Therefore, increasing heat flux by 35% would (we think) prevent Yellowstone (e.g.,) from ever erupting again, based on current heat influx and the perceived rate of eruptions (n=3).
So, inject more water to cool it more quickly, and, bonus, use the hot water to create power at $0.1/kWh, up to 20 GW.
What's terrifying is how quickly we're drying up the water elsewhere in the country, and the existing water in Yellowstone is the primary method of cooling the magma [tfa]. If we dry it out, it's boom time a lot sooner.
They have a whole section on this, but I'm fairly certain this is the next environmental movie disaster plot: Increasing water use dries out the only heat sink preventing a volcano that destroys life on the Western Hemisphere, and causes a near-extinction in humans everywhere else.
They can also disappear literally overnight. Mt Mazama erupted about 7,700 years ago and is now Crater lake. There were a lot of eruptions around Newberry caldera around that same time, and there've been eruptions as recently as about 1,300 years ago.
Also with videos on Youtube in his own channel and in the Central Washington University channel.
Mt. Mazama seems to have been a bit of an outlier, though:
> The United States Geological Survey has referred to the 7,700 years ago Mazama eruption as the largest explosive eruption within the Cascades in the past million years, and one of the largest eruptions during the Holocene epoch.
Seems kind of improbable that the biggest anything happened in the most recent 0.77% of the observed time interval, which makes me wonder if there may have been others we just don't know about. Improbable events do happen though, so maybe it's just dumb luck (if we want to call it that) that we had such an event within relatively recent history.
The biggest has to happen sometime, and whenever it does will be an improbable time for it to have occurred if the probability is uniform and the resolution of time tracked is high relative to the total interval.
Only 20 GW thermal? In my head nuclear power plants emit roughly 4GW thermal which is converted to 1GW electric energy, so cooling Yellowstone seems well within our technological capabilities... with open cycle water cooling.
To save water, I wonder if you could use another system like air shafts or a closed-cycle water system, similar to how nuclear power plants have primary and secondary coolant loops -- the primary loops being closed and the secondary loops being "mostly closed" or have some other mechanism of discarding heat.
They have some reasonable solutions. We'll never do it. Environmental conservation groups would see it as a capitalist cash grab, and the right would see it as a waste of money and energy based on alarmist scientists getting too much press. And anyway, we'll drain all the water out of the west coast in 50 years and there'll be nothing left to set up a pump / capture plant.
My impression of him as a classic polymath is reinforced by the fact that he wrote seminal texts on both volcano defusing and rover wheel diameter optimization, both of which have come up in recent discussions.
He has the signature "first principles" approach of using mostly physics with some clever choices of approach to make it work out nicely.
Scientists later determined that the 1816 temperature anomaly was caused by volcanic eruptions in 1815 and 1814, which sprayed volcanic ash and sulfuric acid into the atmosphere, thereby shading the oceans and preventing them from storing the usual amount of heat over those two years.
Our modern Civilization is more vulnerable to an average once-a-millenium volcanic eruption than it's ever been, on account of our numbers and our dependency on supply chains for our sustenance.
From the linked article: "In fact, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimated the 2012 worldwide food storage to last for 74 days." (pg. 9)
Grains are useful because they store well. Storage is not economical, but it is essential for reducing the suffering which would result from an 1816-like scenario in our modern world.
Edit: the 1816 anomaly is classified as a volcanic winter . Solar minimums have also resulted in years/decades with cooler summers than normal.
Tambora Erupts in 1815 and Changes World History (2013) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24853116 - Oct 2020 (8 comments)
Year Without a Summer - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22400480 - Feb 2020 (131 comments)
The Year Without a Summer - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18477459 - Nov 2018 (1 comment)
How a volcanic eruption made 1816 the year without a summer (2013) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17949772 - Sept 2018 (1 comment)
1816, the Year without a Summer - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15768951 - Nov 2017 (14 comments)
How a Volcanic Eruption in 1815 Darkened the World but Colored the Arts - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10118706 - Aug 2015 (4 comments)
The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9619876 - May 2015 (2 comments)
Tambora – The Volcano That Changed the Course of History - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7564442 - April 2014 (3 comments)
1816: The Year Without a Summer - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5779911 - May 2013 (1 comment)
I think it's more robust than ever, because of our ability to ship food around the world. Second, most of our food is grown to be eaten by animals that we then eat. If we ate the food directly, you could feed way more people than through the meat. So if there is a reduction in capacity through such an event, unless it's too extreme, we'll still have lots of food left.
Also, just a reminder to those lucky enough to survive this pandemic: a marginal increase in food prices (plus inflation) due to supply chain disruption might leave poor people with less foods on their tables.
It is done all the time. On dry years, when grain prices increase, meat producers hush to sell their cattle and the extra grain does get into the people's diet. The reverse happens all the time too.
On the customer side, a change on food price leads first to a change on meat consumption, what couples nicely with the production side. Of course, any price change pushes some people over the starvation line (on whatever direction), but
this is something societies can fight.
It's just not done on the scale that a supervolcano would imply.
This is correct, but feedstock type foods are easier to store and re-route than other food with a shorter shelf life. Over the pandemic I never had an issue finding basics like flour or potatoes. Foods that became scarce were meat, dairy and highly-processed foods.
flour was almost impossible to buy early in the pandemic in the US at least. Seemed like more of a demand side issue as everyone (including me) started baking bread at home. It took months for them to start having full stocks of flour again.
I guess they had an existing relationship with flour wholesale to make their pie pastry and just re-bagged it in house.
And a global supervolcanic eruption would disrupt the production of food worldwide, not just in a single continent.
Therefore, I doubt we are not "more robust than ever", as you claim.
I doubt that for any famine of the last 200 years, including those that killed tens of millions, the problem has been, "not enough food in the world". The problem has been, "failed institutions don't put the food where it's most needed".
Vaccines are even easier to ship than food. Are they getting to where they're most needed?
There were three periods in the COVID-19 response. The initial response was limited, because people were still unsure whether the virus was a serious threat. Then, in March 2020, we saw determined efforts to stop the virus that were unprecedented in speed and scale. People were playing it safe, because it was obvious that the threat was serious, but nobody knew how serious it would be. Around May 2020, it became clear that the threat was not that serious after all. The focus then switched to the cost-effectiveness of the response from various points of the view.
The worst case for COVID-19 was maybe 1% of the population dead, 10% with serious long-term health consequences, a global depression, and a handful of coups, revolutions, and civil wars. It would have been bad, but only on the level we should expect a few times in a century anyway. It was serious enough to warrant a large-scale response but not serious enough to mobilize the entire society.
If someone does pull a Stalin at any meaningful scale that's probably not gonna be possible to keep on the down low and heads will roll, likely literally.
But I do think it's funny global warming is universally condemned as being bad.
I think a more honest assessment would be, "There are unknown risks to warming the up planet and we don't want to tinker with that."
Russia, Canada, and parts of norther Europe would benefit quite a bit from it.
But in the case of supervolcanoes our recently improved ability to grow food in vertical farms under LED light might be of great help. Ideally backed by nuclear fusion since solar would be less effective under the attenuated sunlight. Obviously, we don't have that power source yet, but, hey, there are a dozen high quality fusion projects out there, what are the chances they'll all fail?
There may be trouble ahead But while there's starlight and music and truth and romance Embrace the future and dance!
A key one is here: Beyond human intervention, huge pulses of heat energy into the magma chamber may at times precipitate eruptions, with brief periods where the heat flux is so large that engineering solutions would be impractical. If heat flow were sufficiently massive then it may be impossible to mitigate supervolcanic eruptions.
From what we know about more well-studied volcanic systems (which are volcanic arc systems like the Cascades in the US or Mount Fuji in Japan), the heat flux into the upper magma chambers comes in the form of episodic injections of extremely hot basalt from the deeper magma plumbing systems (5-20? km depth). The size of these injections likely scales with the size of the volcanic system, so for a mantle plume they may be enormous. The heat flux is not steady state and the shallow crust/ upper magma chamber does not just heat up linearly with time until the eruption threshold is reached. We definitely have no control over the deep basalt plumbing systems and can't drill anywhere near that deep and hot (Deepwater Horizon, which by most metrics is the deepest well drilled, reached 12 km depth in cold crust, not getting above 120 deg C , but in the Yellowstone area this would be almost certainly well above 500 C (perhaps 900-1100 C)...
Additionally the failure mode for hydrothermal cooling of the volcano is really bad. Explosive eruptions are basically triggered by the release of volatiles in magmatic systems (expanding gases in a magma froth as H20 and C02 come out of solution). As is stated a few times, the increase in temperature with depth above the magma chamber basically follows the increase in boiling point of water, so the system is essentially on a critical threshold. Perturbations to this can be quite bad because any volatilization of fluids in the system can cause a small phreatic (partially hydrothermal) eruption that could remove some shallow mass, which decreases the confining pressure at deeper depths and causes further volatilization due to decompression, leading to a runaway cascade of larger and larger eruptions culminating in a major magma-chamber-emptying eruption.
They mention this here: in any realistic system there is a possibility that, as we artificially extract heat energy out of the magma chamber, we could cause phase changes (e.g. volatiles coming out of solution) that would reduce the overall density causing expansion and cracking in the overburden, possibly opening a channel to the surface and precipitating an eruption.
Now also consider that n=3 over 2.1 million years. If this is a Poisson process, then the probability of an eruption in any given year is ~1.4e-6, or 1 in 1.4 million. Though the most recent 3 events are quasiperiodic (mean 0.7 M years apart, stdev 0.075 M years), before these 3 eruptions, the eruptive center was in a different spot farther to the southwest, and there was a 2.3 M year quiescence between events. I don't think there is any clarity over whether the next major eruption would occur in the same magma chamber as the previous several events or would form to the northeast towards Red Lodge, MT. So even in a periodic, geographically stationary system, which is sort of the most dangerous scenario, we could say that we're 90% of the way to the next eruption which therefore has an annual chance of happening of 1 in 140,000.
I think that any sort of mitigation efforts are still going to try to address a rather low probability event with uncertain technology, possibly in the wrong geographical location, and could trigger the event we are trying to forestall. At a certain cost of billions (pocket change w/r/t the costs of an eruption, sure), and the major modification of the first and probably most famous National Park (and therefore the permanent slandering of otherwise promising geothermal technology in the eyes of environmentalists). Not sure what the value proposition of all of this is but maybe our efforts could be spent elsewhere...
Why not just drill further away then, along the periphery? Shouldn't any additional geothermal exploitation necessarily help cool the thing? Yellowstone is a growing fever, and if it's not safe to put coldpacks on the forehead we may as well put them on the arms and legs.
Also, is there a reason why this is an effort from NASA, and not, say, the USGS?
The question for us is /when/: during our civilization, or after?
The asteroid problems should partly be solved with the advent of cheap space launch.
We are already producing way more food that people need. If we just stopped feeding it to cows, pigs and chicken, readjusted production for more vegetarian diet.
If crops fail, it's going to depend on what crops fail. We won't have the option of radically reapportioning our crops on the fly; while a pre-emptive move to vegetarianism might help, that's a radical solution for a problem that may happen every 20,000 years.
So, consider what happens. If crops like alfalfa end up more resilient, we probably won't eat those past their sprout stage. However, if they can feed rabbits, it may be incredibly valuable as an option.
However, we would absolutely be looking to prioritize vegetables that can be processed for either human or animal consumption, even if they're not particularly palatable. I think the real problem, however, is the calories that would be available from such.
I think it's fair to say that if the food dries up, we would cull herds early and prioritize the most efficient food sources. We would likely be eating much less meat, if at all. We would not have room to be picky with our food.
In the short term, we would probably end up eating a lot more meat -- most of the hundreds of millions of cows, pigs and chickens we could cull wouldn't be slaughtered at the optimal time, being too young or too old, but we'd still be insane not to preserve as much of the meat as possible.
> We won't have the option of radically reapportioning our crops on the fly...
We can't turn alfalfa into wheat or rice, nor grow rice or wheat in all places we now have pastures, but we will have the option to redirect the corn and soybeans we use for livestock feed. These feeds are produced to lower standards -- for instance, there are higher limits on residual pesticides -- but in a catastrophe it's better than nothing.
Grass-fed cows are slow to bulk up. That's why they are fed with much more calorie-rich food like grain.
It might be more efficient to distribute it as feed and just raise a bunch more egg layers in suburban lots. Probably faster than trying to stand up a bunch of mills right quick, too.
That's how they live in France.
On the other if you are in to save actual human lives, lack of food is going to be your biggest worry.
Increasing food supply production, efficiency, and resiliency are commendable goals in itself and should be done in conjunction in figuring out how to defuse the supervolcano.
Hmmm… In The Road they used the complete opposite strategy.
If that doesn't work, we'll resort to name calling and finger pointing.
Mining bitcoins costs lots of economic value (energy, hardware, personnel) and produces virtually none. It's extremely uneconomical in the purest sense of the term.
It's a subjective, often ephemeral phenomenon that emerges from the interactions of buyers and sellers. When I say "x has value y" all I'm saying is that in current market conditions, some human would be willing to sell x at price y and another human would be willing to buy x at price y.
So your statement that bitcoin mining is bad because it "costs value" and doesn't "produce value" is not really meaningful. And even if it were, the simple fact is that bitcoin mining is often profitable, depending on the cost of watts and ASICs.
Economic idealists tend to skip over the latter, probably because they have never faced poverty.
Rather than unscrambling numbers in pursuit of a diseased fantasy, compute could be put to work solving complex allocation problems, simulations, training, etc. to advance economic efficiency. For food production & distribution, water management, natural disaster mitigation, housing allocation, etc.
Economics is not built on finance. Finance is built on economics.
Bitcoin is valued because it functions as an [imperfect] form of money. People value it (aka are willing to exchange their dollars for it) because it lets them transact with other people in a way that is, barring massive computational power, immutable and uncensorable, and because it was the first system to do this and therefore has the longest history of transactions. There are plenty of valid criticisms of bitcoin, but it would be idiotic to deny that a currency which functions in this way would be valueless or not in demand. Some people are certainly fools, but nobody has to be a fool in order to explain a world in which bitcoin commands a high price.
It could, but it'd be wrong.
What would happen if nobody wanted to buy or receive BTC tomorrow? Some people would be very angry.
Now imagine what would happen if the dollar ceased to have any value? Unimaginable, isn't it? Economies would collapse, the whole world would be in disarray.
Recently, the president of Turkey said that they are in war with Bitcoin. This is exactly what happens when cronies manipulate money supply for their own benefit, but they can't do anything to stop people from choosing a better currency. Cronies get demonetized and finally they lose power. Same thing is happening in Africa in many countries.
Why would BTC be imune to that?
So, as long as people keep choosing to use Bitcoin rather than something else, it will also gain or hold its value. It is not immune to losing value, but there has to be even better currency, or it has to be banned. Both of these options might be impossible.
The energy is not used to append new transactions, but to keep the complete transaction history objectively immutable, i.e. the network is designed to defend digital property rights with energy.
Has this changed significantly? Just asking because you seem knowledgable
LN is trustless when you run your own node. When using a third-party node you have to trust the wallet/node provider to some extent.