Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Building a 10,000-Year Clock

How do you build a clock that will run for 10,000 years? The engineers and designers of “The Long Now Foundation” think they have the answer. They are now busily building one deep inside a mountain near Van Horn, Texas. And the 10,000 Year Clock isn’t just a clock. It has bells that chime a melody every once in awhile, and the song will not be repeated for at least 10,000 years. Sometimes, if a visitor winds the clock, it will ring out a tune, but at other times, it will ring when no one is around.

The clock is the brainchild of Danny Hillis, an inventor, computer engineer, and designer. He and Stewart Brand, a biologist and cultural pioneer, set up the non-profit Long Now Foundation. The project is being funded by Amazon.com’s founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns the property where the clock will be installed. Rock musician Brian Eno named the organization and composed the melody generator that will ring the clock’s chimes.
An 8-foot tall prototype was completed in 1999. At midnight on New Year’s Eve in 1999, the prototype chimed twice before a small crowd in the Presidio, San Francisco. It was later moved to the London Science Museum.

When completed, the real clock will be about 200 feet tall. It is being built primarily of marine grade 316 stainless steel and titanium. Dry-running ceramic ball bearings eliminate the need for lubrication. The parts are being made and assembled in California and Seattle.
It is designed to run on energy captured by changes in air temperature on the mountain top. The power will be stored by a large weight hanging on a rack gear, which can be wound either by visitors, or by the solar winder.

The Texas clock is the first of what its builders hope will be many. They have already acquired a site in Nevada for a second clock, even though there is no scheduled completion date for the first one.

The Long Now Foundation has a phenomenal website devoted to the 10,000 Year Clock. You can find it here

Monday, August 13, 2012

Antarctica’s Ancient Rainforest - What It Might Teach Us About Global Warming

If you think it’s warm now, you should have been here around 52 million years ago. Back then you could have basked beneath palm trees on the coast of Antarctica in an area that’s now under about 1.9 to 2.5 miles (3 to 4 kilometers) of ice.

Rock samples obtained from the seabed off the coast of Wilkes Land, Antarctica were found to contain fossil pollen and spores that included palm pollen and another type of pollen from trees related to today’s baobab trees. They also found evidence of bacteria which would have lived in the soils along the Antarctic coast at the time. They concluded that average temperatures at the time were about 68 degrees Fahrenheit or roughly 20 degrees Celsius. Although they believe that the interior was somewhat colder due to higher elevations and would have been populated with the ancesstors of trees that can be found today in places like New Zealand.

Some climatologists concluded that this warming period, which lasted roughly from 53 to 46 million years ago, was likely caused by high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They estimate that concentrations at the time ranged somewhere between 990 to a few thousand parts per million compared with today’s carbon dioxide level, which is estimated at about 395 ppm. If the warming effects of high carbon dioxide levels are a primary cause of global warming, the earth was much warmer at that time than it is today.
There is an interesting concept here. Human beings weren’t around 53 million years ago to burn fossil fuels, which is currently thought to be behind the current rise in carbon dioxide levels. Therefore, it seems logical that some other mechanism besides man may be at fault. Throughout this planet’s history, there have been both glacial and interglacial periods. Some of the interglacial periods were in fact generally much warmer than those we are experiencing now. And it is likely that local weather conditions during those times were as severe and threatening as those being faced in much of the world today. What does that mean for mankind? Climatologists are still divided, of course. As for the rest of us, it seems that the only thing we can do is wait and see.

There are two interesting articles about the Antarctica findings and their possible significance to climate change. One is here, the other is here.
If you’re interested in finding out about other natural forces that can cause climate change, visit here