Dust flux, Vostok ice core

Dust flux, Vostok ice core
Two dimensional phase space reconstruction of dust flux from the Vostok core over the period 186-4 ka using the time derivative method. Dust flux on the x-axis, rate of change is on the y-axis. From Gipp (2001).

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Henan provincial art museum

Managed a brief tour last week through the Henan provincial art gallery, which is in the Central Business District. The Arts Centre is a collection of golden easter eggs separated by a couple of glass "wings".

The art museum is the largest of the easter eggs. The others are for operas, ballets, and the like.

It's springtime, and the CBD is filled with wondrous, inexplicable things.

The workmen are cleaning the glass with great care.

. . . while the food deliverymen await orders.

We went on a nice Sunday. Perhaps the weather kept a lot of people away? This is the rather large entry hall.

Here is the doorman.

Most of the paintings seemed really familiar--not different from paintings in the Hubei provincial museum. It may have been a display by the same artists. Either that, or the style of painting is so similar, they all just seemed the same. Anyway, most of the paintings were of persimmon trees, ducks, geese, flowers, and so on.

One section that was different was the section devoted to Henan folk art. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with the stories behind them.

Vivian and Ivy with a friend.

Three dogs and a monkey.

Clay homestead.

We didn't end up spending a lot of time there, and I will have to go back next weekend. I am in Tokyo for the next few days.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Something new

I'm guessing this is a new bank in China.

Either that or it is a comment on the cost of building it.

From the Central Business District in Zhengzhou.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A picture of inflation in China

Lunch yesterday. Same price, notably smaller amount of food. Definitely fewer mushrooms.

Garlic price is up nearly 100%. I was shocked buying some last week. Sure, it isn't rising from a very high level. But for people here on the edge, every little bit hurts. Pork is up by about 50%

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The fire last time

It was very sudden. I was in our field office, just outside Accra, when a nearly indescribable racket began. It was if the most intense rainstorm in history suddenly broke upon us and our tin roof. I knew that it was sunny out--I had just been outside minutes earlier. I rushed to the window and looked out--and it was still bright and sunny. But the sound was localized now, outside and to my right, but out of sight. Heavy black smoke rose into the sky from the opposite side of the block wall that demarked our property boundary.

Outside, there was panic. The dogs and chickens had run to the northern part of our plot, and the grounds staff were in a panic. The flames were more than 10 m high, right up against the other side of the wall. The wind was blowing the fire away from us and across the overgrown neighbouring plot, away to the northeast. Small Kwame told me that Grandpa (our old security guard) had gotten drunk and used far too much petrol in burning the trash--the result was this fire that was now threatening to sweep through our neighbourhood.

Great, I thought. Canadian mining company burns down neighbourhood.

We always had the hose hooked up to the spigot. I turned on the water, but as usual, there was no pressure. Fortunately, we had an elevated water tank, where we stored water as it was normally out. Unfortunately, we only had a few buckets, and in seconds, we had an impromptu bucket brigade snaking its way across the overgrown yard. I tried not to think about snakes. We had spitting cobras, and once a green mamba.

Vegetation in the neighbouring plot. It wasn't quite this green when the 
fire happened, as it was the end of the dry season.

Unfortunately, our few buckets were able to accomplish very little against the raging fire. A little more manpower arrived from the neighbours on the opposite side of the property, with a few more buckets, but it was clear that we were losing ground rapidly. The wind had picked up, the fire had advanced about 200 m and was reaching the concrete shell erected on the neighbour's plot, blackening it. At this point I realized that we had better get to the crossroads and take advantage of the firebreak, otherwise the fire could burn through the entire town.

We ran. The flames were well over 10 m--the building was to be three stories and flames were higher than the building. It was the end of the dry season, and there was plenty of fuel in the neighbour's yard. The roads in our neighbourhood were laterite with some gravel. With only a few damp cloths, we crossed the road and chased down wind-borne flaming debris, stamping them out before they could spread. Luckily the yards on the far side of the crossroads were well kept, and there was little there to burn.

After about fifteen minutes, the fire backed up against the road and ran out of fuel.

The surreal moment of the day - I was still chasing down windblown sparks, when a woman emerged from one of the houses on our block. At this point the flames were right against the side of her house, and they were still higher than her house, but the fire was mainly confined to a narrow space between her house and that of her neighbour. She spies me, and begins walking toward me very deliberately. I kept chasing down sparks, and every time I looked up, she made eye contact and kept approaching. I was almost out of breath when she caught up to me. "Here it comes," I thought.

"Nice to see you," she says. "When did you get back? How was Canada?"

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Minority Report, part 2

Some time ago, we looked at minority groups in southern China, and discussed the reasons for so many different cultures in a relatively small area.

Today, I will take a brief look at some minority groups in northern China. Unfortunately, I haven't been to the areas where they hang out, but there's always next year.

The first observation we can make about these groups is that there are a lot fewer of them than in the south. I think the primary reason for this is that the type of inhospitable land in the north lends itself to a nomadic living scheme. Nomads have to travel long distances, hence cultural cross-pollination will occur over large distances, and you won't see the kind of cultural differentiation that you do in the south, where the inhospitable land is individual mountains.

A lot of the northern artifacts are not that different from other northern hemisphere nomadic peoples. Some of them were even reindeer herders (photos below taken at Nanning Museum of Nationalities in Nanning).

Oroqen outfits (a northern forest people)

Tobacco pouches

Described as Hezhe 'Theogony', these fish-skin masks are probably representations of deities.

Depictions of Hezhe shamen (pasted fish skin)

Hezhe shaman outfit

Uyghur artifacts.

Tibetan pavilion at the Nationalities' Court.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Dengue breaks out, and cools in Singapore

Last year was a relatively quiet year for dengue fever in Singapore, after the rather active years of 2013 and 2014. Ocean cooling may have been one factor, allowing the authorities anti-mosquito campaigns to make a little headway.

Late last year, the numbers began to increase, with a peak being hit early this year.

This year's initial peak is higher than any other in our data series, causing the Singaporean government to forecast in excess of 30,000 cases for 2016.

The general consensus on the cause of the spike in dengue cases has been the recent El Niño event, which normally elevates temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. By some accounts, this event has been one of the strongest on record (at least going by elevated temperatures). By some measures, the 1997-8 event was stronger. Now that the El Niño seems to be weakening, temperatures and the number of dengue cases should fall, at least until the normal seasonal warming period starts.

El Niño usually leads to warming in the Pacific ocean, with increased precipitation in the east, and reduced precipitation in the west. However, individual events have their own characteristics, and this last event differs from previous events in magnitude of warming in the central Pacific, the general lack of enhanced precipitation in western North America. Dengue outbreaks in the Phillipines and in Taiwan in late 2015 were blamed on the current El Niño event (Wendel, 2015).

Clusters of dengue cases are primarily in the eastern part of the island. Data from here, accessed on April 12.

Many of the clusters appear to be at the edges of recently developed land. These lands are those that are expected to be most marginal (i.e., low-lying, wet) and represent good breeding grounds for mosquitos. These lands have been developed recently to accommodate the rapid growth in population over the past sixteen years (according to the Singapore Department of Statistics, population has risen from 4.0 million in 2000 to over 5.5 million in 2016).

Comparison of Google Earth imagery over the past fifteen years in some of the clusters may provide some insight into the relationship between development, land use, and dengue clusters.

First up--Pas Siris. I chose this area as this is where I stayed with my family the last time I was in Singapore (just over three years ago).

Both images cover Pasir Ris and part of Tampines. The upper image was captured on February 8, 2005, and the lower image on February 25, 2015. The three transparent yellow polygons on the lower image represent identified dengue clusters as of April 12, 2016.

There has been some development during the ten years between the two images. But the most important development happened in the area beginning in 1983, before which the area was a low-lying area punctuated by small villages and kampongs.

Unfortunately, the area is so ordinary (cookie cutter buildings), that the only photos I can find of the place were of parakeets hiding in a tree outside my window at night.

One area where dengue clusters seem particularly abundant is Serangoon.

The top image is as the neighbourhood looked in 2008, whereas the lower image is the current imagery over the same area, with dengue clusters (as of April 12, 2016) superimposed on the image. If you were to locate the imagery next week or next month, you will probably find the clusters will have moved, but you will still find plenty in the area.

Very little development has occurred in the interim between the two pictures. The area is another low-lying area (although this is pretty common in Singapore). The name of the neighbourhood is proposed to have come from the name of a bird common to the swamps of the area. There are still a number of green spaces in the area, so perhaps there is a problem with local drainage.

If I were to change anything about my original thesis, that the dengue outbreaks combined natural warming with recent development of marginal (swampy) land in order to settle large numbers of immigrants, it would be to remove the word "recent". Most of Singapore was swampy, and swampy is as swampy does.


Wendel, J., 2015. Dengue fever epidemics linked with El Nino, study says. Eos, 96, doi: 10.1029/2015EO037169. Published October 9, 2015.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Wuhan does geoscience

One of the lesser-known sights in Wuhan is the University of Geosciences. The campus in Wuhan seems mainly to be the undergraduate campus, whereas the graduate school for geology is in Beijing.

The first notable building seen from the main road is the museum, which is rather striking.

I knew that the museum was along the road here somewhere, but I didn't expect it to stand out like this. Travel blogs had stated that there was an entire forest of petrified wood nearby. In fact there were only a few pieces.

Other rocks on display outside the museum included stromatolites and a big chunk of "peony stone", which is some sort of porphyry.

I had heard all sorts of outrageous numbers about the number of students at the University of Geosciences. Numbers exceeding 100,000 from a certain site more well known for pumping stocks. According to this site, there are just over 25,000 students, but there are numerous programs.

This number of students is awfully impressive compared to those in geological programs in countries with geology in their history--Canada, for instance.

The campus itself is something of a disappointment.

Obligatory sculpture of a guy with a geologist's hammer.

Aging, nondescript buildings

A gate

The place was dead, but then we had just entered the spring holiday.

Even the museum has seen better days. My first day in Wuhan, it was closed. It was only going to open on the weekend, and only for a limited number of people.

It was cold inside. Apparently, they don't heat the building in the winter on the days when it is closed.


I think this is the part inside the big ball.

An early seismometer. Probably every museum in China has one of these.

Like all museums, fossils are front and centre. Unfortunately, the lighting was terrible in a lot of the galleries, so

One of the main reasons to visit geoscience museums in China. Dinosaur eggs

Good dinosaur fossils are common at all three geoscience museums I visited (the one in Nanning was closed, seemingly permanently, and I couldn't locate the one in Guilin). Henan province, where I am staying, is home to many of the best dinosaur-fossil locales.

The other reason to visit geoscience museums in China. Feathered dinosaur fossils.