Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Geosonnet 15

The ants which scuttle by between our toes
Dissolve the min’rals of the Earth we tread
The calcic feldspar, slipped under their nose
Ten trillion insects weather, pit, and shred.
The Himalayan mountains cool the Earth
Though mangroves and the grasses do their part,
But ants may do what was the work of turf
By min’ralizing CO2, they start
Evaporating seas in Neogene
Drying the Earth to suit their sandy hives
Anthropocene becomes the Formicene
The terraformic swarm constructs, connives.
  No human teamwork makes emissions slow
  Yet toiling ants sequester far below.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Gender representation in Geology

A week and a half ago, I pointed out the gender imbalance apparent in the September issue of Geology.  My particular gripe was that it would be hard to achieve gender balance in my ongoing geopoetry series if issues (like the September one) had three or fewer papers by women authors.  With encouragements from commenters and the geotwitter rock stars, I had a slightly deeper look into what is going on with gender in geology, by recording the given name-assumed gender and author order for a year’s worth of Geology articles.  

In total, this included 239 papers with a total of 1164 authors.  The number of authors per paper ranged from 1 to 19. Of these authors, 64% were male, 19% were female, and 16% were initials. Initial authors excluded from the analysis; Most (57%) of them were on papers with six or more authors, so I assume that initialization was generally a space-saving exercise.

Looking only at uninitiated papers, the M/F ratio is 76.9% to 23.1%.  This is not too different to the professional gender balance quoted here (76% M) and is slightly better than the decade-old numbers on assistant professor hires (23% F), but is substantially worse than the (similar era) graduating PhD student ratio (38% F). So the implication is that the Geology gender ratio mostly reflects post-grad school anti-female filtering.

As for author order, the observed vs expected ratios (given the gender ratio) are shown in the figure below.  Due to the small size of the data set and the large number of individual categories, none of these deviations are statistically significant; the probability of sole author papers being seven M to zero F is about 14%- not high, but not enough to convict either.  The M/F of first authors, second authors, etc. was generally within a few percentage points of the mean ratio, and always within counting stats.


And a quick Monte Carlo* suggests that the probability of getting three or fewer female first authors in any particular issue is about 28% (see below), based on 10,000 random author list generations for 20-paper issues.

This is only a simulation, of course. It will take the Geological Society of America just shy of 800 years to put out their 10,000th issue.  Let’s hope that gender equity in academia has been achieved by then.

* Yes, I know there is an analytical solution, but simulations are more fun and quicker.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A brief word on Earthquakes and fracking.

Since the Keranen et al. paper a few months ago, there has been much discussion on the relationship between earthquakes and wastewater disposal wells from unconventional hydrocarbon extraction (a.k.a. fracking).

Most of this discussion related to earthquake swarms on Oklahoma, where seismicity has dramatically increased in recent years.   However, it is worth pointing out that Oklahoma is by no means the biggest fracking state.  That is Texas, with almost ten times the oil production of Oklahoma.  The USGS produces earthquake maps of every state, ad Texas (and Oklahoma) can be seen here


What is immediately apparent is that despite the much larger size and production, Texas has slightly fewer quakes.  The next biggest fracking state, after Texas, is North Dakota, which has recently surpassed Alaska and California to be the USA’s second biggest oil producer (three times more than Oklahoma).  Its earthquake map looks like this:

Even the Keranen et al. paper stresses that many injection wells are aseismic, and that a mere four wells account for the majority of earthquakes. This sort of attention to detail is important to consider when evaluating this technology.  Understanding facts and details is the first step in uncovering processes which we can then use to improve our use and stewardship of natural resources.


And finally, just for comparison, here is the seismic map for Alaska, which I’m putting up here because of the beautiful Benioff zone which has nothing to do with petroleum at all.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Geosonnet 14

New biostratigraphic data may
Help Cryogenian stratigraphy
The timing’s known from rhenium decay
The vase shaped fossils match from every sea.
Were they amoebas wearing armor plate?
Or protist tanks, cilia on the brink?
Eukaryotic arms race tempted fate
Destabilizing carbon source and sink.
Darwinian selection did not give
Thoughtful reflection, cool restraint, or mirth.
Organics buried, still they strove to live,
Turned pale blue dot into a snowball Earth.
  Three quarters of a billion years ago
  The first nuclear winter: “Let it go…”


Saturday, October 11, 2014

A conservative response to climate change

Climate change is in the news again, with the liberals renewing their call for collectivist action, and the anti-science branch of conservative practicing various forms of do-nothingness.  As a goal-oriented, pro science conservative, I am not really comfortable with either of these approaches. And the lack of a broad tent conservative response irks me, so I suggest we go with the following, simple yet powerful principle as a sensible, potentially unifying response to climate change:

No climate bailouts.

This is a good conservative approach for the following reasons:

1. It is uniting.  Under this approach, it doesn't matter if you believe in climate change or not.  Those who do not can oppose climate bailouts with the same principles which impel them to oppose bailouts for unicorn farmers.  So we can all stop arguing about climate science and respect each other’s differences.

2. It differentiates us from the liberals.  Al Gore and his ideological descendants basically push the following line: “Global Warming means we have to all turn into collectivists”  Needless to say, this upsets a lot of people.  By denying bailouts, we are placing the costs and risk assessment firmly in the hands of the polluters.  The market is the best way to determine the probability of climate change, and the associated cost.  Let the polluters deal with insurance and risk assessment and lawsuits associated with potential damages. While any costs will of course be passed on to consumers, if those costs are too high, then we can buy our energy from a non-polluting source.  That’s how free markets work.  The important thing is that it does not commit us to open ended government spending to bail out polluters.

3. It is flexible.  Drawing a line in the sand on bailouts does not prevent public or private action. There are many creative ways in which governments, companies, and people can tackle climate change and save money instead of spending it.  Whether it is streamlining approval processes or increasing government energy efficiency or requiring utilities to compete for the lowest energy price available, the list of potential actions goes on.  Similarly, this approach allows principled, can-do compromise on climate action, provided that the core principle remains intact.

There are several other proposals for how conservatives should react to the climate change issue.  While they are sensible, none are this simple.  Polluters have known about the possibility of climate change ever since Al Gore was thin and dark haired.  They’ve had plenty of time to study the issue and prepare based on the most likely outcomes.  If they are not competent to do that, then they don’t deserve to be propped up with our hard-earned money.


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Total eclipse of the train

Tokyo is a busy city.  Thirty-six million people go call the region home, and go about their industrious, detailed lives with an energy and rigor unique on this planet. It is hard to know exactly what they are thinking; Japanese culture creates an aura or privacy and personal space that the geography tries to deny.  And for an outsider accustomed to wide open spaces, the locals here can sometimes seem hard to connect with.  But tonight was different.  While 8 o’clock is still the tail end of rush-hour in the hard working town, and Wednesday is hump day here as surely as it is everywhere else, this did not change the alignment of the sun and planets. 400,000 kilometers away, the full moon crossed the ecliptic, and the Earth, for an hour, blotted out the light of the sun on its airless surface.

And in that hour, the residents of Tokyo, and Melbourne, and Fiji, and Denver and Mt. Isa and countless other countries ‘round the Pacific stopped what they were doing, looked up at the sky, and watched the white light of the moon grow red and dim. The electricity and data kept flowing, the trains kept leaving, the advertisements kept flashing, the mechanical metabolism of the metropolis rumbled on unchecked, but for a brief moment, a short while, or a lazy hour, the inhabitants put aside the clockwork of their lives, looked up, and saw a distant world pass through our collective shadow.



Geosonnet 13

The rhyolite of Huckleberry Ridge
Discharged a hundred cubic miles yield
The timing of this eruption did bridge
Reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field.
We measure timing of this ancient blast
With argon from potassium decay
This cataclysm from the recent past
might warn us should another come today.
The crystals froze, then thawed, then froze again.
The magma chamber did not slowly stew
chronology of xenocrysts explain
What to expect, should this begin anew.
  The warning won’t be twenty thousand years
  to outburst, from when magma first appears.


Monday, October 06, 2014

A brief note on Geopoetical gender imbalance

Like many physical science journals, Geology has a severe male/female author imbalance.  In part, this may reflect the imbalance in researches publishing in the field.  When I started the Geopoetry series, one of my goals was to reduce the underrepresentation of women in science in my selection of papers to poetify. Initially, this was easy; I was picking the very most interesting papers from about 3 years worth of Geology issues to feed my muse, and filtering for interestingness substantially lessened the gender bias.  However, as I transition into pulling poems from the most recent issue or two, addressing this imbalance becomes harder.  For example, to find an equal number of male and female authored papers when pulling four from a volume which has three female and 20 male first authors requires the women to be many times more interesting than the men.  So I have two requests:

For you, the readers, I ask this.  If I start reverting to the mean Geolgoy M/F ratio, please call me on it.

And for the editors of Geology, I ask this: Why is the gender bias in our society flagship journal so bad (~13% in Sept 2014)? Does it reflect the bias in submissions? Or is it an unintended consequence of the review process? The anecdote that filtering for (subjective) interestingness evens out the gender ratio suggests that female authors might be required to clear a higher bar.  Is this an editorial problem or a reviewer problem?  If it lies in the reviewers, can high frequency reviewers have their reviews statistically analysed so that a misogynistic correction factor can be built into their reports?

I hope this is a tractable problem which can be fixed, and I’ll try to continue to address it here at a rate of fourteen lines per week. But hopefully more can be done.