Friday, October 31, 2008

The journal Nature endorses Obama.

A first, apparently. Full text here.

This journal does not have a vote, and does not claim any particular standing from which to instruct those who do. But if it did, it would cast its vote for Barack Obama.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

St. Louis flood forum Nov. 11.

St. Louis University is hosting a flood forum on November 11. A scientific meeting will run most of the day, followed by a public forum that night. Two of my favorite river scientists, Rip Sparks and Nicholas Pinter, will be presenting. This is a critical issue for the St. Louis, Missouri area and it's good to see it pushed into the public eye as the memory of last summer's floods dims.

Link to scientific meeting, and public form schedule.

Panel participants are to be announced. I don't yet see any Army Corps people, and imagine the organizers are working to get them involved.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Schlieren photography and fluid mechanics.

Today's New York Times has an article and slideshow featuring this visualization method. I'm fascinated by images showing fluid mechanics, and those using this technique are beautiful, even haunting. I'm not sure if this method can be used in water (all these images are in air), but I'd like to try.

Essentially, the Schlieren photography shows variations in air density and thus turbulence, shock waves and other fluid phenomenon.

The method is complicated, and I don't fully understand it. Here's a good link (from which the diagram was taken).

Record annual rainfall in St. Louis.

Here's a blog I've just discovered: Mother Nature Watch, written by, as far as I can tell, faculty at the Center for Environmental Science at St. Louis University.

And an interesting post from October 7; link, quote:

Today’s rainfall is bringing the St. Louis area close to an all-time record rainfall year. The year’s total rainfall is currently (before today) 50.32 inches, which is 20.37 inches over the average amount. With nearly 3 months to go in 2008 it is like [sic] that we will break the record set in 1982, of 54.97 inches. In the Great Flood of 1993, St Louis had a rainfall total of 54.76 inches.

The blog is hosted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch media conglomerate, and encourages comments. Reading these is a great way to see what Rush Limbaugh et al. are saying about climate change without actually listening/reading, e.g. greenhouse gases make up only 1/2 of 1% of the atmosphere, so of course they can't be the cause of climate change.

October bonfire.

Karen Renzaglia hosted another great harvest party with a visible-from-outer-space bonfire (last year's).Here she is. Kate and I designed and launched a nice little fire raft onto the pond. We all had fun paddling out in the dark to replenish it.
The African band Siwade, another awesome Carbondale/SIUC-based group, played for a couple of hours at the bonfire.

Our weather has been beautiful--very dry with beautiful skies. Here's a picture of our mutts enjoying it.

The fire raft was popular, here's the easy recipe. ~10" white pine logs for the pontoons, deck-screwed to an old pallet covered with a scrap of barn tin. Anchor it with some rope and half a cinder block so it doesn't blow into the bank and set the woods on fire.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Media research with a microscope.

Once again we're doing R&D on plastic media, this time analyzing color for the Emriver Em2 models. This one is tricky because the stuff is post-industrial recycled. We have to keep the cost down, and can't pick the colors exactly, but must deal with mixes.

We put together batches of various chroma (chromi?, brightness is what it means) and found that perception of color does not match reality. What do you think the percentage of white is in this sample (against a dark background)? It's nearly 90% white, though the nonwhite particles catch your eye. The colored particles carry a much higher weight in visual perception.

We got a very cool little digital microscope for this work, and have had a blast looking at bugs and fingerprints and such.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Steve the Fluvial Geomorphologist?

Not the same ring as Joe the Plumber, but Kate had a lot of fun playing it, and anyway I missed my chance to talk to Obama, who drew 100,000 in nearby St. Louis yesterday.

I try to keep partisan politics off this blog, but we do talk about science here, and no matter your party affiliation, it's hard to argue with the 61 Nobel laureates who recently endorsed Obama. It's been a dark eight years for the environment, river restoration, and science education.

Obama spoke at the Arch, under the same beautiful skies we had in Carbondale. It was a good day for some hard work: Kate and I took our little cat Jessie to the vet for euthanasia. She would've been 18 years old in a few months, and life hasn't been so good for her lately. I've watched a couple of cats slowly go downhill, and didn't want that for her. Here she is with Kate in 2000, when we were newlyweds living in St. Louis. (CNN photo)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Liberally supplied with media.

We received over twenty 250-pound drums of plastic media this week. Much of this is the specially ground Em4 material, but quite a bit is the standard Emriver Em2 mix. It's probably safe to say we are now the world's largest holder of plastic river model media!

The media is post-industrial recycled material, and there is some choice of color, but we simply specify a certain white content and an overall chroma (brightness). This photo shows the latest batch. Going beyond this, as we do with the color-coded Em4 media, gets very expensive.

I had to post another photo from last week's GSA conference. Notice the happy faces. These gleeful expressions are common in staged marketing photography, but these are for real, and not unusual. We really enjoyed the delight that many people had in watching and manipulating the model.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Back to Carbondale across a Little River.

View Larger Map

Kate and I visited my Mom and brother's family in Conway, AR for a couple of days. We drove back through northeast Arkansas and Missouri's Bootheel. The cotton harvest is in full swing there.

I worked for Missouri's Department of Conservation Streams Unit for nearly six years, and knew much about the Bootheel's ditches, but had no idea that, much like the Cache Valley in Illinois, the area was drained by a Manhattan Project-like effort beginning around 1907.

And I sure didn't know that this huge project was run by the Little River Drainage District! An interesting history here. According to this source, the District drains 550,000 acres (860 square miles).

The broad, flat alluvial area west of the Lower Mississippi River running from the Ohio River Confluence down through eastern Arkansas is a vast agricultural area that produces, besides a lot of cotton, almost half the rice grown in the US. It's generally known at the Arkansas Delta, though it's not delta shaped in the usual sense, and narrows down near Monticello, where I went to High School. My first job, at 13, was on a delta rice farm there during the go-go early 1970's when soybean and rice farmers were clearing every acre they could.

The white lines that look like topo lines on the aerials are in fact that--rice levees built along lines of equal elevation to flood the fields. My job was mostly to maintain these. In a typical day we would see a dozen snakes slithering through the flooded rice, and there was no way to see them until you were right on them, but they never bothered us.

You can also see center pivot irrigation circles on the aerials. I should mention there are very serious problems with groundwater withdrawal for rice production. USGS report here, with nice maps of the region.

The Little River Drainage District has built an incredible network of channels in Missouri's bootheel, many of which empty into the massive, multi-channeled Ditch Number 1, which at places runs along the the former course of the Little River.

I have no idea why they built these multiple channels, though I'm guessing it was easier than enlarging the original one as more acres were brought into the system, kind of like adding lanes to a highway. Or perhaps a way to maintain a hydraulically stable channel.

I've driven through here many times, but always with many miles to go and not much thought about its history. Apparently the whole project was well-documented photographically, with the images here (not online). An interesting topic for more research. More info on the collection here; apparently SE Missouri State in Cape Girardeau has most of it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Big success at GSA-Houston

We had a huge week at the GSA meeting in Houston. We were told many times that we had the most interesting of the hundreds of interesting booths there. Yesterday was super busy as word spread and people sent colleagues and department heads (who hold the purse strings) to see us. People always like the models, but here we got literally hundreds of compliments.

This photo was typical. The model was constantly surrounded. There was plenty of interest in the Em4 as well. We're all headed home happy and ready to ship Emriver models.

Kate flew in yesterday and was a huge help. We've had a great time.

Some nice people at the AMETEK booth took a sample of our modeling media and imaged it with their scanning electron microscope.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

New Em4 video.

Amid all the GSA hubbub, I almost forgot to mention the new Em4 video I put together last week. See our Emriver video page here. This model has some awesome capabilities!

For those not following closely, the Em4, which is 12 ft (about 4 meters) long, is a large, complex version of our smaller, lighter, cheaper, portable, seven-foot-long Emriver, which is now designated as the Em2.

I'll try to get a YouTube version up soon.

LRRD at the Houston GSA meeting

After much work and planning Jesse and I are in Houston, ready to display the Emriver and our other products and talents at the annual Geological Society of America conference. This one is being held jointly with several other groups, including the Soil Science Society of America.

From the GSA website:

The Joint Session Categories encompass the 10 broad, societally relevant and multidisciplinary themes declared by The International Year of Planet Earth (health, climate, groundwater, ocean, soils, deep Earth, megacities, hazards, resources, and life).

There are some cool live webcasts here.

Jesse did a great job getting our stuff packed and driving it down in the Subaru (I flew). Here you can see his special off road Emriver model designed to get us into the convention hall. It worked nicely, and we managed to get everything unloaded a day ahead of schedule.

A security guard told us nearly 10,000 people were registered. We're in the Hilton here, quite swank. And speaking of high-toned, the booth next to ours is rented by the New York Times. Maybe their science people will be there. Hmmmmm.

Tomorrow we set things up and scrounge 27 gallons of water without paying the convention people a fortune for it. Very exciting.