a two-fer

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Two excellent resources for the dam geek in all of us.

First, this post at Watts Up With That:

Storm: 10 trillion gallons over next 7 days for CA #LakeOroville watershed to get massive amounts of rain
Last week, I said that up to a foot of rain could be seen in the Lake Oroville watershed due to a series of “supersoaker storms” coming through. Now, the largest of the storms is bearing down. Dr. Ryan Maue of WeatherBell says there’s going to be an unbelievable “10 trillion gallons” in the next 7 days as more storms come through.

Be sure to follow the comments section - a lot of boots on the ground observations.

Second, from the excellent Engineering forum - - the postings start on February 8th, 2017 and continue for 31 pages. Page 24 is of interest as  someone dug through the original construction plans and found that there were only a few core samples taken where the concrete spillway was sited - the construction people had no idea what kind of soil it was sitting on. Also, photos of large broken concrete slabs with no visible rebar - a cardinal sin for a home backyard deck let alone a structure like this.

YES! Wonderful decision from Congress

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From E&E News:

Lawmakers eye shifting climate research from NASA
Lawmakers are remaking NASA in order to leave parts of the agency's earth science program untouched but remove its climate change research.

It's still unclear exactly how lawmakers plan to transform NASA's mission, but Republicans and Trump administration officials have said they want the agency to focus on deep-space missions and away from climate change research, which is a part of its Earth Sciences Division. That has created uncertainty about the fate of the Earth Sciences Division, which accounts for about $2 billion of NASA's $20 billion budget.

At a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing yesterday, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said he wants a "rebalancing" of NASA's mission. The lawmaker told E&E News he wants the agency to reprioritize its mission because the Obama administration cut space exploration funds.

Great news - the job of NASA is to get stuff into space. It is the job of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Organization to monitor our weather. A small group at NASA grabbed the torch and ran with it for twenty years - I wrote about them in the last half of this post: Drinking a glass of the finest wine - renewable energy

People keep thinking that carbon is bad - it is not. Carbon and Carbon Dioxide is essential for life on Earth. Without it, there would be no photosynthesis and no plants. The authors go off the rails a bit with this paragraph:

A 2008 paper by James Hansen [PDF], former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world’s foremost experts on climate change, showed the true gravity of the situation. In it, Hansen set out to determine what level of atmospheric CO2 society should aim for “if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted.” His climate models showed that exceeding 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere would likely have catastrophic effects.

That would be the same James Hansen who was fired from the GISS and replaced by Gavin Schmidt. Hansen was coming up with all sorts of crackpot ideas and the media picked up on them because NASA. The GISS occupies a two floors of a building in downtown New York City near Colombia University. They have about 25 permanent scientists, about 30 visiting scientists and about 50 interns. For them to be the USA's climate authority is absurd.

Time to pass the torch back to NOAA and get NASA back to what it does best. Right now, we have to hitch a ride from the Russians every time we want to send someone up to the ISS.

How an archaeologist shovels snow

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From the book of face - click to embiggen:


Got Eclipse?

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From Space:

February Full Moon 2017: When to See the 'Snow Moon' Eclipse
February's Snow Moon will be no ordinary full moon for skywatchers in most parts of the world, as it coincides with a special lunar eclipse that will cast a shadow over the full moon's usual bright, glowing face.

On Friday (Feb. 10), just 10 minutes after the full moon peaks, so will a penumbral lunar eclipse. The moon will spend more than 4 hours coasting through Earth's outer shadow, called the penumbra, and it will appear darker than normal.

While penumbral eclipses can be difficult to see and don't look nearly as dramatic as a total lunar eclipse — in which the moon passes through the darkest, central part of Earth's shadow — Friday's penumbral eclipse will be darker and more noticeable than most lunar eclipses of its kind. That's because the moon will veer so deeply into Earth's penumbral shadow that it will be almost entirely submerged in shade.

It's overcast and rainy here but just in case...

Time for a visit - Iceland

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From Iceland Monitor:

Four of Iceland's main volcanoes all preparing for eruption
According to geophysicist Páll Einarsson, four of Iceland's volcanoes are showing increased amounts of activity in preparation for another eruption.

Katla is the most active that it's ever been in four decades. "Katla has been unrestful since this autumn."

The other volcanoes showing increased activity are Hekla, Grímsvötn and Bárðarbunga.

I spent a couple of months over there in 1974 - the year after the Vestmannaeyjar eruption. Gorgeous place, really nice people.

Interesting development which will have an impact on everybody - cheaper fertilizers. From the University of Utah:

Nearly a century ago, German chemist Fritz Haber won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for a process to generate ammonia from hydrogen and nitrogen gases. The process, still in use today, ushered in a revolution in agriculture, but now consumes around one percent of the world’s energy to achieve the high pressures and temperatures that drive the chemical reactions to produce ammonia.

Today, University of Utah chemists publish a different method, using enzymes derived from nature, that generates ammonia at room temperature. As a bonus, the reaction generates a small electrical current. The method is published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

Although chemistry and materials science and engineering professor Shelley Minteer and postdoctoral scholar Ross Milton have only been able to produce small quantities of ammonia so far, their method could lead to a less energy-intensive source of the ammonia, used worldwide as a vital fertilizer.

“It’s a spontaneous process, so rather than having to put energy in, it’s actually generating its own electricity,” Minteer says.

Major impact on agriculture if this process is able to scale up to production levels. Imagine making ammonia as well as enough electricity to run an irrigation pump. Makes things a lot easier for the 3rd world farmer.

Link to the paper plus an abstract can be found here: Bioelectrochemical Haber–Bosch Process: An Ammonia-Producing H2/N2 Fuel Cell

Video from the USGS’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory - starts off with a still photo and some narration but gets really good really quick (20 seconds or so):

I had noted three days ago that something was happening with the clocks on board the new constellation of navigation satellites that Europe was putting in orbit. Spaceflight 101 has a bit more:

ESA studies multiple Atomic Clock Failures on Galileo Navigation Satellites
The European Space Agency is studying a potentially serious problem with the atomic clocks that drive Europe’s Galileo Navigation Satellites and have shown an alarming failure rate across the early phase of the satellite constellation.

European government officials decided to postpone the next Galileo satellite launch by three months from August to a tentative target of November to provide sufficient time for engineers to look into atomic-clock failures on orbiting satellites. ESA and industry specialists are now working to uncover multiple systemic issues with Galileo’s onboard systems that already caused ten clocks to stop operating on orbiting satellites.

What caught my eye in this article was this:

Particularly worrying is that both types of clocks are affected – six Hydrogen Masers and three of the Rubidium devices are currently out of commission. The issue is further complicated by the fact that clock failures occurred on two different satellite platforms, one built by Airbus and Thales Alenia as part of the In-Orbit Validation (IOV) satellite series and the other by OHB Systems that is the prime contractor for the operational Galileo satellites.

The idea that the same failure could occur on two completely different platforms is troubling. The clocks are single-sourced (a bad idea for anything as complex as this) but they seem to be well designed:

The common denominator between the different types of clocks and satellite buses is SpectraTime, a Swiss firm that provides both atomic clocks for the Galileo constellation. SpectraTime, ESA and the satellite manufacturers are currently in the process of working through an extensive fault tree, but work already revealed that the design of both clock types is sound and the fault is likely within an auxiliary piece of equipment that causes clocks to fail when operated in a certain way, possibly with several contributing factors.

At least we have our GPS still ticking along and the Russian Glonass is not bad either. A lot of recent receivers can use both seats of birds so navigation and timing are greatly improved for everyone.

Quite the rock

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US Highway 101 near Lake Crescent - from the WA State DOT:


Came down yesterday - this is on the Olympic Peninsula. Very familiar with the area - I love Lake Crescent. Beautiful place.

Sad story from The Nepali Times by way of The Landslide Blog at the American Geophysical Union:

Future shock – the failure to learn from the 2015 earthquake in Nepal
The Nepali Times had a large piece over the weekend entitled Future Shock, which was driven by National Earthquake day in Nepal.  In an accompanying editorial, the newspaper notes the disastrous failure of Nepal to learn lessons from the earthquake, noting that:

In Kathmandu Valley, the earthquake damage convinced many that cement buildings are safer. A stronger earthquake that lasted longer would have pancaked most concrete structures on 25 April 2015. As our special report in this edition  points out, scientists have warned of much more catastrophic earthquakes in the vicinity of Kathmandu Valley and in Western Nepal. Existing and new buildings are just not capable of withstanding the intensity of shaking we are bound to experience in the Central Himalaya at any time. 

And, most importantly:

We do not intend to spread panic, but the sad fact is that Nepal has squandered the lessons of 2015, and we are woefully unprepared for a disaster sure to come. This doesn’t just mean rehabilitating structures that came down two years ago, but also retrofitting buildings in western Nepal where a Big One is imminent. 

The delayed and ineffective response to 2015 and the lack of serious preparedness is a result of a larger failure of governance. As our report shows, the whole corrupt building permit process has to be overhauled so that safety comes before revenue. We cannot afford to wait for the politics to fix itself, our greatest concern now should be on pre-disaster preparedness and to learn from past experiences.

In my opinion, this hits the nail on the head.  The earthquake left many unstable slopes, and many exceptionally vulnerable people, in the mountainous areas to the north of Kathmandu.  There was an almost total lack of government-led preparedness for the 2016 monsoon, despite warnings that the situation was highly dangerous.  Since then, progress has been slow, even though the 2017 monsoon is just months away.  It is hard not to believe that Nepal is heading for an even greater disaster.

This article is one of a series at The Nepali Times - well worth reading for general disaster planning as well as the political scene in Nepal:

Sad story - the corrupt politicians never think about the consequences of their actions (or in-actions). Sometimes I think the French had it right - set up a guillotine in every town square and watch the bureaucrats become very motivated to do the right thing.

From NASA:

Remembering Gene Cernan
Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, died Monday, Jan. 16, surrounded by his family.

Cernan, a Captain in the U.S. Navy, left his mark on the history of exploration by flying three times in space, twice to the moon. He also holds the distinction of being the second American to walk in space and the last human to leave his footprints on the lunar surface.

He was one of 14 astronauts selected by NASA in October 1963. He piloted the Gemini 9 mission with Commander Thomas P. Stafford on a three-day flight in June 1966. Cernan logged more than two hours outside the orbiting capsule.

In May 1969, he was the lunar module pilot of Apollo 10, the first comprehensive lunar-orbital qualification and verification test of the lunar lander. The mission confirmed the performance, stability, and reliability of the Apollo command, service and lunar modules. The mission included a descent to within eight nautical miles of the moon's surface.

In a 2007 interview for NASA's oral histories, Cernan said, "I keep telling Neil Armstrong that we painted that white line in the sky all the way to the Moon down to 47,000 feet so he wouldn't get lost, and all he had to do was land. Made it sort of easy for him."

We lost a real hero.

A photo of Saturn's moon Mimas

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From BoingBoing:

NASA claims this image taken by the Cassini probe depicts Saturn's moon Mimas with the distinctive Herschel Crater, but we know better.From NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute


Graphene? That is sooo yesterday

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Meet the new supermaterial - super-graphene. From MIT:

MIT Unveils New Material That’s Strongest and Lightest On Earth
For years, researchers have known that carbon, when arranged in a certain way, can be very strong. Case in point: graphene.

Graphene, which was heretofore, the strongest material known to man, is made from an extremely thin sheet of carbon atoms arranged in two dimensions. But there’s one drawback: while notable for its thinness and unique electrical properties, it’s very difficult to create useful, three-dimensional materials out of graphene.

Now, a team of MIT researchers discovered that taking small flakes of graphene and fusing them following a mesh-like structure not only retains the material’s strength, but the graphene also remains porous. Based on experiments conducted on 3D printed models, researchers have determined that this new material, with its distinct geometry, is actually stronger than graphene – making it 10 times stronger than steel, with only five percent of its density.

Much more at the site. This will take a few years to get to commercial market but still - fascinating. You can tune the response of the material by adjusting its wall thickness. Very interesting.

On this day in 1968

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On January 8th, 1968, the television program The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau  premiered. That was it for me - I wanted to be a marine biologist and physical oceanographer: Here is the first episode - Sharks:

If you ever watched the movie A Life Aquatic - the ship they used is a complete replica of the Calypso. Also, I love the Star Trek theme being echoed at 12:26. ST-TOS first aired in 1966 so that phrase was definitely borrowed.

Alas, after a couple of years at Boston University with some sessions at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Lerner Marine Lab on the island of Bimini, I came to the realization that there were 50,000 other people who wanted to be Jacques Cousteau and the probability of good employment was minimal. I lucked in to a nice job at the local public aquarium in Boston and spent five years there - formed my first business after that, ran that for a couple of years and then moved out to Seattle. Boston was a lot of fun but it was getting just too overbuilt, gentrified and expensive.

About that Greenland Ice Sheet

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Growing like gangbusters - from the Danish Meteorological Institute:

Current Surface Mass Budget of the Greenland Ice Sheet
Here you can follow the daily surface mass balance on the Greenland Ice Sheet. The snow and ice model from one of DMI’s climate models is driven every six hours with snowfall, sunlight and other parameters from a research weather model for Greenland, Hirlam-Newsnow. We can thereby calculate the melting energy, refreezing of melt water and sublimation (snow that evaporates without melting first). The result of this is a change in the snow and ice from one day to the next and this change is shown below. All numbers are in water equivalent, that is, the amount of water the snow and ice would correspond to if it was melted.

The model has been updated in 2014 to better account for meltwater refreezing in the snow, and again in 2015 to account for the lower reflectivity of sunlight in bare ice than in snow. The update means that the new maps, values and curves will deviate from the previous ones. Everything shown on this site, however, is calculated with this new model, so that all curves and values are comparable.

Here is a chart that shows the growth and compares it to #1) - the last few years and #2) - the average from 1990 to 2013. Blue is this year:


Top: The total daily contribution to the surface mass balance from the entire ice sheet (blue line, Gt/day). Bottom: The accumulated surface mass balance from September 1st to now (blue line, Gt) and the season 2011-12 (red) which had very high summer melt in Greenland. For comparison, the mean curve from the period 1990-2013 is shown (dark grey). The same calendar day in each of the 24 years (in the period 1990-2013) will have its own value. These differences from year to year are illustrated by the light grey band. For each calendar day, however, the lowest and highest values of the 24 years have been left out.

More people die from excessive cold than from excessive heat. How much more data like this will people have to see to recognize Anthropogenic Global Warming for the political fraud that it is.

Good news - earth movement

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One of the joys of living on the slopes of an active volcano is the possibility of a lahar - from Infogalactic: 

A lahar is a type of mudflow or debris flow composed of a slurry of pyroclastic material, rocky debris, and water. The material flows down from a volcano, typically along a river valley.

Lahars are extremely destructive: they can flow tens of metres per second (22 mph or more), be 140 metres (460 ft) deep, and destroy any structures in their path. Notable lahars include those at Mount Pinatubo and Nevado del Ruiz, the latter of which killed thousands of people.

The Bellingham County Council recently tried to pass some onerous legislation that would have affected our lives out in the country but a large number of concerned citizens showed up and the resolution was tabled. This does not mean that we do not need protection. The real need is for notification. It seems that Mt. Rainier is getting this.
From the Seattle Times:

Mount Rainier to get new digital-warning system for massive mudflows
After the deadly Oso landslide enveloped a neighborhood in 2014, scientists and emergency managers launched a review of how they detect massive mudflows on one of the world’s most dangerous volcanos: Mount Rainier.

“That event (Oso) moved about 8 million cubic meters of mass,” said Scott Heinze, deputy director of Pierce County’s emergency-management department. “The projection for a Mount Rainier lahar is between 250 to 500 million cubic meters of mass — exponentially greater.”

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy pushed for the review, which examined the functionality of the current warning system and also compared it to others around the globe, he said. The sensors, which were installed in the 1990s, monitor fast-moving gushes of mud and debris, or lahars.

Volcanic mudflows — formed by large landslides or suddenly melting snow and ice during eruptions — are considered the mountain’s greatest hazard.

A bit more:

Mount Rainier, which is more than a half-million years old, rumbles with volcanic mudflows every 500 to 1,000 years, Heinze said, adding: “We’re in the window.”

And more:

A computer system at the state emergency-operations center at Camp Murray monitors the lahar-detection sensors, which are in the Carbon and the Puyallup river valleys. If computers detect the rumbling of a lahar, that system alerts 24-hour emergency-monitoring and notification centers, which in turn activate a warning system, according to the USGS.

Good - Mt. Rainier has the greatest risk for a lahar. Mt. Baker does have some risk - there are gas vents on the south slopes which are changing the chemistry of the rock. If this slips, there would be a flow to the south - Baker Lake, Concrete, Highway 20.

Happy New Year and Leap Second

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New Year I know about but Leap Second? From EarthSky:

Leap second to be added tonight
The U.S. Naval Observatory announced last July that a leap second will be added to official timekeeping on December 31, 2016. That means your day and year – and everyone’s day and year – will officially be one second longer.

Leap seconds have been added 26 times since 1972. They’re inserted at the end of the last day of either June or December. The leap second will be added to the world’s clocks at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on December 31. This corresponds to 6:59:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, when the extra second will be inserted at the U.S. Naval Observatory’s Master Clock Facility in Washington, DC.

The clocks that are synchronized to this will show the seconds as 57, 58, 59, 60, 00, 01 - last one was June 30, 2015. These are added to keep solar time and network time in sync - the Earth's rotation is slowing down perceptibly and now, our clocks are good enough to notice this. It used to be the domain of high technology and only a few places had clocks good enough to be bothered by this difference. Now they are available on eBay for a couple hundred bucks. I own two of them.

Weather - a 1PM update

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From Cliff Mass:

1 PM Update
The 1 PM visible satellite image shows the approaching front/low pressure system with substantial convective clouds behind it. The leading edge of the front is now stretching from Forks, on the NW coast, to NW Washington.

The latest radar indicates showers along the coast and over NW Washington, all of which are reaching the surface as rain.  A few snow flurries have been noted around the region.

The latest sounding above Sea-Tac airport (12:30 PM) shows a freezing level around 950 ft, which means the atmosphere is now close to cold enough for snow to reach sea level.  This morning's model output suggests some warming aloft this afternoon.

The snow flurries is what is happening right here - the freezing level of 950 feet is about 300 feet above my head where I am sitting. Much more at the site - Cliff has a lot of charts of current conditions as well as short-range forecasts.

The acoustics of ice

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A fun video:

The video cites two other YouTube channels - Terje Isungset and LiveEachDay

Terje's music is wonderful. Great discovery.

Ice Age Floodscapes

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A new YouTube channel from Bruce Bjornstad - gorgeous drone photography - Ice Age Floodscapes

Eastern Washington has some very interesting geology. Here are the Scabland Coulees

2016 strikes again - RIP Vera Rubin

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From Infogalactic:

Vera (Cooper) Rubin (born July 23, 1928) is an American astronomer who pioneered work on galaxy rotation rates. She uncovered the discrepancy between the predicted angular motion of galaxies and the observed motion, by studying galactic rotation curves. This phenomenon became known as the galaxy rotation problem. Although initially met with skepticism, Rubin's results have been confirmed over the subsequent decades. Attempts to explain the galaxy rotation problem led to the theory of dark matter.

The Carnegie Institute has her obituary:

Renowned astrophysicist and National Medal of Science awardee Vera Rubin passed away in Princeton N.J., the evening of December 25, 2016, at the age of 88. Rubin confirmed the existence of dark matter—the invisible material that makes up more than 90% of the mass of the universe. She was a retired staff astronomer at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in Washington, D.C.

“Vera Rubin was a national treasure as an accomplished astronomer and a wonderful role model for young scientists,” remarked Carnegie president Matthew Scott. “We are very saddened by this loss.”

Here is a photo of her at work - the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ - the angled thing is a spectroscope used for determining the speed of a given stars motion relative to Earth.


The idea that the Nobel Committee never awarded her the Physics Prize is unreal. The Prizes can not be awarded posthumously so they should just not award a Physics Prize for 2017 - everyone would understand.

This should galvanize people just like the Russian Sputnik launch in 1957

From the London Daily Mail:

China claims to have a working version of NASA's impossible engine orbiting the Earth - and will use it in satellites 'imminently'
Scientists in China claim they’ve created a working prototype of the ‘impossible’ reactionless engine – and they say they’re already testing it in orbit aboard the Tiangong-2 space laboratory.

The radical, fuel-free EmDrive recently stirred up controversy after a paper published by a team of NASA researchers appeared to show they’d successfully built the technology.

If the physics-defying concept is brought to reality, it’s said the engine could get humans to Mars in just 10 weeks.

But now, scientists with the China Academy of Space Technology claim NASA’s results ‘re-confirm’ what they’d already achieved, and have plans to implement it in satellites ‘as quickly as possible.’

Normally, satellites carry a quantity of fuel - reaction mass - and this allows them to be moved from one orbit to another. This is for replacing aging satellites (keeping a spare in the air) as well as targeting different locations for surveillance. Using the Em drive to move them will make them a lot smaller, lighter, and cheaper to launch.

The USA needs to get out in front of the crowd in basic research - we have been slacking for too long. We even have to bum a ride from the Russians when going to the space station.

Local earth movement

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A small landslide shuts down one lane of I-5 - from the WA State Department of Transportation:

Northbound I-5 reduced to a single lane near Bellingham for emergency rock removal work
Drivers using northbound Interstate 5 south of Bellingham should be prepared for extended delays and backups through next week as crews remove unstable rock from an adjacent hillside.

For the safety of the traveling public, the Washington State Department of Transportation will keep one of two lanes of northbound I-5, along a quarter mile stretch, between North Lake Samish (Exit 246) and State Route 11/ Old Fairhaven Parkway (Exit 250) closed until loose rocks can be safely removed from above the roadway.

The issue was first discovered on Tuesday, Dec. 20, when a member of the WSDOT Incident Response Team noticed rocks, dirt and bent trees along the hillside. Upon further investigation it was determined that additional debris needs to be removed from above the interstate before the lane reopens to traffic.

There is a lot of earth movement in this area - LIDAR surveys make this absolutly clear.

A hot time in Italy

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Yikes - from Phys Org:

 Naples astride a rumbling mega-volcano
A slumbering Campi Flegrei volcano under the Italian city of Naples shows signs of "reawakening" and may be nearing a critical pressure point, according to a study published Tuesday.

Italian and French scientists have for the first time identified a threshold beyond which rising magma under the Earth's surface could trigger the release of fluids and gases at a 10-fold increased rate.

This would cause the injection of high-temperature steam into surrounding rocks, said lead author Giovanni Chiodini, a researcher at Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Bologna.

A bit more:

It is not possible at this time to say when—or if—the volcano will erupt anew, he said.

If it did, however, "it would be very dangerous" for the half-million people living inside and near the caldera, he added, using the scientific name for the bowl-like depression created after a volcano blows its top.

At least they will have plenty of warning - I cannot imagine having to relocate the entire city.

Talk about instant Nobel Prize and one of the major holy grails of materials science. From Next Big Future:

Researchers at Japan Tokai University found a room temperature Superconductor with critical temperature near the melting point of Tin
Researchers at Tokai University have created materials obtained by bringing n-alkanes into contact with graphite which are capable of conducting electricity with almost no energy loss at room temperature. They report that the sudden jump in resistance showing a phase transition is observed in the materials during heating by two-probe resistance measurement. The measured critical temperatures of the materials consisting of pitch-based graphite fibers and n-alkanes having 7-16 carbon atoms range from 363.08 to 504.24 K (231 Celsius) and the transition widths range between 0.15 and 3.01 K. They also demonstrate that superconductors with critical temperatures beyond 504 K (231 Celsius) are obtained by alkanes with 16 or more carbon atoms.

Superconducting means that the electrical resistence of the material is zero ohms. The first big jump in this research was when they found materials that were superconducting at liquid nitrogen temperatures. Previously, they had to use liquid helium and that stuff is really expensive - $5.00 per liter as opposed to $0.10 per liter for N2. To be able to use these properties at room temperature is a biggie.

There is a major caveat here - when using a superconducting material, the mechanical forces from the magnetic fields are very strong and the material must be able to withstand it. This is why MRI machines still use liquid helium for cooling - the "high temperature" superconducting materials using Liquid Nitrogen are simply too fragile to withstand the immense magnetic forces generated. Still, progress happens and once we understand the mechanism, the formulae can be tweeked. Mag-lev railroads would be a wonderful thing.

Meet  - Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer. From Bloomberg:

The Man Who Stands Between Earth and Asteroid Armageddon
Lindley Johnson spent 23 years in the U.S. Air Force keeping his eyes above the skies. He helped identify and tackle a growing risk to human space activity—the sheer volume of stuff orbiting the planet—in addition to helping manage and monitor military assets in orbit. In 1982, the Air Force set up a space command to coordinate its activities, not the least of which was making sure the then-new Space Shuttle fleet wouldn’t have a tragic encounter with spacefaring material.

In the early 1990s, Johnson’s focus turned to natural threats to the planet from near-Earth asteroids, now a large and growing class of rocks that scientists track both for their potential impact risk and to study the solar system. About 1,500 new objects are discovered every year. Since retiring as a lieutenant colonel several years ago, he’s become the founding head of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, overseeing a network of ground-based telescope surveys for new asteroids and working with other agencies to prepare for the unlikely event of a direct hit. His job title—no pressure—is Planetary Defense Officer.

A sign on the credenza in his office reads, “Every Day is Asteroid Day,” he said.

A fascinating interview. A lot of what is written about in popular press is wrong. You can't just send up a missle and nuke it.

I wrote about another interesting person in March of this year - Dr. Judah Levine - our Time Lord.

7.0 magnitude but only 10km deep - no word as to any Tsunami yet.

More information here: M7.0 - 149km SSW of Puerto El Triunfo, El Salvador

This is all the while Cat2 Hurricane Otto is passing through the same area.

From the UK Guardian:

Trump to scrap Nasa climate research in crackdown on ‘politicized science’
Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”, his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said.

Nasa’s Earth science division is set to be stripped of funding in favor of exploration of deep space, with the president-elect having set a goal during the campaign to explore the entire solar system by the end of the century.

This would mean the elimination of Nasa’s world-renowned research into temperature, ice, clouds and other climate phenomena. Nasa’s network of satellites provide a wealth of information on climate change, with the Earth science division’s budget set to grow to $2bn next year. By comparison, space exploration has been scaled back somewhat, with a proposed budget of $2.8bn in 2017.

Bob Walker, a senior Trump campaign adviser, said there was no need for Nasa to do what he has previously described as “politically correct environmental monitoring”.

“We see Nasa in an exploration role, in deep space research,” Walker told the Guardian. “Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission.

This is wonderful news - NASA has politicized climate science and has been rewarded by the Obama administration for this. Time to return to their core competencies. After all, NOAA was created to monitor and predict the weather - no need for another organization to have the same function.

CRAP - Mag 6.9 off Namie, Japan

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Near Fukushima - link to the U.S. Geological Survey website for the event.

No word yet as to tsunami - the quake happened about two hours ago.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Earthquakes: Reckoning With ‘The Big One’ in California—and It Just Got Bigger
For years, scientists believed the mighty San Andreas—the 800-mile-long fault running the length of California where the Pacific and North American plates meet—could only rupture in isolated sections.

But a 2014 study by federal, state and academic researchers showed that much of the fault could unzip all at once, unleashing a rare, singular catastrophe. Now, a firm has used that research to come up with a new analysis of the damage that could be caused by statewide break of the San Andreas.

The analysis, by CoreLogic Inc., a real-estate analytics firm in Irvine, Calif., lays out an alarming scenario of destruction.

The threat is rare but within the relm of possibility:

The damage to homes alone could total $289 billion, compared with a previous range of $137 billion on the southern portion of the fault and $161 billion in the north, according to the CoreLogic analysis.

Researchers say a statewide quake above 8.0 would likely hit the Golden State once at least every 2,500 years. “We are talking about very rare earthquakes here,” said Maiclaire Bolton, a seismologist and senior product manager for CoreLogic.

Well, they have been talking about suceeding from the Union. This would help things along.

Supermoon - shmoopermoon

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Big washout here - the clouds are thick on the horizon. Much clearer above but when it gets up there, I will not have the horizon effect that makes the moon look so much larger.

Next time...

Crap - RIP: David Charles Hahn

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David was born on October 30, 1976 and passed away on Tuesday, September 27, 2016.

David was a resident of Shelby Township, Michigan at the time of his passing.

Visitation will be on Saturday from 11am until 3 pm with a Funeral service 2 pm at the Wasik Funeral Home Inc. 49150 Schoenherr Rd. N. of 22 Mile Shelby Twp. Interment at Great Lakes National Cemetery.

Only 39 years old. David was known to most people as The Radioactive Boy Scout - from the November 1998 issue of Harpers:

The Radioactive Boy Scout
When a teenager attempts to build a breeder reactor
Golf Manor is the kind of place where nothing unusual is supposed to happen, the kind of place where people live precisely because it is more than 25 miles outside of Detroit and all the complications attendant on that city. The kind of place where money buys a bit more land, perhaps a second bathroom, and so reassures residents that they’re safely in the bosom of the middle class. Every element of Golf Manor invokes one form of security or another, beginning with the name of the subdivision itself—taken from the 18 hole course at its entrance—and the community in which it is nestled, Commerce Township. The houses and trees are both old and varied enough to make Golf Manor feel more like a neighborhood than a subdivision, and the few features that do convey subdivision—a sign at the entrance saying “We have many children but none to spare. Please drive carefully”—have a certain Back to the Future charm. Most Golf Manor residents remain there until they die, and then they are replaced by young couples with kids. In short, it is the kind of place where, on a typical day, the only thing lurking around the corner is a Mister Softee ice-cream truck.

But June 26, 1995, was not a typical day. Ask Dottie Pease. As she turned down Pinto Drive, Pease saw eleven men swarming across her carefully manicured lawn. Their attention seemed to be focused on the back yard of the house next door, specifically on a large wooden potting shed that abutted the chain-link fence dividing her property from her neighbor’s. Three of the men had donned ventilated moon suits and were proceeding to dismantle the potting shed with electric saws, stuffing the pieces of wood into large steel drums emblazoned with radioactive warning signs. Pease had never noticed anything out of the ordinary at the house next door.

The Harpers article goes into a lot of detail about David's experiments - here are two paragraphs:

Now seventeen, David hit on the idea of building a model breeder reactor. He knew that without a critical pile of at least thirty pounds of enriched uranium he had no chance of initiating a sustained chain reaction, but he was determined to get as far as he could by trying to get his various radioisotopes to interact with one another. That way, he now says, “no matter what happened there would be something changing into something—some kind of action going on there.” His blueprint was a schematic of a checkerboard breeder reactor he’d seen in one of his father’s college textbooks. Ignoring any thought of safety, David took the highly radioactive radium and americium out of their respective lead casings and, after another round of filing and pulverizing, mixed those isotopes with beryllium and aluminum shavings, all of which he wrapped in aluminum foil. What were once the neutron sources for his guns became a makeshift “core” for his reactor. He surrounded this radioactive ball with a “blanket” composed of tiny foil-wrapped cubes of thorium ash and uranium powder, which were stacked in an alternating pattern with carbon cubes and tenuously held together with duct tape.

David monitored his “breeder reactor” at the Golf Manor laboratory with his Geiger counter. “It was radioactive as heck,” he says. “The level of radiation after a few weeks was far greater than it was at the time of assembly. I know I transformed some radioactive materials. Even though there was no critical pile, I know that some of the reactions that go on in a breeder reactor went on to a minute extent.”

Quite the story and sad to see a life cut so short.

And of course - the EPA

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From the Washington Examiner:

EPA rushing through regulations after Trump election
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency is telling staff to quickly finish up the last round of regulations before President-elect Donald Trump enters the Oval Office next year.

"As I've mentioned to you before, we're running — not walking — through the finish line of President Obama's presidency," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a staff memo obtained by the Washington Examiner after Trump was declared the winner of Tuesday's election.

The agency is currently working on regulations for the oil and gas sector, and is finalizing new annual regulations for the nation's ethanol mandate and renewable fuel blending requirements. The agency is also moving rules related to implementation of its landmark Clean Power Plan for cutting carbon pollution from the nation's coal utilities to combat global warming.

The Clean Power Plan itself is currently under court review after being temporarily stayed by the Supreme Court on Feb. 9 until all judicial review has concluded. Over half the nation is opposing the climate rules along with major industry groups and the coal industry. Trump has made repealing the EPA climate plan a key part of his first 100 days in office.

None of these regulations have any basis in actual demonstrable science - all narrative-driven. The ethanol mandate is a financial boon to one company - Archer Daniels Midland - and serves no other purpose.

Looks like a great documentary

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They overhype climate change a bit but that is what is in the public eye these days:

From their website:

What if the solution to climate change were hiding in plain sight?
There’s been huge growth in renewable energy and energy efficiency in recent years, but most of America’s clean energy still comes from nuclear.

THE NEW FIRE is an independent documentary that will introduce audiences to young nuclear engineers who are developing next-generation reactors which they hope will provide clean and safe solutions to the world’s future energy needs. Could these audacious innovators be the agents of change the world has been waiting for? With unprecedented access to key people, places and events, award-winning filmmaker David Schumacher has traveled the globe to capture a powerful, eye-opening story that needs to be told now—before it’s too late.

There are already thirteen telescopes built around the summit of Mauna Kea that benefit from the very laminar, dry and smooth airflow and the lack of light pollution on the mountain. It is also a sacred Hawai'ian site.

There were plans to build a new and very large telescope - 30 meters in diameter (98 feet) but the Hawai'ian natives decided that the site was too close to their own native sites and there has been an active protest against further development. Mother board has an excellent article from November 30th, 2015 on the protests against the construction of this scope. A lot to be said on both sides - this is their sacred ground. But still, Hawaii is a poor state and this is a $1,400,000,000 project. A lot of the infrastructure will be manufactured elsewhere and shipped in but a wild-assed guess would put the local construction cost at about 30% or $420,000,000 as a direct injection of cash to the local working community. And then, there is the annual maintenance required - road work, custodial and hotel services, the increase in revenues from the visiting beakers.

The indigenous people may have been holding out for a little more baksheesh but if so, their plans just got stymied - from the Beeb:

Biggest telescope may swap continents
One of the world's biggest telescope projects might be forced to move its location to a different continent.

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) was due to be built in Hawaii, but ran into opposition with indigenous groups which consider its proposed site sacred.

Now the TMT's board says a site in the Canary Islands, Spain, could act as a potential alternative.

The $1.4bn project will enable experts to study the early Universe and peer into the atmospheres of exoplanets.

The initial ideas to build the scope started around fifteen years ago - they had a long time to present the idea and only recently was there any pushback. Mauna Kea is the better site - higher and dryer but when there is no negotiation, time to go with plan B.

The current political activists have no skin in the game - they show up, get locals agitated and vocal and when things do not work out well, they fade away and go to the next scene. The protesters at Mauna Kea were not local - too many haoles in the photographs.

We are suffering from the same activism in our own county from the people trying to demonize coal to the benefit of those who make lots of money from government subsidies of Commercial political activism is a very well-paying job - Soros has funded Black Lives Matter to the tune of over one million dollars overall through his various organizations - the major funding gift was $650,000. The puppetmasters want our system to collapse so they can step in and offer the soft jaws of tyranny.

Want to buy an apartment cheap?

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Downtown San Francisco - from the Associated Press:

Pamela Buttery noticed something peculiar six years ago while practicing golf putting in her 57th-floor apartment at the luxurious Millennium Tower. The ball kept veering to the same corner of her living room.

Those were the first signs for residents of the sleek, mirrored high-rise that something was wrong.

The 58-story building has gained notoriety in recent weeks as the "leaning tower of San Francisco." But it's not just leaning. It's sinking, too. And engineers hired to assess the problem say it shows no immediate sign of stopping.

A bit more:

Completed seven years ago, the tower so far has sunk 16 inches into the soft soil and landfill of San Francisco's crowded financial district. But it's not sinking evenly, which has created a 2-inch tilt at the base - and a roughly 6-inch lean at the top.

And it is in an earthquake zone. More:

Several documents involving the downtown building were leaked in recent weeks, including exchanges between the city's Department of Building Inspection and Millennium Partners, the developer. They show both sides knew the building was sinking more than anticipated before it opened in late 2009, but neither made that information public.

And this:

The tower's troubles are apparent in its five-floor underground garage, where Porsches and Lamborghinis sit near walls bearing floor-to-ceiling cracks, many bracketed by stress gauges to measure growth.

Follow the money:

Dodson and other residents blame developers for what they say is a flawed design. The tower's foundation, for instance, uses piles driven 60 to 90 feet into landfill, rather than the pricier option of going down at least 240 feet to bedrock.

And he said, they said:

Jeffries blames the building's problems on an adjacent construction site where a city rail terminal is being built. He says the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, the public agency building the $4.5 billion transit hub, dug a 60-foot hole to create a dry construction site and pumped out millions of gallons of groundwater that wound up compressing and weakening the soil under the Millennium Tower.

Transbay says the tower's "inadequate foundation is the sole cause of the excessive settlement and tilt." It released a statement saying the building had sunk 10 inches and started to lean before the agency broke ground in 2010.

Emphasis mine - kind of hard to refute those facts... Someone is looking at spending a lot of money to fix this. My bet is that the developers tried to cheap out on the foundation and will be paying the price for it. If the buildings foundation is buoyant and floating in the soil, the first Mag 8 earthquake to hit will cause significant damage regardless of internal bracing. It will be interesting to see what the original engineers specified for the foundation - going to bedrock for a 58 story building is a zero-brainer.

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