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Batholith, I choose you!

That awkward moment where you're beginning to believe that whoever wrote your geology textbook is throwing in Pokémon names just to mess with you:

(yes, these are all key terms for my final)


...I should make a Sporcle quiz.

So I'm writing this research paper about hydraulic fracturing and the controversy surrounding it. One of the reasons so many people have objected to the use of the technique is because it has the potential to cause methane to leak into groundwater. This is a problem because methane, as anyone who has taken a basic chemistry course or tried lighting a fart on fire knows, is flammable. Methane contamination of groundwater has made tap water flammable and drinking water wells straight-up explode.

Now, we move on to this article from Nature magazine. Yes, that Nature. The counterpoint written by Terry Engelder, which asserts that the value of the gas obtained from fracking outweighs the risk, is certainly a legitimate argument. But when discussing the risks of fracking, Engelder makes a statement that, while factually true, I can't believe got published by a peer-reviewed journal: 

"Although methane coming up to the surface within the steel well pipe cannot escape into the surrounding rocks or groundwater, it is possible that the cement seal between the well and the bedrock might allow methane from shallow sandstone layers (rather than the reservoir deep below) to seep up into groundwater. Methane is a tasteless and odourless component of groundwater that can be consumed without ill effect when dissolved. It is not a poison. Long before gas-shale drilling, regulators warned that enclosed spaces, such as houses, should be properly ventilated in areas with naturally occurring methane in groundwater."

...And that's it. That's how he dismisses the risk of methane contamination. No other mention of methane is made in his article.

Whether Engelder is oblivious, in denial, or just omitting facts that are detrimental to his argument is not my concern.
All I know is, if you tried to make a statement like this in Nature magazine:

"...it is possible that this may cause black mambas to enter your home. However, this poses no risk because, when black mambas are set on fire, it is well documented that the fumes produced are in no way detrimental to human health. The black mambas in your house are therefore harmless and were probably there to begin with anyway..."

...you would get laughed out of the scientific community quicker than you can say "low flash point." 

Dear readers, I conclude thus:
In this stressful time of finals, we all reach a point where we begin to believe we know nothing about anything. I hope to bring you some comfort by reminding you that even the most prestigious scientific journal in the world will occasionally print something written by someone who your high school chemistry teacher would refer to as a "crackhead."


If you're in a TL;DR mood, the ensuing analysis can be summarized as: Ecology Does Not Work That Way.

So let me get this straight. Canada has driven its caribou to near-extinction, and is trying to undo that damage by exterminating wolves.
When will people realize that further drastic alteration of a region's ecology is NOT an effective way to deal with the problems that arise from drastically altering the region's ecology in the first place?

For example, let's take those 20th century wolf-control programs that the article mentions. The US encroached on wolf habitat and dealt with the ensuing issues by opening season on wolves. Fast forward to today, and the country is now suffering from severe deer overpopulation due to removal of the deer's predators. Naturally, our government has learned from its mistakes and reacted in an ecologically responsible manner...oh, no, wait, they just opened season on deer. (Which doesn't work. Surprise, surprise.)

I'm pretty sure that none of the people supporting this project have even heard of "ecological niches". Hasn't anyone considered that eliminating up to 80% of the main predators in an area will have an effect on any other species besides caribou? (The wolves in these areas are also primary predators of moose, elk, and yes, deer.) 

But at least everyone involved knows this isn't a long-term solution, right? I mean, even the arguments cited in favor of mass wolf extermination acknowledge that caribou habitat protection and restoration is the only way to ultimately solve the problem. 

So naturally, the Canadian government is allowing wolf killing as a short-term response, but meanwhile working to preserve caribou habitat as a long-term solution in an ecologically responsible manner...
...oh, wait, no.
Actually, they're continuing to hack through the tar sands and blatantly disregarding the advice of the group of scientists they commissioned to assess the situation. The government deferred the recommended course of action, claiming that not enough is known about caribou distribution to identify their critical habitat. (Really? Isn't it safe to say that the ecology of caribou critical habitat is the same as that of the regions that are currently being destroyed? You know, the ones where the caribou live?) One would think that if the government really doesn't know enough about which regions are critical caribou habitats, they could send the scientists back to figure this out...but would they listen to them any more the second time around?

But hey, no one's made of money (especially in this economy), and preserving caribou habitat would cost Canada a lot of money and resources that it can't afford to lose, right?

Apparently not. According to the article, the University of Alberta "estimated that it would be possible to preserve half of Alberta’s caribou habitat while giving up less than 1 percent of potential revenues from resource development."

In short, as long as the final decision is in the hands of people who don't understand environmental science (and whose political standing revolves around ignoring the people who do), any "solution" that allows people to gleefully gun down animals from airplanes, no matter how unsustainable and illogical, will always be considered more viable than a solution that involves remotely difficult things like compromising with the oil companies and telling people they can't shoot whatever they want. 

And if you don't think that politicians are afraid to tell people they can't shoot whatever they want, take note of this one throwaway line from the article:

"The issue in Alberta is much different than in Alaska, where wolf control is done largely to enhance hunting opportunities for caribou."

I'm not going to touch this one with a thirty-foot pole.
The North American environmental situation is depressing enough without bringing Alaska into it.


Who has two green thumbs and is researching pollination syndromes for the rest of the semester?


why Daddy shouldn't send me links

my feelings toward everything on the Things Miss Frizzle Would Wear blog, summarized in a gif:

dear professors,


It has nothing to do with how well we know the material, and docking 20% because we didn't have an extra minute and a half to write down answers to two more questions is an incredibly petty thing to do. 

Especially in a class with only two tests. If you gave more tests, you could make them shorter so they'd be doable within a class period. But you have tenure and don't want to do more grading, so you stick half a semester's worth of material into an hour and fifteen minutes and reward the people who can regurgitate it the fastest. And don't think you're fooling anyone by printing the tests on 8.5 x 14" paper so they have the same number of pages as a normal exam.

(We'll stop whining about this like five-year-olds when you stop grading like elementary school teachers who dock points for penmanship.)



For Steve.

We salute you.

The subject of the giant paper my co-TD is working on is something about the nature of art and life and Aristotle.
The subject of the giant paper I'm working on is that some people, somewhere, at some time, probably ate some things that they collected in some ways. Maybe. 

But the fact that I've heard two people walking through the archaeology department whistling/playing the Indiana Jones theme (actually, I think someone had it as their ringtone) is pretty awesome. Also that the curator I'm working with describes hutia (Caribbean rodents that look kind of like rabbit-sized capybaras?) as Rodents of Unusual Size. 

In other news, I was cleaning out files today and I discovered some half-finished drabbles I wrote, like, two years ago and never got around to actually showing anyone, including several pages of CSI: Hotchkiss. Interested y/n?

The Pinnacle of Human Achievement

When considering one's blessings in life, I believe it is important to think, "What gets me out of bed in the morning?"

Today, it was this video.

Congratulations, sir or madam. You win 9001 internets and my eternal devotion.


do not fuck with this

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