Saturday, January 19, 2008

Lower the Ocean

I constantly hear about how global warming is melting the north pole and raising the sea level. The raising sea level would be bad -- if you own land in Egypt, Florida, Beijing, Loiusiana, or central California....well, not anymore you don't. And yes, with no ice whatsoever, Greenland and Antarctica would raise up and leave the earth with more land than before, but honestly, which would you rather live in? Louisiana? Or Greenland?

So I've decided today to do the opposite. I'm going to LOWER the level of the seas to get more useful land for human use. And I'm going to do it in a very ironic way. I'm going to do it by applying heat.

Start by building a platform in the south pacific, between Australia and Antarctica. Then build a nuclear reactor on that platform, and use the ocean as a heat sink. The heated ocean will evaporate more water. When the winds blow north, Australia will benefit from rain, alleviating their drought. When the winds blow south, the water will fall as snow on Anarctica. Anarctica has a thick layer of snow, not because it snows often there, but because what little does fall there never melts. The power generated by the reactor can be brought to Australia via an undersea cable, or it could power a research station on the platform. Even if the power was not used, the additional wetness to the area would be a benefit. Also, Australia has large reserves of Uranium that they are not using, so refueling the reactor is easy.

Water that falls as snow on Antarctica will not melt without a rather large increase in global warming, which should be contained in other ways. Lastly, should the world need fresh water in the future, it can be sawed out of Antarctica in an emergency.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Terraforming Venus

Venus, poetically referred to as our sister planet, is much more tempting as a target of terraforming. It has nearly the same size as Earth (98% of earth's size, compared with Mars's ~60%), is closer to the sun, which would both improve plant growth and allow for greater use of solar power, and due to gravitational aspects too complex to discuss here, would be an ideal launching area for missions to the asteroid belt.
Unfortunately, the downsides are much bigger. For starters, Venus's surface is 482C, hot enough to melt lead. The atmosphere at the surface is 94 times earth's pressure, which is so thick that it starts acting like a liquid. So anything we send now would get crushed and melt down. At the same time. On top of that, Venus has little hill-sphere, so using satellites would be much much harder, and Venus rotates extremely slowly, and backwards. (The sun would rise in the west on Venus.) The Venerial (That's 'related to Venus,' btw. It does not refer to sex.) day is only two weeks shorter than it's year. So any plants grown on the surface would die from lack of light during the night, assuming they didn't crush or catch fire. Or melt. Lastly, it rains on Venus right now, but not exactly water. It rains sulphuric acid, a compound that works great in a car battery, but would really suck if it fell on your face, or your crops.
Thankfully, the late Carl Sagan did think up a way where Venus could be lived on today. See, the upper atmosphere of Venus has an earth like temperature and air pressure, and if you were to build a city inside a glass (or other transparent surface, plexiglass would do the trick) bubble, and fill that bubble with earth's atmosphere, the bubble would float like a helium balloon on earth, up five miles. There it would float, and with some of NASA's new ion jets attached, it could be sped into a 24 hour "day" of circling the planet. While all of this is workable, and I would strongly suggest this to displaced people in need of a hard to invade nation (Tibet and Palestine, for instance), it's just too sensible for this blog. Besides, the bubble would only make one city that would need special effort to get in or out of, I want a planet that works like earth. Thankfully, Sagan's city-balloon is the first step in what previously would have been impossible.

The other half of this plan comes from New Mexico, where a group of scientists made a little device, the size of a beer keg, that, when heated to 2600F (1444C), strips oxygen out of carbon dioxide, leaving carbon monoxide that extracts into a small container, to be piped away as fuel. Cooled back down to 2000F (1111C), it releases the oxygen into the atmosphere. If water is added, it produces hydrogen gas instead, with a similar oxygen-extracting process. These scientists are suggesting heating it with solar panels, and keeping it near a coal fired power plant, where it would extract 45 pounds of CO2 from the air per day, pressing it into 2.5 gallons of monoxide to be made into fuel, and then releasing its stored oxygen during the night, resetting itself for another day's extraction. Amatures, I say! I have a much grander, insaner plan!

I plan to have a Sagan bubble-city with a number of these oxygen-cans on movable arms. The bubble city would use ion jets to stay in perpetual daylight. Cans would be raised hourly, with a new can lowered. Only a little solar power would be needed to heat it to the insane temperatures needed, as Venus is already very hot. The cans might occasionally be damaged by the sulpheric acid, but they should extract the hydrogen from the water before suffering significant damage. A human could live in the bubble city, or a city of humans. They would extract some monoxide for their use as fuel, but put most of it onto an off world rocket. For best results, this rocket should go to Mars, which needs greenhouse gases. And Martian people will need fuel too, of course.

Over time, thousands of years probably, these combined actions would use up a large amount of the Venerial atmosphere. The bubble city would find itself lower and lower until it scraped bottom, with no increase in temperature. The remaining carbon dioxide could be used to synthesize baking soda to neutralize the sulphuric acid, as one promising American company has done with their smokestacks. The planet's spin speed could be increased by meteor impact. At this point, plants would be planted, water used to form oceans, and the planet of Venus would be a beautiful place to live.

The faster plan would be to put a solar shade in front of it, with an ion jet to hold it in place against the solar wind. After 1000 years of cooling, it would only be a matter of sawing up, packing up, and rocketing away the dry ice, hitting the meteor, removing the shade, and doing the plant thing. Still, that has the disadvantage of no one being able to USE venus while in the process of terraforming, while still being rather expensive.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Surprising Facts about Famine

Famine, a lack of available food to a person, does not occur for the reasons that most people think it does. Most people think that famines occur because there is not enough food on earth to feed everyone. This is, much to their surprise, incorrect.

The world contains, as of last year, 6,602,224,175 people. Each of them will need, according to NASA, 3.1kg of food per day. If I do the math, this translates to 20,466,894,942.5kg/day. Quite a lot, certainally, but the planet is very large. 160,800,000,000kg of barley were grown last year. The amount of rice grown alone would feed everyone, albeit not well. (5.24 x 10^11kg of rice was grown in 2007).

However, food has a number of problems. It goes bad unless refrigerated. (Humans are not the only things on earth that eat! Rats, bacteria, and other pests do their best to eat up any food they get their paws, pseudopods, or grasping impliments on.) It gets stolen. Farmers expect to be paid for their efforts, as farming is hard work. Some of it is worth more as fuel, or alcohol. (I'm looking at YOU, corn.)

Every starving person on earth is arguably starving for political reasons. The most obvious is poverty -- They are unable to provide the farmer with an economic exchange due to a lack of funds. This can be dealt with in a way that imposes few political problems. Namely, a third party charitably buys food for them. This way, the people eat, the farmer gets paid, and everyone is happy, except for the hard core libertarians.
More insideously, however, are dictatorships that force people to live in places that do not have food, forbid them from leaving, and forbid trade outside of their country. And most insideous of all are dictatorships that have decided by fiat that certain people do not get to eat as a way of exterminating them forever. Our resident historian notes that no democracy has ever had a famine, as people tend to leave areas where food is hard to come by.

As an engineer, there's no machine I can build to overthrow cruel dictatorships. There's no chemical reaction for justice. Starve happy dictatorships have to be dealt with diplomatically, politically, or possibly militarily if the first two options don't work. Or possibly another solution is at hand. Ask your local political science expert.
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