Yesterday, BP started an ambitious effort to stop the Deepwater Horizon oil spill with a "top kill"—pumping drilling "mud" into the well at a fast enough rate that it backs up the flow of oil behind the broken blowout preventer and starts to form a plug. Today, the Coast Guard announced that this effort appears to be working. It's too soon to call it an unqualified success, but things are looking good and we may get the leak officially stopped up in the next day or so. That doesn't solve the clean-up issue, but it's a relief to know that something is working.
I've seen a lot of really bad explanations of the top kill process in the news. Frankly, I wasn't entirely clear on how it worked until I read this description on the Oil Drum Blog. It likened the leak to a stopped up sewer line. If you have tree roots growing through your sewer, you can still turn the sink on, and liquid can get through. But if you up the volume—flush the toilet or run the washing machine—everything gets backed up and flows back into your basement. Essentially, the broken blowout preventer is the tree roots, and the drilling mud was used to increase the volume of liquid enough that it couldn't get through the break.
Also, for the record, drilling mud isn't mud like you'll find in your backyard. There's been a lot of confusion on that point, and a lot of the news reports I've seen haven't cleared it up much. Drilling mud is an engineered lubricant. Clay is often one ingredient, but there are many types of drilling fluid that get called "mud" and they're usually a mixture of clays, water and various chemicals. Amusingly—at least for anyone who saw "There Will Be Blood"—drilling mud is supposed to look a lot like a chocolate malt.
Despite Trump’s denial of climate change the the ghastly attacks on climate science and mitigation in the new proposed budget, the Carbon Bubble — which overprices hydrocarbons and the industries that rely on them, as though we’ll be burning all of them with impunity — is about to pop.
South American polka dot tree frogs are pretty cool, but Julián Faivovich and Carlos Taboada found out they are even cooler when an ultraviolet flashlight is trained on them. They fluoresce. Many animals can see beyond the spectrum visible to humans, and these frogs adapted with this trait. From the abstract: Fluorescence, the absorption of […]
A small (51 men aged 24 +/- 3 years) study published in Neuron tasked experimental subjects with practicing the ancient Greek mnemonic technique of “memory palaces” and then scanned their brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging, comparing the scans to scans from competitive “memory athletes” and also measuring their performance on memorization tasks.
All the filters in the world won’t save your smartphone pics from a shaky hand. To really step up your mobile photography game, you’ll need some kind of mount to hold it steady. You could buy a smartphone attachment for a conventional camera tripod, but who wants to carry that kind of gear everywhere they […]
The forced transition from analog to digital TV signals was probably met with relative indifference from people with Netflix subscriptions and the “I don’t even own a TV” snoots. But anyone living in the vast swaths of the country that don’t have guaranteed high-speed internet, broadcast TV is a perfectly valid (and 100% free) way […]
When Apple revealed the new MacBook in 2016, one of the biggest issues raised with the notebook’s new design (aside from ire over the slew of new adapters you’d inevitably have to buy) was the removal of one of its most beloved proprietary features, the magnetic charging cable. Thankfully, third-party peripheral makers have taken up […]