Building the World

February 21, 2023
by Building The World


“Dust plumes off Western Africa and Cape Verde Islands” by Jeff Schmaltz, NASA, 2009. Wikimedia commons, public domain. Included with appreciation.

Dust – it’s something we may not think about until we swipe a finger across a windowsill or squint an eye on a windy hike. But did you know that dust comes in different colors? Minerals in the land, when they become dust, have various reflective properties according to their composition. Those colors have an effect on climate. White dust helps to reflect solar radiation away from the earth; red or darker dust absorbs radiation, warming the planet.

Sand dust from the Sahara blows to the Amazon where it helps to nourish the rainforest. Image: “Merzouga Dunes,” by photographer Bjorn Christian Tørrissen, 2011. Wikimedia creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Not all dust is a problem. In fact, dust helps to cross-nurture the Earth. Sand from the Sahara Desert actually nourishes the Amazon forest, blowing across the globe in ever-circulating winds that carry dust and its various mineral nutrients to feed far-away soils. But, like many foods, too much is a problem. As the Earth warms, the United Nations warns that we’ll be seeing more dust storms – and more respiratory conditions such as asthma. So, both for climate change and for public health, we need to know more about dust.

EMIT operates from the International Space Station, measuring Earth’s dust (and methane). Image: “International Space Station orbiting Earth,” NASA 2006. Image ID: STS116-301-028. Wikimedia, public domain. Included with appreciation.

Up until now, dust was studied on a local level. Farmers knew their soil, observed when it became dry, saw effects of drought or burned plants after wildfires. But now, with the guidance of Cornell professor Natalie M. Mahowald, NASA has developed an instrument to measure global dust. The imaging spectrometer is called the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation or EMIT. It’s on the International Space Station, observing the Earth as a whole system, taking data snapshots of the globe 16 times every day. The result will be a mineral map of the Earth, with every dust variety shown in a color related to its light wavelengths. In addition to measuring dust, EMIT also monitors emissions of methane.

Cairns, Rebecca with VIDEO by Jazel Pfeifer. “NASA is mapping duststorms from space with this new high-tech device.” 20 February 2022. CNN.

Mahowald, N., D. Ward, S. Doney, P. Hess, J. Randerson. “Are the impacts of land use on warming underestimated in climate policy?” Environmental Research Letters, V12, No. 9, 2017.

United Nations. “Global Assessment of Sand and Dust Storms” UNEP. ISBN: 978-92-807-3551-2.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Un

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February 16, 2023
by Building The World

TRANSPORT: Building urban transit, unearthing ancient treasures

Mexico City is built on the foundation of Tenochtitlan. “Foundation of Tenochtitlan” by Roberto Cueva Del Rio (1908-1988), 1986. Photograph by Jujomzx. Creative commons, public domain. Included with appreciation.

Building an urban transit system in an already dense city is a case study in retrofitting. But what happens when cities dig deep and uncover archeological treasures? During the construction of Boston Central Artery (known at the time as “The Big Dig”) uncovered a 17th century home and a 19th century glass factory.

“Amsterdam: construction of subway station Rokin.” by A. Bakker. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Amsterdam is another example.  When Dutch engineers began work on the North-South metro line, they unearthed 10,000 artifacts. The Amstel River and banks yielded objects like ancient coins, and the remnants of a furniture craft store from the 1800 era. Working in underwater caissons like those used to build the Brooklyn Bridge, archeologists assembled an archive of objects, and documented the process with film and a . Within the new Rokin station urban travelers can enjoy a wall of stone mosaics by Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel featuring found objects. Eight stations on the new metro line present art as well. The metro has become an underground museum.

México City’s metro goes right to one of the greatest urban archeological discoveries in history: the Templo Mayor at Tenochtitlan. On 21 February 1978, electrical workers digging near the city’s main plaza, called the Zócalo, hit a stone. It was no ordinary stone. The object was carved in the shape of disk measuring 10 feet in diameter. On its surface, a relief could be traced to reveal a portrait of Coyolxauhqui, warrior sister of Huizilopochtli, deity of the ancient Mexicas.

On 21 February 1978, Mexico dug for electrical installation and unearthed this treasure, a stone disk carved in the image of Coyolxauhqui. Photo by miguelao,2009, creative commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

An archeological team led by Eduardo Matos Moctezuma excavated the site for the next four years, when the endeavor received presidential support as the Templo Mayor Project. More than 7,000 objects were unearthed, bearing witness to the glories of Tenochtitlan, the Templo Mayor, and a series of temples that once stood as evidence of the great civilization. When Tenochtitlan fell in 1521 to the invasion of Cortés and troops, Aztec temples were destroyed. But now, they are once again part of México’s history and culture. To visit the site, take the México City metro Blue Line to the Zócalo stop, and step back in time.

Lewis, Ann-Eliza H., Editor. Highway to the Past: The Archaeology of Boston’s Big Dig. Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Massachusetts Historical Commission, 2001. Https://, pdf

Museo de Templo Mayor.

Pinto-Rodrigues, Anne. “How train tunnels beneath Amsterdam revealed a medieval treasure trove.” 13 February 2023. CNN.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Un


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February 9, 2023
by Building The World

CITIES: Earthquake response and rebuilding

“Turkey-Syria Earthquake Damage 2023” by VOA (Voice of America). Image: Public Domain, wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

More than 21,000 people in southern Turkey and northern Syria have perished in this week’s tragic earthquake. While a newborn baby was rescued from the rubble, her mother who had just gone into labor when the quake struck but managed to deliver her baby, her father, and four siblings, did not survive the 7.9 magnitude temblor. Fatalities and injuries are still climbing. As the world races to rescue those still pinned beneath tumbled buildings, questions arise:  how can such disasters made less dangerous in the future, how can we rebuild better, and how can we respond now to help?

“Earthquake Severity on the Richter Scale” by Webber 2007. Dedicated by the artist to the public domain, wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

Seismic science is relatively recent. It was in 1941 when Beno Gutenberg and Charles Richter, professors at the California Institute of Technology, defined what is known as the Gutenberg-Richter law that describes the magnitude of earthquakes – it is commonly referred to as the Richter Scale. The scale is logarithmic, meaning that each magnitude level is ten times stronger than the preceding one: a 7.0 earthquake is ten times stronger than a 6.0. temblor.

“Anatolian Plate” by Mike Norton, 2011. Wikimedia, creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Many ancient cities and settlements were established long before scientific knowledge revealed the locations of tectonic fault lines. Earth is composed of a series of plates that are wedged alongside each other, and are slowing moving and readjusting. The area affected in Turkey and Syria was caused by the Arabian plate shifting against the Anatolian plate.  The East Anatolian Fault is another area trouble spot under watch, according to Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute at Bogazici University in Istanbul. It should be noted that some scientists also watch the San Andreas fault in California. One of the world’s destructive earthquakes in recent history was the 2004 9.1 magnitude off the coast of Indonesia that initiated a tsunami sweeping away whole communities along the Indian Ocean, taking 228,000 lives. In 2011, a 9.0 magnitude temblor struck off the coast of Japan, causing a tsunami that led to the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.

An earthquake in Japan triggered a tsunami that caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Image: “Tohoku (Sendai) earthquake observed tsunami height” by Pekachu, 2011. Donated into the public domain by the artist, included with appreciation.

We know where the danger zones are, but what can be done? Certainly, building safety codes can and must be strengthened. Turkey instituted seismic building codes but some older structures are vulnerable because they were built before these regulations existed; retrofitting is difficult. Also to be considered, alternate access routes when roads and bridges suffer damage: there are proposals worth exploring. Another approach to earthquake preparedness and disaster prevention is identifying dense cities built on seismic ground. Some of these cities include national capitals:

“Tokyo Skyline” by Nryate 2021. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Cities that are earthquake prone – and their populations in greater metro area:

Tokyo, Japan –  37, 468,000

Shanghai, China – 23,019,000

Mexico City, Mexico – 21,804,500

Istanbul, Turkey  – 15,455,000

Los Angeles, California – 15,250,000

Cities that contain the center of government are especially problematic when damaged by earthquakes or other disasters. When Haiti suffered a 2010 earthquake, the Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince was damaged: government relief response was severely affected.

When earthquakes hit capital cities, government response is severely affected. Image: “Haitian National Palace in Earthquake of 2010” by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Public domain image included with appreciation.

Some countries vulnerable to earthquake are building “spare-battery” capitals. Japan has already redesigned its train system, Shinkansen, with earthquakes in mind. But after the 2011 quake and tsunami, Japan began plans to develop Itami Airport, Osaka’s older airfield, to become a National Emergency Management International City. Should other capital cities develop alternate sites?

Agora of Smyrna, rebuilt by Marcus Aurelius after the 178 ce earthquake in Izmir, Turkey. Photograph by Carole Raddato, 2015. Creative commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Earthquakes demand rebuilding: this post-disaster recovery can be an opportunity to rebuild with a more sustainable view of the future. Working in partnership and research worldwide, the Center for Rebuilding Sustainable Communities after Disasters, founded by Adenrele Awotona and located at the University of Massachusetts Boston, offers guidance through a community-based approach. Earthquakes, and other catastrophic disasters, demand a unique form of rebuilding: everything all at once. Water systems, electricity generation and distribution, the built environment from residences and businesses to hospitals and schools, food supply, roads – all must be rebuilt at the same time. It is a significant opportunity.

Sign language for “Help.” Developed for those threatened by violence, this gesture can signal a need for help in any perilous situation. Image by Lord Belbury, 2021. Donated by the artist to the public domain, Creative Commons 1.0. Included with appreciation.

The most urgent question – how can we help now? To offer help to those affected by the Turkey/Syria earthquake, here are three sources:

Charity Navigator

Center for Disaster Philanthropy

Charity Watch

How can you help? Image: “Helping hands icon, working together” by AlphaZeta, 2014. Dedicated by the artist to the public domain, Creative Commons 1.0. Included with appreciation.

Awotona, Adenrele. Planning for Community-based Disaster Resilience Worldwide: Learning from case studies in six continents. Routledge, 2017. ISBN: 9781472468154.

Center for Rebuilding Sustainable Communities After Disasters.

Davidson, Frank and K. Lusk Brooke. “Sportsways – possible access routes after earthquake damage.” Building the Future. Cambridge, MA 2012.

Ghosh, Pallab. “Turkey earthquake: Where did it hit and why was it so deadly?” 8 February 2023. BBC.

Hernandez, Joe and G. Brumfiel. “Here’s what we know about what caused the Turkey earthquake” 7 February 2023. National Public Radio (NPR).

Zhai, David and Simon McGown. “Hypercapital: A backup city for Tokyo.” ARPA Journal.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Un

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February 3, 2023
by Building The World

WATER: Colorado River and the Future

And it’s only gotten worse since: 2023 is a critical year to determine the future of the Colorado River. Image: “Drought: before and after.” Photo, United States National Park Service. Wikimedia creative commons public domain. Included with appreciation.

Sharing water is one of the oldest bonds of community. Ancient villages centered around the well; urban settlements like Rome were built near rivers; great cities and civilizations began as ports.

“Rome: A view of the river Tiber looking south with the Castel Sant’Angelo and Saint Peter’s Basilica beyond” by Rudolf Wiegmann, 1834. Wikimedia, public domain. Included with appreciation.

But when neighboring communities are seven large states, the water is the Colorado River, and drought conditions are straining resources: sharing is proving difficult. Camille Touton, Commissioner of the US Bureau of Reclamation, official manager of the river, recently ordered Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming to cut 1/3rd of their water usage. Encouraging states to figure it out amicably, Touton warned that if no solution were soon agreed, the federal government would settle the score. The matter is urgent: the Colorado River provides water for drinking and irrigation for 40 million people. Moreover, if Colorado River reservoirs Lake Mead and Lake Powell reach ‘dead pool’ the Hoover Dam will not supply electricity.

Colorado River: Upper and Lower Basin States. Image from USGS data by Shannon1. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

The Law of the River, a 100-year compendium of laws regulating the Colorado River from inception of the Compact in 1922 to 2022 (and now continuing), is both history and future. As farmers claimed more water to grow food to feed a nation, and as cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas burgeoned in population, dueling needs competed for resources. Add drought and the arguments became more heated.

Las Vegas gets drinking water and electricity from the Colorado River. Image: “Las Vegas by Night, 2019” by Notdjey. Creative commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

The Colorado River will affect water policy in the United States, Compact partners of Mexico and the original American Sovereign Nations, but around the world. One third of all the rivers and lakes globally are facing drought. Rivers like the Amazon, Indus, Nile, Po, Rhine, and Yangtze, among others, will debate similar decisions.

“Confluence of Indus and Zanskar Rivers” by Bernard Gagnon, 2018. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Rivers support agriculture, drinking water, fish and marine life, barge traffic, and hydroelectricity. How should stakeholders work together to decide who gets water and why?

Interested in how Colorado River decisions will affect other rivers worldwide? Click here.

Henley, Jon. “Europe’s rivers run dry as scientists warn drought could be worst in 500 years.” 13 August 2022. The Guardian.

Nilsen, Ella. “California floating cutting major Southwest cities off Colorado River water before touching its agriculture supply, sources say.” 1 February 2023, CNN.

United States Bureau of Reclamation. “Colorado River Basin.”

United States Bureau of Reclamation. “The Law of the River.”

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January 27, 2023
by Building The World

ENERGY: Rare Earths

Rare earth elements are needed to power smartphones, and many other technologies. Image: “Foldable smartphones” by Ka Kit Pang. Wikimedia creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Smart phones are common but so-called “earths” that power these devices are rare. In fact, 17 elements termed rare earth elements or REEs supply everything from phones to electric vehicles, wind turbines, and military systems. That glowing light on your car dashboard? Rare earth chemistry in action.

“Rare earth oxides” by photographer, Peggy Greb. United States Department of Agriculture. Public Domain. Wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

Rare earths are obtained by mining, combined with extraction processing, because these oxides are not found in neat deposits but rather mixed in with other elements. REE mining is a specialty sector. China, land of the Grand Canal, is currently the world leader: both in mining and extracting, controlling 60% of the market. Recently innovations in rare earth element recycling could promote reuse and reduce mining.

“Rare earth oxides production graph” by D.J. Cordier, Haxel, et al., United States Geological Survey, 2013. Wikimedia. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Most rare earth elements used in Europe are imported. But, recently, mining company LKAB found more than one million tons of rare earth oxides in the far northern area of Kiruna. Sweden will have a ready market. However, it will be at least a decade before permitting, mining, and processing will reach European smart devices.

Sámi land and water resources are involved in rare earth mining. Image: “Three Sámi women” circa 1890. Wikimedia, public domain. Included with appreciation.

Sweden will have a nearby partner: the Northvolt battery factory is in development. Also in Sweden’s north: projects for green steel. Meanwhile, LKAB has been busy: in order to reach the deposit, the entire town of Kiruna had to be moved. There is also consideration of the Sámi people of northern Scandinavia who herd reindeer over the lands of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the Kola Peninsula of what is now Russia, these are lands to which the Sámi have indigenous rights. Sámi once transported mined ore via reindeer to deliver material to the coast for shipping. A “cultivation line” was established by law to project Sámi herding lands, but conflicts and differences remain.

“Perite” by photographer David Hospital, wikimedia creative commons 3.0. The mineral is named after Per Adolf Geijer. Image included with appreciation.

Sweden’s newly discovered deposit now has a name: Per Geijer. It’s an homage to Per Adolf Geijer (1886-1976), Swedish geologist who also has a mineral, discovered in Sweden, named after him: perite.

The rare earth element market is expected to grow, estimated to be worth $9.6 billion by 2026. In the midst of this acceleration, mining rare earth elements can affect soil and groundwater, creating acidic conditions. How can rights to rare earth elements be protected, explored, and – when mined – shared? How should land and groundwater affected by rare earth mining be restored and renewed?

Bai, Jingling, et al., “Evaluation of resource and environmental carrying capacity in rare earth mining areas in China.” Scientific Reports, Nature. 12, Article number: 6105 (2022).

He, Laura. “Sweden finds the largest rare earth deposit in Europe. It could help cut dependence on China.” 13 January CNN.

Milne, Richard. “Reasons for scepticism over Swedish rare earths find.” Financial Times.

Sommer, Nikko. “The History of Mining and Inroads to Sámiland and Their Effect on the Sámi.” University of Texas.

United States Department of Energy. “Rare Earth Recycling”

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Un

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January 22, 2023
by Building The World

SPACE: Year of the Water Rabbit

Lievre de l’astrologie chinoise,” by Alice-astro (image) and Miuki (character), 2013. Wikimedia CC3.0. Included with appreciation.

Welcome, Year of the Water Rabbit. Seasons may give us the year, but the moon tells us when the year is new. Amidst feasts and fireworks, this year’s water rabbit may also bring scientific good tidings. Did you know that Chinese tradition places a rabbit on the moon? And now that rabbit may have discovered lunar water.

“Chane’e, The Moon Goddess,” Late Yuan or early Ming Dynasty. Courtesy of Art Institute of Chicago, ARTIC artwork ID: 1108 23. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

An ancient myth tells of Chang’e spirited from Earth to the Moon in a lovers’ tangled tale. She became the Moon goddess. But even a goddess can become lonely, so she was allowed to have a pet: a rabbit. Chang’e and her pet rabbit Yutu entered space lore when NASA’s Apollo 11 crew exchanged banter with Houston Mission Control just before the lunar landing in 1969, as the astronauts promised to look for the two lunar mythic figures. When China sent its first lunar probe to the moon in 2007, it was named Chang’e-1: its little robotic rover was name Yutu – Jade Rabbit. Chang’e was just getting started: in 2022, Chang’e-5 and its rover Yutu discovered evidence of water on the moon.

“Chang-e-5 orbiter ascender separation” by China News Service, 2020. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Water on the moon is a big discovery. Water is necessary for human habitation: carrying needed water into space would severely limit stays. Water could encourage space agriculture: one can consume, and carry, only so much tubular food. Finally, water – yielding hydrogen – might provide rocket fuel. Processing lunar water will be a technical challenge, but having water to start with is essential. Thanks to Chang’e – moon goddess – and Yutu, the Water Rabbit (among other space missions globally), human exploration may open wider, and longer, horizons.

“Water detected at high latitudes on the Moon.” graphic image by NASA, 2008. Public domain image. Included with appreciation.

Back on Earth, Year of the Water Rabbit opens a holiday with a long tradition. In China, as early as the 14th century bce, astronomers began to track solar longitude and lunar phases, forming the basis for a scientific yearly cycle. In China, around the time when the Grand Canal began to take shape, the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 bce) initiated the tradition of honoring the new year. The following Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 bce) continued the custom, now turning its purpose to wishes for a good harvest in the soon-to-come spring. But it was not until the Han Dynasty (202 bce – 220 ce) that a method for determining the date was added, and families began to plan gatherings to feast and celebrate. The ancient lunar calendar was replaced in 1912 by the common, so-called Gregorian, calendar, but by 1949, popular practice prevailed and a public holiday period was renamed “Spring Festival” but is still called by many, Lunar New Year. Across Asia, and around the world, festivities feature feasting by sharing “longevity noodles.”

Noodles are a Lunar New Year culinary tradition. “New Year Prosperity Toss,” by photographer Jayden Teo, 2020. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

How did the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival tradition become associated with animals? The origins of the practice are shrouded in ancient history, but some folk legends exist. Naming years after animals is surely more poetic and interesting than sequential numbering. Around the first century ce, the zodiac menagerie was grafted onto a 12-year cycle repeating within a 60-year system. Within that system, animals dance through the elements of water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. Behold 2023: Year of the Water Rabbit.

Find the rabbit above. “Chinese Zodiac” by RootOfAllLight, 2018. Wikimedia Creative Commons, 4.0 Included with appreciation.

Brooke, K. Lusk and Zoë G. Quinn. “Thank you and Good Night, Jade Rabbit.” 5 August 2016. Building the World Blog, University of Massachusetts Boston.

Douma, M. curator. “Calendars through the Ages.”, Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement (IDEA).

East Asian Studies and Asian American Studies, School of Humanities. “Lunar New Year 2023.” University of California, Irvine.

Liu, J. et al., “Evidence of water on the lunar surface from Chang’e-5 in-situ spectra and returned samples. Nat Commun 13,  3119 (2022).

Timothy S.Y. Lam Museum of Anthropology. “History of Chinese New Year,” Wake Forest University.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Un

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January 12, 2023
by Building The World

WATER: Paleo Valleys – potential solution to floods (and droughts)

“Among the Sierra Nevada, California” painted by Albert Bierstadt, 1868. Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum: #1977.107.1. Wikimedia pubic domain. Included with appreciation.

Is there a hidden resource, beneath the land, that can ease water problems – both drought and flood? Maybe the answer could be paleo valleys. California found three paleo valleys, one in Sacramento. More await. There has never been a better time for this discovery.

“Sacramento Rice Fields” by photographer Mark Miller, 2014. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

California has recently suffered storms and resulting floods imperiling 90% of the state. But the paradox is that California also needs the water. But when drought parches the land, and wildfires burn not just buildings but vegetation that formerly held water with root systems, parched land cannot absorb too much water at once. Yet, recently, California has endured such downpours that flooding is inevitable.

“California Total Precipitation 26 December 2022 to 11 January 2023,” by Weather Prediction Center, 11 January 2023. Public Domain. Included with appreciation, and concern.


According to the Pacific Institute in Oakland, letting the rivers hold more water may be the answer to problems at both ends of the spectrum.  Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute’s co-founder, stated that we must “capture more of these flood flows, store it underground in these aquifers.” (Marsh 2023)

“California Water System” graphic by Shannon1, based on DEMIS data, 2010. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

There are two possible solutions, among some others, to deal with extreme flooding and water retention: levees and paleo valleys.

“Sacramento River broken levee.” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1997. Wikimedia public domain. Included with appreciation.

“Levée” is a French term meaning “raised.” The term was first used in New Orlean in 1672. Some natural levees are cliffs or hills, but most are engineered and built. And that means costs, maintenance, repair. Original levees built in California may have to be moved back. Costs estimates are $20 billion. California already has levees, but these structures were designed and built for an earlier time. Today’s virulent storms are more than current levees can handle. California’s Central Valley, where 25% of American produce is grown in a vast agricultural system, relies on levees. But the same area offers another option, now hidden.

“Hanging Valley (a paleo canyon) near Red Rock.” by Greg Willis, 2009. Creative commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Paleo valleys. In ancient times, during the ice age, glaciers streamed along the Sierra Nevada mountains into California’s Central Valley. As the glaciers retreated, their powerful melt dragged rock and bits of gravel into the valley. When the glacial rivers dried up, the valleys remained. The depth, width, and terrain of these “paleo valleys” makes them perfect for soaking up today’s floodwaters from storms that are becoming more powerful and releasing more and more water. As a bonus – an important one –  these paleo valleys can absorb 60 times more water than the clay soil of most of the Central Valley. According to Professors Graham Fogg, University of California, Davis, and Rosemary Knight, Stanford, California should use paleo valleys for flood water retention, aquifer recharge, and water renewal. The water storage area is vast, already there, and can be identified by airborne electromagnetic imaging (AEM). There is a technical name for paleo valleys: incised valley fill (IVF). (Knight 2022)

Paleo Valleys used to look like this, but now they are underground and must be located. Image: “Glacial Valley – Stryn, Norway.” by TravelOtter, 2004. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

In both cases, levees or paleo valleys, land will need to be used, perhaps acquired by eminent domain, and involving settlements with land owners. Property owners will not be happy. Neither will governments who will see increased building costs and decreased tax revenues.  Insurance will play an important role: insurance companies will not authorize rebuilding if future flood damage is probable. But while levees will keep the water back, unless they are redesigned, they will not serve the dual purpose of restoring groundwater, increasingly precious in a period of drought. The Colorado River can do only so much.

Could paleo valleys become preserves? Image: “Yellowstone National Park” by Henry Wellge, 1905. wikimedia public domain. Included with appreciation.

Levees will continue to be an important defense against inundations. But paleo valleys may be an additional solution to California’s water challenges: absorbing flood water and replenishing underground aquifers. We are just beginning this exploration: a system of paleo valleys has been found in Southeastern Brazil, and in the Himalayas. Where else may we find these hidden resources? How can we preserve and use them in a new era of climate change? Think of paleo valleys as Nature’s infrastructure.

Flavelle, Christopher and Raymond Zhong. “Weeks of Storms Test California’s Approach to Taming Nature.” 5 January 2023; updated 11 January 2023. The New York Times.

Gies, Erica. “Hidden ‘Paleo Valleys’ Could Help California Survive Droughts.” 18 November 2022. Scientific American.

Gies, Erica. Water Always Wins: Thriving in an Age of Drought and Deluge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2022.

Knight, Rosemary, et al., “Airborne geophysical method images fast paths for managed recharge of California’s groundwater.” 2 December 2022. Environmental Research Letters, Volume 17, Number 2.

Marsh, René. “California’s dilemma: How do you harness an epic amount of rain in a water-scarce state” Let it flood, scientists say.” 10 January 2023. CNN.

Mount, Jeffrey. “The High Cost of Fixing Levees.” 23 February 2017. Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Pacific Institute.

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January 1, 2023
by Building The World

VIVA 2023!


 Happy New Year “2023” by MUTCD and Freddie. Wikimedia, public domain. Included with appreciation.

“Palette of varieties of magenta” by InfinitePS Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

If 18-1750 sounds like a color to you, you’re either a Cochineal or an AI bot. Pantone’s Color of the Year 2023 is a combination of Natural and Artificial Intelligence. Cochineals are sessile insects from the suborder of Sternorrhyncha, who thrive on Opuntia cactus plants in the tropical Americas. It is from these insects that carmine, a natural dye, is obtained for the vibrant textiles of Oaxaca, Mexico. Imported to Europe after the Spanish arrived in the Americas, carmine colored both the red coats of British military officers who marched across London Bridge and the red regalia of Roman Catholic cardinals. Carmine became Mexico’s second-most popular export, after silver, during the 17th century. Today, the color still enlivens Mexican textiles and art including Oaxacan Alebrijes.”

Alebrijes en el Mercado Pochote en Oaxaca, México” by photographer Nsaum75, wikimedia CC3.0. Included with appreciation.

Leatrice (Lee) Eiseman, originator of Pantone’s Color of the Year concept and arbiter of the tone of the year 2023, commented that after selecting Viva Magenta “a pulsating color whose exuberance promotes a joyous and optimistic celebration, writing a new narrative” (Pantone 2022), Pantone utilized AI image-generation by Midjourney, to create a Magentaverse.

Magenta is not part of the visible color spectrum of light. Our brains create it – magenta is virtual. Image: Linear visible spectrum” by Gringer, 2008. Public Domain wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

Another virtual aspect of Viva Magenta or 18-1750 is that the color does not actually exist. Magenta does not have a wavelength of light: it is a mix of red and purple, the two points on the color spectrum that merge into each other. Magenta is created in our brains that fill in the space to form a virtual color.

As you begin the year 2023, how will you balance two kinds of intelligence: Natural and Virtual?

Brooke, K. Lusk. “How Pantone Colors the Year.” page 132-134. Renewing the World: Water (2022). ISBN: 978-8-9850359-1-9.

Feldman, Ella. “What is Viva Magenta, Pantone’s ‘Brave’ and ‘Fearless’ Color of the Year?” 2 December 2022. Smithsonian Magazine.

Harvard Museums of Science & Culture. “Cochineal” Read in English and Leer en Español. 


Pantone. “Color of the Year 2023 – Viva Magenta”

Settembre, Amelia. “Magenta: The Color That Doesn’t Exist and Why.” 26 February 2020, The Medium.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Un

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December 29, 2022
by Building The World

WATER: Glitter Litter – Getting Better

Holidays invite sequins and sparkle. Image by Irson Kudikove, 2010. Public domain wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

Holidays like New Year’s Eve invite festive attire, often sparkling from head to toe. The origin of sequins reaches back to ancient gold coins, worn by the wealthy for special occasions. In fact, the word “sequin” comes from the Italian “zecchino” referring to the gold coins minted in Venice, and before than from the Arabic “sikka” meaning a minted coin. One may still see some coin-bedecked costumes in certain forms of dance. No wonder sequins are now associated with lavish occasions.

“50 Zecchini coins from the reign of Paulo Renier, Doge of Venice, circa 1779.” Wikimedia, public domain. Included with appreciation to numismatic collection, national museum.

But now we manufacture a very different kind of sequin for dress-up attire. Did you know that most sequins and glitter are themselves dressed? They are coated with reflective plastic that produces the desired shine. Such glitter quickly turns to litter. On the dance floor, tiny sequins shake loose. In dramatic hair styling, glitter sprinkles the comb and later washes into the shower – and the water supply. Unlike some plastics that are carefully monitored for dangerous chemicals and strictly regulated for recyclability, fashion sequins and glitter are not subject to such rules: in fact, most contain toxins.

Steppin’ Out in Style? Try algae. Image: “Sequined Shoe” by sunshinecity. Wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

So, is there a sustainable way to sparkle? Yes!

First responsibility is with designers and garment manufacturers:

Elissa Brunato introduced an innovation: Bio Iridescent Sequins made of biodegradable cellulose. Working with RISE Research Institute of Sweden’s material scientists Hjalmar Granberg and Tiffany Abitbol, Brunato found a tree-based cellulose that contains a natural polymer structure reflecting light. The production process involves pouring natural liquid cellulose into a mold to which colors can be added. From the city of London Bridge, designers like Brunato, and Stella McCartney, are among those building a different kind of bridge – through the Future Materials Bank.

Phillip Lim and Charlotte McCurdy produce marine micro algae to form a natural sequin. Introducing a petroleum-free sequin dress made with bio-plastic sequins formed from algae, Lim and McCurdy work with One X One by Slow Factory to create carbon-neutral materials for fashion. Circular fashion is a term often heard: here, algae form the material that later return to the earth, biodegrading to nourish the planet. Lim found inspiration in pearls and crystals, sparkles and shines of nature, and now finds nature the source of fashionable sparkle.

Anuje Farhung, founder of the fashion brand House of Farhung, offers couture in Pakistan and globally with luxury, formal, and bridal fashions. Farhung studied at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, USA, and worked with fashion house Oscar De La Renta before founding her label offering sustainable sparkle. When Anuje collaborated, in 2020, with Sarah Khan from the National Centre of Excellent in Geology at the University of Peshawar, they selected red algae for their source of luminous fashion.

Second responsibility is with the consumer. While 40% of shoppers surveyed by Oxfam said they’d purchase glittering clothing for the holidays, most confessed they would wear it only a few times. As many as 1.7 million items of sparkling clothing end up in landfills each year. Once in the landfill, sequins and glitter tend to dissolve into a toxic ooze called “landfill leachate.”

Avoid landfill leachate – glitter responsibly. Image: “Glitter Slime” by Slime 123 Globex” by Barbara Rayman, 2017. CC4.0 Wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

As you plan for New Year celebrations, or perhaps a coming party, prom, wedding, or special occasion, if garment manufacturers offered sequins and sparkle at a price slightly higher but much more sustainable, would you purchase glitter that doesn’t litter?

Brunato, Elissa.

Farhung, Anuje. “Fulbright Women Podcasts: Anuje Farhung.”

Irfan, Anmol. “Iridescent algae: eco-friendly sequins in Pakistan.” Courier. 23 March 2022.

Lim, Phillip.

McCurdy, Charlotte.

One X One.

Pinjing He, Fan Lü. “Municipal solid waste (MSW) landfill: A source of microplastics? – Evidence of microplastics in landfill leachate.” Water Research. Volume 159, 1 August 2019, pages 38-45.

Singh Khadka, Navin. “Five ways sequins add to plastic pollution.” BBC 26 December 2022.

Springwise. “Sustainalbe Sequins Made From Cellulose.” 25 September 2019.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Un

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December 20, 2022
by Building The World

ENERGY: Here Comes the SUN

Aten, sun religious symbol established by Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten. Image: “Aten” by AtonX, 2008. CC 2.5. Included with appreciation.

Every culture has myths about the sun: appreciating its life-giving warmth, marveling at its regularity turning night to day, recognizing – and sometimes fearing – its power.  In every tradition, the sun is seen as a force above humankind, even a deity. Composer Philip Glass wrote the opera “Akhnaten” in three acts centered on three visionaries: Akhenaten, Einstein, and Gandhi. But this month, humans reached an achievement that may require a new myth. Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory generated the sun’s energy  –  on Earth.

“Nuclear Fusion” by Haasrm, 2011. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Nuclear fusion is the process of combining, or fusing, two atoms to generate the level of power of the sun. When 192 lasers fired at a cylinder the size of a jelly bean containing a grain of hydrogen (the same gas that powers the sun), the temperature of the hydrogen rose to exceed the heat of the sun, melting the nuclei of the hydrogen to fuse. Scientists have been trying to do this for decades, but now, for the first time in history, the process worked. More energy was generated than used to produce the effect. The future just got brighter.

The Manhattan Project: nuclear fission. Image: “Alpha 1 Racetrack for Uranium – at Oak Ridge” photographed by Leslie Grove. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Nuclear energy got off to an ominous start. The Manhattan Project split the atom to produce atomic energy, in the form of a deadly bomb, during World War II. Later, the Atomic Energy Act changed the purpose from war to peaceful and beneficial use for this new form of energy.  Nuclear medicine has saved lives; nuclear power plants (while suffering some accidents) generated energy that has helped many economies supplement and then phase out fossil fuels. Nuclear energy, from fission, has some problems, however: it is weaponable, and it produces toxic radioactive waste that is very difficult to store. Nuclear plants, be they fission or fusion, will always involve some danger, as targets in war or accidents in peace. But smaller is better, and fusion is cleaner. Science knew that nuclear fission could, theoretically, be replaced by nuclear fusion. Projects like ITER in France and JET in the UK have advanced the science, but it was at Livermore that the vision was proven and achieved. Nuclear fusion promises energy with infinite power, zero carbon emissions, and very little waste. But not soon.

Physicist Albert Einstein explained how nuclear energy is released in the now-famous equation: E=mc2.  Portrait by Orren Jack Turner, 1947. Library of Congress: cph.3b46036. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

We need to reduce carbon emissions quickly to limit global warming and arrest climate change. Stopping the use of fossil fuels will be the problem. Harnessing renewable energy from wind, wave, geothermal, and the sun via solar energy will still be the solutions. But now, we can look to something more. Nuclear fusion is in our future. Here comes the sun.

“Sun Switchbacks” observed by Parker Solar Probe, 2021, NASA. Image by Adriana Manrique Gutierrez. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Atomic Energy Act of 1954.

Bobin, Jean-Louis. Controlled Thermonuclear Fusion. World Scientific Publishing Company Illustrated edition, 2014. ISBN-10: 9814590681

Coy, Peter. “What Comes After a World’s First in Fusion Research.” 14 December 2022. The New York Times.

Glass, Philip. “Akhnaten”



Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory FUSION IGNITION.

Simon, Clea. “Why nuclear fusion is so exciting.” 13 December 2022. Harvard Gazette.

Stallard, Esme. “Nuclear fusion breakthrough – what is it and how does it work?” BBC.

United States Department of Energy. “Fission and Fusion: What is the Difference?” includes VIDEO.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Un


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