Dust flux, Vostok ice core

Dust flux, Vostok ice core
Two dimensional phase space reconstruction of dust flux from the Vostok core over the period 186-4 ka using the time derivative method. Dust flux on the x-axis, rate of change is on the y-axis. From Gipp (2001).

Friday, February 26, 2016

Pop in gold x USDX reaching a critical point

Here at the World Complex I have been using gold x USDX (i.e., the gold price in US dollars per ounce multiplied by the US dollar index, divided by 100) as a proxy for the value of gold mined by companies not operating in the US. Assuming that their expenses are in some local currency, the cash flow of such companies can be improved either by a rising dollar (gold remaining constant) or a rising gold price. In fact, a rising dollar may be preferable, as when the gold price rises sharply, such companies are often hit with special "windfall taxes"--something I have yet to see when it is the dollar which rises (hopefully nobody gets any ideas about that).

There is a lot of excitement in the gold space in the past few weeks. As we saw over a year ago, there has been a breakout of the gold x USDX from a sizeable triangle.

The above chart lends itself to a couple of investment theses. One is that a lot of people seem to make a New Year's resolution to buy a lot of gold, as there is a notable move in the index at the beginning of each of the last three years.

With all the excitement of the last few weeks, it is time to take a closer look. We are at an important point in at least three important respects. At present, gold x USDX is at 1203.79. The peak in the index hit during the move last year was 1229.93. I would submit that the present peak has to exceed last year's level, or else it is just another lower high.

Here is a comparison of the performance of gold vs copper over the past six years (both are multiplied by USDX, gold is US$ per oz, copper in US$ per pound). The way this is plotted, wherever the two curves intersect, the gold-copper ratio is 400. Right now, gold is about 600x the price of copper. Historically, a ratio this high is uncommon--we last saw it briefly in 2009.

Ordinarily, I would say the above chart is a little scary for goldbugs, as it would seem to predict a drop in the price of gold (or a rise in copper, which seems a little unlikely in this economy). Your expectations will vary depending on your overall investment thesis. If deflationary forces grow stronger, this ratio could very well rise further, just as we are seeing in the gold-silver ratio. While Americans don't seem to think of gold as money, it looks as though someone does. If your hypothesis is that central banks are going to pull out all the stops to fight deflation, your future predictions depend on whether you believe they will be successful.

It's been awhile since I posted one of these. The idea here is that the gold price is behaves as do many other complex systems in nature--it spends long periods of time in certain areas of equilibrium, punctuated by rapid moves to some other area of equilibrium. There are three areas of relative equilibrium in the above figure. The gold x USDX index has been confined to the middle equilibrium since mid-2013, except for the hopeful little pop last year. Sadly, it didn't reach escape velocity, and fell back into the middle equilibrium.

Our current situation bears very close watching. Once again, we are at a possible breakout point. If we are to see a significant move in gold, we need to see a move towards the upper equilibrium. If the US dollar were to remain strong during such a move, this would suggest a gold price approaching $1400. The next eight weeks or so should tell the tale--either we will be well on the way to the next equilibrium, or we will fall back to the present one.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Karst features of Guilin, part 2

In our last installment, I showed you some images of karst terrain near Guilin.

That is what is above the surface. Today let's look at what lies beneath.

Karst topography arises from dissolution of carbonate rock. But most of this dissolution does not occur at the surface. It occurs at depth. Today's feature concerns spelunking.

There are numerous caves in and around Guilin. Now, one of the charming things that the Chinese like to do in their natural parks is to "improve on nature" a little bit. In the caves, this was mainly in the form of strange lighting, but I suspect in a couple of areas, there was a little bit of construction as well.

Okay, I get it. You are trying to attract tourists to the caves, and they really aren't that interested in actual geology. Instead you talk about how this group of stalagmites over here resembles the Buddha giving a talk before the assembled monks, and this formation over here looks like ice cream, and this column over here resembles a dragon, and this one looks like Orlando Bloom smoking a joint (ok, I made up the last one).

The dissolution of rock makes the hole. If it is entirely underground, we call it a cave. Some of these features from holes or tunnels through masses of rock, like the examples above--most people don't think of these as caves.

On the flip side, once water levels fall, and the cave is dry, you start to get precipitation of minerals in existing spaces at all scales.

Stalactites, stalagmites, columns.


The caves above include Seven Star Cave in Guilin, and the Silver Cave in Yangshuo.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Vignettes of water in China

Whistling up the line from Guangzhou back to Zhengzhou at 300 km. The landscape blurs by, first high hills and flooded paddies, people out in the fields planting and tilling (enjoy your winter, Canada!). The hills are the bright red and orange of tropical soils, deeply incised by rushing waters. After a time, the hills become strange and solitary, and then we are north of Changsha, and the land flattens out. The last few hours are spent over a plain as flat as anything in the prairies. Occasionally there is a little stream is guided by a high levee over a plain that would otherwise lie below the water. But as we go farther north, the streams and rivers are cut into the plain, and the levees are gone.

In the south, the planting is well underway. Not so in the north, where two weeks ago, the fields were still dusted in snow.

Now they just look a tad dry.

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When I moved to China 18 months ago, I was in pretty bad shape. I had reached the terminal phase of a long-term illness. One reason I moved to China was because the soil mineralogy was favourable for my condition. Other places I could have gone to were India and Egypt. Egypt I rejected for political reasons. India I rejected because I feared I would melt. Plus the culture of China was more favourable for me, apart from the little problem of not being able to speak much Chinese.

Within two months of arriving, my energy levels had improved, and I had noticed a tremendous improvement in my fingernails. That may sound trivial, but having bad nails is a sign of mineral problems. Mine were weirdly thin, they would fracture along crescents, and were deformed. After a few months in China, they looked normal.

The soils of China and India (and the Nile delta) are extremely mineral rich. This explains why for much of recorded history, the population of China and India has been so large.

The richness has to do with water.

A search of "Geography is not destiny" on Google shows this is a quote that has been used many times in many situations. However, it seems that "geography is destiny" also appears as a quote in many works. This being the World Complex, we will say that geology is destiny. In this case, the assembly of many subcontinents into one large continent (Asia), combined with the geologically recent rise of the Himalayas, results in the most powerful monsoonal climate pounding against a rapidly rising mass of rock. The end result is torrents of water rushing out of the mountains, flooding both China and India with mineral-loaded water--the minerals being eroded rock dust from the mountains. Thus every year the soils in these countries are recharged not only with water, but with minerals.

Over time, the Chinese (and the Indians) learned exactly what to do with water. Their agricultural system depended on the flooding. The Han people spread out over the plains, and the minority people were left to struggle on the flanks of mountains, and in other areas that were too marginal to be of interest to the dominant Han.

What was their answer?

Terraces. Lots and lots of terraces. These are Longji terraces, a couple of hours drive from Guilin.

These are a bitch to water. If you are lucky, there may be a stream flowing down from the top of the hill. Some of these have to be watered by pumping water up the hill one terrace at a time.

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Water is central to Chinese culture--so much so that the demands of building may be set aside to meet the requirements of water. The stone depicted below was recovered about five years ago in Guangzhou during the dredging of a waterway--it is a governmental proclamation ordering that no building take place on an elevated plain that was of great importance to the health of the surrounding waterways.

The proclamation, dated April 23, 1883, prohibits construction on the plain to prevent damage to wells and streams. It is written from the standpoint that the area was important to the health of local streams because construction would be a bad omen--in other words, a supernatural explanation was offered. But I can't help wondering if someone in the local government had a notion about groundwater and recharge zones, but knew it was pointless explaining it that way to local farmers.

Interestingly, the proclamation was declared in response to a suit by local farmers against a local man who had bought land on the high plain, and who planned to build a large mansion there. So even the folk people may have had some idea of the connection between the recharge area and the surrounding streams.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Water resources in ancient China

Guangzhou has been an important city for at least 2000 years. The capital of the ancient kingdom of Nanyue was within modern-day Guangzhou. The former palace grounds were excavated starting in 1995, and have been turned into a museum, not far from the main business centre of the city.

The first thing you see on entering the museum is the excavation of the former gardens, which had a pond and a series of waterways.

One thing I really noticed was that there were a lot of former wells on the site. Water is, of course, fundamental. The philosophy of Chinese labour can be summed up as go out, plant rice, and dig wells for water.

These wells show different styles in the way the sides of the well are lined, the sophistication of the tiling or brickwork around the well, and the styles of the stone curbs, suggesting that these wells have been placed sequentially over a period of nearly 2000 years. The most recent well was emplaced during the Qing dynasty, which ended in 1911.

Qing dynasty well.

The above reproduction of an aerial photograph of the former garden/pond/waterway shows the number of wells (small circles).

A few years ago, we decided to dig a well on our property in Ghana. We put down a nice circular hole more than a metre in diameter over three metres down into the aquifer, which was a coarse sand. We used a couple of lengths of concrete pipe to line the lower part of the well, and lined the wider upper section with chicken wire, which we used to support concrete. We laid bricks around the well, and built a concrete curb to keep surface water from contaminating the well. It worked pretty well until one night a terrible storm created such a surge in the aquifer, that sand liquefied and flowed up the well, basically to ground level. That sand undermined the laterite around the well, which collapsed, disrupting all the brickwork. I had a picture of the final mess somewhere but can't find it.

Anyway, for this reason, I have a lot of respect for someone who can dig a well that still remains 2000 years later.

That is really fine work.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Developing and redeveloping Nanning, Guangxi Province

Nanning is called the Green City in China. Unfortunately, having had dinner in one of those rooftop revolving restaurants, I can tell you it is not a beautiful city.

From Qingxiushan looking south and west, one can see a huge swath of developing land at the edge of Nanning.

These pictures are looking more or less to the south, running from east (top) to west (bottom). Most of the buildings east of the river are under construction, or just recently constructed, and don't appear to be yet occupied.

Looking further east, there is still more land that looks like it is set aside for development.

Pictures run from somewhat northeast to southeast. The forested area in the near ground is part of the park, but the cleared area all the way back to the buildings in the distance appears to be open for development.

In addition to the furious expansion of the city, parts of the inner city are getting redeveloped.

All of the remaining pictures are near the city centre, just over 1 km (less than one mile) from the main railway station.

Having a relaxing glass of wine in the middle of a field of rubble.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Relics of the Cultural Revolution

I visited the Museum of Nationalities in Nanning today. It is a museum dedicated to cultural artifacts of primarily the Chinese minority peoples, but includes those of many other nations as well. Here it is, from the top of nearby Qian Xiu Shan.

Like most Chinese museums, it wastes a lot of space with an enormous entry hall.

Anyway, among the various exhibits there was one devoted to the Cultural Revolution! Why is there a display on the Cultural Revolution in the Museum of Nationalities? Who knows? But why look a gift horse in the mouth?

First up--ceramics. China has a long history of producing ceramics, and is one of the great powers in the ceramic world. Here are some examples of ceramics produced during the cultural revolution.

First off, I notice a lot of teapots and cups here. This is our first clue that the Cultural Revolution was something really new and different in Chinese history. When you look through ancient Chinese artifacts, do you find a lot of tea-drinking paraphernalia? No! You find some, but wine flasks are far more common. Visit any Chinese museum, and before long you will see many, many, many containers for wine. From this I infer that wine and its drinking were of critical importance to the Chinese throughout much of their history. However, it seems that during the Cultural Revolution, tea was more important than wine.

Of course, most of the extremists driving the CR were young people. Maybe too young to be drinking wine. Or maybe drinking wine was too bourgeois for them.

Next up: propaganda posters.

Sorry about the odd angles--I'm trying to cut down on reflections.

What makes a good propaganda poster? Evidently, the colour red.

Speaking or red, it's Mao's little red book.

Like many other acts of political craziness in history, the Cultural Revolution was dependent on youth. The young have energy, and are prone to zealotry.