Friday, February 29, 2008

Emriver models to Anchorage?

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The Emriver box is 7 ft (~2m) long. It's plenty portable, but it can't be any smaller and still be a real river simulator. We've done the work.

This size means it has to ship as freight. A big pain for a small business like LRRD, especially going to Alaska, or Europe. Both want and need Emriver models, but the cost of shipping is huge.

If only you, the reader, were a shipping-savvy professional who cares about river conservation. Someone who could help us get these models across continents and oceans at a cost educators could afford.

They fly salmon in here from Alaska, maybe we could send Emriver models back on the same planes?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Keeping some houses out of the river today.

I worked in St. Louis County (Missouri) today to look at the geomorphology of a creek threatening a few houses. As is often the case, this one is a political stew and I can't say much more except that this was a bad spot for a subdivision. But of course the developer is long gone.

The site is subject to backwater from the Meramec River and also carries a high coarse sediment load, exacerbated by erosion of chert-residuum-rich bank materials upstream. Very interesting management problem. Thanks to Dan for the photo of me being puzzled by the bank stratigraphy. A mix of loess, limestone residuum with chert residuum, and eroded and deposited layers of these materials. A lot happened at the junction of the Illinois, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers during the Pleistocene.

That reminds me, the ISGS has a stunning 1909 map of St. Louis area geology online (small excerpt here)--from their 1909 bulletin 12, Physiography of the St. Louis area, by N. M. Fenneman. It's a 9mb PDF download. There's also a nice map of a tortuous 1909 meander sequence of the Mississippi just itching to be straightened out here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Let's dynamite the river straight to save lives.

From a 1935 American Forests magazine offering dynamite as a solution to those crooked, flood-prone streams. Here's a PDF version of the ad.

"Crooked streams are a menace to life and crops in the areas bordering their banks. The twisting and turning of the channel retards the flow and reduces the capacity of the stream to handle large volumes of water. Floods result. Crops are ruined. Lives are lost."

"DYNAMITE may be used most effectively and economically in taking the kinks out of a crooked stream."

Here's our answer to river explosives.

Thanks to Mike and Donna for sending the ad.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hot grad students in ergonomic Em4 hot tubs. Not.

The building was filled with smoke as I arrived this morning. Jesse was fixing our Goodwill 1970's office chairs with his wire welder. Without gloves, I see.

We worked on em4 ergonomics, here with a 1:5 model. Probably a reservoir low and big enough to accommodate one or more grad students is not a good idea.

And we worked on plastic media properties. This batch looks blue from a distance, but it's not. The closer we look, the more complex the problem. We only need to make a few million little particles the right size, color, density, and shape.

And we worried about poor Cara and her family, they're all sick with this flu. I hope they enjoyed the fluffy snow and nice sunset this evening.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Engineering, flu, and a shrine.

Cara's got the awful flu bug, her poor husband and child have it bad, and Kate's still kind of got it. We're in bad shape with this virus. And the ice and unending gray skies don't help.

Kate and I built this shrine on our mantle in hopes of getting our grants and doing good things at LRRD this year. There's a crosscut saw from a dear departed relative, the piece of polycarbonate that could've taken Jesse's head off as it exited the cutoff saw but didn't, some glacier-scratched rocks, a Christmas card featuring some beautiful children, moss (not just any moss, but moss identified by an NSF grant recipient), you get the idea. Everybody at LRRD and some of our friends chipped in.

Wish us luck. The church next door to 514 says today "Why worry when you can pray?" Not bad advice. Anything's better than worrying.

I redesigned an Em4 part over the weekend; here I work on it in the Long Branch with Kate as she reads the Times. Elaine the proprietor came by and said, "What's that, a composting toilet?" Shows where her mind is.

Today we built a cardboard version (well, Jesse did) and made some adjustments, and it'll work very well. We're continuing work on the plastic media, and our fabricator found huge sheets of 1/8" aluminum to build the Em4's without seams, very good news.

Dayna kept us all going, working on the difficult job of deciphering insurance needs, among many other things.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Carbondale locked in ice, more consulting work.

I sent off our ad for the back cover of the Journal of Geoscience Education today.

We had perhaps a record number of Emriver inquiries today--our second ad in the J. of Soil and Water Conservation is out. But some of these came from a mailing we sent in November. Marketing is a strange thing, another challenge for us.

The weather here is awful. More sleet and freezing rain. SIUC was closed again. Our lot at 514 was a sheet of ice this morning.

Jesse and I worked on the Em4, meeting with a fabricator in Marion, Illinois (who was fresh from the ER after falling on this ice). We continued work on coloring the plastic media. And we had some good news on the Em4 from our St. Louis fabricator--work's progressing, and they've found gigantic sheets of aluminum to make the 4m x 1.5m box without a seam.

And yet another consulting request today, this one from my old colleagues at Reitz & Jens Engineers in St. Louis, to work on Fishpot Creek for MSD. I did a detailed geomorphic analysis of that suburban watershed a few years ago. With some frequency now I get called back to creeks I've studied, and it's a great feeling to pull these reports off the shelf and put the work to use helping rivers and people.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

We do science.

First a photo of the lunar eclipse last night, through the trees at our house--on one of the few clear nights we've seen lately.

We have a lot going on, it's good time to list it.

Cara and I got to be scientists today--answering some complex questions about channel scour and fill and floodplain stratigraphy for a client who's sampling contaminants from the Manhattan Project. We were smart, and it felt good to get away from business and marketing and grant writing. Cara's worried that her science brain has been shriveling, so I'm glad we could pump it up a bit. It's a good one.

Jesse did science, too, doing his best to destroy bearings we're testing for the em4 model, and creating dangerous, explosive gases (and that brown foam is probably oil from the sintered carbbearings, Jesse, and Kate says use distilled water or you get all sorts of contaminants, and please put on your damn eye protection). I worry about this man's inclination for destructive testing.

I did a bunch of design work for the em4; weight and balance calculations, and gearing for actuators, and getting quotes for gearing. Jesse also tested plastic media characteristics.

And we're on a short list to do stormwater work in St. Louis, and also are continuing our stream restoration work for Lewis & Clark Community College in Alton, Illinois.

Cara set off our alarm this afternoon and got to talk to the Carbondale PD for a while. The alarm company is not staffed by scientists. Cara gave them the right code but they sent the police anyway.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fluvial geomorphology and LRRD is busy!

Nicholas Pinter brought his grad students over today for a lunch discussion of the recent Walter and Merrits article in Science (bunch of links here). What a pleasure, and doesn't our office look nice?

Nicholas and Jonathan Remo (latter handing paper to former) recently published some interesting work on their retro-modeling of the Mississippi River.

We're busy at LRRD. We have a lot of Emriver clients who're working on grants and otherwise looking for money to buy models. Cara's doing a wonderful job working with them. And high fuel prices have made shipping a challenge--Jesse and Cara worked on that problem today. The seven-foot long aluminum box means the Emriver has to go motor freight; it's a pain.

Everybody thinks the Emriver is a wonderful model, and wishes us well, and we have lots of happy consulting clients. Our DVD is popular. But our task now is to convert all those good things and all that goodwill into cash, and survival.

For example, Dayna's been working with our insurance carrier, who wants not $3,000 annually, as they first proposed, but now over $8,000 for our commercial liability coverage. I thought river geomorphology was complicated. I'm glad she's figuring all this out.

And we're moving ahead on the Em4 model--I've spent a lot of time in AutoCad this week on that, and we're meeting with a second fabricator on Friday to work on a mechanized standpipe design.

Jesse and I've been working on plastic modeling media, and may have broken some barriers on getting the media color coded by size, which will enable many interesting modeling and demonstration techniques. Probably nobody else on the planet is doing this work, and breaking this ground is not easy.

And we're getting interesting consulting requests on top of all this, one involving radioactive riverbeds. Lead hip waders anybody?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Roof glaciers, singular weather and bad news for a mouse.

We had a rare (for southern Illinois) snowmelt flood event today--the ice and snow melted under 50+F temps and crazy wind to fill all the creeks. Over in Missouri the flooding is serious.

This morning we took the dogs out under beautiful blue skies with very fast moving clouds. Taki the Terrier caught a field mouse. This is all terriers seem to be good for, and this rescue dog remains available to a good home.

On ice physics, the sleet, snow and freezing rain lamination on the corrugated metal roof of our shed worked its way off with some glacial characteristics, curving down off the end instead of breaking.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fun at Carbondale's "Love at the Glove."

Sponsored by Carbondale's League of Art and Design, which seems composed of mostly SUIC students, this annual event features love and sex themed art at an SIUC studio and gallery housed in what used to be a glove factory.

It's never disappointed us--Kate and I had a blast. We caught Phil from the Longbranch spinning vinyl, and a dude playing some incredible xylophone music wearing, well, not much. We love Carbondale.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's, Kate (and some geomorphology).

Ten years ago today, Kate and I took our first float trip together on the Current River in the Missouri Ozarks. The Valentine's Day thing was coincidental - we jumped on a good weather window. But we were on the verge of getting serious, and this trip catalyzed that, certain words were said, and we were a hopeless couple afterwards. We were married not much more than a year later. Aside from the day we met this is probably our most significant anniversary. And on my favorite river.

Here's Kate at one of our campsites, the bluff at center left on the topo, about 7 miles north of Eminence.

And there's geomorphology, too: Look at that map. I'm waiting for someone to explain this region, I'm not worthy. Clearly lots of structural control aligned with jointing of the carbonate rock. And who knows what was happening when this was 100 miles south of the glacial front in the Illinoisan, or being pounded by winter storms (and at the end getting a thin blanket of loess) at the end of the Pleistocene. It's a fascinating story that has hardly been scratched.

Speaking of ice, here's a final photo of Kate bumping her kayak against some in Lake Superior not long before I met her. One of my favorite photos--she's clearly right at home.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Carbondale winter roller coster.

Here's a view out our window at home across the frozen pond (and past a couple of tropical plants). Nice to see the sun after a few days of heavy overcast. The other photo is of a pine seedling in the yard.

I was finally well enough to go into work a bit today, and was surprised to see all the ice damage and how big the plow piles were. We got an awful snow-ice-freezing rain mix that has a lot of people's cars frozen to the ground, and there are many people going a few days now without power. Cara had to hack her car out of the ice to get in this morning. What dedicated people we have!

Tomorrow it's supposed to get up to nearly 50F, and then guess what?

Some interesting consulting calls this week. We may help the City of Maryland Heights, Missouri (NW St. Louis County) with stormwater planning. I've done a lot of geomorphic and bioengineering work there. Emriver requests continue to come in, and we may even do some work in Carbondale this year. Jesse's making some nice acrylic prototype models for the Em4.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Climate change, within and without.

The killer flu strain going around SIUC came home with Kate and got me last Friday. I haven't had a fever since 1980, but this weekend I went between 97.5 and 103F several times, whew. The fever finally broke last night. The first night I had high fever, I composed a movie plot (a good one) while semi asleep and the last two were all about a single blurry spreadsheet on LRRD finances, with only one distinction, that Barack Obama stopped by to help me a bit.

The temperatures in southern Illinois are also on a roller coaster. We have crazy weather in Carbondale--nearly 6 inches of a sleet snow ice mix that shut everything down this morning. SIUC was closed and a lot of people were without power. The initial sleet fell last night and was accompanied by serious thunder. At 26F, something I've never witnessed. Kate's out fetching a friend's kids in our Subaru now. Here she is sliding around with our dogs this afternoon. There've been many long power outages, pretty much everything canceled. SIUC hasn't closed like this since the 1980's.

Our current weather may or may not be important, but climate change is here, and will have a huge affect on rivers and people. I found a few good websites following changes in the science/politics stew. I like, which has the great idea of writing a letter to your grandchildren, Grist's How to talk to a climate skeptic, and most of all the site, which has the most scientific bent and a very good list of links. A recent post, "What if you held a conference and no (real) scientists came?" gives a very powerful (and fact-filled) view of the politics of this issue. There are $10,000 honoraria out there for papers that favor a certain viewpoint.

People are doomed without sustainable living and growth, and an understating of these climate process, especially for river science, is essential. I'll leave it to them for now.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

River model design. Research and design!

We're designing a larger river model, now code-named the em4, and are testing pumps.

Pumping and filtration are big challenges--the plastic media we use is an industrial abrasive. Great for modeling, hell on pumps. Pumps are complex devices with characteristics narrowly constrained for particular uses. We've tested dozens of pumps over the years and destroyed quite a few. You won't find a "River Model Mark IV" in any catalog.

Here Jesse and Cara analyze the test data. As usual, having too much fun.

We had good news from a plastic media supplier today, we've broken yet another barrier and will be getting our plastic river modeling media color-coded by size. Like the pump search, this has taken years.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Big scale today, more climate.

We did a silly thing today: We'd like to be able to have plastic media for the Emriver and future models that coded by size, i.e. each size class would be a different color. This seems to be outside the current plastic media technology. This stuff is produced from recycled material and can't be sorted before grinding.

So we considered an electromechanical sorter that would pick up particles and sort them by size. The coarsest particles we use weigh about 1 mg each. There are about 104,000,000 particles in the 180 pounds of media used in an Emriver model. Machine sorting this much at even 10 particles per second would take several months. So that's out.

Moving on up, it seems there's a squall line going from Galveston to Lake Erie. Flood warnings everywhere in the Midwest. Insane temperature changes (40 degrees plus here tomorrow). Carbondale is seeing serious urban flooding tonight, with Highway 13 impassable.

And I've added WaterWired at Oregon State to our links, good stuff.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Taxes, Super Tuesday, and climate change.

At LRRD we have a strange lull--the weirdness of not cranking on some urgent project. Just working. Dayna is ably handling some crazy insurance problems (I would've been ugly, she's doing it the right way). Jesse will help with the elections tomorrow--he lives in the Makanda Fire Department Station as a volunteer firefighter. Cara and I are doing what we do.

We cooled beers in the snow on Saturday, and, now in Carbondale it's dark (at 7pm) and nearly 70 degrees F. On Feb 4. We have all the house windows open. I can't help but think we're the cusp of something, with Super Tuesday, and serious signs of climate change, and 8 plus years of our government denying and ignoring it. Our weather today is just one data point, I know.

I just finished our taxes, what a pain. Don't mind paying them, I love my country, but I'd like to see some meaning, some progress, some collective intelligence.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Climate change? Nah.

I'm in a funk today because running a business is hard, even when you have wonderful people like Jesse, Dayna, and Cara to work with.

And because our national political discourse is sadly devoid of meaning and especially ignorant of serious environmental issues. Have you noticed?

From the AGU's revised position on climate change (just this week): "The Earth’s climate is now clearly out of balance and is warming. Many components of the climate system—including the temperatures of the atmosphere, land, and ocean, the extent of sea ice and mountain glaciers, the sea level, the distribution of precipitation, and the length of seasons— are now changing at rates and in patterns that are not natural and are best explained by the increased atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases and aerosols generated by human activity during the 20th century."

Here in Carbondale we had near 60 degree F temps this week followed by thunderstorms with hail and winds that turned over trucks and wrecked schools. In late January.

Then six inches of snow. It will all melt tomorrow.

On the melting front, there is now concern that the Antartic ice sheets won't just slowly melt, but could slide off the bedrock into the ocean. This graphic, from here, shows how big Antarctica is compared to Europe. Average ice thickness is about a mile. Ice sheet slides could raise sea level enough to put much of south Florida under water, redirecting voter interest in environmental issues for that region.

And climate change will mean all bets are off for levees along our big Midwestern rivers.