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Old 06-30-2009, 02:06 PM   #41
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One notable difference between appliance manufacturers and car manufacturers-while auto quality has been improving over the last 30 years, I'd guess appliance quality has been going down. I think this is largely a result of different consumer pressures--people want their car to last a long time (especially since car loans are now 7+ years) and there's lots of data on long-term car quality. It's much harder to find hard data on expected appliance longevity (especially since models change so often) and people just don't care as much because the out-of-pocket expenses are much lower.

I wonder how much embedded energy is in a typical mid-size ICE car. I'll bet the energy savings from extending its life a few years would make it competitive, from a total energy standpoint, with a higher MPG car that is replaced more often. That thinner sheet metal (that rusts out faster) and that lighter frame (that results in the insurance company "totaling" the car after a crash rather than fixing it) will result in higher MPG, but at the expense of fewer years (on average) on the road.
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Old 06-30-2009, 05:36 PM   #42
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This reminds me of a noise study I was conducting recently in a rural area where I measured approx 44 dBA in the woods where it was very calm and quiet. Just the leaves and trees rustling in a gentle breeze and some minor insect and bird noise, plus the occasional far distance noise of an airplane flying overhead at 30000 ft or a truck on the highway a few miles away. I move my noise detection equipment 1000 feet off into the woods near a small pond, and the noise levels jump up to 57-59 dBA. Frogs are loud. All of this out in the middle of nowhere. Yet natural ambient noises were measured over 57 dBA - louder than that wind turbine. When I teach my class on Noise Impacts Analysis, I always tell my classes (jokingly) that those darn frogs are violating the municipal noise ordinance!
Coqui frogs are problem in many Hawaiian island (luckily not Oahu so much). The state is trying to eliminate them because noise levels can reach the 80-90 db level.
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Old 06-30-2009, 06:19 PM   #43
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Commercial nuclear is more of a "right now" solution than solar or wind, believe it or not, and I'm impressed with the latest generation of pebble-bed reactors. Their physics allow for much better safety & maintenance designs than current pressurized-water or boiling-water systems, helium doesn't turn as radioactive as water-based systems, and the fuel pellets are a lot easier to handle than fuel bundles. Of course I don't have any personal operational experience beyond what I read about them. Maybe one of the commercial operators can add their experience here.

But instead of adding more power-generation capability, I think a higher ROI will come from modernizing the grid, imposing more stringent EnergyStar criteria, and offering more customer incentives. A funny thing happens when you pay people to use less energy: they use less energy. It's a lot cheaper than the cost of designing and building new infrastructure, whether it's nuclear or "green". If the auto manufacturers could respond to CAFE the way that appliance manufacturers respond to EnergyStar ratings, we'd all be throwing away our cars every 10 years in favor of the fuel-cost savings offered by the latest models improving their efficiency from 100 mpg to 200 mpg to 400 mpg.
It seems me that an increase use of nuclear has got to be part of our energy solution because they generate a lot of power in a small space. The book made realize that energy density (KW/H per square meter) of renewables is really low.

For instance one of the projects I looking at investing is algae biodiesel facility. The plant has lots of things going for it. It based in Hawaii which gets lots of strong sunlight, it will be located near sources of CO2 and use nutrient rich agricultural waste water, The guys involved are real smart MIT PHds and have lots of experience in the field and have developed some proprietary technology.. In all it is probably its energy density is 2-3x better than anything in the mainland, 5-10x more efficient than DOE bioalgae experiments in the 80s and 90s and 10-20x better than crop based bio diesel. That is the good news.

The bad news is will require 6 square miles! of land on Oahu, which is roughly 40% of the unused former suger cane and pineapple fields. It will cost $600 million and produces 1.2 million barrels of diesel a year. Now considering that the bigger refinary in the state processes 35 million barrels a year, it is literally a drop in the bucket. Nor should we kid ourselves algae is messy and it stinks so neighbors won't be happy.


I agree about improving the grid, but I am skeptical that people will respond to economic incentives that are in the form over the long run it will save you money. Both CFL and solar water heaters have been around for years and the majority of people havn't adopted either one.

One of the disadvantages of electronic bill pay is I suspect I am not alone in not paying attention to my utlity bills like I use. Now days I simply get a notification, your electric bill is $125 and it is due by the 20th, I click pay and I;m done. In Hawaii, and I think other places the the price for KW/H fluxuates depending on oil prices. So I can't see at glance if installing a bunch of CFL made a difference without digging through the bill. People discount future savings a lot, cause we are short-term society.

I suspect they are also somewhat skeptical of future savings claims with good reason. One think I do know is that lifetime claims of CFLs are exaggerated. I made a back of the envelope calculation on the number of CFLs I should go through in my lifetime and I've already exceed that number. I also noticed that in looking at the history of wind projects in Hawaii, almost every turbine in the state has been replaced/retired long before its useful life....
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Old 06-30-2009, 07:40 PM   #44
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The book made realize that energy density (KW/H per square meter) of renewables is really low.

For instance one of the projects I looking at investing is algae biodiesel facility. ..
This company says they have a process that uses bioreactors filled with the needed catalysts from living organisms (not the organisms themselves) to produce hydrocarbon fuels from waste CO2. The process supposedly takes less than an hour. The type of input energy needed wasn't specified, but if it is heat rather than light, it might significantly reduce the amount of land needed to make these products.

I wonder if this process (taking CO2 waste from coal power plants to make gasoline) will make the green brigades happy. The carbon is still being released (albeit after producing many more BTUs). Is it considered "renewable" if the underlying feedstock is coal?
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Old 06-30-2009, 08:00 PM   #45
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This company says they have a process that uses bioreactors filled with the needed catalysts from living organisms (not the organisms themselves) to produce hydrocarbon fuels from waste CO2. The process supposedly takes less than an hour. The type of input energy needed wasn't specified, but if it is heat rather than light, it might significantly reduce the amount of land needed to make these products.

I wonder if this process (taking CO2 waste from coal power plants to make gasoline) will make the green brigades happy. The carbon is still being released (albeit after producing many more BTUs). Is it considered "renewable" if the underlying feedstock is coal?

That looks interesting, although I note the company is a penny stock and I don't see any financial info on the website, just press releases.

The algae company also takes CO2 from the local power plant and injects into the algae tank. The difference is this company uses some chemical catalyst where as the algae uses photosynthesis but both ultimately transform CO2 into fuel.

The CEO of the Algae company explained that when the fuel is burned CO2 is ultimately released, but because they recycle the CO2,that get 3x the energy per ton of CO2.
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Old 06-30-2009, 08:52 PM   #46
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The bad news is will require 6 square miles! of land on Oahu, which is roughly 40% of the unused former suger cane and pineapple fields. It will cost $600 million and produces 1.2 million barrels of diesel a year. Now considering that the bigger refinary in the state processes 35 million barrels a year, it is literally a drop in the bucket. Nor should we kid ourselves algae is messy and it stinks so neighbors won't be happy.
You're selling the heck out of this! How many square miles does the city landfill take up, and when is it closing?

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I agree about improving the grid, but I am skeptical that people will respond to economic incentives that are in the form over the long run it will save you money. Both CFL and solar water heaters have been around for years and the majority of people havn't adopted either one.
I agree that people don't want to (or don't have the capital to) invest in almost anything requiring a payback. (I can think of half-a-dozen perpetual complainers/fence-sitters on my street alone.) Maybe that's why the state finally gave up and mandated solar water on all new residential construction.

OTOH I think the CFL coupons and EnergyStar rebate programs have been successful. (At one point HECO had a four-month backlog in the rebate processing.) They've also persuaded a lot of people to sign up for $3/month rebates for installing the electric water heater load-shedding devices. If HECO did a second round of load-shedder rebates for refrigerators, or offered to buy people out of their garage fridges, or went to time-of-day metering, then I think those programs would be just as successful as the Mainland.

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One of the disadvantages of electronic bill pay is I suspect I am not alone in not paying attention to my utlity bills like I use.
Never thought of that. You make a very good point. I'm one of the nukes who dutifully clicks through all the links, puts the latest data in my spreadsheet, and updates my graphs. Perhaps I'm the only one.

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I suspect they are also somewhat skeptical of future savings claims with good reason. One think I do know is that lifetime claims of CFLs are exaggerated. I made a back of the envelope calculation on the number of CFLs I should go through in my lifetime and I've already exceed that number. I also noticed that in looking at the history of wind projects in Hawaii, almost every turbine in the state has been replaced/retired long before its useful life....
Yep. But FWIW I've done the CFL calculations in our home, and they've paid for themselves even if they don't last as long as advertised. As they keep getting cheaper and more reliable then the payback will get even shorter. Another unexpected advantage is how much cooler they are in small rooms (bathrooms) than incandescent lights.

I'm hoping wind turbines follow the same development curve-- especially the wind farm on Maui.
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Old 06-30-2009, 09:04 PM   #47
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Interestingly enough, we import more oil from Canada, Mexico and Venezuela than any Arab state. Not that Venezuela likes us that much...

Crude Oil and Total Petroleum Imports Top 15 Countries
This is true, but not really that important. The price of oil is set by world markets. It doesn't really matter where the molecules actually come from, our consumption supports prices that eventually find there way into producer's pockets, whether we buy directly from them or not. Similarly, if Venezuela stopped selling directly to us, they'd have to sell to someone else. Presumably that would free up oil to come here at the same price +/- transportation differentials. Talking about whom we buy oil from is a bit of a non-issue except that it makes a good sound bite.
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Old 06-30-2009, 09:21 PM   #48
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Commercial nuclear is more of a "right now" solution than solar or wind, believe it or not
Wind is competitive when natural gas is in the $6-$7 / Mmbtu range (which most people think will be the long-run average price). The problem with wind is that it runs mostly when you don't need it . . . at night and in the spring and fall. That fact will keep wind a marginal player indefinitely.

Nuclear is not really an economically viable option unless you're assuming a high price for carbon dioxide emissions or really high natural gas prices. The upfront cost of a new nuclear plant is estimated to be about 7x the cost of a combined cycle gas plant. Cost over runs will likely push the real cost higher. You need a pretty high assumed gas price over the life of the plant to recover the high up front cost on nuclear.


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But instead of adding more power-generation capability, I think a higher ROI will come from modernizing the grid, imposing more stringent EnergyStar criteria, and offering more customer incentives. A funny thing happens when you pay people to use less energy: they use less energy.
Actually a lot of emphasis is being put on this. In some parts of the country "demand response" (industrial users agreeing to scale back usage when needed, and for a price) is being bid into supply planning and competing against new generation proposals. A lot of investment is going into "time of use meters" for residential customers that will eventually allow you and me to do the same thing.

It will be interesting to see how this works out. Relying on an industrial customer to shed load when power demand is high isn't the same thing as flipping a switch to a power plant you control. I can see either power shortages, or unexpectedly high prices, or both down the road. But we'll probably get the kinks worked out after a crisis or two.
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Old 06-30-2009, 09:22 PM   #49
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Talking about whom we buy oil from is a bit of a non-issue except that it makes a good sound bite.
Exactly. If we want "hostile" producers of petroleum to make less money, then we should try to reduce the price of oil. The most direct ways to do that are to use less of it (reduce demand) or drill for more of our own (increase supply). Both come at a cost which may or may not be worth paying.
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Old 06-30-2009, 09:35 PM   #50
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Nuclear is not really an economically viable option unless you're assuming a high price for carbon dioxide emissions or really high natural gas prices. The upfront cost of a new nuclear plant is estimated to be about 7x the cost of a combined cycle gas plant.
I hope the high cost of nuclear plants come down, and believe that this is already occurring. Much of the high cost was due to certification/licensing issues that drove costs through the roof due to past public/political opposition. That's certainly changing. In addition, the advent of modular reactors will be a big plus. Built in a factory, in jigs and in a controlled environment, all of them identical--as one would build a ship rather than the site-built reactors we have today. This has the potential to significantly reduce up-front costs, slash decommissioning costs, and also improve safety (identical designs and construction=all sites directly benefit from the experiences of others. Identified weak points fixed across the "fleet", etc).

I wonder how robust our nuclear fuels infrastructure is today. For years the commercial side benefited from the processing/enrichment activities of military weapons construction. That work has been at a very low level in recent years. I'll bet lots of the players in the commercial fuels side have left the field over the past 25 years.
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Old 07-01-2009, 09:03 PM   #51
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I hope the high cost of nuclear plants come down, and believe that this is already occurring. Much of the high cost was due to certification/licensing issues that drove costs through the roof due to past public/political opposition. That's certainly changing. In addition, the advent of modular reactors will be a big plus.
That was the the theory. Reality sometimes has different ideas . . . http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/29/bu...nt/29nuke.html

Even without cost over runs the plants are extraordinarily expensive. Progress Energy (a FL utility) estimates that it's proposed 2,200MW Levy Plant will cost about $14 billion (assuming everything goes according to plan). Meanwhile a TX power company (Energy Future Holdings) is currently building two coal plants totaling 2,200MW for $3.25 billion.
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Old 07-04-2009, 03:21 PM   #52
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Had some really idle time on my hands, browsing the net. Found some first hand logs by a person living near a large windfarm. This bears on the earlier discussion in this thread regarding lalrge megawatt capacity windfarms.

An excerpt from his daily log, http://betterplan.squarespace.com/th...%2009.pdfwhich, and http://betterplan.squarespace.com/th...8-Jan%2009.pdf he has kept for a long time.

...."can hear as soon as I step on the porch. Turbine 4 45.6dba – 64.7dbc. Turbine 73
42.9 dba – 55 dbc. #73 is 2480’ from house.
August 28 –
7:15 AM Wind S calm, turbine 4 46.5dba – 61.6dbc. Turbines 4 & 73 sound like
they are fighting with each other as to who can be louder. Really this is far from the
loudest sound the turbines make.
8:00 AM Wind S, 5 knots. The air is filled with turbine sounds from a jet flying
over to whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. It is nauseating today. It is difficult to work outside in
the yard. I don’t get headaches very often, but I feel one coming on today. Turbine 4,
17rpms, 45.7dba – 61dbc. Turbine 73 14.6rpms, 47.4dba – 63.9dbc. I can hear the turbine
noise in the computer room as I write this. Keep in mind turbine 4 is 1560’ and turbine 73
is 2480’ from my house. I can also hear turbine 6 and others this morning. The air seems
dense with clouds. My13 year old son just got up which is 11:50 AM. He told me the
turbines were very loud last night and he was awake every hour. He recited each hour by
number. Now he also has a headache.
9:35 PM Wind calm All the turbines I can see are not turning."

Note the difference in noise with dbA vs dbC readings. Glad I'm not the poor sap having to deal with this or to keep the log.

I have searched GE, Gamesa and a few other makers of large wind generators documentations. No noise studies on any of them, at least not accessible to websurfers.

A lot more info available on this website:Better Plan: The Trouble With Industrial Wind Farms in Wisconsin - Today's Special Feature

Edit add: if the links a top do not work, use the link at the bottom, page down, to where it says "download files" select Brownsville Diary.
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Old 07-04-2009, 03:49 PM   #53
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Shame, I feel for those people. I hope they find out why the generators near their houses are making so much noise.
At 1300 feet, we can't hear the one near our relatives place in Iowa.
Perhaps an older model?
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Old 07-04-2009, 04:37 PM   #54
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That was the the theory. Reality sometimes has different ideas . . . http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/29/bu...nt/29nuke.html
The NYT calls the Olkiluoto reactor a modular design, but Areva's literature doesn't refer to it as one (see .pdf at Pressurized Water Reactor - 1600 MWe (EPR) - Nuclear Street - Nuclear Power Portal ) and we wouldn't expect a modular reactor (capable of being transported by road, rail, or ship from production facility to site and eventually to decomissioning/internment location) to also be "The most powerful reactor ever built . . . " (from NYT piece). Regardless, the problems at this first-of-its-kind reactor appear to be due to shoddy construction (incorrect concrete mixes, boring of holes in containment vessel in the wrong locations, etc) and the godawful weather at this location rather than anything inherent in the reactor design.

It amuses me when the anti-nuclear folks (and I'm not saying anyone in this discussion falls into this group) do everything possible to slow down the permitting process of nuclear reactors, then cite delays and cost overruns as a reason for rejecting nuclear power. Well, maybe "amuses" isnt the right word.

Choose safe designs, build them right, provide good training and oversight, and there's plenty of evidence that nuclear plants can produce power with less polution and less risk to life (considering the whole fuel/waste cycle) than alternatives.
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Old 07-04-2009, 05:31 PM   #55
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It's a bit off-topic, ....

....
Carbon has several isotopes, variations on the carbon atom with different atomic masses. Biological processes tend to produce hydrocarbon compounds with different isotope ratios than non-biological processes, as the different carbon isotopes have slightly different levels of biological activity courtesy of the different atomic masses....
Sorry to drag this up, but I could not let this go. As a practicing biochemist, I don't believe the above statement is true. Biological processes cannot distinguish isotopes of carbon. There is no difference in biological activity courtesy of the different atomic masses.

Or do you have some authoritative source that says otherwise?

Now if different isotope ratios existed at different times and the biological processes occurred at a different time than the non-biological processes, then perhaps the ratios of isotopes would indicate something.
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Old 07-04-2009, 06:14 PM   #56
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Sorry to drag this up, but I could not let this go. As a practicing biochemist, I don't believe the above statement is true. Biological processes cannot distinguish isotopes of carbon. There is no difference in biological activity courtesy of the different atomic masses.

Or do you have some authoritative source that says otherwise?

Now if different isotope ratios existed at different times and the biological processes occurred at a different time than the non-biological processes, then perhaps the ratios of isotopes would indicate something.
The following article from Wikipedia suggests that there is a "small difference" between the ratios of naturally occurring isotopes and that incorporated into living organisms and that this must be corrected for in carbon dating studies. (See the part in red.)

Radiocarbon dating, or carbon dating, is a radiometric dating method that uses the naturally occurring radioisotope carbon-14 (14C) to determine the age of carbonaceous materials up to about 60,000 years.[1] Raw, i.e. uncalibrated, radiocarbon ages are usually reported in radiocarbon years "Before Present" (BP), "Present" being defined as AD 1950. Such raw ages can be calibrated to give calendar dates.
One of the most frequent uses of radiocarbon dating is to estimate the age of organic remains from archaeological sites. When plants fix atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) into organic material during photosynthesis they incorporate a quantity of 14C that approximately matches the level of this isotope in the atmosphere (a small difference occurs because of isotope fractionation, but this is corrected after laboratory analysis). After plants die or they are consumed by other organisms (for example, by humans or other animals) the 14C fraction of this organic material declines at a fixed exponential rate due to the radioactive decay of 14C. Comparing the remaining 14C fraction of a sample to that expected from atmospheric 14C allows the age of the sample to be estimated.
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Old 07-04-2009, 06:59 PM   #57
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Sorry to drag this up, but I could not let this go. As a practicing biochemist, I don't believe the above statement is true. Biological processes cannot distinguish isotopes of carbon. There is no difference in biological activity courtesy of the different atomic masses.

Or do you have some authoritative source that says otherwise?

Now if different isotope ratios existed at different times and the biological processes occurred at a different time than the non-biological processes, then perhaps the ratios of isotopes would indicate something.
I know it looks surprising, if not downright wrong, but it is a real effect. The difference in mass between Carbon-13 and Carbon-12 is sufficient that kinetic reaction effects can favor one isotope over another in reaction products.

There's a paper that gets into the definition, theory, and interpretation of isotope fractionation in plants that is available online as a PDF document. This might make a quick starting point.

Marion H. O'Leary, "Carbon Isotope Fractionation in Plants", "Phytochemistry", Vol. 20, No. 4 (1981): 553-567.

A good text covering the topic is Hoefs, Jochen. "Stable Isotope Geochemistry" Springer, 2009 (ISBN-10: 3540707034) which covers the differences between primordial carbonate-carbon reservoir and organic carbon reservoir of Earth in section 2.4, and has lots of detail on carbon isotope fractionation in subsequent chapters.
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Old 07-04-2009, 07:20 PM   #58
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Thanks for the links. The review you linked is ancient in scientific terms (1981) and concludes with less than certainty. I see that respiration in plants is affected by diffusion which can lead to isotope fractionation. Very interesting. I would be surprised though if RuBisCO itself had anything to do with it. I am old and jaded and have seen too many papers/studies by well-established labs run by premier scientists shot down by better more sensitive techniques.

Anyways, I concede your point. I learned something. Thanks.
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Old 07-04-2009, 08:48 PM   #59
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Thanks for the links. The review you linked is ancient in scientific terms (1981) and concludes with less than certainty. I see that respiration in plants is affected by diffusion which can lead to isotope fractionation. Very interesting. I would be surprised though if RuBisCO itself had anything to do with it. I am old and jaded and have seen too many papers/studies by well-established labs run by premier scientists shot down by better more sensitive techniques.

Anyways, I concede your point. I learned something. Thanks.
Hey, I like learning stuff. When I get to the point where I'm not interested in learning, close the lid and drop me in the hole.

That particular paper was one of the first that tried to pull together bits and pieces from the 1950s onward, and is pretty widely cited in the thrilling and fast paced world of carbon isotope fractionation. The whole niche came about from the development of relatively cheap mass spectrometers, which rapidly led to folks discovering nonuniform isotope ratios for light atoms in different materials.

One of the freakiest differences is the ratio of Oxygen-16 to Oxygen-18 in water vapor at different latitudes. The O-18 concentration is lower at higher latitudes. That's one to think about.

Or not.
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Old 07-04-2009, 09:05 PM   #60
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One of the freakiest differences is the ratio of Oxygen-16 to Oxygen-18 in water vapor at different latitudes. The O-18 concentration is lower at higher latitudes. That's one to think about.
I think the Iranians know what's going on with that. The earth is one big gas centrifuge.
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