Thursday, May 27, 2010

Is A New Age Of Pressure Upon Us?

In this post we are not considering the pressures of 21st Century life, with its myriad social stresses and concerns.

A recent post at Ecocosmology Blog indicated that scientists have studied the varying effects and pressures of ocean levels on the crust of the Earth.

Their studies considered global warming, combined with geological activity over many thousands of years, and they found that the level of the ocean can trigger some volcanic, as well as some earthquake activity.

We need to focus on the word "trigger" here, because that was the intent of the scientific view in the post linked to above.

We know that tectonic plate activity and magma are the greater essences and factors of such geological activity, but what we intend to focus on in this post is the potential trigger for those events.

That trigger is changing pressures.

Just like a trigger is a small part of a rifle, a trigger of a volcano or earthquake is a small part of the event, nevertheless, it is a real and identifiable part.

With that in mind, let us consider a hypothesis that applies global warming to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, just like the Ecocosmology Blog post linked to above applied global warming as a trigger for volcanic activity.

First, recall that there is a difference between a cause and a trigger, because the trigger is only "the straw that broke the camel's back", as we say.

The premise is that whether or not pressures can rise to the point of triggering some volcanic activity or tremors, it certainly can not be doubted that it can change the level and degree of pressure in and under the Earth's crust.

What that translates into is an increased pressure on gases and oil pools under the surface of that crust.

Thus the old assumptions about pressure levels and designs of equipment based upon those pre-ocean level rise assumptions and calibrations must be revisited.

There were signs that something was different on the Deepwater Horizon pool of oil prior to its exploding on April 20, and its later sinking on Earth Day, April 22:
... a series of problems were also detected in the 24 hours before the blast, including unexpected pressure rises ... warning signs kept coming right up until just minutes before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded ... "more fluid began flowing out of the well than was being pumped in" ...
(Multiple Warnings). A comment made by the CEO is also telling:
"I think the first thing to recognize is that this is an unprecedented accident, and the industry that has been working in the deep water for 25 years and not had to contend with this ..."
(Final decision). This is not to say or advocate that there is no liability for the oil industry, because these pressure changes were foreseeable.

It is not that difficult to see that as the ocean levels rise, because global warming is melting the ice caps and glaciers, weight on the Earth's crust will change as will the pressures on oil and gas deposits underneath the sea floor portion of the Earth's crust.

The pressures will not always change enough to trigger volcanic or earthquake activity, but it takes orders of magnitude less pressure than that to effect man-made machinery.

Thus, since the engineering assumptions will be impacted, good engineers will need to take all that into serious consideration, as will government regulators, legislators, and inspectors, as they rethink the reality beneath their feet.

The next post in this series is here.


  1. The pressures come from an unsustainable imperial consumer society based on first world militarism, all based on a cheap energy economy based on fossil fuels, which are now entering the twilight of their existence. From here on out, the ride will only get bumpier and the descent steeper. The triggers will be many, but they only represent symptoms. The underlying disease is imperial overreach and environmental overshoot based on massive resource depletion. We're just the latest, perhaps most spectacular example of a culture that wanted it all but came up seriously short. The irony of it all is that there ARE people alive right now who are smart enough and powerful enough to have influenced us to take a different path, but for whatever reason, chose personal enrichment instead. Ahh well, same as it ever was. Watching the news these days one gets the overpowering sense that all of this is going to end VERY messily and VERY badly, and, quite possibly, VERY SOON as well.

  2. Pressures at the poles under the ice will decrease as the ice melts, then when the water which results from the melt makes it to the oceans, pressures on the sea floor will increase.

    Surely this will torque the crust some as the scientists say, and it seems sensible that engineers should take the changing pressures into consideration, because the pressure on the gas and oil will change some.

  3. John Michael Greer had a post related to this topic on complexity over on his blog a few weeks ago. He rightly points out that it's not just all the stupid, short-sighted, for love of money things we do that get us into trouble, but the fact that we have systems built on layers and layers and layers of complexity now that are almost incomprehensible to all but the most dedicated of experts, and sometimes not even to them. Further, in such a system, the only answers remaining when the inevitable new problems crop up are to...ADD MORE COMPLEXITY! The post was tailor made for the Deepwater Horizon incident, although the same argument could be leveled at any number of current ongoing problems, such as the current financial debt mess, the inability/unwillingness of societies to convert from a cheap-oil based economies, and the coming food and fresh water wars, etc.

    Of course that same complexity is the only thing allowing us to sustain 6 billion human mouths everyday, so there you go. Get rid of 3-5 billion of those mouths - which WILL happen one way or another - and life may become relatively simple and sustainable once again. Of course we'll still have to deal with the lingering after effects of trying to sustain so many for so long, so maybe the whole thing will just flame out instead. Mother earth and the remaining species - if we don't kill them all first - will be relieved to see us gone.

  4. disaffected,

    "Get rid of 3-5 billion of those mouths"

    Prevention is the only savior; in this context that means serious and systematic contraception, if civilization is to survive.

    The alternative to which you refer, the demise of our fellow human beings, including most likely our own selves, is the haphazard way which will likely mean the demise of civilization.

    In that event, I hope the better humans survive, however, since it will be helter skelter random, that is not guaranteed.

    Thus, the next civilization may be a devolved clone of the current dysfunctional civilization.

    In that case the human species itself eventually becomes endangered and likely to become extinct.

  5. Prevention is the only savior; in this context that means serious and systematic contraception, if civilization is to survive.

    Dredd, surely you jest. The Catholic church - one of the most popular religions in many third world regions - alone will ensure that contraception at the levels needed never happens. Even the Protestant yahoos are fairly resistant to such, especially if it were ever to be officially suggested/mandated.

    Current US viewpoints toward China, where such population controls have long been in place, are illustrative. Hell, these days especially, even hint to US citizens that anything will be mandated (especially, it seems, taxes or social programs for the poor) and you've got a new Tea Party popping up in no time. Our polity is rapidly disintegating, but I digress...

  6. disaffected,

    Yes, the species we belong to wishes to impose contraception or impotency upon the Earth (exempting our species of course) in the sense we take out other species and cycles, but we do not easily entertain the same upon ourselves.

    And yes again, this will not stand.

    As the ground beneath our feet adjusts to the increase in ocean level induced pressures (up to 30 ft increase eventually) there will be a decrease in population.