4/7/14

What a whirlwind of nearly 2 months with talks in India (6), New Zealand (6) and Australia (15)!  Two lectures in Perth for the Geological Society of Australia Western Australia division and CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization) finished out my tour in Australia. Perth is distant from the rest of Australia, and has a strong contingent of geologists, many in mining.

 The tall BHP Billiton tower dominates Perth’s business district skyline.


The tall BHP Billiton tower dominates Perth’s business district skyline.

There are impressive views of Perth from King’s Park with its distinctive botanical gardens.

perth sky3

There are beautiful views of Perth from King’s Park.

Nearby in the Darling Ranges, it was interesting to compare iron-rich pisoliths to the concretions I have been looking at over the years.

My host Dr. Ravi Anand at CSIRO explains the ferruginous pisoliths in complex soil horizons on top of Proterozoic granite.

My host Dr. Ravi Anand at CSIRO explains the ferruginous pisoliths in complex soil horizons on top of Proterozoic granite.

The bottle-shaped boab tree is endemic to Australia. Its leaves have medicinal properties and its swollen trunk has the ability to store water during dry seasons.

The bottle-shaped boab tree is endemic to Australia. Its leaves have medicinal properties and its swollen trunk has the ability to store water during dry seasons.

Two oceans converge at Cape Leeuwin, the southwestern-most point of Australia.

Two oceans converge at Cape Leeuwin, the southwestern-most point of Australia.

Hamelin Bay near Margaret River (S of Perth) is known for stingrays as well as its sunsets.

Hamelin Bay near Margaret River (S of Perth) is known for stingrays as well as its sunsets.

No, I didn't get to the famed stromatolites of Shark's Bay, but I did see these cool microbial thrombolites at Lake Clifton (S of Perth), estimated at ~ 2000 years old.

No, I didn’t get to the famed stromatolites of Shark’s Bay, but I did see these cool microbial thrombolites at Lake Clifton (S of Perth), estimated at ~ 2000 years old.

I am grateful for this enriching experience that was sponsored by GSA, the University of Utah, the Geological Societies of Australia and New Zealand, and many host institutions. Everywhere I visited the response to the lectures was enthusiastic.  Soon I will be home to recoup for a few weeks, and then it will be trip #2 off to Japan and China for the month of May!

One for the road.......

One for the road…….

A last sunset at Canal Rocks north of Margaret River, Western Australia.

A last sunset at Canal Rocks north of Margaret River, Western Australia.

Margie

4/1/14

It’s down the home stretch now- only one more city to this first trip of my tour! We enjoyed the historic nature of Adelaide, another city by the sea that is accessible with lively cafes and a lovely botanical garden.  We especially enjoyed visiting the South Australian Museum where they have impressive displays of Ediacaran fauna, opalized fossils, and Aboriginal collections.

Many samples of Dickinsonia, the iconic fossil of the Ediacaran Period, are on display at the South Australia museum.

Many samples of Dickinsonia, the iconic fossil of the Ediacaran Period, are on display at the South Australia museum.

Opal replacement of fossils in Australia includes this plesiosaur.

Opal replacement of fossils in Australia includes this plesiosaur.

Aboriginal displays with Australia’s famous boomerangs.

Aboriginal displays with Australia’s famous boomerangs.

I gave two talks at University of Adelaide, including one for the Geological Society of Australia  - South Australia division.

The University of Adelaide geology department resides in a building named after the famed Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson.  One of the sleds made for his expeditions is on the wall of the department museum.

The University of Adelaide geology department resides in a building named after the famed Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson. One of the sleds made for his expeditions is on the wall of the department museum.

On to Perth!

Margie

3/30/14

Just when you thought you’d seen everything-  geologists in the School of Science at Federation University (formerly Ballarat) are in a new building with an educational microbrewery in their main entry area!

microbrew

A microbrewery is in the main entry area of School of Science, Information Technology and Engineering at Federation University.

microbrew sign

I gave a talk there as well as two talks at University of Melbourne for the School of Earth Sciences, and for the Geological Society of Australia Victoria division.  My gracious host and friend from graduate school days, Dr. Stephen Carey of Federation University, took us out for two field days in Victoria.

Dr. Stephen Carey took us spectacular cliff exposures of Port Campbell National Park.

Dr. Stephen Carey took us to spectacular cliff exposures of Port Campbell National Park.

We enjoyed glorious weather for the gorgeous coastal scenery of Oligocene-Miocene limestone at Port Campbell National Park, and for thrust sheets of Silurian sandstones of Grampians National Park.

Wave-sculpted limestone of the Oligocene-Miocene Heytesbury Group.

Wave-sculpted limestone of the Oligocene-Miocene Heytesbury Group.

In the Grampians, stacked fluvial Silurian sandstones comprise the Pinnacle lookout.

In the Grampians, stacked fluvial Silurian sandstones comprise the Pinnacle lookout.

The Grampians trail took us through a narrow canyon in the Silurian sandstones.

The Grampians trail took us through a narrow canyon in the Silurian sandstones.

Margie

3/26/14

In Queensland I visited Townsville and Brisbane.  Townsville is in the tropics by Australia’s famous Great Barrier Reef.  My host in Townsville, Dr. Eric Roberts (my former Ph.D. student, and current senior lecturer at James Cook University), took us to Cape Pallarenda where we looked at outcrops of Permian volcanic conglomerates, and modern beach pumice from recent eruptions near New Zealand.  I gave a talk in the Department and also for the Geological Society of Australia Queensland division, co-sponsored by EGRC – Economic Geology Research Centre.

There are great views of Townsville, Queensland from Castle Hill- a granite monolith.

There are great views of Townsville, Queensland from Castle Hill- a granite monolith.

We were at Cape Pallarenda with Dr. Eric Roberts (son Henry and wife Dana).

We were at Cape Pallarenda with Dr. Eric Roberts (son Henry and wife Dana).

Brisbane is a bustling city surrounding the Brisbane River.  We took the CityCat ferry to give a talk at the University of Queensland, a campus with wonderful sandstone buildings.

Geo Qld

I also gave a public lecture at the Queensland Museum, sponsored by the Geological Society of Australia-Queensland division.   We got in a quick visit to a Koala sanctuary and I finally got to see and feed a roo or two!

Koalas sleep about 19 hrs/day!

Koalas sleep about 19 hrs/day!

I fed kangaroos...

I fed kangaroos…

and got a close look at lorikeets...

…and got a close look at lorikeets…

except for the one on my head!

…except for the one on my head!

Margie

 

 

 

3/21/14

Hobart lies at the foot of Mount Wellington (1271 m high) and is the state capitol of Tasmania.  It also serves as a home port for Antarctic operations and has a nice waterfront with many preserved sandstone buildings.

I am standing by a large analog seismograph display in the Earth Sciences building at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, where I gave a talk for the Geological Society of Australia TAS division.

I am standing by a large analog seismograph display in the Earth Sciences building at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, where I gave a talk for the Geological Society of Australia TAS division.

The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is a short ferry ride from Hobart.  The museum is built into Triassic sandstone bedrock with cut walls that show beautiful iron oxide Liesegang  banding and concretions on the outside and inside of the building.

The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is a short ferry ride from Hobart. The museum is built into Triassic sandstone bedrock with cut walls that show beautiful iron oxide Liesegang banding and concretions on the outside and inside of the building.

Beautiful iron oxide Liesegang banding and concretions on the walls of the MONA.

Beautiful iron oxide Liesegang banding and concretions in the walls of the MONA.

A MONA sculpture of clear calcite spar rhombs are arranged into a large cylinder.

A MONA sculpture of clear calcite spar rhombs are arranged into a large cylinder.

Margie

3/18/14

In Canberra, capital of Oz, I gave a talk at ANU for an enthusiastic Geological Society of Australia ACT division group.

ANU sign

Although the visit was brief, I toured the Australian National Museum, the National Gallery, and the Royal botanical gardens, where large lizards (2 ft) watched us go by.

The Australian National Museum by the ANU campus.

The Australian National Museum by the ANU campus.

The National Gallery has some amazing sculptures.

The National Gallery has some amazing sculptures.

James Turrell’s “Within Without” basalt, water, earth, and landscape art.

James Turrell’s “Within Without” basalt, water, earth, and landscape art.

James Turrell’s “Within Without” basalt, water, earth, and landscape art.

James Turrell’s “Within Without” basalt, water, earth, and landscape art.

The Aussies keep saying to me: “You haven’t seen a roo yet? They’re all over the place!”

Margie

by Don Duggan-Haas

This post is the third in a series that addresses the 2014 Draft New York State Energy Plan and some public reactions to that plan. As mentioned in the last post, this commentary relates to New York State and its energy planning most directly, but the nature of what is happening here related to energy is instructive for both other areas of the country and for other controversial topics.

The laser-like focus on stopping fracking in New York State is admirable. I strongly believe that the activist community, both in New York and around the country, have led to stronger regulations and improved safety and environmental practices, but aspects of the work are troubling. I have concerns about unintended consequences. Advocating against one particular thing often makes you de facto for something else. If you’ve not thought carefully about what that something else is, success in advocacy may not bring positive change. Germany is, unfortunately, providing a strong example of this. The decision to phase out nuclear power has led Germany to burn more strip-mined brown coal in 2013 than they have in decades. See a recent New York Times story on that here.

Finding a cheap and easy source of energy, using up the easy to get stores of fuel and pursuing the remaining reserves through increasingly environmentally damaging and expensive means has happened again and again throughout our history as this cartoon from 1861 shows:

Grand_Ball_Given_by_Whales_(Vanity_Fair,_1861)

While attention is given to transitioning to renewable sources, planning for effective transitions requires knowing where you’re starting. I’d like to help people better understand the system they are trying to change to reduce the likelihood of harmful unintended consequences.

While many speakers at the meeting expressed the need to transition to renewables immediately, the laws of physics make that impossible (unless immediately means many years). Many cited the study led by Stanford University’s Mark Jacobson which acknowledges this reality, though some of the speakers made it sound as if 100% renewable energy could somehow happen tomorrow. Energy production and use requires a lot of infrastructure – we have one kind and need another. We can’t make that new infrastructure instantly and we can’t do it without using the existing energy system. Making solar panels and windmills requires energy, and to replace our current energy infrastructure, it would take lots of energy – more than can be provided from renewable sources right now.

Replacing the current energy system with one that is 100% renewable would also require lots of space. For example, if we wanted to keep UB’s 750 kilowatt quarter-of-a-mile-long Solar Strand the same width and extend it so that it was long enough to match the generating capacity of Ontario’s 6.3 gigawatt Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, we’d need to extend the Solar Strand from Buffalo to Phoenix, Arizona! I think it makes more sense to put solar on rooftops than to use bare ground, so think about how many rooftops that would require, and think about how much energy would be required to make all of those solar panels! That’s for a single (admittedly very large) power plant!

None of the above is intended to imply that the draft can’t be substantially improved – it can. But the gist of the initiatives are about transitioning away from fossil fuels and to reduce energy demand, and it seems to me that most of the commentators failed to address that at all.

Some very brief feedback on the Plan itself

The Plan does need to include a brief summary of its goals and initiatives in the first few pages, perhaps in the form of an executive summary. That should be followed by a brief overview of where we’re starting from – that is; it needs to educate readers about our current energy system, and important changes in that system in recent years.

All of the problems discussed above can be addressed in a range of ways, but there’s one strategy that addresses them all – use less energy. And this idea is, thankfully, addressed directly and frequently in the Draft 2014 New York State Energy Plan. Unfortunately, this was only mentioned by a minority of the speakers at the February meeting.

Of course, the Plan itself warrants much more feedback than I’ve provided in these closing brief paragraphs. I have spent much more time discussing the perception of the Plan than I have discussing the plan itself, because perception really matters. I hope readers of this series of posts will comment on the Draft New York Energy Plan before April 30, 2014.

I further hope that they will take a careful look at the Plan before they do so. That doesn’t require reading all of its many hundreds of pages, but it does require looking closely at the content you know and care the most about. Take advantage of the electronic presentation and search for terms that you think are most important to address, and read those sections carefully. Scan through to get a feeling for completeness, and for balance. Take notes as you go and then craft it into feedback that addresses both what you think is appropriately addressed in the Plan and, being as specific as possible, address its shortcomings and offer specific suggestions on how to improve it.

Our energy system matters a great deal for almost everything we do. I’m delighted by the interest that changes to that system brings to it. Hydrofracking is catalyzing learning and teaching about the energy system, and political action too. Let’s work to make all of our roles in that as beneficial as possible.

– Don Duggan-Haas is Director of Teacher Programs at the Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca. Along with colleagues Robert Ross and Warren Allmon, he authored The Science Beneath the Surface: A Very Short Guide to the Marcellus Shale.

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