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I'm at AussieCon 4, the world science fiction convention, this weekend. (Blogging time — what's that?) And next week I'm going to be flying home (around a 38 hour trip, door to door). So feel free to talk among yourselves here ...

Meanwhile, from the artificial ecosystems department, some good news. (But before you go all SPACE COLONIES!!!11!!ELEVENTY!!!, remember: this experiment ran with free air and water, and took the thick end of two hundred years ...)

99 Comments

1:

When I read this one, I wasn't thinking about colonizing space. I was thinking about colonizing the Sahara desert.

Either starting at the Sahel zone and working our way north - the trees would hopefully generate a moister climate with more rain.

Or putting on my What-would-Stalin-have-done-about-it-hat: How about creating dozens of large, shallow saltwater lakes in the desert - not quite unlike Lake Chad, but dozens of them, fed with sea water. Doing the exact opposite of what the Dutch did. - Using wind to power pumps to pump sea water into the land instead of out.

The rate of evaporation over a shallow lake should be a lot larger than over the relatively cold ocean. It should create quite a bit of rain and moist air, allowing some forests to be grown in selected areas and savannas to develop elsewhere. Depending on whether some of the climate models that people toyed around with are correct, you could even dispense with the pumping at some point. In the current climate a green Sahara *should* be self-sustaining once the vegetation is back.

2:

Reading the article, I'm strongly reminded of the principles and structures behind permaculture - a system of "permanent agriculture" which works to mimic a forest ecosystem on a deliberate level, through what's described as "guild planting". A "guild" in permaculture is a group of plants of different species (and different ecosystemic niches) which grow well together. The key difference between a permaculture guild system and the experiment on Ascension Island is that a permaculture guild is chosen with a set of deliberate goals in mind, rather than "let's just bung it all in and see what happens!".

Mind you, that last principle is one of the keys to scientific discovery...

3:

More information on this:
http://liveweb.livjm.ac.uk/BIE/greenmt.pdf

Isn't it amazing what you can grow on a volcanic island in the middle of the tropical ocean? I'd also point out that Kew is actively involved in conserving the few native plants that are left. Anybody who says that ethics aren't part of the ecosystem should consider this.

4:

There was already an ecosystem in place. The addition of shrubby and tree species was not difficult because the first pioneer plants had done a lot of the work. "Although Ascension Island was discovered in 1501 it was not until 1815, when Napoleon Bonaparte was held on St Helena, that the Island was settled. At that time there was only vegetation on the higher slopes of Green Mountain - mostly ferns, mosses and some grasses."

25 species of native plant, 10 endemic. Perhaps 75 native invertebrate species. Caves have endemic blind spiders and springtails that must have been there for quite a while. Landcrabs that "occasionally win a fight with a rat."

http://www.ascensionconservation.org.ac/

Perfect light and gravity levels as well as free air and water. Free protection from harmful radiation. Pre-treated soil. Might as well call it a garden. I see no relevance whatsoever to terraforming.

For reversing desertification I would go with Guenther Kunkel's ideas. Unfortunately I don't know of an internet copy of those ideas.

Presumably it was some military men who named the local fish known as the "Shitty Trooper".

5:

Once you have salt lakes, the rate of evaporation can be increased tremendously by putting non-rotating "windmills" on the windward shores. Simple ones can be just a vertical pole with the bottom half covered by a plank tilted one way and the top by a plank tilted the other way to make a crude two-bladed propeller shape. This induces a vortex in the wind which serves to break up the boundary layer of evaporation-inhibiting humidity at the surface of the water. Professor Salter (of wave power fame) found that stationary windmills work much better than complicated spray systems for increasing rainfall; spray systems actually enhance the evaporation-blocking humidity layer.

6:

You don't want the salt. But if you're using wind-powered pumps, you can use some of the energy to run osmotic desalination so that what you're pumping ashore is sufficiently hypotonic to support plants. Or you could try for tidal mangrove swamps on the shores of the saline lakes? Use their transpiration to humidify the air and support other parts of the ecosystem.

7:

Ref #1 - Isn't this process in reverse what's causing the present Southwards expansion of the Sahara anyway?

Herders' animals eat the vegetation, veg dies, less rain on the desert fringe, erg expands South forcing herders South so that their animals eat vegetation further South, veg dies...

As Charlie says, the best way to reverse this process would be to use wind power to create desalinated ocean water to create fresh water lagoons... I think we need to desalinate more than "just enough" though, because we're relying on evaporation as part of the process, and evaporation of the waters of the Jordan is what created the Dead Sea!

8:

in Stalin mode. ...
dig a canal to the great depression let the med spread.
cures the sea level rise problem

the victorians would have just dug the trench.
have to have alook at the topography see if it is possible.

9:

Yes, that's the idea.

10:

Incidentally?

On another note entirely, in a bar conversation, Peter Watts just announced that he's a lot more optimistic about people than I am.

I think I'm going to have to emit a manifesto for a new movement in SF literature: the New Bleak.

11:

The Old Cynic?

12:

#8 - If we're talking about the "Q'tarra (sp) Depression", well that's a salt marsh anyway, so we may not have to desalinate, but are looking at things like mangrove swamps as its borders, again like Charlie's idea.

13:

Alternate History Moment: 8th Army digs a really big anti-tank ditch to stop Rommel.

Well, when I say "dig", Air Marshal Harris was throwing a fit over the diversion of the new explosives from RAF use.

Field Marshal Rommel was unavailable for comment.

14:

"Toast" arrived here today!

Guess which story I picked at random for my afternoon-tea-break :-)

Kudos Charles!

Poul-Hennning


15:

(But before you go all SPACE COLONIES!!!11!!ELEVENTY!!!, remember: this experiment ran with free air and water, and took the thick end of two hundred years

If all it really took was air & water plus 200 years, I would say that this is not only remarkable, but that it possibly overturns the idea that ecosystems are "hard to build". Air and water are easy to supply, and energy can be used to filter out toxins. And what is 200 years for a colony ship that might be traveling another 1000 years?

I don't think Ascension proves that you can build self-sustaining ecosystems, but it does show that the intricate complexity of ecosystems is not nearly as fragile as assumed or believed. Of course farmers (and hunter gathers) have proved that managed ecosystems are sustainable too, so this shouldn't be surprising. We don't have to build ecosystems like clocks, wind then up and let them run without attention. Technology plus human inputs can be used to maintain their trajectories.

So Charlie, if you ever write about colony ships, you might consider the closed ecosystem issue solvable in principle and focus of the possible ecosystem pathologies and the far greater problem of running human institutions for a 1000 years.

16:

What's the difference between 1980ies bleak and the new bleak ... and was there anything in between?

17:

Alex, air and water may be cheap, but the climate control provided by being in the middle of the tropical ocean is far from cheap. Ditto all that nice tropical sunlight.

Also, we've got free volcanic ash soil, plus no strong constraints that require massive nutrient recycling.

Transferring this to space is akin to the problem of growing an orange tree in Edinburgh. On Ascension island, the darn things grow free. In Edinburgh, you've got to provide all the extras yourself, in a large greenhouse, with your own labor and money.

On the ecological side, Green Mountain is a good lesson for ecologists about what can be created.

18:

New Bleak probably won't sell, unless that's your new young adult line. The New Sarcasm might find a wider audience.

Seriously though: pessimism is a good thing. Either you are right, or you are happily mistaken because things came out better than you expected. It's a no-lose situation really.

To me, this says something about optimists, that they have to live with so many disappointments, but keep on hoping for the best anyway.

19:

And what if you're a "glass is 100% over-engineered for its current contents" sort of guy? Other than obviously the sort of person to whom "New Sarcasm" is likely to appeal!

20:

"the climate control provided by being in the middle of the tropical ocean is far from cheap. Ditto all that nice tropical sunlight."

I don't know about that. Tropical sunlight can be provided quite easily, whether for an orbiting O'Neil, or in a starship with humongous power output for propulsion. Likewise, I'm sitting in california heat, yet I am getting British climate temperatures with a simple A/C unit.

Obviously Ascension Island is not a closed ecosystem, and I don't wish to make too little of the difficulties. However, in teh last discussion on this, much was made of how hard it was to design ecosystems, they were incredibly complex, etc., etc. Ascension Island undermines that thesis, pushing the discussion towards issues of recycling. Non-trivial to be sure, but again the energy for brute force chemical and physical approaches is unlikely to be in short supply.

21:

Non-natural ecosystems aren't hard to establish - look at the Neotropic Littoral Resort Community found throughout the Carribean. What's difficult is establishing a desirable blend of species. We still don't have good ways of modelling even simple food webs, for instance. Applied ecosystem engineering is likely to be much more of an art than a science for the foreseeable future. Just throwing selections of propagules together, as happened on Ascension, may or may not lead to a climax community that is something that anyone would want. Initial conditions are very important, sensitivities may be high and trajectories difficult to predict.

22:

Wow. Darwin was a pioneering terraformer as well as a brilliant naturalist, visionary biologist and absolutely decent man.

23:

Hey, Alex, you have air-conditioning that can reduce the temperature to 31 degrees C? We've had mid 20s for the last few months. Just a cool 22 today.

A remark from Hooker in the paper that heteromeles linked above supports my contention that this was not a new ecosystem but additions to an old one:

"the rich carpet of ferns that clothed the top of the mountain when I visited it" That was despite the introduction of goats some time before and their "great herds" described in 1798.

In 1771 a visitor remarked on "a prodigious quantity of purslane". The reference I gave above seems to have ignored the 30 native species of moss, 20 lichens and 10 liverworts. There were masses of nesting seabirds, even after the rats and cats were introduced.

Monthly shipments of hundreds of species of live plants (each with insects and fungi and bacteria and at least ten species of agricultural weeds) and 700 packets of seed in one month alone. If this method were used in an extraterrestrial habitat one would need a lot of space for failures. Most of the fruit trees failed. Most of the birds introduced to control insect pests of crops died out quickly. We wouldn't want to introduce the black widow spider to a space habitat, even if it is an adaptable and useful predator.

http://www.seaturtle.org/PDF/Duffey_1964_JAppEcol.pdf

24:

Talking about terraforming the Sahara, there was an interesting article in the New Scientist a few years back. The authors noted that at the end of the last ice-age when the climate was warmer than it was going to be for the next 10,000 years, the Sahara was a savanna with seasonal summer rains.

The dark vegetation heated the air. The rising air produced a low pressure zone that sucked in moisture from the Atlantic. As the climate cooled, the amount of moisture the Sahara decreased which resulted in the dark vegetation being replaced by highly reflective sand. This exacerbated the problem, leading to run away drying, leaving the place as it is today with a permanent high pressure zone hanging over it.

The authors suggested, that given the recent climactic warming we've been experiencing, we could trigger the formation of a low pressure area over the Sahara by painting large areas of the desert black. Once the first few years of rains had grow sufficient vegetation, the process would be self sustaining, assuming the local goat herders could be persuaded not to have their herds eat everything in sight.

25:

Alex,

Good grief, please go work in a greenhouse, and try to feed the plants from the materials you've recycled. Get back to me afterwards.

Where to start:

1. Light quality. The stuff coming through glass (or off a metal reflector and through glass) is not the same as sunlight, and although we're getting a lot better with LEDs, artificial sunlight is still a a pain in the ass.

2. Temperature control. All that light energy ends up somewhere, usually as heat. Greenhouses are a nuisance that way, especially since cooling is expensive.

3. Recycling. That's what got me to minor in soils, you know? Getting predictable decomposition through organic processes is fugly, because not everything is going to break down usefully at the same rate. That means one day you get a superabundance of HS, the next day it's too much ammonia and not enough oxygen, and then the fun really starts.

4. Pest control, ecosystems, and the like. What Lars and Pat said is right on. You can make a random ecosystem easily. We used to do it as an undergrad class exercise in bottle aquaria. Making one that lasts for more than a week is a bit harder, and making one that supports human life is--you guessed it--harder still. Doing it without gravity, and with shipping rates north of $100/kg is, as they say, priceless.

I know, I know, just throw infinite energy and PhDs at the problem, and it will solve itself.

26:

"You don't want the salt"

Generally true, although I think the stationary windmill idea could be quite useful in lithium salt evaporation ponds.

A certain amount of sea salt is marketable, but not the hundreds of millions of tons that would be produced by a Sahara greening project. The brine in the evaporation pools could be flushed with excess seawater and piped to the deep ocean, though. If done in the right way it might offset a fair bit of the pumping power requirements. In addition to the gravitational potential, there would also be a potentially exploitable osmotic potential between the waste brine and the seawater.

I know desalination is getting cheap, but doing reverse osmosis on few cubic km of water a year boggles my brain a bit. If done that way, though, solar thermal rather than wind is likely the most economical energy source in the Sahara. Stationary or passive wind used for evaporation is convenient only because of the negligible capital and maintenance costs and the high efficiency.

Prof. Salter's initial scheme involved using lines of Darrieus "eggbeater" windmills buoyed off dry coasts which would centrifugally pump seawater through slots on their trailing edges, the slots containing a tensioned spring along their length that created hundreds of precisely adjustable atomizing nozzles. An insulated high-voltage wire next to the spring charged the droplets by induction, consuming mechanical power but no electrical power, thus making ultra-fine droplets that almost instantly evaporated to a high density with a salt crust. Nearly all of these were electrostaticly precipitated into the ocean and some of the rest formed seeds for raindrops. As I mentioned before, though, the things actually suppressed natural evaporation by increasing surface humidity.

In the Sahara, though, the Darrieus sprayers could be far from the body of water and the salt-crusted brine particles could still be electrostatically precipitated, potentially allowing a direct conversion from wind to electrical power beyond the swept area of the sprayer itself. It likely wouldn't be much power, though, and would be difficult to make economical.

27:

That's a waste of good brine. Additionally, I'm one of those nervous nellies who gets fussy about deoxygenating the deep sea (e.g. turn the oceans into the Black Sea (or Lake Nyos) writ large), and dumping brine is one of those things that just, you know, bugs me.

Besides, you can use brine to make a solar pond (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_pond) on site, and use it as a power generator. Why ship when you can exploit locally?

28:

I dont't want to get involved in this discussion again. Whether you agree or not, these are my comments for your points:

1. Light quality. The stuff coming through glass (or off a metal reflector and through glass) is not the same as sunlight,

True, but is it relevant? Crops are grown under fluorescent lights. Aquaria and zoos run indoor, artificially lit environments for their animals. It works to a gross approximation, so if it doesn't work for teh long term, that has to be established, not taken as a given.

2. Temperature control. All that light energy ends up somewhere, usually as heat. Greenhouses are a nuisance that way, especially since cooling is expensive.

When you are talking about expensive space projects, the issue of excess heat dissipation is a red herring. The waste heat from a propulsion system will be vastly in excess of the ecosystem. No one doubts that cannot be handled.

3. Recycling. That's what got me to minor in soils, you know? Getting predictable decomposition through organic processes is fugly, because not everything is going to break down usefully at the same rate. That means one day you get a superabundance of HS, the next day it's too much ammonia and not enough oxygen.

As I said, one doesn't need to run the system without inputs. Nobody is arguing that this is very difficult if left alone. But with the appropriate management? We can grow plants hydroponically, so a worst case is keep the ecosystem at a simple farm crop level.

4. Pest control, ecosystems, and the like.
Yes that is an issue. OTOH, how bad is the insect problem on islands like Ascension? If they have reasonably stabilized, can we not assume to first order that they are not being controlled from outside the island ecosystem, or that there is significant insect migration?

I don't think there has to be infinite energy and PhDs to solve the problem, any more than the ecosystem has to work without any management, a sort of "genesis project" approach. There is an intermediate state, where the system is reasonably self sustaining, but takes energy and human control to prevent bad trajectories from occurring.

It just may turn out that ecosystems can settle into balance from almost any starting point as long as there is sufficient starting diversity and time, as island biomes seem to have done throughout time. I would posit that ecosystems are rather like grand auto-catalytic sets, through almost any large diverse ingredients together, and something reasonable stable will emerge. But admit that is speculation only.

29:

We still don't have good ways of modelling even simple food webs, for instance.

Absolutely true. Nevertheless we can farm, manage ecosystems like forests, more or less successfully. Just because we cannot model it well, does not mean we can't do something.

For millenia people couldn't accurately model spear trajectories, yet somehow people were able to successfully throw spears at targets.

30:

I laugh at 31C. Try 110F and be thankful the air outside might just reach 88F at night. Mad dogs and Englishmen and all that.

You make a valid point about the system not starting from scratch, although it did when it emerged from the ocean. It is also true that it was carefully managed with a lot of imported species.

But consider. Suppose we start building enclosed, artificial biomes here on earth in te next 50 years. After a couple of hundred years we might have some stable examples to transplant the species to our nascent space habitats. In turn these mature and we can transplant them wholesale to our generation star ships.

31:

More responses on a slow afternoon:

1. Light. I remember the raptures that the plant physiologists had about the early white LEDs, because that was the first time that they could duplicate sunlight, albeit at a lower energy. Plants absorb light at multiple wavelengths, and in greenhouses, this was emulated (poorly and expensively) by either a combination of fluorescent bulbs and mercury vapor lamps, or by glass (which filters out the necessary low red and UV light) and mercury vapor. Yes, people grow pot plants in their closets all the time, but equally, cops bust people doing this by looking for a very characteristic spike in their electricity bills, and the pot varieties were bred to grow under that light. Basically, faking tropical sunlight is expensive. LEDs probably will bring this cost down, but it's far harder than it looks on the surface.

2. Heat. We've had enough postings on getting rid of waste heat in space now that if the problem hasn't sunk in, I'm not sure what will. Full sunlight is 400 w/m2, approximately. You only need about 80-100 w/m2 for most plants to grow (I think--that's an estimate that glosses over all the photosynthetically active light issues I listed above, plus a bunch of physiology). 100 or 400 w/m2, that's a lot of waste heat to dump.

3. Hydroponics rely on breaking that complex, rotting mess of garbage down to something relatively non-toxic, in amounts and rates that will keep the plants from starving (and keeping bacteria and algae from taking over the hydroponic system). This problem isn't close to going away.

4. You can keep an isolated system clear of pests by diligently inspecting everything that comes in, but such a system remains critically vulnerable. Worse, unless you're willing to depend entirely on pesticides, it's hard to keep biological pest controls around in the absence of pests. So if your quarantine fails, things can get ugly pretty fast (choice of toxic pesticides vs. trying to revive ladybugs fast enough to counter the aphid threat). This is not a stable system.

32:

I hope that some of our readers have read the fascinating pdf from seaturtle that I linked above.

"Invertebrate crop pests soon reached the island after farming began. From 1841, the date of the earliest island manuscript record, there is frequent reference to the destruction of vegetables by caterpillars."

This is as close to terraforming as the Kerala red rain is to extraterrestrial life.

33:

I lived with those temperatures in Spain for years with none of your namby pamby air-conditioning. Labouring in the fields except for the siesta.

34:

A few questions/comments about lighting: first, about the white LEDs: really? The phosphor-based ones have a double-hump spectrum with a very not-like-sunlight peak in the blue region. The RGB based ones have a strongly discontinuous spectrum.

Second, how much of the spectrum can the plants actually use? Chlorophyll absorbs strongly near 665 and 465 nm. Why not try to emit mostly near those wavelengths, rather than imitating the full continuous solar spectrum up to UV and down to IR?

Finally, photosynthetic rates plateau as illumination keeps going up, and the extra photons are just wasted as heat. IIRC in most cases the 90th percentile cutoff is well below what you'd get on a clear day outdoors at noon. There's no reason to raise illumination beyond what the plants can efficiently assimilate.

35:

Just because we cannot model it well, does not mean we can't do something...

Fields, forests, pastures, rice paddies, even freshwater systems - sure, we manage them. Badly, for the most part, and not as isolated systems. If you lived in western Canada you'd be very much aware right now of the failure of the DFO to predict Fraser River salmon returns over the past few years. An intensively managed population that the DFO may as well be managing by consulting the I Ching. Most of our success in managing ecosystems over the past few millenia relied upon the fact that the ones that we altered were large enough to absorb our perturbations and dampen their effects - when you see management encompassing an entire ecosystem, such as the Grand Banks, you generally see an ecological collapse, sooner or later. Successful ecosystem management by humans invariably seems to rely upon not managing the whole thing - leaving a large unmanaged reservoir to damp out anthropogenic blunders. Letting the biosphere at large take care of the externalities.

Managing entire ecosystems will require adequate modelling, even if it tells us nothing more enlightening than ecosystems below a certain size level have no stable long-term equilibria and can't be effectively managed. Or that any ecosystem big enough to be stable is far too big to be put in a can and sent anywhere.

36:

Horticultural LEDs are usually a mix of separate LEDs of pure colours. Philips are developing ones that are a mixture of red, blue and far-red. Only being used as supplementary lighting as far as I can see. The ratio of red to far-red is very important to the growth of the plant. All I got from the UK site was 404s so here is the Dutch:

http://www.lighting.philips.nl/pwc_li/main/shared/assets/downloads/pdf/horticulture/nl/de_boomkwekerij_20100319.pdf

The dope-growing industry is now offering mixtures of red, blue, white and orange LEDs. While chlorophyll will only use red and blue photons the other pigments in the leaf are there to catch other colours and feed them into the system. The extremely narrow output wavelength of LEDs is a disadvantage here. An advantage is that the standard red and blue LEDs are pretty much perfect for plant use. Another disadvantage is the number needed to make up any significant amount of light. 100 to 400W per m2 is about right for most light sources, depending on the shade-tolerance of the particular species of plant.

More than that would be wasted but you have to avoid shading of the lower parts of the plant. Having the lights moving can help but makes life even more complicated.

37:

Pat beat me to it with the multicolored LED arrays.

And yes, photosynthesis does plateau (for C3 plants) at roughly 20% of full sun. That's why I said that plants only need 80-100 w/m2 to grow. There's some serious fudging, because of course the sun doesn't produce equal energy at each wavelength. We can also factor in efficiency of photosynthesis if we want to make the calculations even more interesting.

The fundamental issues still hold: mock sunlight is as much of a pain as real sunlight in a space station, and you've got a heat problem regardless of how you illuminate the plants.

The only way to beat this is to make plants with electroplasts rather than chloroplasts, and plug them directly into the solar electric array. That probably wouldn't involve production of oxygen, but it would skip a couple of levels of inefficiency (/sarcasm)

38:

Arrgh. Be very afraid.

If you're less cheerful than Mr. Watts, I think we're all in trouble ;)

39:

I was planning to buy the Laundry RPG as soon as it was actually available (I've had unfortunately experiences with preorders a time or two). Barnes & Noble had it, and actually at a bit of a discount. But then the anticipated release date arrived, and it completely dropped off the site—their search engine claims it doesn't exist. And googling doesn't turn up anyone else who lists it.

So anyone know what's up? Has Cubicle 7 been held up releasing it or something?

40:

What about horoplasts? These have a little hole you fit a key into and wind them up. Especially useful for Citrus fruit trees.

41:

I finally got around to listening to the recording of 'Down on the Farm', which I'd been meaning to do since finishing "The Fuller Memorandum" since the story is referenced a couple times.

It has me wondering how many of the characters are 'named' after actual people? Angleton's an obvious one, but it struck me that, perhaps, Bob's middle initial should be E. I didn't know until looking up that person, that he had a connection to Lovecraft, so that would make sense. So who else is there? Yes, I know, "That would be telling."

42:

I lived with those temperatures in Spain for years with none of your namby pamby air-conditioning. Labouring in the fields except for the siesta.

My hat is off to you, sir. I once did some grape picking in Sonoma for a friend when I was younger, but a few hours was more than enough for me.

43:

...that any ecosystem big enough to be stable is far too big to be put in a can and sent anywhere.

Ecosystem size versus stability would be useful knowledge to have, regardless of its purpose.

However people do live on small islands and farm them for centuries. Obviously they are not closed ecosystems, but they didn't exhibit unmanageable instability of their biota. If your glass is half empty you will say that is because the rest of the planet is really managing the system. I won't argue this other than to say this becomes a sort of religious argument with "Gaia" as the secular deity.

The only way to resolve this issue is to try some large scale experiments, literally packing up an ecosystem and putting it in the proverbial bottle. call it an art project, like a technical version of a Christo.

44:

I've got to find that reference again. Back in the 1970s, a systems biologist actually sat down and drew up these great decision diagrams about which Pacific islands are habitable, for how long, and how they break. It's neat stuff, but my copy is buried.

Seriously, though, small islands demonstrate some critical problems for space stations. Here's what can happen:

1. The island's too small for a viable population. Lots of places will support a hermit or a family, but not a breeding population. Or you can get interesting incest issues (see Sacks' Island of the Colorblind for a case study).

2. Island populations can be destroyed quickly and catastrophically. I was browsing a book on the Archeology of Micronesia. Too expensive to buy, but the description of an atoll dig was fascinating. There were multiple levels of settlement in the sand. In other words, the island had been depopulated and resettled repeatedly. Cyclones can kill everyone (see Island of the Colorblind for a case study of what happens when some people survive). Atoll dwellers tend to be more mobile than we think, simply because they have to pick up and move to survive every few generations.

3. On ALL islands, the sea provided most of the protein, and except for the idiots who'd lost the ability to build canoes, much of this protein came from deep-sea, migratory species, like tuna and shark species.

In other words, you can't just look at the island as the ecosystem. All of them exploited a bigger system.

4. A lot of islands ended in war, famine, emigration, etc. The remnants are in the archeological record, and also in some traditional stories, if you look. Read the history of some of the Cook Islands, for example. Or Kiribati. The places that lasted may be the exception, not the rule. More importantly, the islands that made it were also lucky to have all the right resources. Even on the good islands, they typically told the troublemakers (e.g. excess population) to take a canoe and leave for somewhere else.

I think Polynesia and Micronesia are great examples of the problems with colonizing space. And Melanesia is a great example of the issues of colonizing an alien planet. Still, the archeology of the islands is sobering. If we were honest about transferring their history to space, it would be part of Charlie's "New Bleak" movement. At least for the space cadets. But they did it.

45:

If we were honest about transferring their history to space...

Someone has already done this, of course.

I still think mars could be survived on really quite a limited technical budget. You need to be able to grow food, replace your air (and deal with low air events), get water and deal with any failures of these systems for a period of one year. You also need to be able to mine nitrates, build vacuum compatable bricks and glass, build vehicles and space suits (and basic clothing). Presumably that would necesitate some sort of metal production. You would be at an enourmous disadvantage if you could not contact earth. If earth ships you anything, expose it to the martian atmosphere for two hours before bringing it indoors, that will kill all of the bugs / catapillers.

Of course, I wouldn't want to go and live under those conditions, but it might well be possible to live in the long term like that.

46:

Great thread. Has Bob Howard had to visit Ascension yet?

One thing that comes through here is that if anyone wants to write a near(ish) future space colony story, they will absolutely have to have a character whose career includes time spent managing a high-end aeroponic skunk farm, whether in a post-crisis bando mcmansion or dead mall, a carefully relined 40' ISO container in the backwoods of British Columbia, or a facility in Europoort that the Dutch Ministry of Science & Technology rightly thought was pioneering vertical agriculture, but wrongly thought was dedicated to tomatoes. Her and the other lesbian Maoists, of course.

Hilarious that Philips makes the best horticultural LEDs. Just because part of it is illegal doesn't mean it doesn't count as a technology cluster.

47:

One Nasty Problem - of many Nasty problems - that is underway in the eco-systems of Modern Cities is that of Bed Bugs .. Behold - and Boil Your Luggage when you return Hame Again to Scotland, Charlie - ..

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11165108


How much worse is the problem of Human adapted parasites going to be in an entirely artificial environments? It looks as if we are having a hard time coping with the spread of Bed Bugs through the agency of mass transportation systems like the London Underground and the damn things are now resistant to most things that we have thrown at them just lately.

And then there is the dust bug problem, and, well ...

http://www.medicinenet.com/bed_bugs/article.htm


and also ...

http://www.flickr.com/photos/emmapayne3/2913893087/


"So naturalists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller fleas that bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum."


and also...


""Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on,
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustus_De_Morgan

Augustus De Morgan deserves to be a character in one of Charlie's novels - I'd prefer ' The Laundry ' ... I mean, Come On! ...


Augustus De Morgan ! Doesn't the name Ring as a Romantic Hero or Villain ?

Sorry about that ....To Infinity and Beyond ! ... with Shinny Starships that aren't afflicted with Bed Bugs.

48:

"Additionally, I'm one of those nervous nellies who gets fussy about deoxygenating the deep sea..."

The brine-pond solar collector is a good idea - it produces the perfect temperature for flash-evaporation desalination plants - far more efficient than reverse-osmosis. The thermal storage is also potentially useful for solar-thermal load leveling.

But you just can't keep all the brine ashore - we're talking about cubic kilometers here. The potential impact on land is orders of magnitude more than on the sea. Soil salt can poison land for millennia, but brine has essentially no effect on the sea if diffused properly and released at a steep undersea drop-off to encourage mixing. Also, the diffusion is a potential source of energy, concentrated brine having several times the osmotic or electrophoretic potential energy of an equivalent volume of fresh water diffusing into seawater, which has been proposed as a power source. The extra potential may even be enough to make the scheme price-competitive.

Which brings up another thought - the outflow of the major rivers into the Mediterranean and east Atlantic is mostly wasted. Perhaps the smart solution to greening the Sahara is just to build bloody big pipes to move the fresh water. Neutral to slightly positive buoyancy, guyed to the seafloor, deep enough to be mostly out of harms way but shallow enough for divers to repair. The sea salinity would be preserved by leaving most of the rivers' waters to go out to sea, and by the fact that the water will only be temporarily held by the new Saharan ecosystem, in the long run raining back into the sea (and providing more cloud cover on the southern Mediterranean shore which could make the waters cooler and thus more fertile.) A pressurized system would be desirable to move the water and keep the seawater out, so the pipes could be made from tensile materials, such as flexible plastics which would also prevent corrosion and allow integrated safe anti-fouling compounds (silver ions, not too expensive because of the low amounts needed). Using flexible sheet materials, and looking at the cube-square law for very big pipes (hoses, really), the mass of the system apart from the gravel in the anchors would be less than 1/10,000 the water in the system and on the order of 1/100,000,000 of the water delivered in a year. So even if a ton of water is worth a penny and a ton of hose costs $100,000, it would still have a gross payoff of 10:1 in a year, more than enough to pay for the rest of what would be needed. It's hard to find that kind of economy in a desalination scheme.

49:

I don't think bed bugs are going to be the worst problem on an asteriod/Mars. Have the accomodation arranged in air tight sections - which is useful anyway for safety in case of a major disaster. Then once a year/decade/whatever everyone moves out of their section for the day, taking their house plants and pets with them. Air is removed from the section, and the bed bugs and other nasties die. A sort of space version of spring cleaning.

50:

Does that mean you're going to try to out-bleak Watts?

51:

This thread is the only Google result for "Neotropic Littoral Resort Community". Can someone lighten my darkness?

52:

" Then once a year/decade/whatever everyone moves out of their section for the day, taking their house plants and pets with them. "

... taking their house plants and pets with them. ...and various evolved to be resistant to countermeasures parasites with them too ?

Some of these parasitic beasties are resistant to being washed by machine at 40c ..and that is now.

So you not only have to develop a decontamination procedure that will eliminate parasites but it has to be capable of destroying all such parasites... miss just a few and away we go again as with the current pandemic of bed bugs.

It is the creatures that we are inclined to be disdainful of from our lofty peak of evolution and scientific development that come back to bite us on our collective bums.


Oddly enough I hadn't really thought of plants until you mentioned house plants but I suspect that insects/parasites/symbiont's and plants in a closed Eco system might be more of a problem than we might suppose but then I'm not an etymologist and have more than sufficient problems with the green flies on my roses.

53:

Hmmmm. Pot farmers as space, um, levoponicists. Duuuuude.

"Puff, the magic dragon, lived on in space..."

54:

I've just popped 'Neotropic Littoral Resort Community. ' in my google window and got ' About 1,600 results (0.30 seconds) ' could it be that you left the words, Neotropic Littoral Resort Community in quotation marks? That would get you one result as quoted by Charlie.

55:

I'm not sure exactly what Lars has on his list, but I suspect it's a sarcastic comment about how resort developers pretty much the world over prefer to landscape with stuff from elsewhere, typically to play to some fantasy. Hence you get golf courses in Las Vegas.

Just as an aside, golf evolved in the post-glacial landscape of Scotland. It belongs there, where it's green, and rolling, and there are these little ponds, sand pits, and boulders that the glaciers left behind. That's fine--in glacier country--but when you see someone's artificial vision of Scotland placed in the middle of a bunch of creosote scrub in the middle of the Nevada desert, watered with 12,000 year-old water, it makes you realize just how bizarre (to be polite) most tourists and golfers really are.

And that's not even mentioning Dubai.

Hope that puts the neotropical littoral resort community in context. It's a fake forest hauled out of some landscaper's random orifice to meet the greed-fueled "vision" of some developer you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. And it is an ecosystem, of a sort.

56:

LEDs are hardly used in dope-growing yet as they are more expensive and not well-regarded for efficacy. The market is dominated by fluorescents made by many small brand names (and usually only used for young plants) and high pressure sodium and metal halide lamps dominated by Philips and Osram. The fittings and ballasts are usually the cheapest copies the gangster can get. The sulphur plasma lamp has been threatened for years but so far they have only grown one crop of cucumbers, 2m x 1m.

I worked in a shop for 5 years selling to dope-growers. About 0.001% of the customers grew chili peppers, orchids and other houseplants.

Martin Barlow, I don't know what other critters were tested but tardigrades have survived 10 days of exposure to hard vacuum (and some survived radiation) in space. I wouldn't be surprised if bed bug eggs were pretty hardy as well. See the Environmental Range section on Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedbug

57:

The next big opportunities to try terraforming will be Greenland and the Antarctic Peninsula. There's already sufficient warming in Greenland to start growing potatoes. Give a it a few decades and we won't quite be up to growing oranges, but there's lots of land becoming usable. Greenland is two-thirds the size of India. The inland regions will still be glaciated for the foreseeable future, but there's vast tracts of land around the edges.

The problem* (as I understand it) is that there's bugger all soil there. Lots of crushed and ground down bedrock, but no organics in the rubble to hold water or nutrients.

(* Aside from an ever more variable climate and ever more frequent extreme weather events, of course.)

58:

Golf didn't evolve in the post glacial landscape, all I've read says that in Scotland it specifically developed on the sandy links by the sea, where there's only scraggy grass and gently rolling sandy soil. If you tried to hit a golf ball on the many post glacial landscapes I've walked through in Scotland you'd lose it, or find your shot blocked by a large clump of heather, or the ball would bury itself in a bog. Hence the need for links courses where the biggest hazards are livestock and rabbit burrows and some gorse bushes. Remember ythey didn't have industrial landscaping capabilities 500 years ago.

59:

This thread is the only Google result for "Neotropic Littoral Resort Community". Can someone lighten my darkness?

Sorry, Alex, did not mean to be cryptic, and this is of course not part of any accepted biotype classification. Heteromeles is quite right, I was just expressing irritation at the fact that, wherever you go in the Caribbean, you see the same slapped-together community of invasives and introductions around human settlements (which is pretty-much everywhere these days), particularly on the coasts. He's also right in pointing out that resort communities, wherever they are, tend to import the same inventory of decorative/easy-to-maintain plant species, no matter what the climate, but I was referring to a suite of species that tend to go where humans do whether we want them to or not. Some are nice (Turkish geckos) and some are not (brown tree snakes) but they disperse willy-nilly across the globe and displace native communities. Another way in which most of the world's diversity is being sucked out of it, and also an illustration of how ecosystems at any scale tend to behave in unpredictable ways.

60:

The Laundry RPG is imminent (as in, due within the next week or two); they're finalizing the front matter (copyrights, ISBN, and so on) and getting ready to do a final proofread by way of a kinda-sorta public beta test in PDF format.

61:

Thanks for the clarification Guthrie. However, AFAIK, almost all of the British Isles were under glaciers. That rolling terrain with the rounded areas (ponds, bunkers, etc)is what happens when a kilometer or two of ice grinds over an area, and it's not just bogs.

In the US, a golf course in Wisconsin or Michigan looks right at home, because the rolling terrain was scraped by a glacier. In a never-glaciated place like Las Vegas, you've got to build the rolling terrain, import the sand, import the grass, import the water, and spend a huge amount of energy, water, fertilizer, pesticides, and labor keeping the thing going. Thing sticks out like a sore thumb, especially when it's surrounded by creosote desert that has none of those plants or landforms.

62:

Charlie@60: Okay, so they're just running a bit late. Not all that uncommon in game publishing (or some other kinds of publishing; I had to wait around a year for the fourth Detective Inspector Chen after the passage of its announced release date). As long as it actually comes out! Thanks for the info.

63:

Whilst it is technically accurate to say that glaciers covered all of Scotland, I'm pretty sure that the links type landscape is a feature formed after that with the effects of the sea and coastal erosion etc leading to build ups of stable sand and such. THis is separate from the actions of the glaciers, and was built up afterwards, bearing in mind sea level was tens of metres lower during the ice age and thus erosion etc occured elsewhere. You could argue that there wasn't the landscape form to permit the formation of the reasonably flat links ground without the glaciers, but thats not quite the same as your original contention regarding ponds, sand pits and boulders, not to forget the fact that the biggest action of the glaciers was carving out hills, although I suppose some of the eroded sand and gravel ended up in or beside the sea where it could be incorporated in the links.

The key take home point is that the landscape golf evolved on is post glacial, based around the formation of a very sandy, fairly flat sort of land that you get in certain fortunate areas between the sea and the main land, the existing surface of which has not had any glaciers over it. Any resemblance to your glaciated landscape is pure coincidence, and your description doesn't sound to me much like the links land I've seen over the years. In fact having done some reading some of said land is from raised beaches formed during and after the last ice age, when the land was compressed by the weight of ice and relative sea levels were higher and lower at various times than today.

Obviously as you have pointed out, golf courses are an introduction and an abomination in the areas you mention, but I disagree entirely with your characterisation of the land golf was formed on.

64:

Congrats on the Hugo for Palimpsest Mr Stross. Does this mean the drinks are on you?

65:

Congrats Charlie! That's the last time you can use that speech!

66:

Just adding my congratulations, Charlie. Best speech ever! I hope your next Hugo winner proves to be just as unpronounceable. By the way: are you aware you have a doppelganger, wandering the con?Apart from being your spitting image, he was even checking out what looked like this very site on his ipad, just before the awards got going.

67:

I did wonder if it was a pisstake.

68:

2m x 1m, eh? That's one hell of a cucumber and probably in breach of EU regulations.

69:

1. Terraforming the desert: it CAN be done, with ordinary hand tools. Can't find the exact article now, but there was a guy in Sierra Leone, I think, who reclaimed marginal land basically with rocks. Build terraces, which catch silt and water when it rains and floods. Plant trees in that terrace, then build another one.

Pretty soon you have a lovely orchard, your topsoil isn't blowing away, and your land is valuable enough that some powerful yob reasserts his title to your previously "useless" farmland, and kicks you out to farm rocks (as I recall this article ending).

So, it's definitely possible, and without particular expense. But it takes time, and it requires that "cooperating with others" meme the lack of which is how we all got into that mess to begin with.

2. Ascension in particular: I would be more impressed if we had some reasonable control subjects, of course. If they'd thrown in ailanthus altissima, poison ivy, or kudzu, they would have had a lush forest in a couple of weeks, but not necessarily one that's useful for anything but processing CO2 into O2.

70:

#Various ref golf courses - Guthrie is correct; Golf evolved in coastal areas (what golfers call "links courses"), and the machair soils underlaying the grass, flowering plants and whins (not gorse!) are only a few (maybe 5 or 6) thousand years old, so comfortably post-date glaciation.

Also, they are not drumlin fields; I can see a machair area out my office window, and the hunk of Lewisian Gneiss my office is sat on is looking over what is basically a geographic plain, with sand dunes typically 20 to 50 feet (not metres like drumlin fields are) high.

71:

#various, ref desalination and the Sahara. This is why I suggested putting the "lagoon" in the Qatarra Depression; it's already a salt marsh/flat, and below the global sea level! So that's a lot of the problems part-solved for us just by choosing the correct place for the lagoon.

72:

George, not wanting to detract from your well-made argument but kudzu is a source of food, medicine and fibre. The Chinese regard it as one of their most valuable medicines and there is some evidence that it could help control alcoholism.

73:

As far as I can see, mesh antenna have a mass per square meter inversely proportional to their output.

If each uses n bars in the antenna in both dimensions, then if we double the wavelength, we can remove half of the bars and still have the antenna actually work.

So, except for very large wavelengths, the expense of a large spacebourne antenna to gather a certain increase in signal strength should be inversely proportional to the wavelength.

So, Idea: Actual interstellar comms is always very low frequency.

74:

Against this, even with a directional transmit antenna, and an aimed and directional receive antenna, signal strength at the RX is still roughly TX power / Range^2, so you will need to select a frequency band in which there is little or no natural RF noise.

75:

I'm not going to concede the point abou golf, unless you also can tell me, comfortably, that the area where golf was developed was never under a glacier.

See, I went to school in an area on the edge of the North American glaciation, and yes, the soil developed in the 10000 years or so after the glaciers receeded. Nonetheless, it wasn't that hard to tell when you got into unglaciated country.

The point that you're still missing is that I'm comparing this to Las Vegas, which does have a lot of sand in it, but which was not glaciated. If you would rather talk about the golf courses on the drier parts of the Arabian peninsula, that would work as well.

76:

The total power output at a particular wavelength is approximately inversely proportional to the fourth power of that wavelength, so for a fixed artificial power source, the background should be quiet. I'd be more concerned that the solar wind or interstellar gasses would absorb the signals.

77:

I don't know how this interstellar communications sub-thread developed but I thought heliography would be the obvious method.

78:

Hmm. Lots of mirrors in an array instead of a single large array. Neat, although you'd need to angle the mirrors to undo the slight sphericality of the light waves spreading from the sun, or it would be lost in the background light from the sun.

79:

I was thinking more in terms of shading and revealing the light of the Sun (or bright stars) rather than mirrors. Dyson Sphere with flaps that open and close would be the best for multi-directional communication.

With a good enough receiving telescope you would only need to herd a few big Jupiters in close to the star.

80:

Interstellar communication is no problem whatever.

When Voyager 2 was 100 AU away (a couple of years ago), it was using a 3.7m dish and a 22W transmitter, the receiver is a 34m antenna with some comfortable margin.

Alpha Centauri is a little less than 3000 times as far away. Scaling up the transmitter antenna to 370m alone allows for 100 times the distance, scaling up the receiver to 340m yields a comfortable range of about one lightyear - using the puny 22W transmitter of Voyager 2.

If there was a copy of Arecibo observatory at Alpha Centauri, we could talk to the little green men there using a 200W transmitter - the magnetron in your microwave oven has a higher power rating.

In fact, if both antenna had a diameter of 1km, the transmitter of a cellphone would be powerful enough to bridge the distance ... at an astonishing data rate of 1.4 kbit/s or the content of a DVD each year.

81:

Oh, yeah,

not to put too fine a point to it, but while range may go linear with dish diameter if the receiver antenna stays the same, range goes with the square of the antenna diameter, if we scale both transmitter and receiver.

Using mere 10km dishes would allow two cellphones to talk to each other over a distance of 300 light years. A "microwave oven" could do 1000 light years.

A galaxy 3 mio light years away would need either a 10km dish and something like a 1 GW transmitter. Or two 100km dishes and a 100kW transmitter.

True, 100km is where things start getting unwieldy, but damn it - you could go intergalactic!

82:

I'm sure that the reception dish would provide a power input proportion to it's area, but I'm not so sure about the transmission dish doing that. What matters is the angular divergence of the beam, which I thought suffered wave effect limitations.

Anyway, distances of a few light years are only interesting if you're trying to communicate with your own colonies, and if there are worlds you wish the colonise in a large fraction of systems. (Yes, not necessarily colonisation by going there in person, like in charles post a month or two ago).

83:

After about 2 minutes websearch http://www.snh.org.uk/publications/on-line/livinglandscapes/machair/how.asp states that machair is a post-glacial landscape. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_age and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleistocene#Glacial_features do support your argument that Nevada has never been glaciated (at least in the last Eon or so) but that was not my point. My point is quite simply that golf evolved on the Machair, and Machair is a post-Ice Age landscape. The fact that it exists adjacent to a glaciated landscape is a separate argument and is simply not relevant.

84:

I think that "well-made argument" is perhaps flattering it a bit...

But I think the point I was making is still valid -- functioning ecosystem is entirely different from one that is useful (or even friendly) to humans.

In the southern US, where kudzu was introduced without any natural predators, it is less well known for its medicinal uses, and better known for engulfing everything in its path. Himalayan blackberry does the same thing in the soggy northwest, but at least its fruit is tasty.

85:

Going back to my very first post, there have been an even more megalomanic plans. Not at all by the Stalin kind of guy even, but a German pacifist in 1929 ...

http://bigthink.com/ideas/21339

Unlike what the article suggests, though, the projects level of Eurocentricsm is par for the course. Just look at the Desertec project that is supposed to provide Europe with solar power from the Sahara ... while ignoring that there are several hundred million people in the area who are in dire need of electricity and are perfectly willing to pay for it.

86:

A thread I can comment on more than briefly comes along, and I don't have time to give it the attention it deserves.

I will say that anyone who fantasises (sp?) about huge engineering projects as the solution to Africa's problems should have a read of James Scott's _Seeing Like a State_, which goes into some detail about the rude awakenings history gave to those who blithely thought that the world could be remade with ease by experts.

Then they should read about the Groundnut Scheme, a famous disaster from the last years of British colonialism in Africa. East Africa was going to be refashioned as a huge plantation for the production of groundnuts, which could be used to make oil, etc. The blithe experts behind this one neglected to check with the local people, who could have told them that the area they chose for their pilot scheme was right next to a region known in the local language as 'the land of perpetual drought'. That is, it was not suitable for agricultural production of any kind.

That neglect of local environmental knowledge (another resource that will be difficult to obtain in your space colonies, by the way, at least initially) is probably the root cause of why such 'Grand Projets' so often fall flat. The Sierra Leone farmer cited above who reclaimed marginal land was able to make a success of his project because he had a good working knowledge of the environment he was dealing with. That's the sort of knowledge which cannot be replicated easily, or at all, by a bureaucrat or engineer (or CEO) in some remote office.

Sierra Leone, does not, as far as I know, have a problem with desertification (and imports a lot of its food anyway), albeit that this farmer's case is relevant to issues around that problem. Also of relevance to problems of desertification is the apparently emerging consensus that rather than being the work of goat herders living out the 'tragedy of commons', the advance of the Sahara is more likely to be the result of interaction between the climate of the interior of West Africa and the ocean currents of the Atlantic.

87:

Let's try this again - it is a post-glacial landscape. That is, the "land" that was glaciated has been eroded and/or covered to the point that there is no evidence of glaciation left. Have a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Andrews and follow on from there into photos of the Kingdom of Fife, and point out any glacial features to me!

88:

Golf was developed in southern China as chuiwan.

89:

See that and raise http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_golf . In short, no-one knows for sure where the game originates, but the modern game that we'd all recognise comes from Fife!

90:

Not what it says in the article you refer to, or in the "Golf In Scotland" Wikipedia article. All they say is that St. Andrews is old, and golf developed in Scotland.

To clarify, I *think* you're saying that, because a machair is an old beach that's been uplifted (note, sea level is rising), that therefore it can't be glacial. That's reasonable, except that sea level was substantially lower back in the last glacial period that covered Scotland. I'm not sure where the beach came from, but you're right, the sand itself is post glacial. What's it resting on, anyway?

Right now, I'm having fun reading about the Paleocene geology and paleogeography in the British Isles. I didn't realize how many largish volcanoes dotted Scotland back then. This is a circumspect way of saying that when the glaciers sand a kilometer of rock off of any area, saying that a post-glaciallandscape is not glacial because it developed on this scoured flat base is an interesting assertion.

It really helps to travel from an area that has been glaciated to a nearby area that hasn't been glaciated. The massive change in topography makes the point more clearly.

91:

Not what it says in the article you refer to, or in the "Golf In Scotland" Wikipedia article. All they say is that St. Andrews is old, and golf developed in Scotland.

To clarify, I *think* you're saying that, because a machair is an old beach that's been uplifted (note, sea level is rising), that therefore it can't be glacial. That's reasonable, except that sea level was substantially lower back in the last glacial period that covered Scotland. I'm not sure where the beach came from, but you're right, the sand itself is post glacial. What's it resting on, anyway?

Right now, I'm having fun reading about the Paleocene geology and paleogeography in the British Isles. I didn't realize how many largish volcanoes dotted Scotland back then. This is a circumspect way of saying that when the glaciers sand a kilometer of rock off of any area, saying that a post-glaciallandscape is not glacial because it developed on this scoured flat base is an interesting assertion.

It really helps to travel from an area that has been glaciated to a nearby area that hasn't been glaciated. The massive change in topography makes the point more clearly.

92:

No; I'm saying that neither Machair, nor the Eastern Scotland coastal plain, are glaciated. There is a difference between being glaciated, and being covered by pack ice that didn't move!

There are parts of Scotland that do have glacial landscapes (West coast sea lochs, Highland U-shaped valleys, Glasgow drumlin field, the terminal morraine that forms the South end of Loch Lomond, and the drumlin field that forms the Loch Lomond islands for a few examples), but that does not mean that all of Scotland was glaciated.

Are you really trying to argue about the geology and physical geography of Scotland with a Scot and an amateur geologist/geographer, and expecting to win?

93:

There were glaciers over the foothills that surround the Connecticut River Valley and glaciers over Ann Arbor and Minneapolis. None of these places resembles the others at all. And a golf course looks ugly in any context, except in comparison to the fully urban/suburban tract development that would be there if the golf course was not.

94:

70: Golf evolved in coastal areas (what golfers call "links courses")

-- Nonsense! Golf evolved on the east African savannah! Reject the ludicrous Aquatic Golfer Hypothesis!

95:

I'd like to point out that I too am a Scot with a couple of university geology modules under my belt, although that was a few years ago.

To be about as pedantic as I can, the coastal machair/ links (Seeing as they involve geological stuff tied down with grass and earth I hardly consider them geology at all) formed after the ice age. It probably wouldn't be in precisely that location if the glaciers hadn't scraped off various levels of rock and earth over the millenia, but you'd likely get that land form wherever the sea meets the land on a gently shelving fashion and enough silt and sand are deposited, both of which need not be supplied by melting glaciers. ANd I don't have abn atlas showinbg exactly where the glaciers got to during the various advances/ retreates beside me right now. Now maybe a geographer will come along and tell us we're all wrong, if there are any reading please say something. But basically saying golf evolved on a glaciated landscape is sort of right in that just about everywhere is the shape it is now because of the glaciers, but wrong in detail since the land has changed since the glaciers, in this case quite a lot.

96:

#96 - Which is pretty much my point; they're post glacial land formations that are deep enough to more or less cover the rock forms, and close enough to plains that the only glacial form that would show as surface geography is a drumlin field. There are no drumlin fields in those areas AFAIK! (I picked on the Dunbartonshire/Glasgow area because it's the one I know best.)

#94 - I'll give you that a typical American parkland course, such as Augusta National (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_Masters) is pretty ugly, but follow some of my earlier references to links courses, and tell me how a course like that which can be nigh on invisible until you're in can be considered ugly?

97:

(a quick note that the parent is spam)

98:

(try two)

99:

Thanks, nuked it.

Folks, if you see spam? Reply to it and make sure the word "spam" shows up in your comment body. That way I (and my moderators) can search for it.

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