Thursday, December 29, 2011

Canadian Tar Sands

While groping for words to describe mining tar sands in Alberta, Canada, I realized the only word I had was Hell. Humans are creating Hell. I don't know if that is a moralistic judgement or simply the most accurate description. I don't know how I feel about getting oil from the tar sands by strip mining the wilderness fens and forests, nor do I have a definitive "scientific" judgement of how bad for the environment this really is. I don't have a political opinion on the associated plans to haul 3-lane wide super-trucks across Lolo Pass and through Missoula, Montana; nor do I have a completely educated opinion of the necessity of building mega pipelines across the Oglalla Aquafer of Nebraska and through the primeival British Columbia "ghost bear" rainforest to transport the oil steamed out of the tar.

All I know is this:



From National Geographic

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Timber Harvest Effect on Soil

The overall effect is a small loss in total soil carbon; both total carbon content and concentration decrease in the "forest floor," but not in the surface or deep mineral soils. 
Black dots are total carbon; white dots are carbon concentration.

The decrease in total forest floor carbon is greater in hardwood forests, although there is some evidence that it takes longer to rebound in conifer forests because of their lower litter production.

Nave LE, Vance ED, Swanston CW, Curtis PS. Harvest impacts on soil carbon storage in temperate forests. Forest Ecology and Management. 2010;259(5):857–866.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Drought and Heat, Summer 2011

Earth Observatory.

Earth Observatory: Heat Wave July 20-27 2011.

Explanations: NWS
Normal July pattern, which has been amplified by strong ridge, the opposite of the winter time "Aleutian Low" NWS.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Variable Land Carbon Sink

b, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production, and from LUC. c, Land CO2 sink (negative values correspond to land uptake). d, Ocean CO2 sink (negative values correspond to ocean uptake).
Le Quéré C, Raupach MR, Canadell JG, Marland G, others. Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide. Nature Geoscience. 2009;2(12):831–836.

"An increasing total airborne fraction implies that total sinks are increasing more slowly than total emissions, so that sinks are not keeping pace with emissions.

The CO2 growth rate also varies strongly at interannual (1 to 10 y) time scales, through mainly biophysical mechanisms. Fluctuations in CO2 growth rate correlate with the El-Nino-Southern-Oscillation (ENSO) climate mode (Keeling and Revelle, 1985; Keeling et al., 1995; Jones and Cox, 2005), because the terrestrial carbon balance in tropical regions is tilted from uptake to release of CO2 during dry, warm El-Ni ˜ no events (Zeng et al., 2005; Knorr et al., 2005).

Volcanic events are also significant: the CO2 growth rate decreased for several years after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in June 1991 (Jones et al., 2001), probably because of increased net carbon uptake by terrestrial ecosystems due to higher diffuse solar radiation (Gu et al., 2003) and cooler temperatures (Jones and Cox, 2001) caused by volcanic aerosols."
1. Raupach MR, Canadell JG, Le Quéré C. Anthropogenic and biophysical contributions to increasing atmospheric CO2 growth rate and airborne fraction. Biogeosciences. 2008;5(6):1601–1613.

Carbon Tracker

Fig. 1. A demonstration of how carbon flux indices [GSNF, growing season net flux; DSNF, dormant season net flux; AMP, amplitude (|DSNF – GSNF|); NCF, net carbon flux (GSNF + DSNF)] are calculated. Any month for which the net carbon flux is negative is included in the GSNF (open vertical bars). Any month for which the net carbon flux is positive is included in the DSNF (filled vertical bars). Mean 2000–2008 fluxes shown for boreal North America (a) southern Africa (b) and tropical Asia (c).
GURNEY KR, ECKELS WJ. Regional trends in terrestrial carbon exchange and their seasonal signatures. Tellus B.

Fig. 2. Comparison of decadal mean net carbon flux for individual land regions. Black cross symbols (X) denote the mean of 13 TransCom 3 models, open circle symbols (O) denote mean of the three S07 TransCom 3 models, individual model estimates within the S07 average are denoted by a filled square, circle and triangle. Vertical error bars represent the total 1σ flux uncertainty (quadrature sum of model spread and the root mean square of individual model posterior uncertainty) associated with the mean of the 13 TransCom 3 models. (c) 2000–2008 mean net carbon flux.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Coal-tar sealants contain PAH

source: "Pollution Prevention and Management Strategies for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in the New York/New Jersey Harbor" by the New York Academy of Sciences

An interesting debate has arisen over an emerging contaminant of concern, PolyAromatic Hydrocarbons, or PAHs. These compounds are produced whenever organic materials are heated in the absence of oxygen and water. This can occur whenever combustion is incomplete, such as smoky campfires, flickering candles, incense sticks, cigarettes, poorly functioning gasoline and diesel combustion engines, forest fires, and charcoal and tar production. PAHs form a large and diverse family of compounds, some of which are known to be potent genotoxic carcinogens.

Regulators are cracking down, but they don't know where to turn first, because these compounds are ubiquitous in modern, industrialized, civilization. Washington State and Washington DC have become two of the first areas in the US to begin taking action by banning coal-tar sealants. These sealants are typically applied to parking lots and driveways to make them black and pretty, and they also contain high levels of PAHs.

But are driveway sealants really the culprit? The coal-tar sealant industry points out that some shampoo bottles contain as much PAH as 100 acres of sealed parking lot. Indeed, a basic understanding of aromatic chemistry indicates that these compounds should be extremely water insoluble; they are most hazardous when they are volatilized in fires and the soot is inhaled. So the debate continues, with both industry, government, and citizen action groups trying to make sense of the science.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ohio Agricultural Production

Ohio agricultural production has declined, so why hasn't fertilizer pollution?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Weather Prediction: Accuracy and Skill

type weather text here

For a huge database of historical comparisons between the model predictions and observed weather: or

For comparisons of the various model runs:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Terrestrial Fertilization to Sequester CO2?

One of the main uncertainties in the global carbon cycle is measuring the amount of carbon bound up in ecosystems such as forests and grasslands. This Net Ecosystem Production (NEP) converts CO2 to plant material, detritus, and some animals. Most escapes back to the atmosphere as respired CO2, but some is sequestered in soil organic matter and trees.

Most ecosystems are Nitrogen limited because fertilization with nitrogen increases NEP. Interestingly, many ecosystems are already fertilized by Nitrogen deposition from drifting clouds of various nitrogen compounds emitted by urban areas, industry, and agriculture.

Nitrogen deposition increases productivity and decreases respiratory losses from decomposition (Hogberg). But how much? And how much is too much? Natural vegetation may be satiated/saturated with a low quantity of nitrogen, and any more would begin acidifying the soil, killing plants and washing away to pollute the watersheds.

Magnani et al attempt to answer some of these questions and measure the size of the "The human footprint in the carbon cycle of temperate and boreal forests" of Europe. They find that the amount of nitrogen deposited in European forests confers a huge increase in fertility; they find no sign of a decrease due to Nitrogen saturation.

However, their findings rested on a number of unpublished studies, and a flurry of correspondence questioned their main conclusions. De Shrivjer et al point out that just because NEP continues to increase with increasing Nitrogen deposition, this doesn't mean that the forest ecosystems aren't loosing nitrogen as runoff. Indeed, it makes sense that at very high applications of fertilizer an increasing fraction would be wasted. Many farmers have to contend with the problem that, beyond a certain point, a doubling of Nitrogen fertilizer may confer only an incremental increase in crop productivity, while vastly increasing the amount of Nitrogen that washes off.

de Vries present a more central problem in Magnani et al's results: according to Magnani's data correlation, for every unit of Nitrogen applied to European forests, 470 units of carbon are sequestered. Yet the only plant material with a C:N ratio that high is pure xylem wood, and it seems unlikely that all of the deposited nitrogen is being used to grow tree stems. Furthermore, de Vries et al find that Magnani et al failed to control for a range of other variables that could affect forest NEP. de Vries reanalyze that portion of Magnani's data that is publicly available and find a more plausible -- and vastly reduced -- C:N ratio of 20 to 40 (20-40 units carbon for every unit nitrogen).

It doesn't end there, though. Magnani et al respond that they agree with De Shrivjer, but refute de Vries. Magnani point out differences between wet and dry deposition, to argue that their stoichiometric ratio is really closer to 175-225. They claim that this ratio is not implausible, even though it is much higher than actual forest fertilization experiments (Nadelhoffer). They explain this difference by suggesting that up to 70% of the actual nitrogen deposited is absorbed by leaves, whereas the forest fertilization experiments applied nitrogen to the soil. (Nadelhoffer).

{[It is not clear to me what the consensus is on how much nitrogen can be absorbed by the canopy, or why wet versus dry deposition matters. }

News and Views: Hogberg P. Environmental science: Nitrogen impacts on forest carbon. Nature. 2007 June 14;447(7146):781-782.
Original Paper: Magnani F, Mencuccini M, Borghetti M, Berbigier P, Berninger F, Delzon S, Grelle A, Hari P, Jarvis PG, Kolari P, et al. The human footprint in the carbon cycle of temperate and boreal forests. Nature. 2007 June 14;447(7146):849-851.
Questions: De Schrijver A, Verheyen K, Mertens J, Staelens J, Wuyts K, Muys B. Nitrogen saturation and net ecosystem production. Nature. 2008 February 14;451(7180):E1.
More Questions: de Vries W, Solberg S, Dobbertin M, Sterba H, Laubhahn D, Reinds GJ, Nabuurs G-J, Gundersen P, Sutton MA. Ecologically implausible carbon response? Nature. 2008 February 14;451(7180):E1-E3.
Response:Magnani F, Mencuccini M, Borghetti M, Berninger F, Delzon S, Grelle A, Hari P, Jarvis PG, Kolari P, Kowalski AS, et al. Magnani et al. reply. Nature. 2008 February 14;451(7180):E3-E4.
More Information: Nadelhoffer, K. J. et al. Nitrogen deposition makes a minor contribution to carbon sequestration in temperate forests. Nature 398, 145–148 (1999)
Follow Up: SUTTON MA, SIMPSON D, LEVY PE, SMITH RI, REIS S, Van OIJEN M, De VRIES WIM. Uncertainties in the relationship between atmospheric nitrogen deposition and forest carbon sequestration. Global Change Biology. 2008 September 1;14(9):2057-2063.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

EPA Pollution Standards

EPA Where You Live


Drinking Water

Antarctic Ice Increasing?

Most of this post deals with a paper by Turner, 2009.

My confusion started with a Watts Up With That post claiming that Antartica is actually gaining sea ice. As usual, a SkepticalScience page attempts a refutation, but to do so has to get into some complicated details.

So what is the trend?


But Antartic sea ice is formed by a number of factors, including UV radiation from the hole in the Ozone layer, and land ice has been decreasing:"Ozone levels over Antarctica have dropped causing stratospheric cooling and increasing winds which lead to more areas of open water that can be frozen"

Apparently, land ice is more important in Antartica, and this had been decreasing. If the Ross Ice sheet collapsed, as it has numerous times in past interglacials, it would raise sea level by 21 feet.

Climate Change: Contrails

Aircraft Contrails Stoke Warming (Reuters, ):"Aircraft condensation trails criss-crossing the sky may be warming the planet on a normal day more than the carbon dioxide emitted by all planes since the Wright Brothers' first flight in 1903, according to a study in Nature Climate Change." [This is about 0.025 Watts per square meter, according to the IPCC (2007)]

Citation: Ulrike Burkhardt & Bernd Kärcher Global radiative forcing from contrail cirrus. Nature Climate Change 1, 54–58 (2011)

Image from Earth Observatory: "NASA scientists have found that cirrus clouds, formed by contrails from aircraft engine exhaust, are capable of increasing average surface temperatures enough to account for a warming trend in the United States that occurred between 1975 and 1994."
Citation: Minnis, Patrick, J. Kirk Ayers, Rabindra Palikonda, Dung Phan, 2004: Contrails, Cirrus Trends, and Climate. J. Climate, 17, 1671–1685.

"Trends in cirrus coverage and 300-hPa relative humidty (1971-19995) and estimated 1992 linear congtrail coverage. (a) Trends in cirrus coverage for all regions with more than 15yr of data. (b) Subset of (1) for all regions having trends sinifcant at the 90% confidence level according to Student's t test. (c) Estimated linear contrail coverage...Only observations taken from land stations and from ships are used for the land and ocean air traffic regions, respectively. (d) Trends in annual mean NCEP relative humidity at 300 hPa."

Citation: Minnis, Patrick, J. Kirk Ayers, Rabindra Palikonda, Dung Phan, 2004: Contrails, Cirrus Trends, and Climate. J. Climate, 17, 1671–1685.

"In response to the Minnis et al. conclusion, contrail Radiative Forcing (RF) was examined in two global climate modelling studies (Hansen et al., 2005; Ponater et al., 2005). Both studies concluded that the surface temperature response calculated by Minnis et al. (2004) is too large by one to two orders of magnitude. For the Minnis et al. result to be correct, the climate efficacy or climate sensitivity of contrail RF would need to be much greater than that of other larger RF terms, (e.g., CO2). Instead, contrail RF is found to have a smaller efficacy than an equivalent CO2 RF (Hansen et al., 2005; Ponater et al., 2005) (see Section, which is consistent with the general ineffectiveness of high clouds in influencing diurnal surface temperatures (Hansen et al., 1995, 2005). " (IPCC 2007)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Best Periodic Table Ever

I've been on the lookout for the best periodic table for a couple months now, and have finally found it. Various versions can be downloaded here. An explanation of the new format.

Physiological Toxicology

Different toxic compounds come to rest in different organs and regions of the body, depending on their mode of transport in the human body. For example, many toxins are "mistaken" for similar compounds, and stored accordingly. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are fat soluble and look like cholesterol, so they are stored in fat deposits. Lead "looks like" calcium, so it is stored in the bones.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Climate Crunch

Deconstructing Conclusions
During the winter of 2009-2010 I began investigating climate science, and since then have been reading in the field on-and-off. Again this last winter I have been reading way too much, trying to get to the bottom of various intricacies of the coupled earth-human system. Suffice to say, the Earth's climate is extremely complex, and every scientific sub-discipline has made its own peace with the devil in the details. Getting to the bottom of what scientists believe, and why, is no easy task, and after more than a year of research I have learned a huge amount about the Earth, but still am not definitively convinced about every aspect of climate change science.

This is as it should be. Science is complex and ever-evolving, and the Earth is a very, very complicated place. But provisional results and untested assumptions, although ever-present, make soft bedrock for climate policy. The truth is that we simply do not understand many of the key issues, such as feedbacks, in the climate system.

Many issues, such as divergence in tree-ring proxy records, don't by themselves discredit the theory of anthropogenic global warming, even if scientists can't explain everything. But they do begin to cast doubts. The issue of "hide the decline" probably falls into this category, because although some scientists chose to substitute instrument data for the misbehaving paleo data, the divergance can be explained. But is this explanation just hand-waving? How do we really know what happened hundreds or thousands of years ago? Obviously climate proxies may be complicated, idiosyncratic, and only reliable under certain conditions. It has been said that "trees are not thermometers," but this admission, even if carefully defined, can lead to increasing skepticism.

Unresolved Issues
Skeptic Science (SkS) has a great index of skeptic arguments, many of which continue to be problematic. They attempt to "refute" each argument, and they are the best source for good answers to most of these issues. But not every question can be answered definitively. Sometimes one question simply leads to three or four more. For example, they point out that warming is not due to the sun....but it is very, very, complicated. SkS explains why CO2 lags temperature in paleoclimate....but their response is not good system thinking, doesn't address the skeptic arguments about what the Vostok ice core means, and isn't especially convincing.

I've been researching climate change for over a year, and still am not close to understanding many of the major issues. What's worse, I can't find good evidence that the climate scientists understand all of the issues either! Much of science is dependent on good faith and trust, but at some point an explanation has to be convincing. Some theories (and I would put String Theory and Global Warming into this category) are too gnarly to be comprehended by mere mortals. They may be true, but I can't believe in what I don't understand.

The bottom line is that, if you really want to know,... its complicated. I'm officially revoking my previous conclusion, pending better explanations of the science. Maybe I'll have to wait to believe the models until they're proved true: until then I'll continue to entertain belief in multiple possibilities about this weird, beautiful world we live on.

More Paleoclimate Links:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wavelet Coherence Analysis!

I've started using a cool Matlab program that generates a 4-dimensional power spectra for any time series. A normal power spectra is averaged over an entire dataset, but this technique, called Wavelet Coherence Analysis using a sliding "window" to examine power spectra continuously over the entire series. Of course, for longer and longer wavelengths, the sliding window necessarily becomes larger and larger, until wavelengths can no longer be measured on the data. The dark black hemicurve on this diagram shows that limit, and the data greyed out beyond that line is edge-affected power spectra.

The data I chose for this analysis were the maximum daily temperatures for Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 2010. There are 365 days along the X axis, and various wavelengths ranging from 4 to 64 days along the Y axis. Colors indicate "power" at a given wavelength, for a given time of the year. Significant areas within the hemicurve are circled with a black line.

This analysis shows that there were some 6-day cycles in springtime (near DOY 150) that were statistically significant. Beyond that, not much jumps out: the signal does now have high periodicity. Now I'm looking for better-behaving data.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sunspots, Space Weather, and the Earth

Prikryl et al 2009: Solar magnetic sector boundary passage (SBP) and vorticity area index (VAI), by weather reconstruction ERA-40 dataset back to 1963-2002, confirmed the "Wilcox effect". The interplanetary magnetic field and associated "space weather" directly effect Earth's weather.

News from Dr. Leif Svalgaard at Stanford:
Wolf was right...we can use magnetic field strength to calibrate solar irradiance. The correlation between solar far-UV radiation and geomagnetic force on the Earth's surface is extremely good;
now we have an objective calibration for sunspot number.
The conclusion? Leif 2007 finds no long-term trend in solar irradience from at least 1600. through the present.

Risk Assessment

Nuclear and chemical technologies (except for medicines) have been stigmatized by being perceived as entailing unnaturally great risks.

R. Gregory, J. Flynn, and P. Slovic, ‘‘Technological Stigma,’’ American Scientist 83, 220–223 (1995).

The social problem is compounded by the fact that we tend to manage our risks within an adversarial legal system that pits expert against expert, contradicting each other’s risk assessments and further destroying the public trust. The young science of risk assessment is too fragile, too indirect, to prevail in such a hostile atmosphere. Scientic analysis of risks cannot allay
our fears of low-probability catastrophes or delayed cancers unless we trust the system. In the absence of trust, science (and risk assessment) can only feed public concerns, by uncovering more bad news. A single study demonstrating an association between exposure to chemicals or radiation and some adverse health effect cannot easily be offset by numerous studies failing to and such an association.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

CUDOS in Science versus Post-Normal Science

(C)ommunalism – the common ownership of scientific discoveries, according to which scientists give up intellectual property rights in exchange for recognition and esteem;
(U)niversalism – according to which claims to truth are evaluated in terms of universal or value-free criteria;
(D)isinterestedness – according to which scientists are rewarded for acting in ways that appear to be selfless;
(O)rganized (S)kepticism – all ideas must be tested and are subject to structured community scrutiny.
If these CUDOS are followed, science should be "certain and value-free."
from Eva Kunseler, Towards a new paradigm of Science in scientific policy advising

Thanks to "buythetruth" blog for excellent selections from Kunseler

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Substance X causes cancer in animals...."

Consider two statements, S1 and S2: S1: ‘‘Would you agree or disagree that the way an animal reacts to a chemical is a reliable predictor of how a human would react to it?’’

The second statement, S2, is a little more specific: ‘‘If a scientific study produces evidence that a chemical causes cancer in animals, then we can be reasonably sure that the chemical will cause cancer in humans.’’

How did you respond? How would a scientist respond?

from P. Slovic, ‘‘Trust, Emotion, Sex, Politics, and Science: Surveying the Risk-Assessment Battlefield,’’ in Environment, Ethics, and Behavior, M. H. Bazerman, D. M. Messick, A. E. Tenbrunsel, and K. A. Wade-Benzoni (eds.) (San Francisco, New Lexington, 1997), pp. 277–313.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Global CO2 plumes

Ever wonder where our oxygen comes from in the winter? When vegetation dies back in the Northern Hemisphere, we have to subsist on old air until the summer. In this image, you can see the plume of carbon dioxide downwind of large human population centers.

Agroforestry: the "Evergreen Revolution"

Dr. Dennis Garrity spoke today at SENR about how agroforestry is transforming entire landscapes in Africa. Dr. Garrity detailed a number of ways farmers are growing more crops by cultivating trees in their field. The details differ, but usually involve a leguminous tree that can provide both fertilizer for the field and fodder for livestock. One such tree, Acacia (Faidherbia), has the amazing added benefit of loosing its leaves during the wet season when farmers grow crops. This is basically the perfect tree, providing timed inputs of fertilizer, light, and forage at just the times the crops, farmer, and livestock need them.

According to Dr. Garrity, Faidherbia does not grow in the wild and is dependent on human cultivation. But until 10 years ago, no one knew how to propagate the tree: farmers tended them when they found them, but attempts to plant seeds or take cuttings had failed. Once researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre developed a cheap and easy way to propagate Faidherbia, its use has been rapidly adopted, especially in the Sahel region of Africa, where millions of hectares have been transformed.

Many of the questions from the audience focussed on possible problems and objections to this agronomic technique. What if pests wiped out the tree, or used the tree as refuges? If it was so good, why hadn't farmers adopted it before? What would happen when commercial farms replaced small holders? Some of these questions had initially occurred to me as well, but after reflection, the question I was most interested to ask would have focussed on what this example of agroforestry innovation could teach us to look for in the future. How can we learn from this example to look for other species in other parts of the world that might become essential components of new agricultural systems that can increase diversity, resilience, and production for the 21st century?

The real insight of this talk is that productivity is not set in stone: humans can and should manage their environments to improve them over and above what is "natural".

This presentation has in-depth information on the spread of agroforestry in Niger.

This is a great agroforestry organization:

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Do We All Have an Equal Chance for Health?

Unnatural Causes, a PBS documentary, asks the pointed question "Is Inequality Making Us Sick" and answers strongly affirmative. According to information presented in the video series, poverty is correlated with disease, more so than any other socioeconomic variable. This correlation is more than the obvious fact that (in the US at least) you have to have money to see a doctor. The series argues convincingly that there may be a causative factor in poverty that predisposes people to illness, weakened immune systems, increased heart disease, and cancer: increased stress. While our society often thinks of 9-5 businessmen as stressed out, the cortisol levels of the on-call janitors, cooks, and welfare recipients tests out as significantly higher.

Cortisol has been shown by numerous scientific studies to lead to disease. However, the ability to manage and control our circumstances may be the actual barometer of cortisol levels in humans. If that is true, then it will take more than just increased wealth and decreased stress to bring healthier outcomes to the majority of Americans. They will have to have a feeling of control over their lives, too. Furthermore, correlation does not prove causation: poverty need not necessarily be stressful, so poverty need not necessarily lead to poor health. However, the sociologists interviewed in the series may not be concerned with such nit-picking as long as the overwhelming correlation holds.

Nutrient Pollution Management in 2011: New Regulations

Dr. Larry Antosch, Senior Director, Program Innovation and Environmental Policy, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation presented "Water Quality and Agricultural Nutrient Management – Many Forces Converge" to finish up the seminar series theme of Water Quality here in the School of Environment and Natural Resources. Dr. Antosch is well-placed to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date view of nutrient management and water quality, having worked in the field for 30 years, first for the EPA and now for the FBF, which recently sued the EPA over pending nutrient restrictions in the Chesapeake Bay (CB) watershed. Dr. Antosh pointed out that since Ohio is in the CB "airshed" (some of our air pollution is deposited in the CB watershed) these regulations could impact us directly. They could also impact Ohio indirectly as EPA gears up for an even bigger watershed nutrient reduction program for the entire Mississippi.

In Dr. Antosh's opinion, some of the regulatory impetus is misplaced, because science does not have all the answers yet. For example, the increased of dissolved Phosphorous (rather than particulate phosphorous) entering Lake Erie and causing harmful algal blooms, is a mystery. Farmers or cities? Which techniques could best eliminate excess nutrients? Some have even pointed to no-till as a possible source, because nutrients are applied to the surface rather than mixed in.

Although Dr. Antosch emphesized the uncertain nature of water quality science, I believe there is enough information to act today. Several simple examples come to mind: (1) Regulations against applying manure and fertilizer in the winter, when plants are not growing and hence don't absorb any of the nutrients; (2) Existing steps to eliminate phosphorous fertilization of residential lawns; (3) Creating new wetlands to filter the runoff that does occur.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Open-source, DIY genomics

"You can't rely on the model of running everything through the historic, traditional research channels.” “..the locus of control is different and distributed. There are no principal investigators and subjects. Instead, there are organizers and participants, and both of those are collaborators.”

How much is a human life worth?

From a 2008 article in the Washington Post: Several federal agencies have come up with figures for the dollar value of a human life to analyze the costs and benefits of new programs they believe will save lives. A sampling:

According to the Principles of Economics by Gregory Mankiw, economics calculate the
value of a human life by looking "at the risks that people are voluntarily willing to
take and how much they must be paid for taking them".

For example, the decision to work as a contractor in Iraq involved placing a monetary value on
years of extended life. Assuming an annual risk of death of 0.004 and a salary
premium of $30,000 per year over comparable jobs in the United States, contractors in
Iraq are essentially compensated at a rate of $250,000 per statistical year of life. A recent survey of estimates based on occupational risk that found a range from $500,000 to $21 million per statistical life year depending on how dangerous the work is. If someone will accept a 1-in-10,000 chance of death for $500, then the value of life
must be 10,000 times $500, or $5 million.

An example of this kind of analysis was used by the federal Consumer Product Safety
Commission this year:A proposal to make mattresses less flammable was expected to cost the industry $343 million to implement. But, a spokeswoman said, the move was also expected to save 270 people. The commission calculated that each life was worth $5 million, which meant a
benefit of about $1.3 billion.

This total value can also be annualized. The World Health Organization has proposed $108,609 as the value of a disability-adjusted life year, while a recent study by Lee et al using Medicare willingness-to-pay, estimated it as $129,000. Lee notes that this figure compares to a range of $50,000 to $100,000 used in other countries, such as Australia and the UK, which run national health care systems in guiding their coverage decisions.

The fact of the matter is that monetary valuations of human life are a necessary step in triage. However, as Risk and Decision-Making researchers know, individual's valuations of their own and others lives is rarely consistent or logical. For example, many people complain bitterly about automobile or factory pollution, while themselves being one of the largest, willful, and unnecessary sources of pollution: