Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Magnetism At War

A. Jacksonian left an interesting comment on my piece "Clouds" posted at Classical Values. It is a fascinating look at magnetism, war, global climate, and impending doom from natural causes. I'm posting it here in full. And, thanks A.J. for your always interesting posts and comments.


Actually, there have been numerous magnetic field reversals in Earth's history. The fact that this was so was discovered due to WWII subsurface magnetic readings taken to try and find U-Boats. Once all the data got put together, identical stripes of different magnetic polarity could be seen on either side of the mid-Atlantic. This was one of the great insights that led to the first International Geophysical Year and the culmination of data from core samples on magnetism and radioactivity that led to the discovery that these stripes were coincident at the same time in history indicating they were placed at the same time. The mid-Atlantic ridge was analyzed and folks realized that new material was being forced out there and it contained the same magnetic orientation and strength as the surroundings as the rock cooled. The very first tape recorder had been discovered, save the 'tape' was oceanic basalt. Global studies of similar rocks pointed to the exact same magnetic orientation at the same time and the same changes over time. This has proven to be a long term key for analyzing rock strata, and measuring the orientation and radioactivity not only places it in time but in position.

From all of that continents now were seen as in motion... well, all geological plates were seen as in relative motion to each other based on sub-plate movement. All from trying to find U-Boats in WWII. That information required that we change how we look at the planet and ask it different questions and we found different answers, and so our view of the planet changed and changed again so we could understand what the rock
was telling us.

Some magnetic flip-flops have been coincident with extinctions (large and small) but not all of them. Changes in background cosmic ray incidents is an indicator from the solar system's relative position within the galaxy and who its neighbors have been. That has also varied over time some changes, up and down, coincident with extinctions, some not. Continents coming together to form supercontinents and their break-ups have been a high, nearly 1:1 indicator of extinction events as habitats suddenly disappear or appear both having long-term impacts on life in those ecozones.

Volcanic activity can play a part, especially those large caldera events at Yellowstone, Toba and elsewhere, as they release large amounts of particulates into the upper atmosphere. The idea for for the amounts was put forward in a good way by a movie on the History Channel. Consider the ejecta to Mt. St. Helens to be a sugar cube. Tambora was a box of sugar cubes (the volcano responsible for the 'year without a summer'). Yellowstone is a 1m x 1m x 1m packing crate of sugar cubes. That gets pretty close to the scale differences involved for relative particulate output, save the actual crate is a bit bigger than the 1 meter cube. Yellowstone, itself, goes through different cyclic events, where it will rest for hundreds of thousands of years and then erupt and continue with smaller-scale, continuous eruptions for a long period and then go quiet. Considering that this same hotspot laid down the meters thick basaltic rock seen in Oregon and Washington States, that is nothing to be sneezed at.

We haven't even started in on the real disasters that can hit North America and will, sooner or later. Cyclicity and periodicity tell us that these things will return, sooner or later, as the geophysics behind them has not changed for them. Global Warming? Heh. Yellowstone! Because once it hits, it continues on for thousands if not tens of thousands of years... did it before and will do it again. And that will assuredly change climates on the planet... I wouldn't suggest trying to 'laser lance' it either. That would be like taking a can of soda, putting it in a paint shaking machine for half an hour, heating it up to couple of hundred degrees and *then* trying to put a small hole in the container. Not a good idea, at all, really. Just like trying to build flood protection on land that is sinking...

Cross Posted at Classical Values


Yankee Doodle said...

I've always found it interesting how the reversals in the polarization of the earth's magnetic field were recorded when the extruded molten rock resolidified, with the ions aligned to the magnetic field.

As they discovered that the pattern was the same on both sides of the mid-ocean ridge systems, they realized that these were spreading centers, that the continents were moving farther apart with the oceanic floor between them being created, and that the evidence of the reversals in polarity of the earth's magnetic were being recorded in the new oceanic crust.

Spreading centers on one side of a lithospheric plate creating oceanic crust, subduction zones on the other side consuming it, and transform faults where lithospheric plates shear past one another.... It's an amazing system! The Caribbean Sea/Central America area is a particular hodge-podge of crustal segments.

By the way: did they ever identify whether or not there was a lithospheric plate boundary in Russia between Europe and Asia, and, if so, what kind?

Another interesting thing to me has been the advance of science in the face of immediate necessity. Total war has always provided an immediate necessity, and World War II was a tremendous motivation. The Cold War had its ups and downs in this regard.

Anyway, keep up the good work! ;)

A Jacksonian said...

Yankee Doodle - Are you referring to the Ural Mountains area, or a different place? Most of Eurasia got pieced together when Pangea came together, and the only real intraplate boundary in Eurasia is that with the old Siberian and smaller assemblages. The resultant larger plate has been pretty stable, for all the fact it is something pieced together with a few incipient fault zones, to say the least.

The understanding of how science works is pretty well encapsulated by the entire way that Plate Tectonics arose... the first man to really, seriously propose that continents had once been coincident was Alfred Wegener. I looked at that in an old post of mine, but it is one of those episodes in history that shows what science is about. Wegener, by proposing that the crust had not always been as we see it did not offer the one thing necessary to actually convince people: a mechanism to make it work. He had plenty of evidence based on geologic strata that were identical in North America and Africa, and even old mountain ranges and such, but without a mechanism he was derided by the scientific establishment. He was perfectly right on the data, but the lack of cohesive mechanism to make it all fit together caused him to be wrong. In the long run his conception was, indeed, right, but it took long, hard work to actually piece the mechanism together and that key from WWII was a prime one.

Modern Industrial Wars, basically from the US Civil War onwards, have driven technology hard and started new approaches to how one manages research and development. Before the Civil War, military clash of arms still led to many inventions, but their long-term utilization outside of the field of martial conflict was limited. While something like the stirrup or the ballista revolutionized how wars were conducted, the actual spread of technology into greater use was limited as human power via slavery and serfdom, was seen as inexhaustible. One of my favorite 'Demotivators' is that for Achievement that has a lovely image of the Great Pyramids with the tag line: "You can do anything you set your mind to so long as you have vision, determination, and an endless supply of expendable labor."

Two things caused that to change in Europe: the Black Death and the English Long Bow. When so much of the population dies, the resultant wealth is concentrated and human labor is no longer cheap. The Long Bow put an end to the French Knights and ended the era that went with them and started the hard ball rolling on the military side back to infantry supported by cavalry and indirect fire. Those two things culminated in Gustavus Adolphus and combined arms fighting for the ability of Christians to break away from Rome due to the Protestant Reformation. That was all turning on the social changes moving towards skilled labor having a high premium, and men like Da Vinci sought after for their skills in new weapons creation and better ways to manage things like transportation. Da Vinci wouldn't have gotten far as a serf, and the back of that system was breaking hard and led towards the modern era of Nation States.

Wars may drive technology, but technology, like the inter-WW German integration of armored units as autonomous groupings within the army, was something that the Allies needed to catch up on because it was driving the war. By integrating radio, aircraft spotting and armored movement, the German Army was able to outmanuever and outperform French tanks that were actually more survivable and had higher firepower, but no communications between units that did not go up in the command structure. One of the stories recounted to me was in the initial Ardennes Offensive where the German army had a group situated just past a rise with only one field piece and a single Panzer, plus some support troops. They took out about 15 tanks in an afternoon as they just plugged each of them as they came over the rise and the French just kept on sending them.

That is neither here nor there, but shows how pre-planning and using new technology can change how things work. Do that integration and the static front of WWI goes mobile in WWII and manuever was returned to the battlefield. The theory behind that was done by Liddel-Hart between the wars and it is telling that when one of Rommel's camp got over-run, they found a translated version of Liddel-Hart's book on Armor on the bedside stand. The British commander said it was printed in the same year as *his* copy that was on *his* bedside stand.

Liddel-Hart proposed mechanism and means, while Wegener did neither. They were both *right* in theory, but Liddel-Hart was right in practice... and without the practice the theory has no foundations.