It is indisputable that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution, but...

...nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of Plate Tectonics.

18 November, 2009

Caution - Mountebank at Work

I've been on several pretty long-distance business trips in the past few weeks with the result that, in that inevitable state of boredom and frustration one always experiences while burrowing through the labyrinth of store-encrusted tunnels in the many indistinguishable airport stop-overs which are part of every post-modern flight plan, I found myself, inexorably, speed reading the titles lined up on the shelves of the news stands which dot these cheerless avenues, hoping against all hope to find one bit of something intelligible AND above the 8th grade reading level to ease the insufferable boredom of the next leg of my various peregrinations. Conceive my combined shock, dismay, rage and general disappointment over the abysmal states of both journalism and American aptitude when my eyes brushed over the cover of News Week with a picture of Al Gore who was ennobled by that paragon of journals with the appellation "The Thinking Man's Thinking Man."

I remain, two weeks later, almost speechless at the unmitigated effrontery presented by this sanctimonious, condescending, elitist nuncio from Newsweek, which I can only conclude is staffed by cretins of no common rank. Honestly, this is just about the worst (best) in-your-face demonstration of American scientific illiteracy and of how easily the ill-educated poltroons in our top journalistic bastions can be impressed, swayed, hoodwinked and exploited to propagate the idiotic prattlings of one of the greatest knee-biting wankers currently at large.

OK - I'm down off my soap box, but as long as you're still with me, let's just look at what "The Thinking Man's Thinking Man" actually thinks.

First, take a side-track for just a minute and watch this little tid-bit of His-Gore-ness from You Tube - I'll wait:

I've been informed that You Tube has pulled the clip which is such an embarassment to his Gore-ness, so I'll have to explain.

This was a clip from the Conan O-Brien show in which Gore tells us all about the abundance of geothermal energy and how it is free energy right under our feet.

During the course of the little interview we learned from Gore that:

1. We get geothermal heat from the core of the Earth;

2. At a depth of a couple kilometers into the Earth the temperature is a couple MILLION degrees;

3. We now have drilling equipment which can withstand that kind of heat so we can tap into all that heat;

4. We can use that heat to make steam and generate electricity;

5. There is enough heat to run our current civilization for 35,000 years.

(imagine me making a really wild cackling sound during the above spot of jollity).

All right, then. One at a time:

1. We get geothermal heat from the core of the Earth (I know Conan actually said this, but Gore agreed).

Response: Below the Earth's crust (upper 5 to 70 km) the entire mass of the Earth is HOT with an increasing temperature all the way to the center of the earth, 3,950 miles down. (As always, click on image for larger view) That means the below the hot base of the crust, is ~ 1,800 miles of hot mantle, below which is ~ 1,400 miles of really hot outer core, below which is ~ 800 miles of inner core to the center of the Earth. The places on Earth where we DO have geothermal energy potential have a heat source which is a few hundred METERS (not miles) below the surface. So, we do not derive geothermal heat from the core, although in some sense, some portion of the Earth's interior heat does initially derive from the core but the point is that this kind of loose talk belies a fundamental absence of knowledge of the Earth which any 'thinking man' might reasonably be expected to know.

2. At a depth of a couple kilometers into the Earth the temperature is a couple MILLION degrees;

Response: The geothermal gradient is the average increase in temperature with depth into the Earth and it is ~ 24 degrees C per km. The Earth's surface temperature (of the actual crust) is a reflection of the average atmospheric temperature which is about 10 - 15 degrees C. So, with a geothermal gradient of 24 degrees per km, at a depth of a couple km the temperature averaged
around the globe would be 58 degrees C or ~140 degrees Fahrenheit - 0.014% of just 1 million degrees.

For comparison, the photosphere of the SUN - the part we see, is 6,000 degrees C - less than 11,000 degrees F.

Gore's statement represents, quite simply, one of only two possibilities: He is just plain STUPID; or he purposefully uttered a bald-faced LIE!

3. We now have drilling equipment which can withstand that kind of heat so we can tap into all that energy;

Response: What do we now have? Drilling equipment which can withstand millions of degrees (NO WE DON'T), or which can withstand the staggeringly ordinary and low temperature of 150 degrees at the depth of a couple km? Yes we do, but that kind of heat is not useful for geothermal energy production. Perhaps most importantly, the consideration here is not so much with the equipment, but with the rock itself. As one drills deeper and deeper, and the rock gets hotter and hotter, and the pressure goes up and up, the void created by a borehole typically closes soon after drilling as a result of plastic flow of the rock.

4. We can use that heat to make steam and generate electricity;

Response: He makes it sound like we can drill down anywhere, tap into huge heat reserves and use it. Except where active volcanoes bring hot material near the surface (this is the few hundred meters depth I mentioned earlier) the depth to temperatures hot enough to generate electricity is typically far below a couple kilometers. And what he is NOT saying is that there has to be a fluid medium to BRING that heat up from way down there. Groundwater does not typically occur at any significant volume that deep. The existing geothermal fields exist at places where the heat source is shallow AND there is circulating groundwater which is heated and can be used to run a turbine. What he is talking about is almost a perpetual motion machine - it takes a certain amount of energy to raise the temperature of water above the boiling point to make steam. That energy is released by turning a turbine, but some of the energy is needed to pump the water to the depth required and back up to the turbine again.

5. There is enough heat to run our current civilization for 35,000 years.

Response: The Earth has been HOT HOT HOT for all of it's 4.6 BILLION year history. It will remain HOT for billions more years. So, YES, there is enough heat for 35,000 years if we can figure a way to tap it - and quite then some.

This statement just goes to reinforce the fact that "The Thinking Man's Thinking Man" actually hasn't thought about this issue AT ALL!!!!!, that he is horrendously and embarrassingly IGNORANT about geothermal energy, and, perhaps most importantly (and the point that he cares about) that many people are even more ignorant than he is and there are others (e.g., Conan) who will pay him handsomely for saying anything he damned well pleases, right or wrong and people will fawn on him, dub him with laudatory epithets, lick his boots and open their wallets for whatever cause Al tells them they should.

To all my female readers, be pleased that Gore was not called "The Thinking Woman's Thinking Man". Distance yourselves from this charlatan and do yourself a favor:

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