Wednesday, December 31, 2008

US next to last in evolution literacy.

Working on our NSF proposal, I visited the Earth Science Literacy Project and was shocked to see this:

A deep schism is opening up within our country: at the same time that tremendous scientific advances are being made, increasing percentages of Americans are refusing to believe them. For example, paleontologists have recently made tremendous headway in resolving the evolutionary history of vertebrates. However, a recent study by Miller et al. [2006] found that the number of Americans who actually believe that evolution occurs has dropped down to 40% (compared to about 80% for many Scandinavian countries). In fact, out of 32 modern countries, only one country, Turkey, had a smaller percentage of its citizens believing in the occurrence of evolution.
Good grief.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dayna's last day with us.

We had a nice potluck and traded some stories today to see Dayna off. She's going to dedicate her time to, besides raising some fine kids, to a new nonprofit she's founded. Called Foodworks, it will support local, sustainable food production, among other things.

Stephanie, who's very near her first official day with us, has been training, and is holding up very well under the insanity of Dayna leaving, our switch to doing our own payroll, and Cara and I being horribly busy and stressed over our NSF proposal deadline.

Ever try to contact a professor between finals and January? It's a terrible time to collaborate. Jim Garvey at SIUC said it best in an email: "OK, I'll come out of my cocoon."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bad economic times.

This NY Times video piece on how three small businesses in that region are weathering the economic downturn really spoke to me. You can see a certain pain of responsibility and worry in the owner's faces.

I knew running LRRD wouldn't be easy, but this downturn was a nasty surprise. A startup in good economic times is hectic, stressful, and difficult. Kate reminds me that this will really test us and teach us, and she's right (a woman in the video sums that up nicely).

The bicycle builder's story was particularly interesting for me. High gas prices made bike sales skyrocket last year; and now he's suffering because some of his main buyers are the big automakers, who "aren't buying anything now."

I'm not happy our world is going through this, and hope we'll avoid another one with lessons learned. We can't led unfettered greed run our economic system. From one of my favorite political blogs I learned that the WaMu failure occured after horrible abuses of the lending system. This article will shock you.

When I was buying our building in 2007, a bank officer in Carbondale, after hearing I didn't like the appraisal, said, with no hesitation, "Call her and tell her to change it."

That was the mood and ethic that led us to this.

(Photo from Worksman Bicycles)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Museums, grant writing, record rainfall in St. Louis.

We're super busy these days--Cara and I are mostly working on resubmitting an NSF grant due in early January. We have collaborators at SIUC and a few other universities. This photo is typical--it's such hard work, and has consumed many of my Sundays.

The NY Times ran this article about hands-on museum exhibits today. We're confident one of our Em4s will soon find a place in a museum, and one of Stephanie's jobs is to work on that.

I'm no expert, but it seems that the massive tornado warnings throughout Missouri and Illinois were unprecedented for late December. We saw a 30 degree drop in temperature last night as the squall line, which was not that violent here, came through. Many rivers in northern Missouri and Illinois are flooding, and at least one gage in St. Louis recorded 1.5 inches in an hour yesterday afternoon. As I noted back in October, St. Louis was then near its annual record rainfall. As of today, the Lambert Airport gage has recorded 57.96 inches for 2008, which appears to be a record (I can't find the official record, see link), and is three inches more than St. Louis saw in 1993.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A half-baked geomorphology of the Conway, AR area.

My Mom and brother Greg and his family live in Conway, Arkasas, (where I am now) and every time I visit I'm perplexed by the geomorphology I see. Conway has boomed in the last couple of decades--it's a bedroom/white flight community; lots of people who live here work in Little Rock, which lies 20 minutes down I-40 to the south. My visits are short, and through the windshield I see lots of flat surfaces and low-gradiet urban channels (many small, rectangular, and lined with concrete). But also steep, linear scarps and ridges along with some rolling landscapes. Nothing seems to fit together.

Here's an excerpt from the USGS 1:100K topo and the Arkansas Geological Survey map of the state's geology (link to an article with high-res originals and other things here.) The image of this entire map shows the strong break between the relatively flat Mississippi Delta/Embayment and Gulf Coastal Plain in the eastern and southeastern parts of the state and the mountainous northwest formed with parts of the Ozarks, Boston Mountains, and Ouachitas (see the article for a better description.)

I finally took the time (Kate's napping and Mom's cooking) to examine this, (be warned I'm not in my element here and could be way off.) Conway sits in a severely folded and faulted geologic setting, and it appears the valleys between fold ridges have been filled with alluvium/colluvium. The drainage in Conway is generaly low slope and poorly developed; and Tucker Creek running southwest from town, like many of the smaller channels in town, has been straightened.

Conway lies at about 300 ft. NGVD; a broad terrace in the Arkansas River floodplain 25 feet lower at 275, and a narrow active floodplain at 250 ft. The valley floor at Conway is not mapped as Quaternary alluvium (yellow on the map here) as is the material in the Arkansas River floodplain. There is no obvious break between the flat surface on which Conway lies (is there another name for this, perhaps?) and the Arkansas River terrace at 275 ft.

South of Conway, these eroded strata form aptly named Round Mountain, with an annular drainage pattern I've seen only in textbooks before--you can just see this on the 1:100K excerpt.

Conway's economy doesn't fit with its surrounding very well either--unlike most of the rest of the US, it's booming (resulting in an urban sprawl disaster), largely because of development of the Fayetteville Shale for gas production.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stephanie Rhodes joins LRRD.

Another eventful week at LRRD--we're bringing our resident Emriver Em4 into being, adding some media yesterday and running water through it for the first time. We don't yet have the articulated base; it's being built in St. Louis.

But most importantly, Stephanie Rhodes began working for us today. She's got the business and marketing experience we've been looking for and came very highly recommended from old coworkers and southern Illinois friends. She grew up on a farm south of Carbondale, left for the big time, learned things like international marketing, and as she says, "boomeranged" back.

We're all very excited about her energy and expertise.

Cara and I are very busy working with collaborators at SIUC and elsewhere on an NSF proposal.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Great news from our Emriver Em2 user survey.

We've been incredibly busy since our expansion in the fall of 2007. One of the things we've neglected is routine followup of Emriver users. Our Emriver Em2's are built like military hardware, and our documentation is very good. So we get less than one support question a month, and nearly zero problems. So unless we make the effort, we don't get much feedback.

In preparation for an NSF grant proposal we're working on, we contacted all our academic Emriver users, and the response has been wonderful. The models are being heavily used, and in just the ways we hoped--to teach engineering and the geosciences, and for outreach to all sorts of groups. And often a single model is used for both.

As an example, here's a photo from the SUNY "ESF Science Corps Summer Camps Investigating Ecology in Neighborhood and City Environments." The program offers urban kids a chance to learn environmental science, and if you want to see some cute, happy, junior high school kids, visit the site and see the "2008 photos" links.

Dr. Ted Endreny (shown in the photo) is also using his Emriver Em2 model for other NSF-funded teaching and research. Thanks to Dr. Endreny for the photos.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Our in house Em4 moves forward.

Jesse put the finishing touches on a new pumpcart for our in-house Emriver Em4. He's done a great job on this one. It features remote control dye injectors, and we've spent a lot of time on making it very quiet, which it is. Most pumps are noisy.

We'll fill this one with media soon. That'll be a big day.

Here's a picture of Cara and Dayna (with a bored JaJa the dog). Dayna's leaving us at the end of the year and we're all bummed about that.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A beautiful alluvial fan from space.

I subscribe to Nasa's Earth Observatory "Image of the Day," something I highly recommend. Last week their set included this satellite photo of an alluvial fan in the Zagros Mountains of southern Iraq.

The story it tells is mysterious, rich, and beautiful.

Clearly there are discrete zones where agriculture is possible, and imposed on that are radiating agricultural property lines (the long, thin rectangles) reminiscent of 18th century French survey lines you still see in around St. Louis today.

I really can't figure out the topography. Clearly there's a strong break at the base of the fan, but even upstream of that the channel is braided, indicating a low slope.

Nasa's description tells some of the story - the area is very arid, so a braided channel might be found on a steep slope that has infrequent floods.

Surely that strong NW-SE line at the base of the fan has some recent tectonic origin, or perhaps the valley, like California's Owen's valley, is formed in a graben.

I don't know, does anybody? (Looks like I'm right about the tectonics, I may yet learn some geology.)

I see this excellent blog beat me to this image.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

New interest in low head hydropower.

Today I caught an AP story about increased interest in hydropower. Low head hydropower --at river locks and from 'hydrokinetic' sources -- may be something we'll see more of as energy costs rise an it becomes economically attractive.

And we'll see the inevitable conflicts over its impacts on our already strained river ecosystems.

The drawing here, from this site, is pretty typical of what I've seen. I'm no expert on hydropower, but I do know river geomorphology and some fluid mechanics, and this setup is what I'd call "geomorphically incorrect." Just the conveniently placed four foot drop in that little creekbed is unrealistic, and this setup wouldn't last a minute in any kind of flood. Maybe it's just a schematic, but probably illustrative of unrealistic expectations for this kind of power in the face of geomorphic reality.

On a much larger scale, here's Free Flow Power's website and a drawing of a system they're prototyping. The board and technical team are very impressive --clearly they're putting some serious investment into it.

All I can see are 20 foot long cottonwood snags spearing those carbon fiber turbines at 2 meters per second. But again, maybe I'm missing something.

This company is looking at installing turbines of some sort on the middle and lower Mississippi. There is a hell of a lot of energy in those rivers, but not enough, apparently, to keep them deep enough for navigation, so we burn diesel fuel on dredges to fix that. What happens to the energy these turbines extract? Maybe it could be used to charge the batteries on hybrid electric dredges.

From the AP article:

Massachusetts-based Free Flow Power Corp. is studying the prospects of planting thousands of small electric turbines in the river bed at 55 sites from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico, figuring together they could generate enough power to supply 1.5 million homes. The private startup says the cumulative output of 1,600 megawatts would be the equivalent of three small coal-fired power plants or one or two nuclear ones.

Some Wikipedia links on hydropower.

Also very cool link on building a pump-back demonstration model for teaching.