Month: August 2006

Schwarzenegger to CO2 – “I’ll Be Back”

California takes lead in U.S. global warming fight | Tech&Sci | Science |

California catapulted to the forefront of U.S. efforts to fight global warming on Wednesday with an accord that will give the state the toughest laws in the nation on cutting greenhouse gas emissions and possibly spur a reluctant Washington to take similar action.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has accused fellow Republican President George W. Bush of failing to demonstrate leadership on climate change, said he reached a “historic agreement” with Democrats to make California a world leader in reducing carbon emissions.

Well, good for them. It’s going to be a combination of a cap and trade system and full emissions reporting by the big energy companies.

Of course, the usual suspects were having none of it.

“It is unfortunate such important legislation is being put together at the last minute without proper review and scrutiny, especially because of its potential to harm the economy,” said Tupper Hull, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association.

Usually, when California leads, the rest of the country follows. This works especially for consumer products such as cars, because it makes more sense to meet the most stringent standards when manufacturing, so economies of scale can still operate, and California is a big enough market to influence the whole country. I am sceptical about the immediate effect of this legislation on the rest of the country, it could spur copycat legislation in other states such as Michigan, Illinois, etc.with Democrat-dominated politics. But since it does not affect industries out of state directly, there will be less motivation to change.

Of course, the contention that this will hurt Californian industry in any way is a crock, and an excuse that was used for pretty much every bit of environmental legislation. Dupont is still alive and well after CFCs were banned! California has such natural advantages, great weather, great cultural advantages, that it will take a lot to cause widespread migration of “industry”.

Gapminder -Visualize Global Development Data

I must have been living in a cave somewhere to not have heard of this before today.

The Gapminder World 2006, beta

Gapminder is a non-profit venture that develops information technology for provision of free statistics in new visual and animated ways. In short, it enables you to make sense of the world by having fun with statistics. Our method is to turn boring data into enjoyable interactive animations using Flash technology. Gapminder is a Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. Funding has been mainly by grants from Swedish International Development co-operation Agency, Sida. In collaboration with United Nations Statistic Division we promote free access to searchable public data and our animations of different types of data are freely available at

The Pros
You have to take it for a test drive to see how cool it is, especially the animations to see how parameters like life expectancy, population, etc. change over time. You can pick countries to compare, or just scatter plot everyone. Look at Botswana’s life expectancy, for instance, see it peak in 1987 at 65 years and start a steep  plummet to 35 years in 2004 as its AIDS mass murder (epidemic is a word that does do this one justice) took hold. To watch the dot for life expectancy drop that quickly as you animate it is pretty powerful, as powerful as a statistic can be. Each parameter you change also changes the URL, so you can send links easily.

The Cons
You have to plot something against something else. Not everything is a scatter plot between two variables, you use it long enough, and you start seeing correlations (=causations!) where none exist. There’s no way to extract plots to use for later, though I guess you can do a screen capture.

Regardless, very cool, and nothing beats free access to large amounts of data that previously needed specialists to visualize and make sense of.

USGS Releases Study on US Well Water

The actual journal paper seems to be behind a subscription wall. But, here’s a summary…

ScienceDaily: Chemical Quality Of Self-Supplied Domestic Well Water

Since the water quality of domestic wells is not federally regulated or nationally monitored, this study provides a unique, previously nonexistent perspective on the quality of the self-supplied drinking water resources used by 45 million Americans in the United States. This national reconnaissance study is based on a compilation of existing data from a very large number of wells sampled as part of multiple USGS programs.

Well water is not held to the same standards as municipal water, which means it is not normally tested for nasties such as arsenic.

Well (no pun intended!), looky here, but arsenic levels in well water exceed EPA Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) more than 10% of the time. If, and this is a big if, you extrapolate these results to the whole country, as much as 5 million people may be exposed to higher than allowed arsenic levels. Arsenic is a notorious contaminant with an MCL of 0.01 mg/L, down a factor of 5 as of January 2006 due to data that indicates effects at even lower doses.

If I drank well water, I would get it tested for arsenic.

Most of the results are from the North East, which means that outside research circles (and behind subscription walls), groundwater arsenic levels could be a significant problem that not too many people are aware of.

All figures are from the paper.


Focazio, Michael J., Tipton, Deborah, Dunkle Shapiro, Stephanie & Geiger, Linda H. (2006) The Chemical Quality of Self-Supplied Domestic Well Water in the United States. Ground Water Monitoring & Remediation 26 (3), 92-104. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6592.2006.00089.x

The NYTimes Covers Cricket!

A Battle of National Pride, Fought on the Cricket Field – New York Times

On Sunday, an umpire presiding at a high-profile game between England and Pakistan ruled that in his belief, Pakistani players had been tampering with the ball, and he told Pakistani players of his suspicion, awarding England five bonus runs, or points. Cricketers consider ball tampering to be one of the most heinous forms of cheating. By way of protest, the Pakistanis refused to leave their dressing room after a scheduled break for tea. The umpire, Darrell Hair of Australia, a person known for contentious rulings against some Asian teams, then removed the bails — little wooden bits that fit horizontally across the top of the larger wooden stakes called stumps — denoting that Pakistan had forfeited the game. The Pakistani team, nonetheless, walked back onto the field. But by that time the umpires had walked off, having ruled that Pakistan’s no-show constituted a terminal offense. Game to England — the first time in 129 years of so-called Test matches between national teams that a game had been forfeited in this way.

Oh well, to explain this to someone who does not watch cricket requires a long dissertation on swing and “reverse swing” (check out this video from the Beeb, this page and wikipedia). When the ball is “new” and shiny, the ball moves laterally in the air a certain way, thanks mostly to the bowler’s skillful application of the physics of air flow around a spherical object (and spit). He keeps one side shinier than the other so that the air resistance around the rough side pushes the ball in the direction of the “rough” side. The angle of the “seam”, or the ball’s stitching also helps maintain the difference in flow velocity. Weather conditions also play a big part, it tends to swing more when it is a little cold and humid. When the ball gets older (cricket uses the same ball till it gets too worn out), the “rough” side is now so rough that the airflow around this side now has less resistance, and the ball “reverses” its swing.

So what does all this have to do with what happened on the field? Well, you’re allowed to keep one side smooth with spit and polish (well, mostly spit, because polish is not allowed!). But, you’re not allowed to artificially roughen the other side to make the ball reverse swing quicker than it normally would. The Pakistan team pretty much perfected reverse swing, and have been caught tampering before. Hair looked at the ball, decided unilaterally that the ball had been tampered with, penalized the team and expected the Pakistan team to just accept his decision and play.

This particular umpire has a long history of controversy with Asian teams, I remember his first game very well, it was a test match in 1992 between Australia and India where his decisions pretty much pushed the game in Australia’s favor (this was before “neutral” or other country umpires). I was pissed off then, and his decision making has always been suspicious. He has called a Sri Lankan bowler for “throwing” when he wasn’t supposed to. I hope he never officiates another test match involving India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka ever again, his judgment is to be considered suspect!

New Source Review stands for now

Cinergy, now Duke Energy, was trying to claim that as long as its plants’ hourly emission rate did not increase, they could make unlimited “modifications” to the plants. So, in theory, if capacity got doubled so a plant was operating 24 hours a day from 12, the hourly rate would remain the same, but pollution would double. Well,  isn’t that a “new source” then? Apparently, Cinergy did not think so, and after at least 6 years of wrangling, this thing is going to be decided by the Supreme Court this fall. So, once again, the crack team of Roberts, et al. will decide whether we breathe or not, policy by judicial fiat?

US court hands EPA a win in utility emission case |

A federal court has ruled that a big U.S. utility must install costly pollution-reduction equipment at its aging coal-powered electric plants if it expands them, handing a victory to the U.S. government in a case that could shape an upcoming Supreme Court ruling.

The three-member 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on Thursday ruled that Cinergy must install emission curbs at its coal-powered plants in the Midwest if it expands them to prolong their operating lives.

The Environmental Protection Agency had sued the utility to force it to apply for an expansion permit, which would trigger emission-reduction measures.

In a bevy of cases, U.S. utilities are testing how far they can go to expand aging plants without triggering a section of the Clean Air Act known as “New Source Review.”

Catalog the world

Librarians doing what they do best, enabling people find books in libraries, this site helps you find books/authors in libraries near you. I don’t see the Chapel Hill/Carrboro public libraries pop up in the three searches I have done so far, which is puzzling, but the UNC system is there, so is Duke and State and a lot of community colleges.

WorldCat [OCLC]

The internets are truly great.

Oceans of Carbon Dioxide?

Well, possibly the biggest climate change science news of the day, sequestration with a twist. Now if we can only get those friendly little carbon dioxide molecules to march down a couple of miles down to the ocean sediments to sequester themselves! But seriously, it will take a lot of pumping.

Permanent carbon dioxide storage in deep-sea sediments — House et al., 10.1073/pnas.0605318103 — Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Stabilizing the concentration of atmospheric CO2 may require storing enormous quantities of captured anthropogenic CO2 in near-permanent geologic reservoirs. Because of the subsurface temperature profile of terrestrial storage sites, CO2 stored in these reservoirs is buoyant. As a result, a portion of the injected CO2 can escape if the reservoir is not appropriately sealed. We show that injecting CO2 into deep-sea sediments <3,000-m water depth and a few hundred meters of sediment provides permanent geologic storage even with large geomechanical perturbations. At the high pressures and low temperatures common in deep-sea sediments, CO2 resides in its liquid phase and can be denser than the overlying pore fluid, causing the injected CO2 to be gravitationally stable. Additionally, CO2 hydrate formation will impede the flow of CO2(l) and serve as a second cap on the system. The evolution of the CO2 plume is described qualitatively from the injection to the formation of CO2 hydrates and finally to the dilution of the CO2(aq) solution by diffusion. If calcareous sediments are chosen, then the dissolution of carbonate host rock by the CO2(aq) solution will slightly increase porosity, which may cause large increases in permeability. Karst formation, however, is unlikely because total dissolution is limited to only a few percent of the rock volume. The total CO2 storage capacity within the 200-mile economic zone of the U.S. coastline is enormous, capable of storing thousands of years of current U.S. CO2 emissions.

Nanoparticles the new asbestos?

I am sure everyone has heard about the wonders of nanotechnology, but what about the other side?

ScienceDaily: Tiny Inhaled Particles Take Easy Route From Nose To Brain

In a continuing effort to find out if the tiniest airborne particles pose a health risk, University of Rochester Medical Center scientists showed that when rats breathe in nano-sized materials they follow a rapid and efficient pathway from the nasal cavity to several regions of the brain, according to a study in the August issue of Environmental Health Perspectives

There was a time when asbestos was the wonder material, malleable and fire resistant, capable of being woven into sheets, and being incorporated into buildings for fire retardation. Unfortunately, many cases of asbestosis and mesothelioma later, not so wonderful. Asbestos is a special case because the fibers started out big and would keep breaking down into smaller particles till they reached that magic size range between 0.1 and 1-2 um where they could stay suspended in the air for a long time, and also take advantage of the lungs’ inability to filter particles that size to any great degree of efficiency.

Nanoparticles are an order of magnitude smaller, and hence behave more like gases. They may  also contain choice toxic heavy metals such as manganese which are not usually floating around in the air at these small sizes. So, this study is a little scary, especially for the folks in the manufacturing end of things, these miracle particles seem to be going straight to the brain. Traditional masks and air handling systems are not designed to filter such fine particles, so I am sure they’re floating around in the air waiting to be breathed in.

Update 9:00 AM, 8-3-2006
Well, I swear, I did not see this before I wrote this morning!

The question of the day, however, is are they safe for humans and other living things? Earlier this year, Andrew Seaton, A U.K. scientist who was the lead author of a 2004 report investigating the saftey of nanotechnological materials raised a bit of a ruckus by comparing carbon nanotubes to asbestos fibers. Asbestos once had its day in the sun as an all-purpose wonder material. But then we learned that tiny asbestos fibers, once ingested by the human body, could be extremely deadly. Carbon nanotubes: also easy to ingest, and exquisitely capable of penetrating cell structures. Could they be equally toxic?

India Bans Child Labor

About frigging time. It’s scary when I was growing up to be “helped” by kids younger than me, I remember feeling lucky to be on the receiving side. Wonder if implementationitis will hit this as well (who will enforce? will they selectively enforce? Will this be just another extortion excuse? Will people complain if they see any child labor in their local tea shop? What will poor parents make their kids do to earn extra income for the family?)
BBC NEWS | South Asia | India bans child domestic labour

The order, which applies to children under 14, will come into effect in October, officials say.It also bans children from teashops, restaurants, hotels, motels, resorts, spas or other recreational centres.

There are estimated to be more than 12.6 million child workers in India, many of whom work as domestic helps or in small roadside restaurants.

The committee, while recommending the ban, warned that children under 14 were vulnerable to physical, mental and even sexual abuse. Mr Srivastava said that anyone found violating the ban would be penalised under the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act of 1986. Punishment range from a fine to imprisonment.