Viewing posts by Peter Donovan

Reflections on energy

Posted by Peter Donovan 8 years, 8 months ago

Relatively recent lava flows, Craters of the Moon, Idaho
Near Arco, Idaho, I passed by the recent lava fields left by the passage of the North American plate over the hotspot that is now under Yellowstone National Park. The older flows have developed pockets of soil that support sagebrush, currant bushes, grasses, and forbs. Spider webs spread over pockets of apparently lifeless black lava, catching seeds, insects, and bits of organic material.
At night, I've been sleeping out of the bus under the thousands of stars, which like our sun are powered by nuclear fusion reactions that balance and counteract the forces of gravitational collapse. All life is ultimately powered by this energy.
At midday today, a weather and other instrument panel at a roadside rest stop recorded 987 watts per square meter of incoming solar energy. I'm using some of this with a solar panel, but this energy capture is dwarfed by solar energy capture by plants. Though plants are much less "efficient" than even mediocre photovoltaic panels, they maintain and reproduce themselves and arise willy-nilly on soils that are able to absorb and retain some moisture.
Two experimental nuclear reactors developed in the late 1950s as possible aircraft engines, at the Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 Museum near Arco, Idaho. President Kennedy terminated this billion-dollar program in 1961. The reactors power turbine engines and have substantial mounts to hold them for testing.
The EBR-1 atomic energy museum near Arco, Idaho, was a fascinating stop. EBR-1 was the first nuclear power plant, and was a breeder reactor, producing plutonium fuel from U-238, and cooled with a mixture of sodium and potassium (NaK). A later design, EBR-2, underwent a successful full-power passive shutdown (no auxiliary power, natural convective cooling of the core via the sodium coolant) one month before the Chernobyl accident in 1986. President Bill Clinton shut down EBR-2 in 1994.

Soil Carbon Challenge baseline tour 2011

Posted by Peter Donovan 8 years, 8 months ago

Doug McDaniel and Peter Donovan as Peter prepares to leave Lostine, Oregon on a cross-country soil carbon monitoring trip, July 21, 2011
The tour has begun, thanks to supporters and sponsors of the Soil Carbon Challenge! I've spent the last two months converting a used schoolbus into a mobile camper, and moving (and downsizing) into it. I will be on tour for the rest of 2011 in North America, doing baseline carbon plots and presentations/workshops about the carbon cycle, its importance to water, food security, and climate, and about the opportunity to turn atmospheric carbon into soil organic matter, which is fundamental to human civilization.

Monitoring pyramid

Posted by Peter Donovan 8 years, 10 months ago

While we're on the subject of pyramids, Charley Orchard at has made a useful diagram of what makes monitoring valuable. Click the image to go to the May 2011 Land EKG newsletter explaining it.

Update April 2011

Posted by Peter Donovan 8 years, 11 months ago


So far, ten land managers have entered the Soil Carbon Challenge, an international and local competition to see how fast land managers can turn atmospheric carbon into water-holding, fertility-enhancing soil organic matter. What this means is that we've done baseline sampling on a few representative plots or microsites, and that this baseline sampling can be repeated with consistency at years 3, 6, and 10 to gauge the amount and rate of soil carbon change, and help to distinguish the effects of management from those of weather.

Policy pyramids

Posted by Peter Donovan 8 years, 11 months ago