Published in: The Australian Geologist, Newsletter # 185,
December 2017, pp 37-38
Planet Earth started out as a blob of plasma and over time developed a rocky carapace enveloped by an atmosphere now composed (on a dry basis) of 78.1% nitrogen, 20.9% oxygen and 0.9% argon, In addition, water vapor (H2O) comprises ~0.25% of Earths’ atmospheric mass.
Earths’ closest planetary neighbor, Mars, has an atmosphere composed of 96% CO2, 2.1% argon and 1.9% nitrogen. Earths’ other close planetary neighbor, Venus, has an atmosphere made up of 96.5% CO2 and 3.5% nitrogen.
From this it can be deduced that carbon dioxide is a product of planetary formation since there is no obvious sign of organic life on either Mars or Venus. The carbon on Earth must likewise have originated from non-organic sources, and the same can be said for oxygen.
In the current discussion on variability of Earths’ climate, the atmospheric components most often cited are: carbon dioxide, methane and water, the principle elements of these three compounds being carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, making up around 75% of its’ mass and on Earth it is one of the principle components of water (H2O).
The stratosphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan, has a composition of 98.4% nitrogen, 1.6% methane and 0.1%-0.2% hydrogen. Because methane condenses out at high altitudes, its abundance increases downwards and levels off at 4.9% at Titan’s surface. There are traces of other gaseous hydrocarbons such as ethane (C2H6), acetylene (C2H2), diacetylene (C4H2), methylacetylene (C3H4), propane (C3H8), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), cyanogens (C2N2). Tar-like organic precipitates such as tholins may also be present (Wikipedia).
This observation poses the question of what came first: ‘the chicken or the egg’? Bacteria must have developed from methane and only subsequently did it develop the ability to create methane.
|Saturn||~96||–||–||–||~0.4||–||~3||–||NH3, H20, NH4SH|
|Uranus||~83||–||–||–||2.3||–||~15||–||NH3, H20, NH4SH CH4.5.75H2O|
|Neptune||~80||–||–||–||~1.5||–||~19||–||NH3, H20, NH4SH
With the steady draining of population from rural areas to large towns and cities, it only takes one generation to become acclimated to the new urban environment and only one beyond that for grandchildren to be divorced from the quaint anecdotes of grandparents who once lived on farms or in small rural towns; even moreso, if grandparents die before grandchildren reach school age.
So the individual’s perception of the world shrinks – and an increasing number of souls are living in cities that are essentially urban islands in a sparsely populated landscape. These urban islanders travel from one island to another with the intervening countryside lost to the small screen of the iPad, iPhone/cellphone or laptop. To all intents and purposes, the countryside ceases to exist in the traveling individual’s perception.
Urban islanders gather news from television stations, radio stations and newspapers all located within those same urban islands. The drivers of social media mostly live in urban islands and so their narrative aligns with other urban islanders. The spaces between urban islands become an even more vacuous void if those urban islands have never been visited in person.
Such a detachment has happened before – when folks lived in forests and spent generations without experiencing an overview of their surrounds from a treeless hill, crag or cliff. To them, the Earth was flat.
Published in: The Australian Geologist, Newsletter # 175, June 2015, p.8
The weeping and gnashing of teeth over the ‘dismal” state of the market for mining equities and the high unemployment/underemployment rate among exploration geologists is the result of what happens when grandiose plans based on magical thinking don’t pan out. The demands of investors for quicker discoveries and increased dividend payments seem to imply that investors want to have their cake and eat it.
But then again, the market is never wrong: so what gives? Is it, perhaps, that investors are looking for something more substantive than the perennial game of “smoke and mirrors” that has been played by the exploration industry since the early 1970’s? Why does the junior exploration sector in Australia spend hard-to-get funds on projects that are unlikely to be profitable for a very, very long time … if ever? Such projects tend to be concentrated at relatively shallow depths and are being recycled again and again, only to repeatedly fall tantalizingly short of profitability thresholds when commodity prices peak. Is it any wonder investors are wary of putting money into the junior sector?
As most practitioners know, the grade/quality of commodities have been falling for decades, occasioned by economies of scale based on bigger, better and more efficient mining and milling equipment, all powerfully underpinned by computational statistics.
This economies-of-scale paradigm has atrophied the resource business towards large-scale open-cut operations and their attendant massive capital costs … whereas only a couple of decades ago an investment of US$500m was regarded as substantial, there are now mines mooted and under construction, whose costs are in the $5-15 billion range, such as Barrick Gold’s Pascua-Lama project on the Argentinean-Chilean border (US$8.5 billion), Rio Tinto/Turquoise Hill Resources’ Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia (US6.2 billion + US$5 billion expansion) and BHP’s Jansen potash mine in Canada (US$14 billion).
There are a few companies and individuals who do operate “outside the box” but their successes are insufficient to sate the voracious appetite for resources that is driven by the ever increasing world population and the demand of citizens in under-developed countries for better living conditions.
The mines of today are waning vestiges of low hanging fruit that mostly originated with outcropping orebodies: in developed countries such as Australia and Canada, those days are long gone. Companies have been looking abroad for outcropping orebodies in politically less-stable regimes but large capital commitments and their commensurate environmental impacts are pitting citizens against miners and enticing the specter of resource nationalism, the recent experiences of Kinross Gold Corp. in Colombia and Gabriel Resources in Romania being cases in point. Then there was Anglo American’s recent departure from its US$300m investment in the Pebble project in Alaska.
Blind deposits and underground block-caving mining methods are very much the way of the future but this is where the impasse becomes apparent: finding these non-outcropping deposits is both time-consuming and expensive, due to the forensic nature of the search. However, the prize can be quite substantial, such as Olympic Dam (South Australia), Escondida (Chile) and Resolution (Arizona, USA).
By labeling ‘greenfields’ projects as “too expensive”, investors might be accused of putting the kybosh on Australia’s minerals explorers were in not for the dismal success record over the last couple of decades. Yes, exploration is expensive and, yes, it is absolutely fundamental to the success of the mining industry: but it has to be done the right way, divorced from the strident clamor of short-term speculative interests.
Bohdan (Bob) Burban
Los Angeles, USA
Published in The Australian Geologist, Newsletter #167, June 2013, pp11-12
It was only in 1963 that US geologist Gene Shoemaker noted the surficial similarities between underground nuclear detonation sites at Yucca Flats, Nevada and the Barringer Crater in neighboring Arizona. From there, the plausibility of extraterrestrial impacts was established and a concept once overwhelmingly rejected by geologists became accepted as fact. The arrival at this consensus was not smooth: starting with Galileo Galilei it followed almost four centuries of long and tortuous argument characterized by a distinctly unscientific rancor fueled by religious zeal.
But if ever there was a ‘closer’ to this argument, it came in the form of the asteroidal impact over Chelyabinsk, Russia on 15 February 2013. Tellingly, this fascinating event was not captured on myriad cameras choreographed by prescient prize-winning scientists, august professors or Nobel laureates. Alas, even the boffins let the side down. No, the evidence was inadvertedly collected by bunch of amateurs armed with dash-cams, doing something else viz., going about their daily lives. The cognoscenti and paid help didn’t even see it coming because they were singularly focused on asteroid 2012 DA14.
Perhaps the brouhaha that doubles as discourse in your Letters section regarding the GSA statement on “Climate Change” should be viewed with the above history in mind. This statement is in keeping with the spirit of Albert Einstein’s remark that … ‘the important thing is not to stop questioning.’
The city of Venice in Italy’s north-eastern region is a ‘must’ for visitors interested in history, art, good food, rising sea levels and sinking civilizations. November is a good time to drop in, as most establishments are still open, tourists few, prices reasonable and queues non-existent.
Venice’s history is all-enveloping and the grandiosity of the architecture is as breathtaking as the city’s locale: smack in the middle of a vast lagoon. That the city’s massive stone buildings are built on soft sediments is something that is not generally appreciated. Some gravitational settling of these structures might be expected over several centuries, moreso since the city is within a seismically active region. But no, most commentators prefer more exotic reasons for rising water levels.
One way to capture the sense of that sinking feeling in Venice is by touring its ubiquitous art galleries and collections. Some oil painted streetscapes date back six centuries or so, and it’s quite a surprise to realize that water levels in some of these paintings look suspiciously similar to what is witnessed today. It’s quite an eye opener.
In establishing the SW Carey Medal, the GSA has acknowledged the stature of a great Australian geologist though it is a pity that it dispenses such an honor without paying much attention to – or lending any credence to – the work for which he is famous. Remarkably, “The Expanding Earth” was first published in 1976, a full decade before the oceanographic magnetic data release by the US National Geophysical data Center. In his work Sam Carey wrote that the continental drift theory was wrong and he maintained that view for the remainder of his life. He was before his time, because there remain fundamental observations on global tectonics that need to be addressed, among them:
If Carey could not explain why the earth is expanding, we might pause and reflect that Newton could not explain the cause of gravity. It is well documented that Sam Carey took a lot of shtick for his research into the topic of the expanding earth – the fact that mountains of scorn were heaped upon him during his lifetime is at odds with the reverence now displayed by the GSA, and yet the GSA awards his medal to a geologist whose citation in the September 2014 TAG Newsletter #172 included ” … has illustrated the role of dynamic topography associated with the northward drift of the Australian continent”. Really? Even though Carey disagreed most emphatically about continental drift?
It is a matter of record that Sam Carey spoke on the 20th January 1992 at the GSA’s 11th Australian Geological Conference held at Ballarat University. Was I the only one listening when he expressed disappointment in his former students and lambasted them for nestling comfortably in their academic sinecures, all the while eschewing any vestige of original thought?
So why did the GSA institute the Sam Carey Medal in the first place? Surely not to laud his heresy, but perhaps to celebrate his seemingly quixotic quest regarding his work on the expanding earth? In this age of oxymoronic ‘consensus science’ the GSA might seriously consider adopting a new motto – non silex navicula – to reflect its’ stance on scientific method and discourse.