Terra Preta – The Miracle Soil of the Amazon

For a short time, I’ve been invloved in a discussion about something that most of us have never heard of – TERRA PRETA.

A brief background: In 2006 Charles Mann wrote a book 1491: Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.  I read it back in early 2007, and some of the things in it have stuck with me ever since.  It is a TERRIFIC book.

One of the amazing things I learned was about terra preta – a dark soil in the Amazon that Mann said was a miracle soil.  We all are told over and over again that Amazonian soil is TERRIBLE.  Well, all of it isn’t.  Some of it may be the best soil ever.  Used in agriculture, terra preta lasts indefinitely WITHOUT FERTILIZERS.

Terra preta is a mix of soil, charcoal, and ceramic shards put there by people. It also includes fish bones.  Terra preta averages 40-50 cms deep but in some places it is up to 2 meters deep.  Why, no one knows, because you don’t need half a meter or two meters to grow food.  You normally  only need about 25 cms or less usually.  That is about 10″ of topsoil.

Terra preta was first recognized about 100 years ago, but only in the last 20 years or so has anyone studied it.  And what they have found is amazing.

Terra Preta

Terra preta, with its ceramic shards. [Source: NatGeo’s video “Superdirt Made Amazon Cities Possible?”]

First of all, terra preta IS NOT NATURAL.  It is clearly and obviously man-made.  This is known because the ceramic shards are present everywhere terra preta exist – a total area along rivers a little larger than the size of the state of Illinois – but in narrow areas near rivers.

Map of the Amazon's Terra Preta Areas

Map Showing Where Terra Preta is Currently known to be Found [Source: Clement et al 2015 “The domestication of Amazonia before European conquest”]

Even when the very dark terra preta soil is 2 meters deep, the ceramic is in it down to the bottom.  The soil is so dark and numus rich that scientists have given it the artificial name of “Amazonian dark earth”, or ADE.  The name ADE is bullshit, because it is terra preta, and has had that name for a very long time. Continue reading



Alternative Researchers

The term is one commonly used by serious non-credentialed inquirers to distinguish themselves from academic historians and academic scientists, all of whom have achieved their status by way of acquiring a diploma from some institute of higher learning.  The term “alternative research,” does not indicate much to the average person on the street, but there is an increasing number of people who can distinguish that it means quite a lot.

To this audience the term indicates that the inquirer whose work they’re going to read or listen to at a conference is someone who is not bashful about stepping on toes, who calls a spade a spade, whose career does not depend on toeing some line and playing it safe.

To the “credentialed inquirer” (an academic) the term “aternative researcher” means someone who has few if any standards, has not accrued any standing, who has not learned how to think critically, and who is close to being a snake oil salesman.  OUCH!

One has only to look at the history of science to see that it is replete with many early researchers who would today be considered dabblers – mere “researchers”.  Some point to Einstein himself as a dabbler, since he was working in the Swiss Patent Office at the time he developed his Theory of Relativity.  But Einstein is not an appropriate example of a non-credentialed inquirer, because he had only taken the job as a stop-gap measure.  He had attended university and was already known a little bit in the academic world.

Benjamin Franklin would be a more appropriate example of a non-credentialed inquirer. He had little formal education and but had a fervent interest in multiple areas of inquiry and – eventually – a wide circle of influential people in science as an audience.  At that time, evidently, the wall between the two types of researchers had not yet formed.

“Alternative” implies “pseudo” to credentialed scientists, it seems, and certainly suggests outside of science.  It is difficult to address history or archaeology in this present essay, since both of them use so much interpretation that is not quantified, leading to two fields that are so rife with personal prejudice, subjectivity and belief system as to render them both little more than compendia of opinions.  A close friend who is degreed in history amazed me with assertions that everyone is allowed to have an opinion, and that no opinion is considered true above any others.  As an engineer, to hear that even FACTS are debatable and only opinion – well you can imagine my reaction…  I DO ask that friend if 2+2=4 is just an opinion.  So far no answer… Continue reading

Another look at the Carolina bays

I did something interesting and would like to share it…

About a year ago Michael Davias shared with me his Excel spreadsheet pertaining to the Carolina bays.  And what a spreadsheet it is.  The amount of work Michael put into locating and quantifying their locations and sizes and alignments boggles my mind.  It was, as I understand it, tied in with his LIDAR work on the bays.  And without LIDAR, probably the majority of the bays simply are not find-able.  The two – LIDAR and the data – go hand in hand, but the numbers of bays is really up there, and to think that he was able to extract so much precise data about the bays is just mind-numbing.  My hat goes off to Michael for doing so much foundational work.


A few of the more than 43,900 Carolina bays.  [Click to enlarge.]

Maybe the first question that comes to your mind is how many of them Davias was able to find.  The answer to that is 43,900 bays. [Author’s note: I have since been apprised that the number is pushing 45,000 now; the work goes on… I will continue to use the 43,900 number in this post, however… Laziness…LOL]

So the world now has a fairly precise count of the Carolina bays.  It is not half a million, as some have speculated.  It is 43,900.  But 43,900 is still a LOT of bays.  It is also a very large database from which to derive statistical meaning.

How many types of bay planforms are there?  Five types exist in the eastern USA.  Michael gave the three types the names BayCarolina, BayBell, and BaySouth, bayShore, and bayOval.  A sixth type regardless of shape is called BayWest, strictly on location – out in the Great Plains.

What is the size range?  The largest one is 7.95 km x 6.19 km.  The smallest is 0.03 km x 0.03 km.

The farthest north bay is at latitude 41.76°N; the farthest south is at 30.79°N. The farthest east is at 72.80°W; the farthest west is at 100.80°W (in the Bay West group.  Of those in the eastern USA, the farthest west is at 87.62°W. Continue reading

Who Says Kids Are Out of Touch Because of their Techie Toys?

I, for one, don’t.

I am getting the feeling that my optimism about the future is actually growing.

First there is Hans Rosling and his new effort to get people to unlearn what they think is true but isn’t.  And kudos to him, and good luck!

Then there is Matt Ridley, who calmly and realistically points out how WELL we are doing in the world right now, contravening every “Common Wisdom” that the modern-world-haters spew out day after day.

Then, the other day my girlfriend was bemoaning the fact that kids walk down the street with earplugs or several sit in a coffeehouse at the same table focused on their smart phone apps, with the world around their physical bodies focused completely out.  As is typical with most people over 50, she said, “That is terrible! There are all their friends right there! And what are they doing? Tapping away on their cell phones! They don’t even talk to each other anymore!”

Me? I get the exact opposite impression.  These are people doing exactly what they want to do, which in my mind is the absolute best way to learn anything.

Long ago, I looked round me and saw kids – damned near all of them – playing and playing and playing, and smiling all the while, while adults – damned near all of them – were droning through their days with frowns and looks of quiet desperation.   Continue reading

Looking Into Resveretrol a Bit

Let’s see if I can present this in an intelligible way…

The pertinent research papers and passages are linked of presented at the end of this post.


About 2 years ago someone in a nearby town asked me to pick up some resveretrol while in the US and bring it back for her.  At the time I looked it up and it looked like she wanted it for its skin benefits.  No problem.  I picked it up, but then she never came and got it, so it sat on my bathroom shelf for almost 2 years.

Getting a little on with age and having fairly good skin tone myself, one day I thought it might be good to look into the info on resveretrol again.  Why not use something if it might help?   I’d spent the money, after all.  So, online I went.

I found assertions that resveretrol was tested in mice and helped them avoid diabetes and helped them live longer.  Okay, that isn’t too bad.  It also said that some research and found out more of interest to males of my age. Some of the actual scientific research clearly found benefits to male erectile function and sperm counts.  This was just about the very first thing I found out about resveretrol, so along with the purported longevity claims, it raised an eyebrow or two.

Now I assure you that guys my age do not necessarily want high sperm counts. We certainly don’t go around perusing scientific journals to find out what the latest sperm booster is….LOL


I am NOT an exhibitionist.  Nor do I want to blab my sex life to everyone on Earth.  So it takes a bit of guts for me to talk about this stuff. Continue reading

The Air Conditioner Effect – Part of the Urban Heat Island Effect

I would point people at this article from 2010 as a starting point.

Think about this:

We wouldn’t put meteorological stations (met stations) right by the exhaust of smoke stacks, would we?  Of course not.  And why not?  The air coming out is HOT.  And what is the air coming out of an air conditioner’s outside compressor unit like?  HOT.

The smokestack effluent is hot because of some heating process.  Normally there is some process in a plant that uses heat and that heat is disposed of out the stack.

Similarly, an air conditioner has a process going on within IT that warms up its exhaust air.  That process is the operating of the compressor unit.  The compressor unit essentially forces a building’s inside air through nozzles, and as the air passes through the nozzle it expands rapidly – which cools THAT air.  But that cooling doesn’t come free.  Compressing that air THROUGH the nozzle means heating it up FIRST.  It has to have a certain velocity in order for the cooling to happen as it exits the nozzle.  So pressure is needed.  And when that coolant is compressed, it heats up and up and up.  Compressors run quite hot, in fact.  And they need to be cooled down.  That is the other side of the air conditioning equation – if you want cool on one side (inside) you have to deal with the heat produced on the other side, and send that heat outside.  The last stage is to run the heated fluid through tubes in front of a fan which blows over them, cooling the fluid in those tubes.  And where does that heat end up going?


(From http://www.HowStuffWorks.com) Notice that orange/yellow arrow representing a heated air plume being sent out into the external atmosphere.  Now do that tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of times within a city area.  The insides of buildings get cooler, and the outside – what happens to IT? The heat gets dispersed and blended with the ambient air, warming it.  That warming is not zero. Not individually nor collectively.  Collectively those non-zeros adds up.

That is why you don’t put a met station right by the exhaust of an air conditioner – because the air there is HEATED.  So that we can be cool inside, the outside has to get warmer.  In short, the air in our cities is cooler inside and warmer outside.

Now guess where the met stations are – inside or outside?  Right – outside. <i>Where the heated air conditioner exhaust goes.</i> Continue reading


On December 3rd the US Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence released its long overdue “Findings and Conclusions” on the CIA’s “Detention and Interrogation Program” during the George W Bush administration.  Almost all of us know this by now.

The editors of the New York Times on December 21st wrote an Editorial entitled “Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses”.  This editorial ended with:

Starting a criminal investigation is not about payback; it is about ensuring that this never happens again and regaining the moral credibility to rebuke torture by other governments. Because of the Senate’s report, we now know the distance officials in the executive branch went to rationalize, and conceal, the crimes they wanted to commit. The question is whether the nation will stand by and allow the perpetrators of torture to have perpetual immunity for their actions.

The US military is as bound by more than one law from engaging in torture by the UN Convention Against Torture (1994), which the USA signed but has not yet ratified in Congress, but still is bound by.  The US military is also bound by The Geneva Conventions, Article III of 12 August 1949.  It should be noted that the United States was THE major force in the creation of the Geneva Conventions, and is thus doubly responsible for the rules (laws) as they are written. In addition, by ratifying the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations itself, the US Constitution declares such treaty signings as being part of “the highest law of the land”.  This means that all OTHER laws are under them and must obey the treaties exactly as written.  AND that federal prosecutors must bring violators to justice.

The famous Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions includes:

In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions: Continue reading