Category Archives: geology

237. Travels in Asia Minor – Cappadocia, Turkey

balloon flight above the mosque cappadocia turkey by roadsofstoneThe golden autumn grasslands looked benign enough in sunshine from our balloon flight at dawn today, but 600 kilometres into Asia Minor, and 1,600 years ago, life was hard here. So hard, in fact, that an entire civilisation went underground. Literally.

underground church cappadocia turkey by roadsofstoneCut up to 85 m deep in soft volcanic layers within Miocene to Holocene tuffs and ignimbrites, the underground cities of Cappadocia serve testament to how difficult life was for early Christians on these high and open plains.

Dangerous enough for whole communities of fifty thousand souls to seek refuge beneath the earth — at several places scattered around this part of northern central Turkey.

afternoon at the cafe in avanos cappadocia turkey by roadsofstoneLife here is easier now than it was back then, but maybe not that much.

Avanos is a one horse town if ever I’ve seen one, and it’s clear the horse left quite some time ago.
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236. The price of oil: 6 – Libya and the Last Oil Shock

jack-up oil rig derrick by roadsofstone‘Paradoxically, the very worst outcome [for oil prices] might not be a sudden shock, but a milder recession. If this were to create some temporary spare oil production capacity by depressing demand, … the urgency of the need to prepare for the impending peak could easily be forced off the policy agenda…

As the global peak approaches and the market tightens, any sudden interruption of oil production could [then] spark the last oil shock.’
David Strahan (2007) — The Last Oil Shock (p. 177)

* * * * *

In early 2009, I described the dramatic rise and fall of the oil price associated with the financial crisis of 2008, and looked at the future oil price trends which might follow recovery through into 2010.

transocean rather deepwater semisubmersible oil rig cromarty firth scotland by roadsofstoneTwo years on, economic uncertainty remains, and a return to growth is far from guaranteed. Yet across this time, the oil price has risen steadily. From a low of $40 in February 2009, Brent crude stands at well over $120 today.

The last time when the oil price was above $100, back in 2008, the economy was still booming. Three years later, during the long aftermath of the deepest global recession for eighty years, the oil price remains close to historic highs. How can this be possible?
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234. Fukushima, Japan and nuclear power in the UK

hinkley point nuclear power station somerset england by me'nthedogs flickrThe triple shock of a huge earthquake, a devastating tsunami and an unfolding nuclear accident rocked Japan in March, and my condolences go out to all the many thousands affected.

Luckily, none of this could never happen here in Britain. Or could it?

Despite public disquiet over the safety of the industry since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, nuclear power has regained political favour in recent years.

Amidst desperately slow progress in investing in renewables to fill a looming energy gap in the UK, successive governments have presented nuclear as a clean, cheap and proven solution which also offers zero carbon emissions.

protest at sizewell b nuclear power station suffolk uk 2002 greenpeaceFaced with public concerns after Fukushima, ministers have maintained that the UK is unlike Japan because there are no appreciable seismic risks. We do have earthquakes, but mostly they are minor.

But low seismic risk falls far short of guaranteeing safety. The more important question is whether there are risks from geological or meteorological events which could threaten the safety of our existing and future nuclear power plants. And I’m afraid the answer is a resounding yes.
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233. Isle of Wight 1: On Tennyson Down

freshwater-bay-isle-of-wight-england-by-roadsofstone
No rock so hard but that a little wave
May beat admission in a thousand years

Alfred, Lord Tennyson — The Princess (1847)

* * * * *

freshwater-footpath-dusk-isle-of-wight-england-by-roadsofstoneThe fog is hanging low across the Chalk Downs as ahead of me the village of Freshwater huddles deep between the trees. The first streetlights of a November evening flicker weakly above the street.

As inspiring landscapes go, perhaps this drizzly valley wouldn’t rate that high. But five miles run before the autumn daylight fades is precious, shrunken time, expanded on the trail.

The village street is empty. A fine mist of rain would keep most folk inside, but in truth it’s almost perfect running weather.

the-abyss-cliffs-tennyson-down-isle-of-wight-england-foggy-dusk-roadsofstoneI loop around to find the path, cut into steps above the road through dense gorse and bramble. It climbs relentlessly between the trees, emerging breathlessly onto a chalky, flinty track under a darkening canopy of woods — branches of yew holding up grey clouds just a metre or so above.

At last the path emerges from the underworld and in just a second my feet burst out into a longer stride across wide and grey-lit grassland, rising evenly towards a lurking hill unseen beyond.

The evening silence is different here — wider, more expansive and with a distant, threatening edge. I skulk onwards more cautiously now — for all the firm, smooth ground beneath my feet, there’s a clifftop not all that far away.

Open, yawning space fills the sky, as the empty horizon closes out direction and up or down. It’s unsettling, nauseating — yet an elemental elation fills my throat.

This is fear.

tennyson-memorial-in-fog-isle-of-wight-england-by-roadsofstoneA minute further through the void, I’m a mile or more from anyone who would hear me scream when a dark grey mass rears itself tall and high from unlikely, empty fog.

Atop this wild, forsaken hill there stands a cross.
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226. The price of oil: 5 – Deepwater Horizon and the missing toolkit

florida beaches oil risk deepwater horizon press cutting july 2010Dear Don
And so they’ve capped the well for now, although storms aren’t far away and the oil is still out there across the Gulf. I really hope your Florida beaches manage to avoid it.

Elsewhere around the coast it’s a mess, and although hurricanes might spread the oil, a silver lining from experience of the Braer oil spill off the Shetland Islands in the 1990s is that severe storms may finally help to dissipate the slick.

bp poster wildcat road heathrow airport london england july 2010 by roadsofstoneDeepwater drilling is challenging. High Pressure / High Temperature drilling is difficult.

Combining these operations into drilling HP/HT deepwater wells is new within the past decade, pushing the technological envelope while incorporating the difficulties of both.

Although vilified for his PR gaffes, finally Tony Hayward did get it exactly right in one of his pronouncements last month, when he said that the real problem is we just didn’t have the toolkit to deal with problems in this setting.

In that sense, the Deepwater Horizon, just like the Sea Gem or Piper Alpha, will be a disaster which changes the way we do things for ever more beyond.
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224. Leviathans of the deep – oil rigs in the Cromarty Firth, Scotland

winter dusk on the bridge inverness scotland by roadsofstoneAs evening falls beneath the deepest black of a December northern sky, a thin veil of dark blue hangs streaked with vivid orange just above the pine trees.

The homeward rush hour in Inverness is a muted, half-hearted affair, and in minutes we’re sailing past the bright lights of the bridge towards the darkness of the Black Isle.

Half an hour ahead, the lights of Cromarty barely touch the depths of nightfall. The white houses of the Royal Burgh are hiding low against the shoreline.

There’s a menace to the silence now, faintly interrupted as it is by the bleak moanful sounds of grinding metal and hammering. Across the water, just half a mile offshore, the leviathans of the deep are waiting.

winter dusk snowy mountains oil rig cromarty firth scotland by roadsofstoneHere in the Cromarty Firth, oil rigs from around the world are waiting for the calmer seas of spring, wintering inshore through maintenance and upgrade programmes to equip them for ever deeper, more challenging drilling as our quest for oil expands.
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219. Santorini, Greece: the Minoan eruption

Monolithos was four fisherman huts along the water,
a miniature villa closed for years, and our farmhouse
a hundred feet behind. Hot fields of barley, grapes,
and tomatoes stretching away three flat miles
to where the rest of the island used to be.

— Not Part of Literature: from Monolithos, by Jack Gilbert (1982)

morning in ancient thera santorini greece by roadsofstoneA cold January in London is always the perfect time to head inside. Sunday finds us at the British Museum, gazing enthralled at a small statue which transports us to a different world entirely.

Inside the case, an acrobat is jumping over the horns of a charging bull — a feat of agility captured in Bronze Age craftsmanship more than three and a half thousand years ago.

minoan bull jumping acrobat crete greece british museum london england by roadsofstoneThe Minoans who made the statue lived around the eastern Mediterranean for well over a thousand years.

Settling from 2600 BC around Knossos, near modern Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete, they built rich palaces which were destroyed and rebuilt several times after 1700 BC, before their sites were taken over by the Myceneans around 1420 BC.

* * * * *

kamari beach santorini greece by roadsofstoneIt’s early morning and the sun is already hot across the blackness of the beach. To the south, the road snakes its way up the limestone cliff to Ancient Thera. It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but the climb of Mesa Vouno will kill me long before I get there.

I head north along the shore, with the Aegean Sea on my right, and work my way slowly out of Kamari. The strip is quiet at this time of day, with just a few old folks up in search of breakfast. The rest of the resort is sleeping off last night.

The deserted boutique hotels and bars fall swiftly behind me, and soon I reach the end of town and the start of Greece.
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