Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Em4 is at last complete.

Kate and I fetched the Em4's articulation mechanism from Sauer Machine in St. Louis yesterday. That's Warren Sauer, the owner, with Kate, overlooking 2,100 pounds of floor dry used to test the movement. It works beautifully. The box can be moved in two axes; longitudinally (as in downvalley slope) and from side to side.

This morning Jesse and Cara had a good time trying everything out. The skill and quality in machining are unbelievable, and I think I'd agree with Jesse that it's hard to see how it could have been better done.

No time to rest or celebrate, though. We now have to ready it for transport to Winona State next week. They've had a box for some time; we'll deliver the finished articulation mechanism.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Flood in St. Louis, Em4 news, Detroit work.

Cara and I are closing in on our Detroit work reporting, here's a little transect plot from that. I really hate doing all day science writing without coffee. Fifty-something more days.

The Em4's articulation mechanism will be done tomorrow, and Kate and I are heading to St. Louis with a big truck to fetch it. Very exciting. The photos look wonderful. Here's a peek; I can't publish that much on the web because we don't want to give away the design we sweated so much over, and technically we've yet to make a penny on this multi-year endeavor. More Em4 here.

We did get that flood in St. Louis (haven't heard about Iowa), and our Fishpot Creek project site there was hit with 6,000 cfs. Eric Karch from Reitz & Jens sent over these photos, which confirmed a prediction I'd made, namely that the bar would rebuild during the first large flood. Nice when that happens (and nice of Eric to send the photos). The rip rap work you see, by the way, was strictly an emergency measure to protect some threatened houses.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Another upper Midwest flood.

Here's tonight's radar. I've never seen anything quite like this.

Our St. Louis projects are in for a test tonight, and Iowa is getting another soaking.

More extreme weather in an already extraordinary year.

LRRD week in review.

Cara and I have been grinding away on a geomorphic/wetland analysis of a little creek west of Detroit. My caffeineless existence has made this a tough one. That coffee kept me going through the hours of analysis and writing.

Jesse's taking a well-deserved vacation, riding his 1974 BMW motorcycle to a big rally in Ohio. Dayna's been very busy sending out DVD's to points around the globe.

We're in the process of shipping several Emriver models; the dock is crowded.

The Em4's articulation system is nearly done in St. Louis, and we're very excited. We should have it in our lab late this week.

Here's a nice satellite image from NASA's MODIS Rapid Reponse system, from an extensive online gallery.

I've ridden my bike over 400 miles this month, more than the length of Lake Michigan. Only 50 more days until I can have a beer.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Impacts of lawns in the United States.

This month's New Yorker has a fascinating article on lawns. The impacts on waterways, ecosystems, and even the climate are huge.

Here's a nice summary of research done by NASA's Cristina Milesi. This is a mind-blower:

“Even conservatively,” Milesi says, “I estimate there are three times more acres of lawns in the U.S. than irrigated corn.” This means lawns—including residential and commercial lawns, golf courses, etc—could be considered the single largest irrigated crop in America in terms of surface area, covering about 128,000 square kilometers in all.

And it seems an awful lot of gasoline is expended on mowing. I don't see how this can be sustainable. What's the contribution to the Gulf's dead zone?

From the New Yorker article:

In “American Green” (2006), Ted Steinberg, a professor of history at Case Western Reserve University, compares the lawn to “a nationwide chemical experiment with homeowners as the guinea pigs.”

And this:

The essential trouble with the American lawn is its estrangement from place: it is not a response to the landscape so much as an idea imposed upon it—all green, all the time, everywhere. Recently, a NASA-funded study, which used satellite data collected by the Department of Defense, determined that, including golf courses, lawns in the United States cover nearly fifty thousand square miles—an area roughly the size of New York State. The same study concluded that most of this New York State-size lawn was growing in places where turfgrass should never have been planted. In order to keep all the lawns in the country well irrigated, the author of the study calculated, it would take an astonishing two hundred gallons of water per person, per day. According to a separate estimate, by the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly a third of all residential water use in the United States currently goes toward landscaping.''

The map is from Malesi's article, and shows fractional area covered by lawns (1.0 = 100%).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gulf dead zone may be here for good.

Lots of press buzz today, articles here, and here. This article talks about the role of Midwestern agriculture in all this.

Researchers think the zone may be with us for good now. Here's a NOAA summary of what led up to this, with historical data and nice graphics, and discussion of the destruction of the coast's ecosystem and fishery.

I'm amazed that, as a nation, we're so unaware of the magnitude and importance of these ongoing environmental disasters.

And we have a huge Mississippi River oil spill near New Orleans. McCain had planned a trip out to an offshore rig to highlight the benefits and safety of offshore production, but canceled it. Go figure.

Nasa/Goddard graphic.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Corps of Engineers big river photos online.

Big river scientists and teachers will like this new COE gallery of high-resolution photos on the St. Louis District's website. The collection is all about boats and the built-environment, but says it'll be expanded, and many of the images are beautiful aerials like this one of a barge tow heading downstream into St. Louis.

This appears to be Lock 27 at the southern end of the Chain of Rocks Canal on the Mississippi River, one of those COE projects you might be able to see from the Moon.

Update: The COE website is a little disorganized. Here's one of the galleries in case you have trouble with the link above.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Update on Steve's heart.

No geomorphology today, but for those of you following along, an update on my heart.

Had a great visit with my cardiologist in Carbondale last week (Dr. Al-Dallow, a wonderful physician) and got some good news. My atrial fibrillation was likely brought about by stress and things I put into my system. It's very unlikely to return if I clean up my act.

Here's a very nice NIH animation, complete with links and an audio description, of how the heart works and how to read an EKG.

My A-fib came on a Monday after the first whole weekend I'd taken off in nearly a year. That weekend, making up for lost time, I'd exercised heavily, and drank too much. Monday was very stressful (as usual) and I managed to drink a lot of coffee and threw in some pseudoephedrine for good measure. The cold lake water I plunged into after work was the straw that broke the camel's back, and I my heart's electical system went haywire.

The good news is that, if I stay off alcohol and caffeine for a while, I'll be fine. Bad news is this will be Steve's Summer of No Beer or Coffee.

As Dr. Al-Dallow very ably put it, stimulating your heart from the sinoatrial nerve that is supposed to command it (exercise) is good, but bathing it in chemicals that are also telling it to beat faster can confuse things and lead to a mis-coordination of its nervous system.

Other good news is that exercise, besides being generally good for me, cannot induce this sort of fibrillation, so I can work out as much and as hard as I want. A heart beating rapidly from hard exercise cannot go into A-fib because it is dominated by the correct nerve stimulus. Interesting.

I've put an average of twenty miles a day on my bike in the four weeks since the event, for nearly 350 total, and that feels good. Now I have an excuse, besides some vague future benefit, to make time for that exercise.

A little irony. Last year, before I made the decision to expand my business, I promised myself this would be the year, before I turn 50 in October, I'd clean up my act and focus on fitness and getting some weight off. Work be damned. All that went out the window last summer when we expanded. Now that I've had a stern warning, my priorities are back in their proper place.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Emriver production and improvements.

Jesse has been working hard in the shop to build our stock of Emriver parts, as complete models head out the front door. Our shipping area has no less than four ready to be shipped just this week.

Here he works on notch gage tubes as Cara watches.

We're constantly looking for ways to make the models better. This is no simple task when you consider that, unlike Bill Gates, we want to maintain compatibility with existing units, and keep things safe, simple, and cost effective.

We got our first set of supports from a machine shop in a neighboring county and they look fantastic. We made some minor mechanical changes to make them lighter and sleeker, and the shop did a great job of finishing them and putting on nice touches like the radius on the end of the brace shown here. Jesse oversaw most of this, and did a great job.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Martian geomorphology and "sapping canyons."

The European Space Agency has just released some stunning images of water-formed canyons on Mars. Here the canyon is about 4km deep.

Lots of interesting information at ESA's website here. This agency has a very friendly web presence with many beautiful images.

A long time ago a wonderful geomorphologist named Marie Morisawa taught me that round-headed gullies like this were groundwater driven, and apparently these were formed that way. These are called "sapping canyons," a new term for me.

But these guys have other ideas, and think megafloods could carve such features. For possible Martian life, groundwater would probably be better than infrequent megafloods.

Photo credit: ESA/ DLR/ FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Grand Canyon flooding and geomorphology.

Here's an excellent article on management of the Grand Canyon's geomorphology from the Christian Science Monitor.

I've had the pleasure of hearing Jack Schmidt (a key researcher in this effort). He's a dynamic and fascinating speaker on river management and geomorphology, catch him if you get the chance. He regularly teaches at workshops, including this one (where I've taught, and where I met him).

A quote from the article:

“Artifacts of the existence of the dam are the clear water, the cold water, and steady low flows,” says Jack Schmidt, a watershed sciences professor from Utah State University. The tamed river, devoid of sand (close to 98 percent is stopped by the dam), now erodes through the sandbars and carries the sediment into Lake Mead, where it’s trapped behind Hoover Dam. According to researchers, the new behavior of the river has led to narrower rapids, eroded beach­­es, invasion of nonnative vegetation, and the loss of native fish. The Colorado River now has nearly twice as many nonnative fish species (60) as native ones (32), with the humpback chub population declining from 10,000 in 1989 to 6,000 in 2006.

More on this topic, and lots of links, from the USGS here.

(BLM photo from the CSM article.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

LRRD River Video Internationale

We posted our offer of "at cost" DVD's on the geomorph-l listserve last week, and have been overwhelmed with orders. We're sending these out for our cost of $15 each because we're nice people and all the content (all produced by us) is in the public domain. You can get one here.

To our surprise, about half our orders have been from outside the U.S.

I had no idea the list was so widely read elsewhere. We've heard from Germany, Italy, the UK, France, Australia, Iran, Canada, Israel, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.

I had a couple of moments of horror, first when I wondered if I'd properly burned the master DVD to be played in all regions. Most commercial movie DVDs can only be played in certain regions or countries. But I think we're OK there. Second, we thought for a moment we'd have to spend nearly $20 each to ship outside the U.S., but that turned out to be a false alarm.

The full disk view of earth is an enhanced GEOS 8 image from NOAA. Click for a larger version you can download. And I'll close with a photo of Kate I took last week south of Carbondale.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Vermont's science-based river management program.

Besides being one of our favorite Emriver users, the Vermont DEC's river management program has developed an impressive geomorphic assessment protocol and extensive outreach guidance and education.

You can find an array of publications and other resources here, all refreshingly independent rather than copied from Rosgen's teaching.

We got a call from these folks last week. In an ironic twist of fate one of their Emriver models, which is used for, among other things, to teach about flooding, was destroyed in one.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Jesse builds Emrivers; our new support group.

Jesse has labored in the shop for a couple of weeks now making Emriver parts. Here he works on valve plates. A few of the Emriver's parts are made by outside contractors, but we make most of the non-metallic parts.

The Emriver has around 300 parts that come from several suppliers. It's quite a job keeping all of them in stock. We continuously poll Emriver users to look for improvements we might make, but after a few years of heavy use, it's clear the Emriver has a solid design that will be hard to improve.

Reliability couldn't be better. A lot of work went in to making the system robust and trouble-free, and we very rarely get calls for replacement parts, and I don't believe we've ever had a significant complaint.

We've set up a new Emriver support group on Google Groups at where users can make suggestions, get use and support tips, and ask questions of us and other Emriver users.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Bike friendly Carbondale.

The post-atrial-fibrillation-scare Steve is serious about exercise.

Between running all our errands on bikes Saturday, and some serious road biking today, I put in 65 miles over the long weekend. Feels great. Kate and I love to ride, especially on these gorgeous blue-sky early summer days.

You see so many things you'd never notice in a car. We stopped to admire some of SIUC's friendly horses on Pleasant Hill Road. And some very cute little goats out on New Era. Putting around town (that's my new commuter bike, and new hat) we see lots of friends and often stop to talk.

It could be my imagination, media reports are mixed, but it seems a lot more folks are out on bikes because of gas prices, and perhaps the final realization that our society has really been dumb about automobile use.

Except for some problems with lack of good routes, Carbondale is very bike friendly. There even seems to be a change in driver attitudes, which seems most apparent when we have the panniers on. Maybe they think we're too poor to afford gas.

I only worked a couple of hours in three days, another good change.
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Friday, July 4, 2008

More on the Corps and Mississippi River floods.

I've just become aware of an excellent series on the Corps of Engineers and flooding recently published in the online magazine Grist. Here is the intro, with links to the other parts. The series includes an interesting interactive map showing major ongoing or proposed big river projects.

Yesterday published a nice summary of management of the Mississippi River by the Corps of Engineers and the current controversy over the effects of navigation structures and levees. Some pithy quotes, including more from our local hero Nicholas Pinter. And this one:

"The Army Corps of Engineers certifies its own projects. It's kind of like children giving themselves their own grades," says Robert Criss, professor of geology at Washington University in St. Louis.

And here's a little USA Today article on the physics and dangers of moving floodwater. Our own Jesse, a volunteer firefighter, pulled someone out of a local creek who thought his big new Ford truck could defy these laws. I was surprised to learn that floods, especially flash floods, kill more people each year than hurricanes, tornadoes, wind storms or lightning. Here are some statistics on that.

Photo from the US Army Corps of Engineers archives.