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Embedded Energy versus Embedded Cognition


Posted: Sep 7 2011 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Energy, Solving Societal Problems

"Embedded energy" refers to the energy that was used to create an object--including mining or growing or catching the raw materials, manufacturing and assembling the pieces, transporting the raw materials and finished product, and installing the object in its place of use. A spoon, to take a simple example, required energy to mine the ore, to smelt the ore to make the metal, to shape the metal into spoon shape, plus more energy to transport ore to the smelter, metal to the factory, spoon to the store. Embedded energy is contrasted with the energy required to power or use the product during its lifetime.

There is a somewhat parallel concept, which refers to the knowledge and thinking that was required to design and perfect the object. More

Does "form follows function" apply in geosciences?


Posted: Mar 18 2011 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Spatial Thinking, Perception/Observation, Energy

"Form Follows Function." I've run across this idea a number of times, and it has tickled the spatial thinking part of my attention span. Cups, bowls, bathtubs, and spoons share a fundamental attribute--their concave upwards shape. This shape or "form" follows inevitably from the requirements of holding a liquid in the presence of gravity. Bird wings and airplane wings share a cross-sectional shape, flatter on the bottom and more rounded on the top, to perform the function of lifting the wing as it moves through the air.

I'd always considered "form follows function" to be a poor fit to most objects I care about as a geoscientist. More

Collapsing mountains and embodied cognition


Posted: Sep 8 2010 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Perception/Observation, Field-Based Learning, Energy

Earlier this year, I wrote in this very space:

...many Earth processes of global significance... have [the] effect of redistributing energy away from localities of high energy concentration towards localities of lower energy concentration. The net effect is a more dispersed spatial distribution of energy....Weathering and erosion have the net effect of breaking up over-concentrations of gravitational potential energy (aka mountains) and dispersing that energy in the form of kinetic energy of sediment particles down the mountainside and across the lowlands to the sea.

I believed what I wrote, one hundred percent--in an intellectual sense, that is.

Then I went to Alaska, to the Kenai Penninsula and the Aleutians--and now I really believe it. More

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The second law of thermodynamics as a unifying theme of geosciences


Posted: May 21 2010 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Systems Thinking, Spatial Thinking, Energy

Map of hurricane tracksHurricanes carry heat away from the tropics. <image info>
This post was triggered by an insight in Dave Mogk's Efficiency post: "A hurricane is an extremely efficient natural process that redistributes the thermal energy built up in tropical oceans by rapidly transferring this energy to colder, northerly latitudes."

It turns out that many Earth processes of global significance, in both solid and fluid earth, have this same effect of redistributing energy away from localities of high energy concentration towards localities of lower energy concentration. The net effect is a more dispersed spatial distribution of energy. More

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My Catastrophe is Bigger than Your Catastrophe


Posted: Dec 16 2009 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Systems Thinking, Solving Societal Problems, Energy, Collaboration, Community

A week ago, in my journalism seminar we did a student-produced case study on loss of biodiversity: "The Sixth Extinction." Last week, the lunchtime seminar in my research division at Lamont was a report from the annual conference from the Association for the Study of Peak Oil. The newspaper this week is full of the United National Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

I feel as though the scientific community is pulling itself apart, with biologists drawn to to biodiversity loss, geologists drawn to peak oil, chemists and physicists drawn to climate change. Each faction is trying to draw attention of politicians, the public, and media to their favorite impending disaster. More

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