Archive for May 2011

Is oil a renewable resource?

May 30, 2011

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Virtually all oil and natural gas reservoirs are associated with salt domes or similar “piercement structures”, such as mud volcanoes and shale diapirs (not diaper, diapir!). A salt dome occurs when unbelievably thick layers of sea salts like sodium chloride (halite) and calcium sulfate (gypsum) are rapidly smothered by unbelievably thick layers of more dense sediments. Add a little shaking from tectonic activity, and the salt finds a gap and oozes its way to the surface. Below is a U. S. Geological Survey seismic image of a mud diapir off the California coast:

Seismic image of a mud diapir. Notice how the mud has pushed through layers above it.

In 2005, deep sea researchers Martin Hovland, Ian Macdonald, and others discovered what they described as an asphalt volcano in the Gulf of Mexico:

Diagram of an asphalt volcano from 1) the channel formed through the salt dome (2). 3-6 are various hydrocarbon products

Since the discovery of the Chapopte asphalt volcanoes, other asphalt volcanoes have been discovered, and while actual samples have not been collected, it sure looks like there is an asphalt volcano on Mars!

Possible asphalt volcanism on Mars. If you have Google Earth on your computer, select "Mars", then "fly to" Hebes Chasma, and you can see it.

Just like the majority of petroleum discoveries man has made, the asphalt volcanoes are associated with salt domes. But why is that? Is there a relationship between the formation of all that salt and all that oil and gas? Well, a theory being proposed by Martin Hovland suggests that both the salt and the oil are being generated next to magmatic heat engines:

Heat from the magma chamber generates warm water, which rises. Cold water rushes in through cracks in the sediments to replace this water. In the process, it reacts with hot rocks, forming petroleum products. It also turns into a supercritical fluid, which causes the sea salts to precipitate out (turn to solid).

Yes, you read the caption above correctly, water + rock + heat = oil! Actually, NOAA has studied it quite a bit at a place called Lost City in the Atlantic:

NOAA image of Lost City, where researchers found clues about serpentinization.

The reaction is usually between a rock called olivine, water, and carbon dioxide. Here is one of many complex reactions referred to as serpentinization:

one of many possible reactions

Below is a graph showing the relationship of trace metals from Brazilian crude oil compared to trace metals in serpentinized rock from the mantle. The research by Peter Szatmari and others was published in 2010 in an online textbook (click here):

Trace metals in Brazilian oil compared to their amounts in serpentinized mantle. Research by Peter Szatmari and others (see above for link to their research)

One conclusion from the graph above is that most of the crude oil in Brazil, and everywhere else (including Mars!) was formed by serpentinization that is still going on today. Oil is not a “fossil fuel”. It was probably not formed by dead dinosaurs, flamingoes, and algae dying and slowly decomposing on the ocean floor over millions of years. And even if dead plants and animals were the source, they would have to be buried rapidly, all over the world, since oil is found all over the world.

Think about what this means. If we can develop drilling techniques that can handle even more high temperature, high pressure (HTHP) situations than they do right now, we just may find more oil and gas than we could ever use! Also, notice that in the reaction shown above, carbon dioxide (CO2) is a reactant, which means that for those who believe excess carbon dioxide is heating the earth, all you need to do is find a way to pump it down to one of these undersea heat engines, and carbon dioxide will be consumed (sequestered). Researchers are already trying to figure out how to do this. And while we are on the subject of greenhouse gases, did you know that water is a much worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide? Think about that while you are thinking about how oil and gas may not be as “evil” as some people try to make them seem.

We should be VERY glad that the formation of oil-trapping piercement structures has slowed down today from a more rapid rate in the past. The tectonic activity (earthquakes) involved as lower density salts, gases, and oils pushed through sediments all over the world must have been tremendous. I would speculate that most of this was formed rapidly during the global cataclysm described in Genesis, and most of the piercement structures moved upward during this time, before sediments had a chance to do much compacting and lithifying (turning to rock). Most of these heat engines have cooled considerably, but they do still carry out the process of serpentinization, and with the right tools, it is something we could manipulate.

If there is really a whole lot more oil and gas than we are led to believe by major media outlets and many government leaders, this also means that gasoline prices should drop once we learn how to get to more of this oil. It also means that America’s current desires to make ethanol from corn could be a waste of time. If you are a person who thinks we should halt all oil drilling to “save the planet”, I encourage you to think again. Think instead about encouraging better and safer technology to extract oil and gas from deeper, hotter sections of salt domes in places like the Gulf of Mexico. We don’t need to “save the planet”, we need to manage the planet wisely, and we all need to think harder about how to do that.

Texas Freedom Network promotes creationism hysteria and bigotry

May 9, 2011

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The Texas Freedom Network (TFN) is a curious group. On the one hand, they print articles claiming that some groups and individuals are promoting anti-Muslim “Sharia hysteria“. TFN considers such people “bigots”, people who are utterly intolerant of beliefs and opinions that are different from theirs. On the other hand, TFN is a big promoter of “creationism hysteria”, and they are quite intolerant, or bigoted, towards creationists, who might also happen to be Muslims! TFN frequently paints creationists as “anti-science“. In a recent press release, TFN, along with the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), “warned” Texans about some creationist materials that could possibly be used in Texas’ public schools. Here is a quote from the press release:

Science in Texas public schools would take a shocking leap backward if the State Board of Education approves newly proposed instructional materials that promote creationism and reject established, mainstream science on evolution, spokespeople for the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) said today. In addition, public schools using those creationism-based materials could face expensive legal challenges even as they struggle with massive budget cuts at state and local levels.

“Two years ago State Board of Education members thumbed their noses at the science community and approved new curriculum standards that opened the door to creationism and junk science,” said TFN President Kathy Miller. “Now they are getting exactly what they wanted — the chance to make Texas the poster child for the creationist movement. The state board would be aiding and abetting wholesale academic fraud and dumbing down the education of millions of Texas kids if it doesn’t reject these materials.”

If you are on TFN’s bandwagon of promoting “creationist hysteria”, I want you to please STOP for a minute and THINK about this. The concerns TFN and NCSE have are about this proposed curriculum’s treatment of origins. And origins research is not real science, but is speculation about natural history. The American philosopher Mortimer Adler made this distinction a long time ago, but some choose to ignore it. The only thing that will “dumb down” science education in Texas is if groups like TFN and NCSE continue to overemphasize questions about origins while neglecting the importance of teaching real science and math. The NCSE exists for the sole purpose of defending the teaching of evolutionism, not science. Their purpose is not to defend the teaching of science, or its language, mathematics. And by the way, Texas is one of many states that suffers from a longstanding shortage of math and science teachers. According to University of Texas researchers:

“The number of non-certified teachers covering math and science can rise to as much as 50 percent for some classes of students,” said Dr. Michael P. Marder, a physics professor who co-directs the UTeach initiative in Natural Sciences. “And in computer sciences, nearly 75 percent of the teachers are not appropriately certified.”  

A biblical, Christian worldview does not promote the dumbing down of science, it promotes the advancement of it. There is no conflict between a person’s faith in God’s word and their ability to understand the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, supercritical fluids, proteomes, etc. A proper reading and application of Scripture actually promotes science. Groups like NCSE and TFN promote bigotry and creationist hysteria when they say people with creationist beliefs are “anti-science,” and that a curriculum that dares to make the connection that things that look like they were designed might indeed have a Designer could “dumb down” Texas science education. The idea of intelligent causes is taught in the curriculum created by International Databases, LLC. As this International Business Times article describes, the curriculum uses a “null hypothesis” that intelligence was behind the origin of life. In other words, the null hypothesis is that things that look designed were in fact, designed. The alternative hypothesis is that things that look designed were in fact, not designed! Now honestly, how reasonable is that? Well, it is not reasonable at all, and the null-hypothesis is about as close as you can get to a self-evident truth.

Something else to consider about the supplementary curriculum proposed by International Databases is that when they talk about “intelligence,” they are not necessarily talking about the God of the Bible, but as author Stephen Sample says in the International Business Times article, the intelligence could be aliens. And some biology textbooks have already included chapters about aliens.

Later on in the press release, TFN and NCSE state:

Mainstream scientists have repeatedly shown that those arguments [about intelligent design] lack scientific merit. Moreover, in 2005 a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled in Kitzmiller v. Dover that teaching intelligent design in public schools unconstitutionally promotes creationism.

Actually, what mainstream scientists have shown us is that there are limits to genetic change. An honest evolutionist will tell you that evolution theory cannot predict future results, which makes it the most un-scientific theory currently in existence. I cannot think of any other theories that claim to be scientific but have zero ability to predict future trends.

Regarding the TFN press release statement on Kitzmiller v. Dover, this is correct. The trial concluded that teaching creationism is unconstitutional. The trial did not show that evolution was scientific and creation/intelligent design was not. The PBS program NOVA made a documentary of the trial titled Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. Although the documentary was biased towards evolutionism, they did a fairly good job of showing both sides, acting out the trial using direct quotes from individuals involved. Watch the documentary, and at about 1:17 to 1:22, you can see how the scientific case for evolution did not win out over intelligent design, so the plaintiffs switched to the “religious argument”.

So, the Dover v. Kitzmiller case declares creationism is unconstitutional, and a violation of the First Amendment, where the American government is to “make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” But what is creationism? Ultimately, it is an idea used to explain origins. But wait, that’s what evolution is as well! Evolution is an idea used by some to explain how God brought about life. People who believe this are called theistic evolutionists. Others who simply “believe” evolution explains life’s origins are also being religious, because there is no way to prove evolution, so to believe it and promote it at the exclusion of other ideas about origins is a faith-based, but bigoted, way to think.

So, while TFN and NCSE promote creationism hysteria and warn about impending lawsuits, what might well happen is that they will be on the losing end of any legal battles they initiate. Dover v. Kitzmiller could be overturned. Proclaiming that people who believe God created are “anti-science” is unreasonable. Saying evolutionary explanations about origins are “scientific” is also unreasonable, because answering questions about origins is outside the limits of science. The Texas Freedom Network and NCSE are not about the advancement of science and math education, but they are about promoting creationism hysteria. Whether you are a creationist or not, please think carefully about the fact that what these two groups promote will actually damage science education instead of advance it. When groups like TFN and NCSE tell someone they are being “anti-science” because they believe that a thing that looks designed might in fact, have a designer, they are discouraging students from diving deeper into math and science. I wonder what would happen to Texas’ math and science teacher shortage if groups like TFN and NCSE actually encouraged people who believe in a Designer instead of discouraging them by labeling them “anti-science”? Since polls consistently reveal that most people believe in an Intelligent Designer, I would say TFN’s and NCSE’s current mantra discourages a lot of rational people from pursuing math and science careers.

Black Skimmer

May 6, 2011

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The Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) is my favorite bird. It is a bird with incredible abilities. Below is a photo of a Black Skimmer that will help you see where it got the name “skimmer”:

Copyright 2010, David E. Shormann, PhD

As you can see in the photo below, the skimmer family (Rynchopidae) differs from all other bird families because their bottom mandible, or bill, is much longer than their upper mandible:

Copyright 2011, David E. Shormann, PhD

The longer, knifelike lower mandible, or bill, helps the Black Skimmer catch fish. The base of the bill is red-orange and the tip is black. The bird flies slowly along leeward shorelines, where wave action is less pronounced, and skims its lower bill just beneath the surface. Precision flying is required to keep the bill in the water for any distance, and the relatively long wings (up to 48 inches) of the skimmer, relative to its body (16-20 inches), help it maintain a level glide. Notice the long wings in the photo below:

Copyright 2011, David E. Shormann, PhD

When a fish hits the Black Skimmer’s lower bill, the bird’s head will automatically bend down and back, which traps the fish. The skimmer then flies up and swallows the fish. Here’s a short YouTube video by EstuaryLiveTV showing a Black Skimmer capturing a fish:

If the skimmer’s fish-catching techniques are not impressive enough, consider that it also does this at night! That is why its upper surface is black, to camouflage it for night-fishing. Also, notice when its bill is open, the only color a fish that is in front of it would see is black. It would not see the orange-red section. What an incredible design!

The skimmer family, Rynchopidae, consists of only two other species, one from Africa (R. flavirostris) and the other from Asia (R. Albicollis). All skimmers look essentially the same, with slight differences in color patterns and calls. All skimmers live along rivers and estuaries, and lay their eggs on open areas like sandy beaches and shell reefs. They typically nest in colonies, often with other birds like terns. Here is a video of a small Black Skimmer colony nesting in a remote section of East Matagorda Bay in Texas. Listen for the distinct “kaup” call of the Black Skimmer, compared to the terns that are also quite vocal:

Black Skimmers, like many other bird species (and like humans are supposed to do!), mate with one individual for life. After the eggs are laid, the couple takes turns incubating them. In the following photo, the mate farthest from the camera is incubating a pair of eggs:

Copyright 2011, David E. Shormann, PhD

According to the Outdoor Alabama website, the typical Black Skimmer clutch averages four eggs.   The pair above only had two eggs, and this could be because 1) the female still had more eggs to lay, or 2) storms washed the other eggs away. Black Skimmers along the Gulf of Mexico Coast typically lay their eggs in May, and the eggs take about 3 weeks to hatch. Here is a photo of this couple’s clutch in early May, 2011:

Copyright 2011, David E. Shormann, PhD

As you can tell, the eggs are designed to be camouflaged against their shelly background. See if you can find the same eggs in the photo below. Click on the photo to enlarge it:

Copyright 2011, David E. Shormann, PhD

Give up? They are in the top right corner of the photo.

If you are not impressed by the incredible design of the Black Skimmer, then I’m afraid nothing will impress you! In His goodness, God made this bird incredibly special and unique. Some bird groups, a.k.a. “baramins”, like warblers, have more diversity since the Genesis Flood, but not skimmers. Three “species” (maybe not really species?) exist worldwide. Skimmers catch dinner by skimming their enlarged lower mandible through shallow water, somehow avoiding all underwater obstacles (I’ve never seen a skimmer “crash!”), and they even do it on the blackest of  nights! They lay well-camouflaged eggs, and the parents, who mate for life, take turn incubating the eggs and raising the young. Awesome!

Click here for a coloring page of the Black Skimmer. Remember, the Black Skimmer is black on top, so use the thin line that is beneath the eye as your border between the black and white.