The Power Of Maps  

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REw has an article on NASA's effort to map offshore wind intensity, collected at the JPL Winds site - NASA Maps Reveal Wind Energy Sources.

Efforts to harness the energy potential of Earth's ocean winds could soon gain an important new tool, global satellite maps from NASA. Scientists have been creating maps using nearly a decade of data from NASA's QuikSCAT satellite that reveal ocean areas where the wind resources exist to produce wind energy.

The new maps could help developers better plan the locations of offshore wind farms. The research was funded by NASA's Earth Science Division, which works to advance the frontiers of scientific discovery about Earth and its climate.

"Wind energy is environmentally friendly. After the initial energy investment to build and install wind turbines, you don't burn fossil fuels that emit carbon," said study lead author Tim Liu, a senior research scientist and QuikSCAT science team leader at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Like solar power, wind energy is green energy."

Science Daily has more on the same topic - Ocean Wind Power Maps Reveal Possible Wind Energy Sources.
Wind energy has the potential to provide 10 to 15 percent of future world energy requirements, according to Paul Dimotakis, chief technologist at JPL. If ocean areas with high winds were tapped for wind energy, they could potentially generate 500 to 800 watts of energy per square meter, according to Liu's research. Dimotakis notes that while this is slightly less than solar energy (which generates about one kilowatt of energy per square meter), wind power can be converted to electricity more efficiently than solar energy and at a lower cost per watt of electricity produced.

According to Liu, new technology has made floating wind farms in the open ocean possible. A number of wind farms are already in operation worldwide. Ocean wind farms have less environmental impact than onshore wind farms, whose noise tends to disturb sensitive wildlife in their immediate area. Also, winds are generally stronger over the ocean than on land because there is less friction over water to slow the winds down - there are no hills or mountains to block the wind's path.

Ideally, offshore wind farms should be located in areas where winds blow continuously at high speeds. The new research identifies such areas and offers explanations for the physical mechanisms that produce the high winds.

An example of one such high-wind mechanism is located off the coast of Northern California near Cape Mendocino. The protruding land mass of the cape deflects northerly winds along the California coast, creating a local wind jet that blows year-round. Similar jets are formed from westerly winds blowing around Tasmania, New Zealand, and Tierra del Fuego in South America, among other locations. Areas with large-scale, high wind power potential also can be found in regions of the mid-latitudes of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, where winter storms normally track.



Robert Rapier has a post on solar power potential in the US - That's a Lot of Solar Insolation.
Without a doubt, I am a big fan of solar power. I have very high hopes that thin film companies like Nanosolar will allow us all to drape our homes in cheap solar films. I spend time pondering how much solar power it would take to replace electricity usage or transportation fuel in the U.S.

But I don't think the U.S. has done nearly enough to foster solar energy. Check out this graphic from a new story in Forbes - Sue OPEC? Congress Should Sue Itself - to appreciate how much potential we have for solar power in the U.S.



Having good data about renewable energy resources will obviously help us harness them in the most optimal locations. The other benefit of having a good understanding of what is going on in the world is being able to avoid wasting resources - Technology Review has an article explaining how farmers use weather data to guide planting, tending and harvesting crops - Remote weather stations give farmers timely advice.
For apple growers like Abby Jacobson, making or losing money depends as much on what they don't do as what they do.

So when data from Michigan State University's high-tech weather monitoring network helped her decide to skip four costly chemical sprayings this spring, she considered it an unqualified success.

"I think it's really positive for our industry and it really benefits our customers," said Jacobson, who co-owns Westview Orchards, about 25 miles north of Detroit, with sister Katrina Schumacher.

Technicians installed the station in March in an open field near fruit trees at the 188-acre orchard near Romeo. The station checks wind speed and direction, air temperature, humidity, precipitation, solar radiation, leaf wetness, and soil moisture and temperature at two depths.

A modem links the station -- one of 57 statewide -- to Verizon Wireless' broadband wireless network, which feeds the data every five minutes to Michigan State's Enviro-weather computer programs.

They, in turn, crunch the numbers and give farmers up-to-the-minute advice on when to plant; apply fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides; irrigate and harvest their crops. The information is instantly available free to farmers by logging in to Enviro-weather's Web site.

Washington State University operates its own network of 109 stations, and smaller systems are growing in Florida, Georgia, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Utah.

Tech-savvy farmers are eager for the help that real-time weather data and analysis can provide them while they make decisions on pest control, disease control and water management, said Robert Krebs, operations manager for Washington State's AgWeatherNet system.

He said those who grow grapes and tree fruits find it particularly useful to know when it's safe to skip chemicals. "If you can avoid one spraying application, you've paid for that station," he said.

Wired has an article in a similar vein - Feeding the Masses: Data In, Crop Predictions Out.
Farmer's Almanac is finally obsolete. Last October, agricultural consultancy Lanworth not only correctly projected that the US Department of Agriculture had overestimated the nation's corn crop, it nailed the margin: roughly 200 million bushels. That's just 1.5 percent fewer kernels but still a significant shortfall for tight markets, causing a 13 percent price hike and jitters in the emerging ethanol industry. When the USDA downgraded expectations a month after Lanworth's prediction, the little Illinois-based company was hailed as a new oracle among soft-commodity traders — who now pay the firm more than $100,000 a year for a timely heads-up on fluctuations in wheat, corn, and soybean supplies.

The USDA bases its estimates on questionnaires and surveys — the agency calls a sample of farmers and asks what's what. Lanworth uses satellite images, digital soil maps, and weather forecasts to project harvests at the scale of individual fields. It even looks at crop conditions and rotation patterns — combining all the numbers to determine future yields.

Founded in 2000, Lanworth started by mapping forests for land managers and timber interests. Tracking trends in sleepy woodlands required just a few outer-space snapshots a year. But food crops are a fast-moving target. Now the company sorts 100 gigs of intel every day, adding to a database of 50 terabytes and counting. It's also moving into world production-prediction — wheat fields in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine are already in the data set, as are corn and soy plots in Brazil and Argentina. The firm expects to reach petabyte scale in five years. "There are questions about how big the total human food supply is and whether we as a country are exposed to risk," says Lanworth's director of information services, Nick Kouchoukos. "We're going after the global balance sheet."

4 comments

Tim Auld   says 11:48 AM

Replacement of one unsustainable input with another. Perhaps more efficient, but consider what's happening. Growing (monocultures) is being reduced to being told what to do when. Where is the direct observation of the land, the diversity to mitigate pest damage, disease, natural disaster and single crop failures? The farmers will lose skills in time (and not gain better ones). When power and technology fails they will be in the dark with no guiding wisdom. This isn't progress.

Its certainly more efficient, which immediately means 2 things - first, that the processes concerned can be prolonged for longer (as less inputs will be used), and second that the environmental impact will be less (less pesticide, less fertiliser runoff etc).

Aren't these good things ?

Next, doesn't the information being gathered have just as much use for organic / sustainable farming techniques as it does for industrial agriculture ?

"Technicians installed the station in March in an open field near fruit trees at the 188-acre orchard near Romeo. The station checks wind speed and direction, air temperature, humidity, precipitation, solar radiation, leaf wetness, and soil moisture and temperature at two depths."

Using the Technium to augment your senses doesn't mean you have to abandon them entirely - that's just lazy.

Obviously other steps need to be taken as well, but I view deepening our understanding of what is happening in the world as one step forward.

(I don't think the collapse scenario is likely to occur, so your point about "When power and technology fails they will be in the dark with no guiding wisdom" is moot - we should be ensuring the power doesn't fail).

Tim Auld   says 11:53 AM

We already know what happens when farmers are given an easy way out. They become lazy. Fertilisers and pesticides were the original subterfuge of organic methods. Raw data doesn't automatically infer understanding. You can learn more by observing nature directly and identifying the needs of and relationships between different elements.

Consider this as a form of the hill climbing algorithm. Industrial agriculture has found a local maximum which is shifting and will not exist for much longer. It is making small refinements, but has missed the sustainable maximum which operates under Permaculture and organic principles.

It's plain hubris to assert that power and technology can't (or is unlikely to) fail. To discount the possibility is poor risk management. They can, and they will. Collapse is already happening. It doesn't happen instantly or homogeneously. What's more, it's non-linear. Cascading failures will make complex systems of systems break down rapidly. When there is not enough surplus energy to reorder the system there's no going back.

You've got an article up at the moment about the law of diminishing returns. It applies to technology in general.

I've covered this issue in some depth before (as has Stuart at The Oil Drum).

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3702
http://peakenergy.blogspot.com/2007/10/fat-man-population-bomb-and-green.html

In summary - industrial agriculture exists and isn't going to disappear any time soon.

The fact that this may be a "local maxima" of sorts (and a shrinking one at that) is kind of irrelevant.

Some people are migrating towards other maxima, but this one will remain occupied for some time - so it is best to optimise the use of it.

Regardless of which farming approach you adopt, having data about weather, soil and other conditions is an important tool.

Sure - you can rely on your in-built senses as well (though some people don't have access to all their senses, and may be grateful for artificial augmentation).

As for hubris, I don't think it is an appropriate description of my belief that we can choose to harness renewable energy to provide all our energy needs. There is plenty available. We know how to do it. This is the core of addressing both of the key limits this blog tracks.

As for collapse, I don't discount the possibility, simply note that it is unlikely to happen, especially if we aim to make it so.

Its one thing to say there isn't a problem - its another to say here are the problems, here are the solutions,. this is what we need to do.

I've consistently taken the second path.

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