Thursday, May 23, 2013

Solid-state batteries and a China-Japan dispute

Remember news of the dispute between China and Japan over what are known as Senkaku islands in Japan and the Diaoyu islands in China?  I'd forgotten about it.

This morning my interest had turned to what might be the next breakthrough after lithium-ion batteries, and the internet bits are about solid-state batteries. 

Wikipedia gives a list of candidates for solid-state batteries, including "Ag4RbI5 for Ag+ conduction, LiI/Al2O3 mixtures for Li+ conduction, and the clay and β-alumina group of compounds (NaAl11O17) for Na+ and other mono- and divalent ions."

Clearly the cheapest is not going to be the one with Ag (silver) or the one with Li (lithium) so let's look at the sodium-aluminum-oxide.

NaAl11O17 turns out to be the mineral  diaoyudinite.  
Uhoh. Yes, it was first identified on Diaoyudao Island, part of the Diaoyu Islands.

The island isn't necessarily a mother lode, exactly, but that term may have to do. 
 "There is strong suspicion that diaoyudaoite, from all its known localities, is an INDUSTRIAL WASTE product (from chromium refining, corundum synthesis, etc.) and not a natural mineral." per Mindat.

What should we call an illegal industrial dump site that is now so attractive that countries may risk war over access to the seafloor sediments?

Meanwhile the US has some diaoyudinite in Newark Bay (New Jersey) and the Chester Emery Mines slag (Massachusetts). (Thanks again to Mindat.)

So this only confirms my usual suspicion that nearly any political, even military, position is driven by economics. Why fight over uninhabited islands unless they are key to a technological advantage and possible future market dominance?

This also may indicate that some people are taking solid-state batteries mighty seriously.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sept 3, 2013 Update on Greenland Ice melt

by Joan Savage

Breaking News Update: September 3, 2013

A major canyon beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet leads from mid island northward to near the outfall of the Peterman Glacier. 
Now scientists think that feature may be contributing to meltwater reaching the Arctic Ocean.
I'm delighted about confirmation of my suspicion of mid-island under-ice melting, and the shape of the canyon fits with why the ice cores that reached bedrock didn't reveal the canyon, located to the north.  I'm not delighted that stealth melting could be occurring on a massive scale.

Earlier posts:
Greenland ice melt turns out to be more complicated, and better studied, so this is a revision of what I posted on September 18, 2012, and again in May 2013.

The top surface melt may either move slowly downwards, re-freezing and consolidating in firn, the form of old snow that is compressing into ice, or it may move as meltwater (more on this), or perhaps some other fate, for which I have yet to find a study. Sublimation?

The massive surface melt in the summer of 2012 was remarkable because nearly every surface experienced some melting, at least in place.  The scientists monitoring Greenland melt had earlier classified Greenland ice as dry-snow facies, the combined percolation and wet-snow facies, ice facies, transient melt areas and moraine.  Dry snow facies are surfaces where if snow falls, it accumulates, never melting. Percolation facies are surfaces that melt and refreeze, forming pipes and lenses.  The

As a recent abstract by McGrath et al (2013) clarifies, "Extrapolation of this observed trend now suggests, with 95% confidence intervals, that the dry snow facies of the Greenland Ice Sheet will inevitably transition to percolation facies. There is a 50% probability of this transition occurring by 2025."

In the percolation facies is were the lakes and moulins form.
As the Greenland ice sheet melts around the edges and off its top surface, transient meltwater lakes form on the top of the ice at some locations. Sometimes the transient lakes discharge in transient mighty rivers that cut across the ice sheet surface and may join with more permanent rivers or perhaps better-termed seasonally recurrent rivers.  In the summer of 2012 an engorged ice melt river destroyed a bridge in Kangerlussuaq.  How many months of the year do the  ice melt rivers flow? I don't know. How much melt water stays on the ice sheet surface all the way to ground surface and from there to the ocean,  and how much melt water diverts through the moulins to under-ice channels before it reaches the ocean? I don't know those answers, either, and it would be great if someone was gathering real data on those questions.

In other instances, the meltwater lakes accumulate for only a few days or weeks in summer,  then flush themselves down the inverse-chimneys, the moulins, that develop under the lakes and deep into the ice, as the melt water opens up cracks in the ice.  In a moulin, the melt water creates a deep vertical shaft that extends to the base of the ice sheet. The moulin water is thought to travel through under-ice channels to the ocean. How well established is that fate? Does all the water go to the ocean?

Tracking ice melt comes with some tools, as ice melt is fresh water, low in salts and conductivity, and as it is from snow fall, it has a lighter oxygen isotope signature than does seawater.

Is it part of the freshwater runoff accumulation found in the seas near shore? Apparently yes.
The East Greenland Current  and in consequence, the West Greenland Current, are affected by plumes of glacial melt water that can be detected far into the current by oxygen isotope studies.

Is the meltwater also pooling in the great central lowland of Greenland that is hidden under the ice? The data from the 1990s did not suggest that it was. The  Greenland  ice core samples from GISP, GSIP2, GRIP, NGRIP, and NEEM did not hit a lake of any sort before approaching bedrock. 

However the times are a-changing. In the summer of 2012, the entire top ice surface of Greenland had a melt layer, unlike previous years' observations in which center of the continental sheet did not lose a layer. This years' loss of annual ice record is as startling as if a geologist could watch the loss of a geologic stratum.

Also in this past year, researchers at the other pole were able to drill down in Antarctica, to the ancient Lake Vostock, deep under the ice sheet.  Is there another lake like Vostock forming under Greenland's melting ice sheet?
Like Antarctica, Greenland has a low bedrock area in mid-sub-continent as much as 500 meters below current sea level.

Researchers suggest that the Greenland meltwater from surface lakes may be lubricating the icesheet's bottom surface. With the slopes of that mid-continent depression, not all the ice sheet would slide towards the sea.
Two to five areas of Greenland bedrock have channel patterns linking the mid-continent depression to the sea.
These channels could unplug at some point in the mix of sea level rise and ice melt.

For now, the Greenland ice cores suggest, but don't prove, an absence of a preexisting mid-continental lake.

Perhaps it's one of those answers that is all of the above or some of the above.

In breaking news on November 30, 2012, a report published in Science, A reconciled estimate of Ice-Sheet mass balance,  shows that Greenland's ice sheet is melting five times faster than the models had predicted.

Most recent update May 22, 2013. Joan Savage

You may enjoy a  cartoon published by Funny Times in 2009.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Insurance industry and catastrophes

The business section of the New York Times has a good article by Roberto Porter on how insurance companies are looking at climate change, " For Insurers, No Doubts on Climate Change."

The usual reaction is are they just going to raise premiums? Porter found that insurance companies did well financially in 2012, so we can assume there were some price rises.

However, raising insurance rates has several kinds of limits.
In the NYT article Porter reports,”Mr. Muir-Wood notes that the insurance industry faces a different sort of risk: political action. “That is the biggest threat,” he said. When insurers canceled policies and raised premiums in Florida in 2006, politicians jumped on them.”

A more prudent defense against an insurance company wipe-out is to merge into a larger customer pool that extends beyond the high-risk locales. This measure helps with cash flow, as well as with rate rise rebellion. In 2011, over twenty percent of insurance in the US was carried by five insurance groups (NAIC report, page 3).

Aggregation is also the basic financial mechanism behind federal flood relief, relying on the pool of taxpayers across the country to pick up the tab for regional events.  We've seen interesting dynamics among 'red' states and 'blue' states in consequence of this politically-shaky assumption of mutual support in time of trouble, even though individuals around the country are typically sympathetic to catastrophe victims.

Accelerated climate change kicks this combine-and-survive strategy to its limits, as regional catastrophic events grow geographically larger and thus more expensive, testing the federal government’s preparedness to pay off, as we saw a few months back with Superstorm Sandy.

Private insurers aren’t ready to throw in the towel, but I expect they are going to lobby for expanded federal instruments for flood insurance and crop insurance and possibly other contingencies to cover catastrophes, even while the private insurers remain largely silent on preventive measures.

h/t Climate Progress pick up on the NYT article.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Nature's surplus firepower, a/k/a global warming

In some Tom Clancy book, I forget which, he paraphrases a military observation to the effect that in the long run, firepower always beats out defenses.

Nature has been given the military advantage of surplus firepower.
 Resiliency is about surviving our mistake.

I cross posted this comment at Climate Progress

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Chasing our tails

 I haven't been posting much here as my energy seems to have gone into researching comments I make on others' blogs. Here was something I nearly posted as a comment elsewhere.

A tale of progressivism

New York City reached its population limit around 1800 when it ran low on wood for fuel and construction.  Two decades later, the Erie Canal brought wood from upstate and so the city grew while forests fell elsewhere.

 New York City reached its limit again around 1870 when the sheer numbers of horses to maintain, and piles of manure to remove, were thought to prevent further growth. The city shifted to trolleys, trains and autos, and the city grew while the oil gushed. 

Several times the city was limited by water supply, with public works projects responding with aqueducts and tunnels to draw water from hundreds of square miles of watersheds.

Each resource limit was overcome at a cost to something or somebody somewhere. 

Isn't interesting that the known approaches to climate disturbance take two routes that are actually utterly familiar? One is the familiar progressivism through technology that employs novel resources, and the other is conservation and efficiency with what one has. 

What makes dealing with climate so different is that we are all in it, there is nothing outside, there is no climate change equivalent of an upstate forest or an Ohio oil field or a Jersey watershed that is somewhere "else."