Friday, September 28, 2007

The New Model Farm

As my readers have likely figured out, I use thought experiments to advance new ideas. I have a lifetime of massaging other peoples doubtful business plans to inform me and I must sometimes ask the reader's forbearance when I assume he is as experienced in this process as I am.

That is usually a bad assumption and it is very easy to assume prior knowledge when it is not true. So just as a reader is welcome who brings new information, I want to welcome that reader who does not follow the argument. Ask questions! It gives me a chance to rewrite those same ideas and in the process allows a larger group of people to understand the concepts.

I use one key principle when thinking about the human aspects of any innovative protocol that I am introducing. I call it the rule of 200.

Essentially, humanity naturally organizes itself into communities whose maximum head count should never exceed 200. We have learned to create larger organizations only through the expedient of operating virtual communities within the organization and explicitly defining their bounds.

Command an control is achieved by the rule of 6 in which only six people report to any one individual. There are lots of ways to play around with this and it is never meant to be used in a rigid manner. However, anything larger tends to turn into a one way communication meeting.

Understanding this allows us to realize that our ancestors tended to naturally organize their economic life around farmland and a village of 200 or so. It is a powerful predictive tool for deciphering ancient settlement patterns.

Perhaps with that in mind, you can understand my logic in suggesting the creation of a new agricultural protocol implementing new agricultural ideas and using the modern condo tower as the central village around which community life revolves. After all, our condo delivers the entirety of the modern lifestyle in a completely financial form. No one has yet got wise to this idea and how this can solve several major problems.

1 A full community social support package can be implemented easily and internally financed.

2 A community capital base can be provided for maximum agricultural efficiency.

3 A base labor pool becomes available to the agricultural sector that opens the door for higher value custom agriculture.

4 The community is integrated into the life of the associated farm operation. Many natural recreational options open up.

5 All members of the community can access part time economic value for their effort. That particularly includes the elderly and the young. This is a major social improvement.

This is a radical change of outlook for traditional western urban and farm operators and was never quite practical in the past. The advent of the internet changes all that forever.

Of course there are plenty of aspects that need to be worked out in a protocol so revolutionary. The more I think about it however, the more comfortable I am that such a protocol can readily resolve the many conflicts that are particularly built into our urban civilization.

I am going to call it the new model farm community. I encourage comment and ideas. There is a lot of meat to put on this bone before we are finished.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Middle Class Energy and Opportunity

Last week, it was reported that 75% of China's villages no longer have any available young workers to send to the cities. Oil traded at its all time high of around $80. And the US dollar continued its historic decline against other currencies.

The global middle class will soon count 50% of the global population, and the rest will be directly supported by them by remittances home. Everywhere we will be seeing a steady unrelenting improvement in living standards that is continuing to accelerate.

For those who have worked through the logic of sea ice melting, you will recognize the same very nonlinear phenomena. I have had the advantage of knowing that the world we are living in could happen thirty years ago. The S curve is well known and a powerful predictive tool. But I could not anticipate the enthusiastic conversion of the Chinese and the Indians to economic and governmental sanity.

Today, the footdraggers remaining around the world are simply temporary speed bumps. Does anyone not believe that the day Cuba is able to normalize its place in the world, that it will quickly emerge as the most dynamic country in the Caribbean? And let us not forget that Brazil has fully embraced the modern economic system and is now showing dynamic growth.

Right now the US is feeling pain because of a wave of unregulated lending in the mortgage market, whose principal victim is the institutions who bought the bundled crap. The little guy got the equivalent of a walk away mortgage. Yes, I know some who surely should have known better wrote deals in which they put up hard won equity for short term gain and a kick in the head later. They actually have a triable action to work with to attempt to save their ass.

That was not who really got to play. The fact is that the salesmen mortgaged the fence posts in order to get commissions as they always will if you let them. It remains that the real bag holders are large institutions who will now have to absorb massive losses unwound over the next several years.

After all, if you walk away from a $500,000 mortgage, with no money down, and get a good job, chances are you will be able to buy the same property for $200,000 in a couple of years with a $50,000 down stroke. You are on the winning side of a $500,000 swing if you include unpaid interest. Guess who paid?

That means that their ability to lend is hugely curtailed and their over supply of cash is gone. The next few years will be the best time to buy a house since the second war because of this.

While the US economy is once again sorting itself out, the problem with oil is not going away. The Global growth machine is eying a global middle class that wants to share in the luxury of owning a car. The real projected demand for oil based fuels is insatiable and will need to be redistributed through the market place. I have already warned of the advent of $200 plus fill-ups. You and I have to be able to say ouch!

And that level of pain will herald the rapid advent of biodiesel in particular, hopefully by way of an algae culture.

This means that young middle America gets to buy their home at a fair economic price and to keep fit by riding their bicycle to work. This is not a bad deal for the children of the baby boomers.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Biochar Packing Strategies

In my last post, we arrived at the conclusion that the one key crop that can make biochar production feasible for agriculture is corn. It is also apparent that a naturally built stack without much work will produce some biochar, certainly enough for the owner to recognize the value of the product and to want to improve his efficiency.

The first need is to develop an earthen kiln strategy that can hugely increase production. shoveling dirt is an option, but likely very unsatisfactory, difficult to control during the burn, and very labor intensive. Digging a pit can perhaps help improve this situation and may have been a viable option. however, the average pit needs to contain ten tons of material and a typical five acre field will need several pits. This requires an incredible amount of additional labor to execute properly. So although suitable for pottery making, It is a much less practical approach with field operations. And we still have to pay attention to packing.

This is were my understanding of the nature of the corn root ball led me to the conclusion that much more sophisticated packing strategies were available to the farmer that hugely lowered the labor needed to move dirt. The corn root ball consists of a poorly rooted flat disc sitting on the top of the soil. Penetration is less than three inches, while the disc itself is several inches across. It is easily lifted in most soils by the simple expedient of grabbing the stalk and pulling.

We suddenly have a packable source of biochar with its own contribution to the earthen wall attached. What was the farmer waiting for? The remaining question is how best to pack the stalks and to simultaneously build the outer wall of the earthen kiln. So far I have imagined several packing strategies that could work, although they all have to be tested.

But I think that we can all agree that a stalk of biomass with a brick attached is a great start. As good as a box of Leggo.

I see two strategies. One in which a windrow is build with one side forming an earthen wall. Remember that in order to achieve tight packing it will be necessary to overlap the root balls at least three deep creating a mud wall several inches thick. They may also have packed other material among the stalks to improve packing. I think that Cassava is particularly suitable.

A second windrow can then be build against the first windrow on the non walled side. This then still leaves you with the task of covering the exposed stalks with dirt but primarily unto a flat surface. Any type of variation of this packing approach should work very well.

The second strategy is to lay out a 12X12 square and lay in packed layers at right angels to each other with the earthen wall on the outside. We end up with a well packed interior and an outside earthen wall perhaps several feet high completely surrounding the material.. A thin layer of dirt on the top of this stack will then close the kiln.

This is obviously the most attractive approach provided the packing ratio can be maintained.

In all cases, the burn is initiated by carrying an earthenware platter (unfired) full of glowing coals unto the top of the heap, dumping them unto the stalks and then tipping the platter on top of the coals as a shield, and then covering it all with dirt. A crew then watches the heap for breakouts, in order to throw extra dirt as needed.

Observe that we have minimized the labor input throughout. A lot of extra time will be spent of getting the packing right, but that is not onerous. Building a layer of dirt onto the top of the 12X12 heap will move perhaps a ton of dirt which will mix nicely with the ton or two of produced biochar. This is not unreasonable. The produced biochar and dirt mixture can be then carried in baskets back to field to renew the seed hills in time for the next crop.

The point that I would like to make here is that this protocol allowed the ancient farmer to have his terra preta soil immediately and made corn culture possible in tropical soils as proven by pollen analysis. There was no multi season delay in establishing terra preta.

And rather obviously, the same approach today can revolutionize indigenous agriculture globally. And rather obviously also, there is no particular need to do most field once it has been done at least once. The carbon continues to hold nutrients for a very long time.

From the perspective of sequestering carbon, we want this done twenty to fifty times. From the perspective of building a viable soil base, several times should be more than ample.

You realize folks, that this is a total and unexpected revolution in agriculture that can increase agricultural production globally by even an order of magnitude.

All depleted soils can be put back on line everywhere, and the unusable tropical soils can achieve year round high volume production.

And we were only trying to sequester CO2

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Our greatest Scientific Blunder

For the past thirty years the accelerating pace of warming in the northern hemisphere has been associated with human activity. This has at least led to reconsideration of our very bad policy of burning hydrocarbons and not sequestering CO2. The brutal truth is that all the available geological hydrocarbons are going to be burned sooner or later. The only question remaining is how much later. We few have at least redesigned an historically proven agricultural protocol to correct this problem. That still leaves us with the global warming problem.

My consideration of the mathematics of sea ice melting has shown me that we are very likely dead wrong about the principal cause of global warming. And everybody has got it totally backwards.

Atmospheric variation is principally moderated by the massive heat sink represented by the oceans and their currents. It is not the other way around, spectacular as atmospheric effects are. We are confusing cause and effect.

Returning to the Northern sea ice we know with certainty that solar energy is delivered at the same constant rate each year. We know that a trivial amount of southern heat energy is also delivered by the atmosphere, more reflecting the seasonal solar regime than anything else.

The real surplus is arriving year after year by way of the gulf stream and is exactly why we do not have a real polar ice cap(apologies to Greenland) This heat pump has been very steady for the past 500 years as it has slowly but surely reversed the effects of the onset of the little ice age.

On average, over the centuries, a slight overage of heat is consistently been delivered to the Arctic. It was almost in balance. We have now entered the final phase of this great melting process. The present acceleration is merely a mathematical artifact of this steady persistent pressure. And yes, it will be mostly over by 2020.

We are returning to the full climate regime experienced throughout the Bronze Age and before the onslaught of the little ice age and intermittently in between.

Humanity is doing plenty to screw up our planet that needs to be corrected and I have been actively showing my readers how. Nothing humanity does pulls me up short. The little ice age does. There is nothing we can do to stop that freight train and I very much suspect that that is what is really brewing in the southern hemisphere. There the winter sea ice is apparently expanding. A major one time diversion of cold polar water into the south Atlantic would drop the temperature of the gulf stream very nicely, and we now know for sure that it would take 500 years to correct the problem. However it happens, it is not a tall order and the current systems are in place.

It could well be that the planet uses this corrective measure much more often and that it actually varies all over the place. The hard evidence points to a long cycle between climate disasters, but there is no reason to think that smaller events are not happening in between.

We now have a very important working hypothesis. Peak warming in the arctic is reversed by an increase in the Benguela current bringing cold water into the equatorial seas lowering the heat content of the Gulf Stream. This can actually do the dirty work and it scares me S*tless.

It is our bad luck that the maximization of modern civilization is coinciding with this event, but that was also inevitable even if we were living in the Bronze age. That was the apparent drill every other time this happened. this nature's way of playing whack a monkey.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Developing biochar protocols

In reviewing my posts on terra preta and the comments since generated by the expanded participation around the terra preta website in particular, I realize that this is a good time to share with everyone the thought processes that led to the corn culture hypothesis. This will also serve to air my response to the many nagging questions that I see recurring on the site.

I proceeded by developing my understanding of the constraints under which the farmers operated and investigating possible solutions. This approach should also inform other researchers looking at alternative solutions which may be out there.

It is fairly trivial to determine the time and place that the original terra preta soils were created. Archeology has pushed the time line back to 2500 years ago and to as recently as 500 years ago. It was clearly linked to an agricultural civilization with all the archaeological evidence lined up behind it. Although The apparent beginning coincided with the late European Bronze Age, I an unaware of any Archaeological evidence to suggest that we are dealing with a technology level that was any thing other than late stone age. That could still imply very limited access to some copper tools but nothing that would likely leak into the agricultural economy. Even the late European Bronze age I suspect had trouble using their only form of portable wealth to help their farmers.

So we can be fairly sure that our farmer worked with what tools could be made out of wood and stone. This is sufficient to girdle trees and to painfully do some wood cutting. So slash and burn becomes practical as does a limited wood processing industry. My best informant on this is the eighteenth century state of woodworking on the Pacific Northwest which then blossomed into the artistic explosion we know with the advent of steel axes. Cutting and splitting wood was possible but clearly not easy.

I then investigated traditional open air charcoal making which deforested much of the Eastern woodlands in the nineteenth century. Nothing like checking with the real experts who were relying on a thousand year old tradition. What is immediately evident, is that high yield charcoal making in open air is dependent on limiting air flow through the maximizing of packing ratio and the uniformity of that ratio. This is perhaps obvious but the fact that the packing ratio needs to be better than 75% is not obvious.

Packing ratio is a mathematical concept that measures the amount of open space to solid as a ratio. For example, a bucket of balls has a best packing ratio of 51%. This is not obvious.

Cutting hardwood to length and splitting out four inch blocks, which are then tight packed achieves both a 75% plus packing ratio but also good heat circulation. This is why the high yields were achieved.

To replicate the same packing ratio and heat transport with any biomass is a tall order. Most biomass is often almost unpackable, such as woodland waste or any branched crop. The simple jumbling together of waste ensures a lousy packing ratio and heat transport problems. In fact, it is fair to say that charcoaling woodland waste was also not very convenient without steel tools to cut the wood to length to get the needed packing ratio.

Once one realizes that the jungle is not a viable source for high volume ongoing biochar production, one must retreat to their crops. Recall that these fields are created first by the process of slash and burn which produces only a little charcoal which likely burns in the next cycle of slash and burn.

Again the packing ratio has a lot to say. Most of the burn happens just on the ground or above it. There is a lot less heat penetration of the soil than you would suppose. Recent comments on prairie grass misses this effect, since prairie grass has a packing ratio of possibly less than 20%, most of the heat is dumped into the atmosphere. I learned this lesson by attempting to roast a potato under a mound of better fuel than prairie grass. (the neighbors all came out to see the 'barn' burn:)).

If we want to produce biochar at all we have to grow the feedstock and then tightly pack it in order to get the necessary conditions in place. This limits us quickly to stalk plants that have a natural theoretical packing ratio of 77%.

Most grain crops seem to lend themselves to this except for their low volume on a per acre basis. Modern crops such as sugar cane would be possible if we did not use the cane. some other plants can be obviously used in this way. However, we very quickly are forced to consider corn simply because its non edible part consisting of the stalk represents a ten ton per acre source of biomass and a potential one to two ton source of char per acre.

This very high per acre yield is very necessary to the farmer because he has to see that he is visibly changing the seed bed and not expending a huge effort on haulage. Even today, this is the one crop producing enough bio mass to make terra preta practical.

The antique farmer had a waste product that he had to pull out of the ground and build into a waste stack to begin with so that he could raise the next crop. It was a likely ten ton stack since that was as far as he wished to haul this material. He then simply burned it as farmers do to this day. Even without proper packing some char was produced. It was not a big leap to optimize the packing and eventually to optimize the biochar production from this base.

I had reached these conclusions before I queried google scholar and ran down the pollen profile of the terra preta soils which immediately confirmed the predominance of corn pollen. Cassava also showed up which is also suitable for packing.

I will develop the rest of the story in my next post, but it can be found piecemeal in my earlier posts.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Terra Preta Postings - a list

This is a list of posts dealing with terra preta in particular and is meant to help you navigate through the development of my thinking. There are other posts apropos to the subject, but this should get you through it.

http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/06/carbonization.html

http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/06/corn-cultures-bright-furure.html
http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/06/total-carbon-sequestration-potential.html
http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/06/tropical-soils_26.html

http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/07/discussion-with-ron-larsen-on-terra.html
http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/07/human-labor.html
http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/07/those-amazonian-soils.html
http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/07/pollutants-from-carbonization.html

http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/07/nutrient-accumulation.html
http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/07/uniqueness-of-corn-culture.html
http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/07/amazon.html

http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/08/heat-distribution-and-terra-preta-soils.html
http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/08/getting-job-done-biochar-on-modern-farm.html
http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/08/tom-miles-comments-on-biochar.html

http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/08/mel-landers-and-jackie-foo-on-field.html
http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/08/methane-and-pottery.html
http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/09/glopbal-corn-culture.html

Again you will see the evolution of my thoughts. It may be best to read backwards so that you always know were I end up.

The sun sets in the high Arctic

It is a beautiful late September and in the high arctic the sun is setting. The great freeze has begun and we can all put this subject back into hibernation until the spring. Unbelievably, we have all lived through the unthinkable. The legendary Northwest Passage was open for weeks this year for the first time. The North East passage almost opened for one short week also.

I am also told that South Atlantic sea ice reached a record breaking maximum. This suggests a disturbing hypothesis. That the deep sea circulation system is able to pulsate surplus heat or lack thereof between the poler regions through the Atlantic on a centuries long cycle. The five century long little ice age we are now exiting is only one example. It certainly explains the origins of the little ice age as I suggested in an earlier post.

If such a long cycle exists, and the little ice age is the best evidence, then our attempts to link global temperatures to CO2 content are even more spacious than I thought. Mother Earth has one hell of a correction device.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Keith Kohl on Tightening Oil Supplies.

I am quoting Keith Kohl's newsletter here in full. Much as we are now looking at a clean out of the credit markets that is very dangerous, the real global problem is that a squeeze is developing in the supply side of the oil industry and there is little we can do to evade it. None of the analysts have the guts to tell us the truth. A fill up has to hit $500 to force the automobile driver off the road. It is in the process of happening in a sort of slow motion. I do not like to promote fear and panic, but we have time to share this knowledge with others so that it is not a surprise and folks can prepare for it.

Remember that in the 1970's, oil went up ten to fifteen fold. A comparable today would be for it to go to ten times $20.00 or $200.00 to $300.00 a barrel.

Don't you wish a national leader would just come out ant tell people to prepare for a world of $500 fill ups instead of this "I am all right Jack" attitude.

This is from the Energy and Capital newsletter usually advertised on my blog - thank you Adsense:)!

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007


From Desert Sands to Oil Sands
By Keith Kohl

Baltimore, MD--Oil prices today reached as high as $81.90 before settling back down, but the time to mourn the death of cheap oil has already passed. The real question is, "Where do we go from here?"

If you haven't noticed yet, oil is really on the move. But what's the problem? Shouldn't we be running around like crazy?

Don't hold your breath just yet.

The Oil Crunch

For starters, oil is still very cheap.

I know we're at record prices now, but I've said this before: "If you think $80 a barrel is expensive, wait until it breaks $100 or more."

The truth is that we can't predict how expensive oil will get once the peak global production sets in. But we can say one thing for certain: It's going higher.

I couldn't stop laughing recently after reading one oil exec predicting that prices would hit $150 a barrel within 20 years. Well, at least he narrowed it down to two decades. It made me want to send him my own ridiculous prediction that it would rain at least one day over the next three years.

Seriously, though, what's going on here?

Every meteorologist I've spoken to over the last year has been adamant that this hurricane season would be catastrophic. Even FEMA released a statement saying the 2007 hurricane season could be "nearly as destructive as 2005."

Okay, we should have known this season would be weak if FEMA said that, but then again, we still have more than two months left in the 2007 season.

At least we haven't bombed Iran yet. I can only imagine the price jump from that. Oil would go past $150 a barrel in a heartbeat.

So shouldn't oil prices should be decreasing because of the shortage of monster hurricanes and bombs over the last few weeks?

Here's what's happening . . .

The oil market is still tight. Over the last three months, US crude oil supplies dropped 10 out of 11 weeks.

Don't think it's all rainbows and sunshine from here on out, though.

This week, the EIA is expected to announce that stocks of crude will fall by about 1.75 million barrels. Last week, they dropped by 2.25 million barrels.

Now take into account that our demand (not just in the US, but the world as well) is going to keep growing. Global demand is expected to reach well over 88 million barrels of oil per day. My Energy and Capital readers know exactly how I feel about conventional oil.

But where does this leave us? Sitting on the sidelines, watching the oil prices go haywire, is hardly my idea of fun.

Our Oil-Stained Future

Let me show you where our future oil demand will be satisfied.

Numbers don't lie, unless, of course, we're referring to the dubious oil reserves that OPEC claims they have. Does anyone else remember this chart from my article last May?

opec reserves chart

When these OPEC members dramatically increase (and in some cases double) their reserves in just seven years, I can't help being skeptical.

But I don't want to focus on reserves. The truth is that we'll never know how much the OPEC oil fields are struggling until they release the data.

However, I know EXACTLY where the US will get its oil.

We know that US oil production is spiraling down the drain. That's no secret. As the world's largest oil consumer, we'll have to look elsewhere. And don't let people fool you, our savior will NOT be Middle Eastern oil.

According to the EIA, our petroleum imports have been rising steadily. From 2001 to 2006, they rose from 11.8 million barrels per day to 13.6 million barrels a day. That means our imports grew roughly 14.6% in that time.

If I asked you where we got most of our oil, I'd bet a number of you would immediately think of the Middle East. I mean, even Greenspan recently said our presence in Iraq is motivated by oil.

But you might be surprised to learn that our addiction to Middle Eastern oil is decreasing.

Consider the following from the EIA . . .

Between 2001 and 2006, our imports from OPEC countries dropped approximately 6%. Since the 1960s, OPEC's total share in our petroleum imports has dropped by about 30%.

In fact, three of the top five exporters increased their petroleum exports to us between 2001 and 2006--Mexico, Nigeria and Canada.

I won't get into the geopolitical mess that is Nigeria. And if we take into account the serious troubles at Cantarell, there seems to be no chance for Mexico to keep up production.

Canada, however, is a different story. During the last five years, petroleum imports from Canada have increased 25%. With the kind of growth the oil sands are experiencing (especially in light of $81.51 for a barrel of oil), there's no doubt in my mind where we'll meet our future demand.

More importantly, oil companies are realizing this too. There'll be trillions of investment dollars pouring into these unconventional sources. The problem for us, however, is finding the companies that are going to benefit from this surge of investment. On Thursday, I'm going to show you some of the things to look for, and (more importantly) some of the pitfalls to be wary of.

Until next time,

keith

Keith Kohl

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sean Barry on the Antiquity of Terra Preta.

Sean Barry gives us this post on the antiquity of Terra preta in Brazil and its living history from the terra preta group.

The people who live in Brazil, the families who have farmed land with Terra Preta soil on it for 500+ years generation after generation, will attest to it, though. Some grow world record productive papaya and mango groves. They do not buy or use industrial fertilizers. They, like the generations of ancestors before them, put back into the soil, those parts of the harvest, which are not eaten. They value the land for its fertility. They guard it closely. There are laws that prohibit "mining" and "selling" TP soil. It is truly valuable land for them because of it productivity. They are not corporate entities, with huge capital assets, and armies of PR people, making things sound so good, that you can hardly believe it. They are truck farmers, peasant farmers. They do what they do and it works for them. That is all the evidence they need.


I grant you that most of these people are not scientists and they could not tell you why the TP soil they live on and grow crops in can do what it does. They just know from experience over their lifetime and the lifetimes of the generations before them that TP soil provides them a bounty for the growth of crops. Some have documented ownership and cultivation for 500+
years.

I, like many, including the people who use TP soil, do not know what the"recipe" is. From what I have read, the cultivation practice that makes most sense to me, for maintaining the soil fertility under continuous cultivation, is that they "return" to the soil all of the plant wastes from the harvest. They compost the food wastes back into the soil, also. My belief is that the charcoal carbon in the soil pays large dividends for their deposits. They give back the plant nutrients that they do not use and the soil/micro-organism ecology in the soil gives it to the plants in their next crop.

I do not know that anyone has come up with a definitive, scientifically arrived at understanding as to how it all works. It is from generations of experience that they "know" that it works. They might not know "why" or "how" it works, but they will protect it as an asset, nonetheless. They do not abandon it because they do not know how it works.

So, I guess I am saying it's anecdotal. This is very like what Dr.A.D. Karve says. He has a hypothesis about why what he is doing works.

He is trying to develop theories as to "why" and "how". He has many village farmers that rely on his methods, practice his methods, and believe that "it works", because it does for them. Maybe, someday, he will be able to show (the damned nit-picking (I'm kidding)) scientists why.

I would say, though (and you have pointed this out yourself recently), there are two camps in here about Terra Preta; 1) those that want it for its enhanced agricultural benefit, and 2) those that want this for carbon sequestration.

I think 1) is possible and hard to know why. I think 2) is obvious and absolutely clear by virtue of the mere existence of 2500+ year old charcoal carbon in the Amazon rainforest. It was put there by people long ago. It is still there. It has been sequestered for 2500+ years ... No doubt about it (not in my mind). This is like 15 times the duration of our entire Industrial Revolution and 15 times the amount of time that it has taken humankind to pump all the 300 million year old fossil fuel carbon into the atmosphere! Clearly, we can sequester carbon by putting charcoal carbon into the soil, don't you think?

Regards,
SKB

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Linking corn culture and pine beetles

As readers know, I have never been comfortable about the proposed link between global warming and excessive CO2 emissions. Both are measurable facts and their existence is indisputable. But as a thinker who loves rigor, I find it unnecessary to link them to explain the present climatic environment. I also sense a very real danger that the linkage will lead to a global policy misstep when global industrial economy needs very specific issues to be aggressively addressed. Of course, if we can get the right thing done for the wrong reasons, who am I to complain. I am more worried about the wrong thing for the wrong reason.

In our earlier posts, we have extensively developed the thesis that the adoption of terra preta corn culture globally will not only sequester all the excess carbon but also manufacture high quality soil in a previously unanticipated span of time. We can expect a ton of carbon per acre per year of uptake which is at least ten to a hundred times the rate of any alternative. Farmers have never had this option, and it is actually a revolution.

Even if we do nothing else particularly clever, that alone will bail our sorry asses out without anyone else lifting a finger. After all, manufacturing high quality soil will have an immediate and direct effect on farm income.

And yes girls, the climate is now apparently at its warmest since just before the Little Ice Age and since the Bronze age. That is the problem. We know for sure that this is not an unique anomalous event and does not have to be linked to anything.

In my province, the advent of a warmer climate has triggered a mass die off of the interior pine forest as the mountain pine beetle population takes off. It will all run out in about ten years and fall back to normal as new trees fill the niche. In the meantime, we are harvesting as much as possible. And if we are really clever, we will burn off what we cannot harvest to stimulate good new growth without a lot of fire wood lying around.

More importantly it is even much warmer in the high latitudes. I saw last night a report on a chap who has been measuring the temperature regime on the Greenland icecap. In a period of perhaps thirty years , he has found an increase of around five degrees Celsius. I do not want to comment on what that will actually mean and what is happening on the entirety of the icecap. It is far too easy to be on the edge were things are going quite fast, while inland at higher elevations very little is changing.

The true question to ask is, what is happening at the location of the ice cores. Likely nothing, since these areas were chosen for their accumulation ability.

Certainly we can expect the southern edges of the icecap to retreat exposing more land. I think though that that will be essentially it. It also will take hundreds of years to properly stabilize if our current temperature regime is maintained.

And I still keep wondering what triggers a major injection of cold water into the South Atlantic.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Changing Arctic Ocean

In my last post, I showed that we have at most a decade before the last of the long term sea is gone and no longer a factor. What difference will it make?

The important change will be in the amount of summer heat absorption in the Arctic Ocean. Up to very recently, this factor was negligible since the Sea remained covered with minor late season clearances. This year, half the Arctic is clear. And the other half will mostly clear in the next decade. This will be additionally stabilized by the sharp increase in solar energy absorption in the top layer of water.

What I am saying, is that once the ice is gone, the annual reestablishment of sea ice cover will be more difficult. The water will be slightly warmer and will take longer to establish its annual thickness.

Remember that it took 32 calories to melt or freeze the ice in the first place. If all this unused energy goes into warming the arctic waters, then Our sea ice cover will behave a lot like the sea ice cover in Hudson Bay providing perhaps a four month long clear sailing environment.

It will still be too cold to generate much evaporation, so there should be little change for the land based ice sheets. This conforms to the data provided by the drill cores that go back over 15,000 years. In fact, the only break in that data continuity came 12500 years ago and is a principle marker for the Pleistocene nonconformity. It became dryer.

This also suggests open seas during the summer months of the Bronze Age and their near reemergence in the early fifteenth century. It also loudly begs the question of what mechanism cooled the northern Hemisphere, or more appropriately what cooled the surface waters of the gulf stream?

A previous post suggested that the mechanism was an injection of cold water from the Antarctic. We just have not figured it all out yet. I think though that we should be prepared for a nasty surprise there. The open question in my mind is whether we now have any evidence to support a four hundred year chilling cycle for the Atlantic? It may be more random than that, but it likely exists.

It has only taken 400 years to recover from the little ice age. Yet almost 2500 years had passed since the collapse of the Bronze Age optimum. Surely someone noticed? My point is that as far as we can determine, most of those 2500 years were chilly. We could actually be dead wrong here and the climate could have been generally warmer throughout and the real anomaly is the recent little ice age.

Time to look at those tree rings and pollen samples in transition areas to get a much refined climate proxy.

Otherwise, with the current regime, We know that the permafrost line will shift north somewhat, and the tree line will also move north. It is hard to see how this will effect humanity very much since few of us like to live in alpine like conditions. The short summers will remain the same and be just a little warmer. And there are many better places to grow potatoes.

Local coastal agricultural enclaves will be possible, just like those old Vikings in Greenland. Otherwise, a quick trip to Churchill will inform you of likely future conditions in the high Arctic.

Certainly, once the long term ice is gone, the shipping season will open right up although I am sure everyone will plan on a September crossing. The polar bears will be able to treat the whole Arctic the same way they treat Hudson Bay with a much longer hunting season. I would also expect an explosion in the Arctic biomass in general since there will be a season in which the ocean receives sufficient solar energy for all forms of plankton and the like.

The high arctic will still be a desert on land, but the ocean could easily become the globe's larder if managed well.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Clear Sailing by 2020 at the North Pole

The press has woken up to the opening of the Northwest Passage. In the meantime, I see continuing babble over predictions on the rate of ice loss. These boys are mathematically challenged and it is becoming annoying. Let me clarify things.

We lost 60% of the ice thickness and by extension 60% of the total ice M between 1957 and 2000. If we conservatively assume that the loss rate was the same throughout this period, the annual loss rate R can be discovered by the simple equation:

C = M - 43R expressed as percentages and C been the current percentage of the original M(1957).

Therefore R = (M-C)/43 or: R = (100 - 60) /43 or: R = approx. 1% of M

The apparrent current loss rate can be calculated by dividing 1% by 40% remaining to give us 2.5%.

Except that it is obviously faster than this. If we project that the prinicipal warming only seriously started in the early eighties, we have instead R = 2% and a current effective loss rate of 5% which actually appears to match current experience. This also means that in the last seven years we have lost an additional 14% of the original M leaving a current C of 26% or only 13 more years,instead of the more sedate forty years.

On top of all that the clearing of the majority of the Arctic ocean is allowing a greater heat absorption than usual and a thinner winter icesheet this winter.

I think that we actually have as little as ten years of summer sea ice cover left and that further warming will eventually expand the clear season to early August.

As stated earlier, the only thing that is going to halt this runaway is a major cold snap, perhaps caused by an injection of SouthPolar water into the South Atlantic. A late summer cruise along the northern coast of Ellesmere Island with a short hop to the North Pole in 2016 is very appropriate and on my to do list.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bjorn Lomborg and Temperature Related Death

A good article in last month's Discover magazine on the effects of high summer temperatures on death rates. They also make the very important point that the European death rates associated with winter cold is seven times the death rate associated with heat. They quote 200,000 for summer heat and 1,500,000 for winter cold. This is all part of a review of economist Bjorn Lomborg's new book. Since he is one of my favorite writers, I will have to break down and get the book and perhaps do a review.

The truly disturbing thought is that we still have such deaths. This is a problem that we can fix and we choose not to. Perhaps it is time to pass a law whereby our elected officials pick up the tax shortfall created by this unnecessary loss of taxpayers. I certainly do not think that the voters condone such negligence.

It has always been painfully clear that human beings function safely between the temperatures of around freezing (a little exercise helps) and perhaps 80 to 85 degrees F. Go much beyond those temperatures and the individual must take proactive steps to preserve himself.

The solutions were actually not easy to implement. We now have an extensive legacy of systems to protect ourselves that have taken time and product evolution to perfect. Were we fail is in an organized response to the extremes. This task should be put on to the fire departments who are well situated to deal with the problem of rescue.

And it is rescue. We need to know always, who will need help. Remember Katrina? This data is very easy to organize and it is simple for rescue services to establish response drills. It is easy to have other forces modestly trained and drilled in the needed procedures. Does anyone remember the training established when the nuclear scare was on in the late fifties and early sixties? Our fathers could prepare our civilization for Armageddon and we cannot prevent a little old lady from dying of hypothermia?

We do not lack warm sufficient housing or food or warm clothing. Nor do we lack ways of getting in the shade and away from overheated houses in the summer.

There is actually a sound argument for the growing of a large tree next to every building in a city. Make it part of the building code. I used to have a couple of hundred foot Doug firs on the city right of way. These are hardly shade trees like an elm. Yet the temperature drop under them on a very hot day was awesome. Is this really so hard to implement?

Another simple trick would be to design a governor on all heating systems that prevents the household temperature from dropping below 35 degrees F. That way if the bill is unpaid, there is still an operating threshold for the building below which the temperature cannot go.

It is not pleasant but it is possible to bundle up and still be comfortable and certainly survivable. It also prevents major damage from freezing.

If we then educate the public to the importance of both techniques, everyone will be prepared to survive a temperature crisis.

On a personal note, I have never had heat stroke, yet I worked long summers in open fields with the thermometer at 100 degrees F and very high humidity. What saved me was a straw hat and the steady fifteen mile an hour wind that never let up. Working in a city under an heat inversion and no wind, I literally had to carefully measure my exposure and make a serious effort to cool down. I ended that nonsense by moving to Vancouver thirty five years ago.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cattle Methane Production

The news is alive today with an report by some chap who has chosen to warn the world that the large global herd of cattle are on the way to distorting the global climate through the greenhouse effect of methane. I have already pointed out that this concern is at best rubbish in other posts and is like been concerned that the excessive production of rainfall will increase the sea level.

All methane departs for the vast ocean of the troposphere were it is vigorously consumed, well outside the working atmosphere. That any remains for any length of time at all is only due to strong continual point sources. The methane map over the oceans show an unchanging barrenness, which confirms the rapid rise of methane through the atmosphere.

I am growing rather weary of scientists acting like stock promoters hustling the new theory of the day. At least stock promoters make no claim to intellectual authority. Yes Virginia, I is a stock promoter in other lives and fully appreciate the application of nuanced presentation to keep the boys out of jail.

At least cows are not producing a like amount of CO2. An appropriate question to ask is if the original ecology maintained the same level of ruminants. This certainly was true on the buffalo commons of the great plains. It must have been also true in all of Asia and Europe. There are huge tracts there that would clearly benefit from the reintroduction of bison.

The reforestation of the Sahara will go hand in hand with the introduction of cattle to process and refertilize the ground cover that will be reestablishing itself. This will be the first major step in terra forming the earth as all hot dry lands are retimbered with the technical assist of atmospheric water harvesting.

Off course, I am quite sure that that fine gentleman also subscribes to the argument that the global population needs to be sharply reduced. At least his argument for the sharp reduction in cattle herds is leading there. None have yet shown the required leadership to show the rest of us the required method.

Readers may wish to go back and read my early posts on the use of atmospheric water recovery.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cars and the future

Yesterday we addressed the wasted energy tied up in the rail industry and the air pad strategy for hugely reducing the wastage. Its success would also shift most long haul trucking off the roads saving even more energy.

Economic pressure has wrought a revolution in energy wastage reduction for static energy use. Every factory today is built with an eye toward energy efficiency simply because it impacts directly on the bottom line. This has been underway for over thirty years and will naturally continue.

This leaves us with the real problem of wastage in personnel transport. That does not mean driving slower or the like. The fundamental difficulty is weight. The customer wants his ton of comfort and utility. I do not see any way that we are going to change that. We can only make it inconvenient for most to drive to work and we can make public transport super convenient.

Nothing we do is going to end the fact that the consumer wants this type of asset.

This means that the design parameters will continue to call for a ton of weight to transport 200 pounds of cargo. Our transportation is costing us ten times what is necessary in terms of energy.

Design and technology is whittling away at the weight problem.The only problem with that is that a lighter vehicle becomes cheaper sending the customer upmarket to larger vehicles. The point is that before the century is out, mankind is going to own several billion personal transportation devices. All the innovation in the world will only make them larger and lighter.

The only place in a car were we can lose weight is in the power train principally perhaps by converting to electric wheels and a minimized power source. The problem of course is the minimized power source. We are still nowhere near a successful design strategy to replace what is now on the road. At least the hybrid philosophy promises to give us a large leg up once it fully matures.

So we are at least going the right direction. Our vehicles will squeeze the maximal millage out.


The task of feeding these horses comes back on our shoulders. And so far we are really stuck with oil products. All other available quick fixes is a small percentage of our needs. We simply cannot grow enough ethanol, we will never convert cellulose, and we cannot store static power in an effective manner.

In fact the only light on the horizon is the use of algae to produce biodiesel. It has the theoretical capability to produce enough biodiesel to satisfy all our needs without disrupting the agricultural economy.

The first experiments are under way and we are hearing about projected yields that are ten times any oilseed crop.

We can draw one conclusion though. All the available transportation oil will be gone over the next one hundred years whatever we hope to do unless replaced very soon by algae sourced oil.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

High Speed Freight Handling

I have recently been invited to commence the publication of an investment advisory letter focused on renewable energy. something that my readers know is dear to my heart. This is of course, early days, and we have to see were it goes. I have given the area some fair thought of course and I am sure that I will not lack content for a monthly newsletter. I will keep you informed.

It inspired me to think of one of my favorite sources of renewable energy. It is called wasted energy. We are skilled at producing plenty of that. That reminded me that one of the great opportunities to save huge amounts of energy exists in the rail transport industry. Yet here is an industry that has still to make the conversion to disc brakes.

The investment question is who will lead the change to a low energy system.

The energy question is how. And it is really quite simple. All those freight cars need to be converted over to air pads for frictionless movement. At the moment, it is fair to say that I have worked out how to do this while retaining and improving existing infrastructure.

We combine this with a direct current wheel motor and dynamic braking system and we have the core of a revolution. I foresee a power takeoff used on the downhill leg to charge cheap track side batteries and that stored power used to haul a train going in the opposite direction back up the grade.

Eliminating most rolling losses and possibly a lot of weight, will slash the cost of moving goods anywhere. even more important, the speed can be maintained as high as 80 to 100 mph with some modification along an entire route. This means that a mile long train can be 2000 miles down the track inside a twenty four hour period. Long haul truckers, eat your heart out!

And of course, that is who the rail companies need to beat. Not each other.

I have thought through the technical aspects sufficiently so as to believe that it can be done.

Moving freight cross country at 80 mile per hour is awesome and doable. Who is going to be the leader?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Polar Bears and Fish

The press was full this weekend of a story about some biologists proclaiming that sixty percent of the polar bears will disappear as a result of the eminent loss of year round Arctic sea ice cover. They even stick in dates, carefully chosen to coincide with their unlikely presence on earth.

The idea that the ice could be just as gone in the next five years, simply does not occur to them. My own instincts tell me we only need a couple of more summers like this one to finish the job. The only remaining question is how much sea ice will normally remain at the end of season in the form of diminishing drift floes. After all it takes time to demolish a winter's sea ice covering the whole Arctic.

What I do know is that my reckless in your face prediction as this issue emerged several years ago was hesitant. And I am still been hesitant when I say that it is possible to remove all the sea ice in the next five years. It is unlikely but it is possible and I would be jolted if it happens.

However, the polar bears will be affected to the extent that they will see changes in their hunting grounds and a possible expansion of their primary prey population who will now be able to penetrate deeper into the arctic and in greater numbers. Remember, the polar bear is active during the Arctic winter when the sea ice is growing and inactive during the summer. It effectively hibernates. This strategy has allowed it to operate in southern Hudson Bay were they now have a five month lean period. This will never be true further north.

And yes, I know that these southern bears are under stress and are responding by having a slower reproduction rate. Rather logical don't you think. This may also occur further north but not nearly as much.

Right now we are looking at the maximal warming effect in a place like Hudson Bay unless we have a radical revision of continental weather patterns which is not really in the cards.

At the very best, they may be forced out of the Bay which is highly unlikely. So far they haven't budged. There is just too much food in the way of seals out there for them to eat all winter while us humans are holed up in our heated dwellings.

This also throws up another question which is much more interesting. Increased sunlight absorption (perhaps a hundred fold) in the Arctic seas is a fact as a result of the annual clearing of the winter sea ice. This means a major stimulus to the bottom of the food chain. And that means rather naturally a huge increase in fish stocks and those dependent on them.

In practice, over the last several years, a vast reach of the Arctic (a full half) has opened for summer fishing. It has been open waters for weeks now. The principal stakeholders are Alaska (1/3) and Eastern Siberia (2/3). This is a heaven sent opportunity for the two stakeholders to develop a sane management strategy of the fishery resource itself. They need to act like owners and work together to maximize the sustainable resource. This has never been done before in high seas fisheries and a successful model can then be implemented world wide. It is desperately needed.

A managed sea will also see the full re establishment of the whale population originally decimated in the late nineteenth century.

As far as I can see, the only danger the Polar Bear faces is sharp population expansion as their prey population expands. Perhaps I should predict a sixty percent increase in bear populations by 2050. I would have to be 102 to see that one and I am pretty sure that I would not care if I were there to celebrate the anniversary.

And by the way, take a look at the sea ice map and the related variation map. This is about as good as it gets. It will soon start to freeze up.




Friday, September 7, 2007

Arctic Sea Ice Collapse

I see that the press is waking up to the speed of the collapse of arctic sea ice. Anyone who has read my earlier posts will not be very surprised. My surprise is the ongoing bafflement of the scientific community. Then again these are the guys who dodged physics as fast as they could.

It takes a long time for a mass of deep frozen ice to warm back up to the melt temperature. While this is happening, melting is modest. But once all the ice is potential melt (i.e. 32 degrees) then it gallops. On top of that the ice is steadily thinning so that the available mass is declining in a non linear manner.

For example, if the removal rate is 5% of the original mass M then we have the following effect:

year 1 .95M
year 2 .90M equals 5.26%
year 3 .85M equals 5.55%
year 4 .80M equals 5.88%
year 5 .75M equals 6.25%
year 6 .70M equals 6.66%
year 7 .65M equals 7.14%

You see were this is going. The point is that the surface area has dropped from 5m to 3m in the past thirty years and the actual mass has dropped by at least 60%. The truth is that this has mostly happened over the last half of that time period. This suggests that the removal rate has been around 3% of the original maximum ice cover and it is now in the last stages of removal and collapse.

I wrote three years ago that I would be brave and say that the sea ice would be flushed out by 2015 when everyone was saying 2100. I am beginning to think that I was too conservative. We need a cold spell up there.

Be happy.

Liberating human labor

In yesterday's post I presented a world in which our newly discovered mastery of the art of carbon sequestration allows us to also progressively reclaim the global deserts and wastelands and essentially build out the Garden of Eden as our human homeland. This is the great dream of the romantics.

There is only one remaining brick to put in place. It is the keystone of access to willing human labor. Agriculture needs the use of occasional hand labor and in modern industrial agriculture that has disappeared or minimized unnecessarily. And quite bluntly, illegal immigrants will not be available for much longer. At best we have a generation or two. None of them would be here if a similar job existed at home. And were are all the European immigrants to day?

Yet I grew up on a farm were in my teens there were tasks that I could do to help the farm. A lot of it was incredibly boring, but it provided exercise and consumed surplus time and energy. If an economic model had existed that gave me measurable access to some form of purchasing power, I would have been willing and enthusiastic. I have learned that this is something that every teenager wants and needs.

And I can now say that as an individual reaches an age in which the demands of the work place diminish, that he too would welcome making such a contribution. I recall my father going out every day to tend his garden, simply for the exercise and the sense of well being. How many elders out there would enjoy putting in a four hour stint of hand work in gardens and the like.

Work of this nature becomes a social system rather than solely an economic system.

I contend that we now have the tools for making this to happen properly in hand. The advent of the concrete slab condo tower creates a small footprint system that can be integrated into the agricultural system readily.

For example, if we designate a square mile of farmland as an agro-community, we can use two or three acres for building towers to hold a couple of thousand residents. The soil can readily be redistributed, and services implemented. The title would be strata title with an additional share in the capital of the farm and access to the resources.

All of a sudden it becomes possible to manage the agricultural component on the basis of both individual initiative and shared initiatives. We actually recreate the traditional village environment in a modern setting and we can make it a better social system than ever arose naturally.

That is the way ten billion people can live on earth and prosper.







Thursday, September 6, 2007

New Age Global Agriculture

When I started this blog, I had one very important arrow in my quiver. That was the knowledge that it was becoming feasible to produce a small stand alone solar atmospheric water harvesting device capable of daily producing a 100 liters of water per day.

This would be sufficient to support a growing tree in any arid desert were the humidity was high enough. Of course that means all deserts since one would start at the humid rim and slowly advance into the desert effectively bringing the natural humidity with you. This terra forming of the desert would naturally support a cropland fraction and an extensive animal husbandry among the trees and orchards.

We can easily globally double the available land under agricultural management in this way and sequester a huge amount of carbon.

I then extended this approach to current agricultural practice and developed an economic model for bringing agricultural waste land under managed forest practice were atmospheric water harvesting is less important.

An underlying assumption for both approaches was that current practice would not be modified very quickly and that no good solutions for soil improvement were at hand. But we could live with that since we had done so for thousands of years. I was still very uncomfortable though that we were mining the soil for nutrients and that replacement strategies consisted of mining and producing minerals often in a non sustainable manner.

This also meant that desert lands would require long periods of time to reconstitute soils. Trees would be fine because they reach deep into the earth to find nutrients, but the surface would suffer. Again time and careful effort would overcome all this. A thousand years of effort and every hillside and former dry land could be fully timbered and vegetated with modest final water inputs. This is a fine dream and project for humanity to embark upon.

And then I was introduced to Terra preta. This was work that conformed to and confirmed a previous effort that I had put into Zeolites in which a great deal of field work has been done by researchers. I understood immediately the importance to the globe of this discovery. The problem was to figure out how to produce the soil.

This I was able to tentatively solve through the use of an infield carefully constructed corn stover stack kiln that would produce a ton of biochar per acre.

All of a sudden we have a method of swiftly building out soils anywhere in the world.

Let us engage in a thought experiment. Keep in mind that we cannot quite do this yet. We take a square mile of desert fairly close to adjacent agricultural land. We isolate the low lying areas (perhaps a 100 acres) as potential crop land toward which surplus water will flow. We plant tree cover with solar water harvesting devices outside these areas.

As the trees grow out, the soils begin to build up some water retention and this supports an increase in ground water finding its way into the designated crop lands. As soon as feasible we start the first corn crop. Each crop puts a ton of biochar back into the soil and several years of this attention we should have well developed soil. At that point, we continue to produce biochar which is then transported into the woodlands an integrated into those soils accelerating their maturing. If we are already running cattle, we will witness a rapid improvement in available fodder.

If the objective is to create mature soils throughout and to achieve maximum yield throughout, then at the end of fifty years every acre should have several tons of carbon in the form of char and additional living carbon totaling another twenty tons or so. This can all be done in the lifetime of an individual owner.

This is a far cry from the current situation in which we are running fast just to stay even.


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Global Corn Culture

I have become progressively more comfortable with the production of biochar using some form of corn stack. As each new issue is addressed, the genius of the Amazonian Indians becomes more apparent and appreciated. The difficulties of providing a mechanical assist also seem readily surmountable.

I am far less comfortable using various oven designs and pressure chamber converters to achieve largely the same end with a marginally better yield, yet with an order of magnitude jump in handling costs. My best design concept of the two lung incinerator, while maximizing yield will also demand to be fed year round in order to be possibly economic. And that also applies to pyrolyzers and the like. This means that a minimal 1000 ton per day operation will require at least a 1000 square miles of supply area and all the trucking that goes with that. Tom Miles is certainly not wrong on this.

My single farm modified container will only operate for around a month during the appropriate season and very little in between. It must be cheap and I do not know if that will actually be achievable. The second lung and its controls could turn out to be commercially crippling, principally because an expensive high grade fire brick must be used.

I keep coming back to the simplicity of carefully field stacking corn stover to produce the biochar. We know that this will yield a mix of char and soil representing a twenty percent yield with only a small increase in handling effort. With equipment we can actually build windrows, even driving on top of them to compact the stack properly before covering with dirt and igniting.

The only drawback, which seems to make some folks hysterical is that we lose the volatiles into the atmosphere. Most of this is CO2, while the rest is in the form of a wide range of organic molecules, similar to that produced from a forest fire or slash and burn agriculture. The heavy end falls back onto the soil, while the lights are typically degraded sooner or later in the upper atmosphere. Methane and probably ethane even end up in the troposphere above our atmospheric circulation system.

Unlike forest fires and their like, this process sequesters a great deal of carbon. Which returns us to the whole point of the exercise. Adding charcoal to the soil appears to vastly improve and stabilize the majority of soils. Right now we do not know were it does not work.

This is because charcoal is a strong acid, yet is insoluble. That allows it to grab nutrients year after year and recycle them back to the plants. A minimum amount of maintenance ensures maximal fertility anywhere once the initial effort is made to create the soils.

I suspect that, while terra preta soil manufacturing was the dominant culture in the Amazon, that there is no reason for it to be a continuously applied system in most soils. After all we know that a season's corn production will generate around a ton of charcoal per acre which is actually a lot already. Fifty tons per acre is likely the maximum that you would ever want in the soil.

Thus doing corn with terra preta in normal field rotation is very plausible everywhere. Europe and North America are the most glaring examples that I am familiar with, and I am very sure that this will be another green revolution in both India and China. Fifty years of effort and all crop lands will be well on the way to be terra preta soils and their permanent fertility will be secure. I can tell you that from a farmers perspective, that this is almost too good to be true. Fertility has been foremost on their thoughts forever.

Even more exciting, this looks like a method to restore fertility in despoiled lands were past practice has destroyed fertility and with it the soil's water holding ability. Mesopotamia particularly leaps to mind. Why should the Garden of Eden be covered with blowing salt ladened dust and treeless hillsides.

I am hopeful that the simple restoration of irrigation, can allow a corn crop to be nursed into full growth. Remember that the root practically lies on the surface, so working the top three inches of soil with biochar should quickly restore these soils. The important question is whether the charcoal will progressively sequester the salts and as a result to gently sweeten the soils. If it does not, there are still practical options because of the soil improvement brought on. They will simply take longer to have effect.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Zodiac to the North Pole

Looking at Saturday's sea ice map reveals that the perimeter has continued to tighten and that we also seem to have 50% ice coverage to the North Pole coming from the Bering Strait side of the ice. That means that small zodiacs could possibly penetrate to the north pole. That would be fun.

The North West Passage continues to be essentially open although 50% ice has blown into the mouth of Lancaster Sound. I suspect that the reduction of sea ice thickness this year which had to be substantial will lead even less ice presence there next year even if next year turns out to be neutral.

In fact, I think an ice thickness survey this season is highly appropriate. In the meantime, we are likely looking at the maximal perimeter reduction since any further reduction is likely to be small.

There has been a lot of discussion in Canada on the role of the Canadian Navy in patrolling the Arctic seaways. I think it is time to think through the possibility of deploying a commercially built large nuclear powered hovercraft ice breaker. It would have to be as long as an aircraft carrier and at least twice as broad.

The down draft from a hovercraft design lifts ice up out of the water, causing it to breakup. This has now been demonstrated on thinner ice in the St Lawrence Seaway with much smaller craft. It is a very elegant solution to working safely with the problem.

Such a vessel would also be able to deploy in the off season on other missions as a high speed troop transport and limited weapons platform. I do not know if it would be feasible to fly helicopters off such a system.

At least we should announce a plan to do so and study it to death for a few years. Then no one at NATO could claim that we are not taking our commitments or the Arctic seriously.

Gadget

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