Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai 26th 27th 28th.... and On and On

I am just unable to get my mind of the disaster in Mumbai. Unable to write science.

One of my rugby friends who is a professional chef lost 5 friends when terrorists stormed into the Taj hotel kitchen and started shooting. I didn't have the words to console him. I cannot imagine what he and others are going through.

I have to help out in a rugby clinic for schoolchildren tomorrow. Not sure what I and the other coaches should tell them. Should we just go about our business and pretend life has returned to normalcy? Does sports really unify? Does it help heal? Will it help us and my rugby chef friend take our minds off what happened?

For a sample of reactions from the Indian Blogosphere visit Desipundit.

Science blogging will resume soon.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pune Girls Rugby Kicks Ass!!

I've posted below some video clips from last Saturday's Women's 7 a side rugby tournament that took place in Pune. This was India's first ever Women's contact rugby tournament. In a country where people are obsessed over a particular stick and ball game, rugby is relatively unnoticed. It does have a cult following and interest is growing among young athletes. India does have a mens rugby team but the women's game has been neglected so far. This tourny was a fantastic opportunity to give the women's game some exposure.

Pune fielded 2 teams. There were teams from Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir and Hong Kong. Hats off to them for traveling over 25 hours by train (Hong Kong flew in!)to come and play in Pune. At the end of a grueling tournament the Hong Kong Hotties won with the Pune She Elephants coming second.

The tournament was organized by Khare Football and Rugby Academy (KFANDRA) and the Pune District Football and Rugby Association (PDFRA) under the aegis of the Western India Rugby Football Union. Notice to organize this tournament in Pune was short and over a mad two weeks, KFANDRA and PDFRA worked overtime and planned and executed everything meticulously.

Enough talk. Here's some action:

Pune She Elephants v Hong Kong Hotties

Kerala Vs Hong Kong Hotties

Pune Lionesses Vs Jammu and Kashmir

Rugby Carnival Varun's Drum Beat

All in all it was a terrific atmosphere. Parents showed up in large numbers to support us, there was a lot of media coverage and the girls showed great determination and strength. That made for some very competitive and bruising rugby.

Finally thanks to the Rugby brothers of Pune, Swapneel Khare and Surhud Khare, founders of KFANDRA. They made sure that women's rugby in India is finally getting the opportunity and exposure it needs to grow.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Collection of Geological Haiku

The Haiku meme I started some time back got quite a good response. I have posted below links to all the aspiring poets in the geoblogosphere who contributed. As I had hoped the meme mutated as it spread through the population of geologists. My initial rule of a reference to a geological time period was made more fluid and rightly so I think to a reference to the passing of geological time or a reference to a geological process. Bloggers also wrote short accompanying explanations and posted visuals too. That made for some imaginative and evocative verse.

If I have missed anyone let me know and I will update the list.

In no particular order:
To end this thread since climate change is the issue all of us are going to be grappling with over the next few decades some thoughts:

warm chill warm
a mere blip Holocene
until the big freeze

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I Find Connections But Am An Insensitive S.O.B

Between work I am really busy this week helping organize India's first ever Women's 7 a side contact rugby tournament. It is to be played in Pune on November 22. There are teams from Pune, Kashmir, Kerela and Uttar Pradesh as well as a women's rugby team from Hong Kong! Hopefully next week I will post some photos from the tournament.

Meanwhile I did get time this morning to get psychoanalyzed from this website. Just type in your web address and out comes a profile. Here is mine:

The logical and analytical type. They are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

You even get a brain map showing the parts of your brain that were active during writing! Here's my brain.

Didn't have to lie down on a couch. Didn't have to spend a dime. Don't you just love technology!

Tip: Greg Mankiw's Blog

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Men Are From Mars Women Are.....

Maybe, but I like this description of sex differences too:

Some would deny there is a deep difference. Some would psychobabble about a nurturant sex and a competitive sex. Geneticists would point to the XX and XY chromosomes, economists to the relative parental investments in offspring, veterinary students (and others who go around peering between animal legs) to the shape of the creatures genitals. Freudians, fundamentalists and sexual politicians could add their own ideas.

But from the perspective of organelle conflict, all these criteria (in so far as they are valid) are superficial. They specify things that derive from the deepest of the sex differences. Sex chromosomes, genital shape, reproductive investment and perhaps even personality all arguably follow from the resolved conflict of the organelles. The deep nature of maleness is to eject organelles from reproductive cells; the deep nature of females is to keep them.

Great! Males throw stuff out, females like to collect things. Didn't we all know that! These days I am in a mood for reaching out for a book from my shelf and rereading a passage or two. This one is from Mark Ridley's The Cooperative Gene. I highly recommend the book. It makes you think about the deep general features that all multicellular life share.

One of these features is anisogamy which is sexual reproduction involving reproductive cells or gametes of unequal size. The evolution of the eukaryotic cell initiated through a merger of two bacterial cells over a billion years ago made complex life possible, but the merger came with its own baggage, literally. The merged cell had two independent genomes. This was a situation with a potential for conflict between the two genomes. One analogy that helps is to think of a corporate merger which creates two independent management teams. It won't work. They will start undermining each other. One team has to go or turn submissive.

Evolution changed the eukaryotic cell through such mechanisms. Over time one genome ceded control by transferring most of its genes over to the other genome. This cell with the smaller genome evolved into the organelles; mitochondria (and chloroplasts). Human mitochondria have 37 genes. Ancestral mitochondria probably had 2500 genes a figure typical of bacteria. So over 98 percent of mitochondrial genes have been transferred or lost during evolution. Transfer of genes was one solution to genomic conflict. But sexual reproduction created another problem. It brought together two sets of the remaining organelle genes in one cell after fertilization. So the problem of organelle genomic conflict remained.

The evolutionary solution was for one type of reproductive cell to eject its organelles before fusing with the other type. The ejector gamete became the smaller sized sperm and the gametes which kept its organelles became the eggs. Ridley argues that sex differences follow from this great fundamental divergence.

Evolution is a quirky process. The specific evolutionary pathway taken by lineages is contingent upon historical and developmental constraints. Evolution develops one on one solutions to changing ecological pressures. But early in the history of multicellularity, the biggest limiting factor was within.

Sexual reproduction, gender and meiosis were evolution's across the board general solutions that enabled life to cross a threshold of complexity. You can think of this as the evolution of evolvability. I like big themes like the one presented in the book. This is a very readable account of various types of genomic conflicts and the ingenious devices that evolved through natural selection that minimized conflict.

I mean who would have thought that the evolution of gender helped resolve a conflict :-)

Is there a lesson here for humanity? Sure, and here is my prescription for harmonious relations between men and women. Let women keep all the stuff they want. Men, don't to try to argue, cajole, plead, sulk or throw a tantrum. It won't help. Females are good at keeping things. They have had a lot of practice. They have been doing it for more than a billion years.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Geology Haiku Meme

Announcing the Geology Haiku Meme

deep in a bioreef
a Permian story
calcite dripstones tell

Respond Geobloggers!

Rules: Three lines and a max of seventeen syllables. Use of kigo, which is the traditional reference to a season, may be substituted by a reference to a geological period. The use of kireji, which is a word that serves to give structural support to the verse is not widely practiced in English haiku, so you may give that a pass.

Leave a link in my comments section and I'll post a collection of Geology Haiku links soon :-)

See: A Collection of Geological Haiku

Monday, November 10, 2008

That's Why North Indians Cough More

A stunning image of north India taken by the the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. Image was taken on October 30 2008.

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

The haze seen has many causes. Urban pollution, big fires (red dots) and small fires lit for cooking and maybe a sandstorm. Is this worse than Los Angeles at its worst? With winter setting in the northern parts of the country the air quality will deteriorate even further as millions of charcoal and wood fires are lit for warmth. Respiratory problems increase dramatically in the winter in north India.

India faces a frightening challenge of improving air quality both in urban and in rural settings where indoor pollution is a major health hazard. The government has launched the National Action Plan for Climate Change (15 Mb) with separate missions aimed at providing clean energy. Even with a sense of urgency it will likely take a couple of decades to unfold. In the meantime how do you provide alternatives to ten's of millions of people who light up coal and wood fires inside their houses? The National Action Plan besides its focus on large scale clean power generation, urban pollution, sea-level rise and so on, must also provide strong incentives to companies involved in producing low-cost clean energy solutions for rural India.

Friday, November 7, 2008

More Jurassic and Cretaceous Reminiscences

Another passage about the Jurassic oolite from Simon Winchester's The Map That Changed The World.

Within the oolitic horizon there are countless variations-of color (gray, orange to ochre to pale scarlet) and fineness of texture, size of oolith, and width of banding and bedding plane.

I chanced during my journey upon a roadside quarry near the village of Northleach, and the ebullient owner happily showed me around, pointing out with delighted pride the different colors and thicknesses of his rocks, and the uses he could make of the various types.

That triggered a lot of memories for me. Not of the Jurassic but of the Cretaceous of south India. I had just started to take geology seriously and a bunch of us outdoor enthusiasts decided to go on a fossil hunting trip to the continental-marine Cretaceous sedimentary basin of southeast India.

These basins formed in the early Cretaceous as India which was part of the southern hemisphere super continent Gondwanaland broke away from Australia and Antarctica. The map below shows the paleo geography of early Cretaceous. Notice the southern hemisphere location of India at that time and that India has rifted away from Australia and Antarctica and now has a distinct eastern continental margin.

A number of NE-SW trending basins formed on this rifted continental margin of eastern India. The map below shows these eastern Mesozoic-Cenozoic basins. The Cauvery basin which I visited is the southern most of the basins.

Source: Geotimes

All these basins have offshore extensions in the Bay of Bengal. Today these Cretaceous eastern basins have acquired an economic importance with the potential of hydrocarbon deposits especially in the offshore portions of these basins. Reliance Energy recently discovered oil and natural gas from the deep water Cretaceous section of the Cauvery basin and more discoveries of oil and gas are likely.

But in those early college days my interest was palaeontology and fossils. We had discussed the trip with some palaeontologists from the graduate geology department in Pune and so had all the good fossil bearing localities on map. Every day we explored the terrain around the village of Ariyalur which was our base and is located in a rather remote rural portion of Tamil Nadu. One afternoon we got a bit frustrated trying to find a quarry. As we walked on a man on a bicycle approached. Seeing we were distant city dwellers he stopped and started chatting to us proudly in English, eager to show off his vocab. We asked him about fossils and he replied grandly:

Yes Yes, just two miles down this road, there is quarry which is notorious for fossils!

Now as far as I know these long dead Cretaceous beasts entombed in clays and marls have never harmed a human. I guess he meant famous, but maybe the man was indicating to us that the quarry owner is a psycho?

That made our day. With much merriment and anticipation we reached the quarry and found a not so notorious but like Simon Winchester's quarry owner a rather jovial and ebullient personality. He showed us around and gave us samples of claystones from the early Cretaceous littoral facies which contained plant fossils. These were in the form of delicate impressions pressed on clay and you could see clearly the structure of the leaf. A rare treasure which I promptly lost somewhere by the time I graduated.

Geology field trips often throw up these kind of special moments.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

That Desperate For A Obama Victory

Overheard at Obama Victory Party:

"Yay, daddy! Now we don't have to move to Canada!"

Tip: Overheard Lines

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Walking On A Jurassic Outcrop

I am rereading a couple of chapters from Simon Winchester's book The Map That Changed The World. It is the story of William Smith a canal digger by profession who embarked in the late 1700's and early 1800's on a pioneering and ultimately heroic effort to map the geology of England. In the chapter entitled A Jurassic Interlude I came across the following passage:

The general line of their outcrop, which extends all the way north from Dorset to the Humber in Yorkshire, some two hundred miles, is one of the great dividing lines of world geology, once seen, never forgotten. Around Bath, close to where a northbound traveler like me today, Smith two centuries before me, first came across it, it is stupendously memorable.

On the western side of the line are the timid, milquetoast clays and weakling shales of the Lias, of the Lower Jurassic; on the eastern side are the tough, thick oolitic limestones of the Middle Jurassic. On the western side the consequential scenery all is valley and marsh, river course and water meadow, lowing cattle and in high summer, a sticky, sultry heat. On the eastern side, underpinned by the limestones, everything has changed: there is upland plain and moor, high hills, high wind and flocks of sheep, and in winter fine white snows blowing on what can seem an endless and treeless expanse.

And on the very line itself, at the point where England has tipped itself up gracefully to expose the limestones at its core and to reveal the huge physical contrast between the hardness and the silky softness of the Lias clays below, is a long, high range of hills and cliffs. The line is, for the most part, an escarpment edge that rolls far to the horizon, separating vales and downlands, from high plains and uplands.

It is a wonderful piece of writing and not just because it invokes images of a bucolic England. Here is yet another example of the pervasive influence of geology and geological processes on livelihoods and human economies.

In the Jurassic depositional basins of England there was a lateral facies variation from clays being deposited to the west changing to carbonate sediments to the east. As these sediments turned into rock they acquired different physical properties. The carbonates i.e. the Jurassic oolite became hardened through the precipitation of copious amounts of calcite cement in its abundant pore spaces. That cement bound the initially loose oolite particles together and transformed the sediment into hard rock. The clays which were very fine grained were not cemented into toughness. Instead they were compressed into rock but remained relatively soft.

Over time these two different rocks types got exposed to the elements and were weathered and eroded at different rates. The clay bearing rocks were softer and formed valleys and lowlands with moist organic rich soils, the hard limestones formed hills, escarpments and highlands with poorer soils. An agricultural diary economy developed on the serene clay lowlands, while a pastoral sheep economy developed on the harsher windier limestone highlands.

In my previous post I wrote about the effect of aquifer yield in basalt provinces and their control on farmer poverty. That post was the first of a thread that I have continued here and plan to write on from time to time. Geology and livelihoods. I like making this connection. It is an under appreciated theme. People always nod in agreement when oil and gas and the mining industry is mentioned. It is not hard to make that connection between geology and economy. But facies change, diagenesis, weathering and rural economies? That usually takes a while to sink in.