Monday, May 23, 2016

It's not all about trees

One of the real stumbling blocks to sound action on environmental planning( even in 2016 ) is the public's perception that the best kind of land system is a treed one .Distraction and simple solutions the diverse environment does NOT need .
The fact is that the coldest and driest landscapes ( more than1/2 earth) have soils and stable ecosystems where trees are not really suited or rare ,temporary and have  a shorter life within the system  .( like our wattles) Such trees rely on hard and large seed which can last for decades and between fires  They seed and die ovr a few years rather than in one season , Trees also are not suited to poorly drained soils  making them unsustainable partners  in mainataining resilient and full ecosyst in many soils around the world  which have this characteristic of ageing.  Huge areas of Australia including our foothills and wet areas have poor onsite drainage ( More on this elsewhere ) .

It has to be said that too many trees have been planted in Australia in ignornance of the soils and the viability and sustainability of the unqiue ecosystemes involved. Many eucalptys die early when planted like orphans out side a forests when they were born to find home within them  . They might be local but every local is only sustainable because of his mates . Too much Green talk is bar talk not living working talk about ecosystem function and resilience in the long term - including agroecosystems which usually diversify the monocultural landscapes created by fire .
 Most eucalypts  need  a forest  for company to thrive and survive , To really thrive they also need a fire and the devastastion of their mates that unwisely offends so many - its nature and we are called to live with nature not pretend it is not nice.We can and have actually improved our native soils so much that ecodiversity in Australia is greater than if we left to the blunt forces of nature .  Typically too , a wide range of  eucalyptus will have their leaves pruned off them very easily if planted in isolation.   

Even though  Victorian and Australian southern and coastal areas get winter rain over for over 6 months it is effcetively dry for the others . This can present a signicant problem for trees in shallow soils, Our climate zone is semiarid  and the major part of lowland areas are naturally grassland. Same with the rest of Australia.

Recently as part of the federal election campaign,  the major opposition party used the shallow preoccupation with trees to infer a problem with how farmers treat them ;This action was wrong and uses simple prejudice about an extremely important issue ( ecosystem resilience) to try to win points for a party or two
 Yes we understand  that clearing of  wattles and overmature dead trees is seen as a problem for many.  Wattles will break down and not store carbon so even if we were to leave those landscapes that last phase of dying is very expensive for the carbon budget and the health of soils;  as history and the prehistory of Australia shows; in degraded, hardsetting and porly drained soils. The only ones who get some benefit from this long winded degradation process are the ants and they have to chew so hard its expensive on our energy budget
Despite what some noisy wannabes say  we can be do a better job than the ants have done over their very long ownership of this land - no their copartnership with this land  ( the ecological way )  .
Even the recent ABC 's landline program on the subject of clearing failed to put the picture of Rangeland ecology in a way which would have supported the farmers case for clearing more objectively .Our city people are liv
ng in ignorance of the big picture and the great work both scientists and farmers have done to increase the variety of sustainable  ecosystems operating across the Australian landscape.
Here is my submission to their stupid suggestion 
"There is no need for more legislation to control clearing of forest to agriculture  Only a few acres of freehold forest is ever likely again to be converted to  agriculture in the future as the State legislation is tight . We know it appeals to the city at election time to spread more panic amongst the city. Fitzgibbon  could say “ We, unlike the Greens, happen to know that blokes featured on Landline mostly just want to clear wattles and overmature growth from their grazing properties . These trees are only temporary and only grow because their land is not overgrazed.”

“The farmers are looking after this grazing land ,and if they are not, their leases would be cancelled – been that way for decades .
We should all be supporting this form of freehold and leasehold rangeland management, not poking our noses in with ignorance and fear like the Greens do.  These areas are natural rangeland ecosystems where grass is the dominant vegetation”. Why are the fearful trying to stop the farmers from doing what the fungi , fire and ants will do anyway .Why don’t you prosecute these animals and the elephants of Africa for sending the carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere?
if you in the party were serious about a CC policy that works,  you would have had a  tax on city tractors yesterday . No I said,  a decade ago !  It’s not about integrity , it’s about winning votes.

If Fitzgibbon and Butler had any integrity they would say to their party” we can’t do this.”  “This what the Greens do   -win arguments on appearances like the picture of dark steam coming out of cooling towers and this  jumping in and accusing others of some abuse without studying the ecosystems and management processes involved ; and  without mentioning city tractors in cc policy.
This is allocated managed rangeland and unless you want to buy the whole lot back you are saying they can’t control weeds and regenerate pasture like the aborigines did and do. “
If Fitzgibbon and Butler had any integrity they would say to their party,   we  don’t want any more of our agents killed on the farmers doorsteps trying  to tell the farmers  they are getting free lightbulbs but taking away their livelihood. We would be more honest to say the United Nations require us to buy back your farms and then do it – if we really believed it was such a necessary policy. “

If Fitzgibbon and Butler had any integrity they would say to their party” we can’t do this”. “We’d be no better than the Greens. The Greens would do anything to get into power –They don’t care about casting snide on a minority who appear to be doing the wrong thing but are not; It Is so easy to pick on one group and say they are ones to worry about .A CC policy that would work must involve all of us .
 If Fitzgibbon and Butler had any integrity they would say to their party” we can’t do this”   “If this is how we win elections I want no part of it.” .   
We hope the people of Australia will have some integrity in July and will say to the parties who live on snide and suspect criticism of others.
“If that is how they win elections, I want no part of it “ 

I write 5 weeks before the election . the recognition of this slight of hand takes some work es as CC ( climate change or supposed heating due to higher Co2 ) is the large elephant  or should I say sacred cow in the room .

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Footprint, traction and getting bogged.

The modern vehicles we use to get around are designed to achieve a balance between pressure to gain resistance and low pressure to avoid compaction ( on soft surfaces )

Most of these machines are designed to be flexible in use .
Not sure you can say the same about all those people who buy 4WD's . They buy the thing  expecting it to work without thinking .
We  country folks have to wear the fears of those who know zilch about the environment . Many are plain lethal with their wide tyres even on a good road
 Paradoxically many have  a 4WD and  yet don't know how to avoid getting bogged.

Typically human beings who get bogged blame the technology  rather than their own ignorance . This error also leads to poor advice , fear and irrational comments.
-- You can avoid high compaction by lowering tyre pressures which on conventional tyres ( not so much  wide tyred bikes which have very low pressures ) rapidly  decrease ground pressure and the risk of sinking on the surface .
- you need to avoid breaking the surface of the soil by wheel spinning as the roots in the surface soil provide a reinforcing effect . ( many Australian soils have sodic subsoil horizons which have very little cohesion when wet ) They" turn to soup " as we say .
-- if you can't traverse the above soils in a 2WD it is sound advice to suggest you shouldn't even use a 4WD.

Because Lake Colac has dried out several times in the last decade and not had much water in it , the still unstable organic clays are a little more stable than they were in 2009 . They are still  like driving on jelly but the cohesion forces  while weak  are strong enough to prevent you drowning if you break through .the dried  crust on top . You can always, sit or lie down and wait for help .


Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Design slopes

No geomorphologist survives without looking at slopes and how they relate to each other in landscapes.    Save that for another time.

While I take NO  responsibility for the consequences of anyone adopting these figures,  these are my ROUGH estimates of what matters in slopes and design after a lifetime of working with soils and water .There is much more that could be added . Havva  go .Please advise .

Use at your own risk !
I would like to pay tribute to the Victorian taxpayer and the grand tradition of Public Service in that State . I would like to thank my forebears for  their generous support of free education , the proper planning creation of the most livable places, the testing of scientific principles , the taking of risks and the process of double checking your facts before YOU make the mistake.     To support that complex and more response able process again, you can bookmark

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Brain dead approaches to risk management

Brain eating diseases . Waterborne diseases are real,  but don't panic . ( the list in my old animal health books  is huge ) Several children have died because of protozoa infections in one area of QLD  featured on ABC this week  .

As the excellent review on Aust Story suggests - people in that area should have known.    There is something wrong with the way we do things in health care .
Engineers and contract managers would be surprised to learn that it was often  them and their non ecological non diverse approach to problem solving.

One of the costs of widespread panic about big risks ion our community has been a loss of awareness that most risk is highly localized,  and we used to deal with it that way-- that's why there used to more of us out there looking after your water . Thinking global , not local is distracting  but its the heresy and fanaticism of our age .
The agency that took over my job of identifying high risk areas has a one size fits all approach  ( they try to deny this of course ) which means certified concrete tanks and filters  beds and chlorination  will fix the problem ( they engineer around the issue approach - reactive overengineered and hardly ecological ; not as preventative big picture focused )

As any fool knows there are more ways to skin a cat than that,.--- efficient money saving ways
After all  chlorination may only half kill protozoa and the dying  debris may be worse for you to eat than the living (  the etiology of what killed the children is well known,  but it  is complex with filtering desirable as well ) .
For us to deal with the resulting acidity from chlorination means  the agency pours heaps of slimy calcium and other  salts into your water just so you are safe to drink a mere drop in a million that pour through your house in a day.
Site Specific methods would help both prevent and treat the risks  but no .....we have to have the over engineered one size fits all approach . There is comfort in cost , but it can be false comfort and high cost -- its certainly is in our microbe rich environment so its not really not what makes ecological  - let alone total risk and economic sense :  the agency gets complacent ; we get complacent .

Its true ,,,protozoa are in the water and we mostly live with them by being exposed to them in right context .
Chlorination doesn't solve all problems . If you don't want to oxidize your oats and your throats in the morning,   drink out of a bottle or a jug ( not straight from the pipe ) - residual chlorine  is a sterile  and isolationist way to live your life. You are after an animal that's supposed to living flora in your gut .  

Remember you heard it first at Emperors Academy 

Get onto your polys and stop them trying to be so efficient they leave the efficient place driven consensus ( horses for courses)  of ecosystems out of the equation.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sinkholes - and how to avoid them

Circular failure is a predictable risk with fringing reefs  
Don't believe everything the media tell you . Years and centuries after we tell them something   ( sometimes islands subside rather than seas rise) , they like to have their own theories to support their own prejudices . Several years ago I posted fellow geologist Charles Darwin's comments about tropical reef edges when the world was panicking quite wrongly about evidence of sea level rise in the Pacific islands.Darwin who studied subjects well  would not have supported "sea level rise"in their examples because he saw directly with extensive soundings why there was subsidence after properly researching ocean depths and structure .( something the noisemakers haven't mentioned to date )
Now we have the embarrassing ducking and weaving over the normal risk of subsidence . These self built ramparts can eventually break off as they form in shallow sea water with a fresh water component and tidal action . If only the present commentators /wannabes got in a boat like Darwin did when he commented on this over one hundred years ago they would see what we remote sensors can see from the air - without going there . Deep blue water is a clue , the circular edge demonstrates a low factor of safety in slope instability so the structural failure with these ledges is no mystery - a clearly predictable risk and reality.Carbonate chemistry isn't rocket science but clearly our media , after years of denial, can't see that they have dug their own hole to slink into . 

Look up the experts if you dare !
 Kurabati . Ignore the quick fixers and the worry warriors if you want to back conservation and risk management that works.

The slow and often dumb response to the sinkhole on the edge of Fraser Island ( the news this week) highlights  a serious problem with the education of  a whole range of people about basic earth processes .

The questions  were fair enough ( "how does it happen";" can we predict where ") but the answers and the ongoing worry train effect is totally unjustified .Circular shape and dark blue tells us all we need to know .

Instead of using the opportunity to educate the public about real risks , most "expert" commentators in geotech used the opportunity to spruke confused subscience about "monitoring and measuring" .   They are saying "I don't know" without saying so . .
The fact that few people realised this reactive process to problem solving was not good , highlights how deep the disease is in public discourse - explains why its not just red tape but long winded risk questions with few answers that stop development and prevent resolution in government process.
It explains why we end up with piles of reports on all sorts of subjects ( engineering and remote sensing , geochemistry, bioprocess  and groundwater chemistry) but no decisions ,

It was not always so and should not still be so .

The dissolution and restoration  of carbonate salts is no news to chemists even if the 3D on site and with time takes time and landscape process expertise .What happened is an evident and understandable risk --this monitoring talk is just the all too typical  distraction and excuse  . Circular and dark blue tells us all we need to know .

While this duck shoving is not new and the"monitoring and measuring"ok in some areas  the excuse is no longer recognised as such  , The public ownership of environmental issues means we get  politically correct filters applied to news.   Subsidence  has not been an acceptable word to use when sea levels are supposed to be rising.

My biggest  problem with all the talk is not the subject . I guess,  like groundwater and gold we can't see whats down there , so we feel vulnerable .  

My concern , despite this,  is the waste of time ; Why ,when there are real big risks ( soil erosion , water and ground water pollution) and they are not well addressed,  do people talk so long about  on such a low risk event -- likelihood and location of real risk can be relatively easily described and prescribed ( limestone , stream edges, unconsolidated materials , flood times  and construction sites )

The reality too is that by taking an industry focus, we adopt the reactionary growth model that is never satisfied . We grow a  maladaptive disaster growth industry  missing the opportunity to have a more efficient preventative focus;something  that has made our culture so competitive and efficient.

I feel honored that I am not the first scientist to be ignored when it matters .That it should be someone as thorough  as Charles Darwin in his first monograph is especially so .

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Glass is Half full - if you displace hot air and fear

Young People in Australia have a choice. Either they follow the views of the Yvonne Walter’s and the Lisa Neville’s of this world ( Victorian Greenlabor)  and try to preserve the dying in museums ,or they can study and support full cycle ecology on the land.  They can follow the blinkered picture or the full picture.  They can keep trees standing up till they fall on someone, or they can study the ecosystem fully so we give the older things  a decent burial and keep the baby with the bathwater ; still have everything from seed to old age, young phases fully integrated with the old. 
Our young people have the choice of letting the ants, termites and fungi eat their way through our great opportunity to sequester the carbon and improve our water quality or, they can sit on their hands in fear- locking the gate.   
Readers in Corangamite area can visit their water supply reservoir wall at Forrest and study the health of three generations of timber harvested forest in its catchment.  Those closer to Warrnambool can wonder at how, with a tiny bit of recycling of iodine, molybdenum and copper, soil nutrients and calcium lost by tree based acidification of water and soils in the Heytesbury can now support higher functioning soils and exports of the best cream products to the world.  It’s more than just taking a glass half full view of the world. It’s moving on from ignorance and fear ; to the sound long term territory of really understanding and caring for all the components of the eco family. 

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Its snowing - but if you dig deep, the solid ground appears

  The snow may not be normal for Queensland at the moment,  but let me remind you its ALWAYS a risk , Infact its  breakfast lunch and dinner for some narky, smart but simple  polys and wannabes who  capitalize on the surface color of everything ,
Black is black and Coal mining is always black - to some
 It would more honest if the campaigners against  Watermark Mine didn't  hide behind  a fear that appears to have no basis- the aquifer contamination issue.
However the documents /maps from the Environmental  Effects Assessment are far too obscure to be clear too . Why does everyone have to be so difficult with cutting to the challenges;  the difficulties; the real risks ,
While I haven't done as much work as i would like,  the cross sections  of the Watermark mine seem to indicate that the risk to the aquifer is not significant - However for all the money the document is a unclear mess,
EES's must be clear and talk clearly to the aquifer question; so joe bow can see it
 If it isn't obvious to me as one who reads the geo drawings all the time , what hope has joe blow

Too much room for snowing  from both sides

The Watermark Mine  in NSW  is meant to be a big deal according to all the noise .
I obtained a few geological cross sections but i was disappointed I did not get more from NSW govt -- are they playing snowing games too? - there is always a down side to any action on land because of risk to one or more processes, With complete maps one can interpret  the overburden and groundwater risks more clearly  .   I have  done plenty of staging/ reviewed others plans  in  a range of mine plans in SW Victoria. Staging is necessary to make sure overburden is moved efficiently and slope stability and water quality maintained through the life of the mine and beyond. 
Risks to aquifers are critically important to assess.  I have resisted some big projects where GW issues were significant   ( groundwater extraction and tip development ) Some agencies of government can , in my direct experience as coordinator of environmental planning , resist the truth so I understand people's concerns ,One of the projects I resisted was ignored by a Water Board. The other major project was stopped . 

Provided the hydrogeology /ecology is independently assessed by the State and local groups,  I have no problem with  States making the decisions . 
To have the Feds step in is only justified in special cases which they must justify , You only need best locally contexted  advice  from someone close to the area ; remote advice is unreliable.  

I therefore completely reject the Commonwealth  Biodiversity  legislation bureau as politically motivated and unnecessary duplication - Its  ineptitude , narrow focus ( vegetation not process) and political vulnerability has been shocking ,

That said , while State governments fail to retain and train independent experts in these  areas, I don't trust them , The ban on fracking in Victoria is appropriate  for that reason alone . Its not that expensive either through survey agencies or existing inground  organisations to provide geological hydrological soil land use and other experts - They may not exist at the moment as most env agencies have focused too narrowly for 2 decades on the superficial ( vegetation)  This vegetation preoccupation is profoundly stupid and narrow as all environment builds from soil water and geology.  .

I am not sure yet whether there is a dark side to this mine , but I am familiar with the high risk of snowing and why governments/ industry /wannabe activists  of all kinds are prone to play that game.. Why the stupid circle is so big at the moment   

The ongoing 
remaining risk of obfuscation would not happen if the States organised 
themselves  better and stopped relying on ad hoc consultancies.
The Feds  can help by encouraging  States to employ and train their own 
independent experts - not trying to duplicate staff in Canberra as Labor did . This attempt to get Feds to step in and stop things only works if you believe polys know what they are doing/ or don't  . Duplication is a huge risk and a huge waste.
If you let competent experts decide , the sensible people relax and the merely fearful shut up and find something else to worry about. 

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