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Science

Washington's Exploding Manholes Explained? 112

Posted by Soulskill
from the it-was-aliens-all-along dept.
sciencehabit writes "Researchers who mapped methane concentrations on the streets of the nation's capital found natural gas leaks everywhere, at concentrations of up to 50 times the normal background levels. The leaking gas wastes resources, enhances ozone production, and exacerbates global warming—not to mention powering the city's infamous exploding manholes. Most of the natural gas we burn for heat and on stovetops in the United States is methane, a simple carbon atom surrounded by four hydrogens. Carbon dioxide gets more press, but methane is the more powerful agent of global warming, 21 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. And methane levels are rising fast. Methane levels in the atmosphere were just 650 parts per billion a century ago, versus 1800 ppb today."
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Washington's Exploding Manholes Explained?

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  • by dgatwood (11270) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @01:24AM (#43288725) Journal

    ...so it kind of goes without saying that there would be a lot of methane.

    • by crutchy (1949900)

      it's the indian manhole men that got lost

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFe-nJtiByM [youtube.com]

  • by AlphaWolf_HK (692722) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @01:36AM (#43288769)

    Fun fact: Water vapor makes up 98% of the greenhouse effect.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=142 [realclimate.org]

    • BTW, disclaimer: We probably do have a contribution to global warming, though I'm not sure to what extent. However, I don't really think it matters. If the pangea ultima theory is correct, it is inevitable that we will lose the ice caps and the planet will be much warmer than it is now, whether humans existed or not. Very large animals thrived in these conditions in the past, so I don't think that means inevitable doom either.

      • Until some asshat tries to lasso a space rock into an orbit around Earth to mine it, and somebody else decides to sabotage the effort and 'fix' the planet by getting said rock to crash into the planet.

      • by Namarrgon (105036)

        Inevitable doom isn't the problem; doubtless ecosystems will adapt eventually. Until then, crop failures, population displacement, extreme weather, extinctions and ecosystem disruption on a global scale over the next 50-100+ years are to be expected. What if those trillions in adaptation costs could be reduced or avoided?

        • by flyneye (84093) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @06:21AM (#43289945) Homepage

          You mean like the dinosaurs could've avoided it? I guess they didn't have enough money.
          No one promised everyone a guaranteed long life, but, survival of the fittest, was mentioned at some point.
          Just business as usual, another aeon in the life of a planet. If man doesn't survive, Jack Russell terriers will probably rise to the top of the food chain.
          Monkeys are much like Washington Politicians and have no survival skills without the herd, so I'm pretty sure Jack Russells are next in line.

          • by chromas (1085949)

            You mean like the dinosaurs could've avoided it? I guess they didn't have enough money.

            They were too busy sinking their money and technology into expensive ways to slapfight each other in the back seat while arguing over who's the bigger liar. Oh wait; they didn't have technology. Maybe if they did...

      • by flyneye (84093)

        It's all about who invested in beachfront property. No one cares about people or the planet, the planet will continue and we can fuck more people into existence. Have you seen how much beachfront property is worth? You'd do whatever you could to maintain your property and it's value. If the icecaps melted, all the poor people would have beachfront houses, how is that profitable?

      • by turp182 (1020263)

        The speed of the warming is the only real issue. Adaptation in nature isn't a fast process, unless you are bacteria/virii. Plants and animals adapt at different speeds, and this results in differing selection pressures throughout a given ecosystem. An example would be a plant that adapts very slowly during a warming period, resulting in less of the plant, and the animals that feed on the plant have less food to go around. Less animals survive to reproduce, and the predators that feed on the plant eaters

        • Well we've seen these sudden collapses in the past (aka mass extinctions) and it wasn't just microscale life that survived. Dinosaurs as they existed ceased to exist, but their offspring (birds) kept on going.

          I don't know whether or not our population (as a single species, vs dinosaurs which were many species) is larger than theirs, but I suspect it is. However we've already adapted to the most horrid conditions. Indigenous people in the Andes mountains compared to most populations are shorter, have a highe

          • by turp182 (1020263)

            Single generation adaptation would seem to indicate, at least to me, that there are recessive genes that are expressed based on environmental factors (O2 levels for example).

            I've always wondered, if a sherpa's child was raised at sea level (and/or during in vitro, I would guess this is a critical period for such adaptations), would the child retain or loose their family's inherent traits associated with high altitude living?

            Watching sherpa's summit Everest constantly without supplemental oxygen (on the show

    • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @01:43AM (#43288795)
      And water vapour is in rapid equilibrium with the huge bodies of liquid water we have. Thus, a feedback and not a forcing. How often do we need to go over this again?
      • Don't go over it if you don't want to. I just find it interesting.

      • So why does it appear that water vapour in the atmosphere (upper atmos) has been falling for the last 30 years even as global temperatures and CO2 have been increasing? Faults in the Data or in the Theory?
        http://www.climate4you.com/ClimateAndClouds.htm [climate4you.com]

        • I never said it was a strong positive feedback, did I? The key point is that water does not drive climatic changes but rather reacts to them. In what exact manner is not completely understood yet, but we are getting better.
        • by tmosley (996283)
          What of the lower atmosphere? That's where all the water vapor emissions are.
      • by Jesus_666 (702802)
        The correct solution, of course, is to have vast basins of liquid CO2 and methane in order to force CO2 and methane levels into equilibrium, as well. A basin the size of Canada should suffice.
      • Thus, a feedback and not a forcing.

        But a positive (self-reinforcing) feedback, unfortunately. Greenhouse effect -> hotter climate -> more water evaporates -> more Greenhouse effect...

        Not all feedback is "negative" (self-regulating)

        • by khallow (566160)

          Greenhouse effect -> hotter climate -> more water evaporates -> more Greenhouse effect...

          Why would it do that? Water has both positive and negative feedback effects. And the negative feedback effects are quite powerful. For example, it can form high albedo clouds which greatly reduce the heat that is retained by Earth from sunlight. Or it can form storms which greatly increase the heat transferred from the surface to the stratosphere (and then radiated into space).

      • by iggymanz (596061)

        if that were true we'd never have drought . there is no such equilibrium, it is a chaotic system

      • by tmosley (996283)
        So you are saying that water vapor used to be a byproduct of combustion, but isn't anymore?

        Sort of like saying that a tsunami is no big deal because it is in rapid equilibrium with the ocean level, and that the real reason our buildings keep falling over is termites.

        Also, the tsunami happens four times a day. Possibly because we keep dynamiting cliffside into the bay. But that is probably just a coincidence.
        • So you are saying that water vapor used to be a byproduct of combustion, but isn't anymore?

          Could you translate your line of thinking here from retard to english? Seriously, we have been over this crap a thousand times.Yes. Water vapour is a huge contribution to the greenhouse effect. No, water vapour is not driving climate change. How hard can it be to understand?

    • Water vapour is an amplifier. Carbon dioxide traps more heat which causes more humidity which traps more heat. Feedback is the most dangerout aspect of climate change because climate may be bistable.

    • Fun fact: Water vapour comes from heating up water. It's called a feedback loop. Once you kick it off it keeps going all by itself.

    • by compro01 (777531)

      Yes. The greenhouse effect is a very good thing as far as complex life is concerned. Without it, the Earth would have a mean surface temperature of about -18C, compared to the actual one of about 14C.

      Too much greenhouse effect is a problem however.

      • by tmosley (996283)
        Termites are not a problem when you are being hit with a tsunami four times a day.

        Things only get worse when the tsunami becomes acid. That is the REAL problem with increasing CO2 concentrations. I don't know why people harp on global whatever when ocean acidification is an undeniable reality with a non-complex direct visible link to atmospheric CO2.
    • by ultranova (717540)

      Fun fact: Water vapor makes up 98% of the greenhouse effect.

      Another fun fact: warmer air can hold more water vapor. So your fact actually makes things worse, since any increase in carbon dioxide causes far more warming than it otherwise would due to it increasing atmospheric water vapor content too.

    • by klic (739114)

      Fun fact: Water vapor makes up 98% of the greenhouse effect.

      Funner fact: Where the effect happens is more important. The troposphere is close to IR opaque, with gas and black body temperatures closely coupled. The black body temperature of the earth, and hence the amount of IR radiation emitted into deep space, is the deep cold of the upper atmosphere. Clouds and sulfate particulates determine the amount of light reaching the surface (mostly ocean), where almost all is turned into heat. In the longer term, that heat is equal to the IR black body radiation, with

      • by klic (739114)

        CO(subscript 2). Slashdot editor kept the unicode subscript for previews, dropped them from the final. Fooey. Live and learn.

  • by eksith (2776419) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @01:50AM (#43288827) Homepage

    Far bigger than most most give attention to. And it isn't just gas lines; it's bridges/overpasses, roads, dams, levys, sewers, tunnls, heck even our data channels etc... People tend to forget that while there has been a lot of new construction, a lot of our infastructure is still decades old. Some of it going back at least 30 - 50 years and prohibitively expensive to replace/upgrade all at once. It doesn't help that there's so much expendeture on stupid things like wars on x and a hopelessly inefficient workforce. All the while the newer buildings, those things that only house prestige and drones, are being created purely by corporate entities.

    There's no immediate ROI for fixing these things that don't kill people in droves.

    • by stenvar (2789879)

      Oh, please, stop the whining already. Big cities like DC have always been dumps. It's what happens when you put a lot of people into a small space. If you don't like it, move out; I did.

      There's no problem with infrastructure around here (a mid-size town). It's paid out of local taxes, it's reasonably up-to-date, and it has nothing to do with wars-on-anything or "corporate entities". Getting electricity, heat, water, and Internet to homes is neither rocket science nor particularly expensive.

      • by eksith (2776419)

        Sorry, I don't want to drive to pick up groceries or raise chickens or spend hours in gridlock getting to work. Moving out of cities is a pretty silly way of fixing (or just plain ignoring?) the problem cause you then stretch an already strained infastructure further out to support an ever increasing number of bedroom communities in the suburbs. Killing more and more new ground to support two legged rabbits isn't sustainable.

        I live in New York BTW.

        Getting electricity, heat, water, and Internet to homes is n

        • You don't want to drive to pick up groceries. OK, so how do you get them home? Horse? Somebody else drives? You just don't, because you eat out all the time?

          I fill shopping carts top and bottom. I need about 4 overfilled carts per week. Even living right next door to a supermarket would be painful without a car. (outside the city, we can afford to have families)

          Chickens would be sweet. They eat garden bugs and fertilize the plants. (outside your city, plants are not made of plastic, so they need a bit more

          • by dkf (304284)

            I need about 4 overfilled carts per week.

            Either you're feeding a family of 15 or you're buying way too many (or too bulky) groceries. Or your carts are tiny and you should trade up to the size that normal people use.

            • by r00t (33219)

              I might make it to 15. I'm getting close. My "car" has enough seats. Somebody has to prevent nerd extinction!

              A typical grocery trip involves 3 or 4 gallons of milk, 3 or 4 large hands of bananas, several other very full bags of fruit, several very full bags of vegatables, a couple loaves of sourdough, some sort of meat, etc. We can just about finish off a large turkey or a pair of chickens in one meal.

              Getting groceries without a car would be insane.

              Even if you have a family of one, there are still huge prob

          • by eksith (2776419)

            I used to live in Georgia so I'm well versed in non-city life ;) . I now live in an apartment that was around $90K and there are about another $10K in updates/fixes on it.

            I walk to the store and cook at home. Even with two gallons of milk, I can come home in about 10 minutes or so from the store (you may not need as much as you think you do to fill 4 carts a week). There's an even closer shop, that's just 5 minutes on foot, but they're a bit more expensive. The train station is also about 10 minutes away so

            • by stenvar (2789879)

              I used to live in Georgia so I'm well versed in non-city life ;)

              Apparently, the only two ways of living you know are the boondocks and NYC. There is actually a wide range of options in between.

              • by eksith (2776419)
                I may have misworded there. It most definitely wasn't the boondocks, but it's a very quiet neighborhood and actually a very nice place. I could actually smell air when I walked outside instead of pollution (quite the difference from NY). Only reason I moved was because I had family in New York. I could work and go to school while living with them.
          • You don't want to drive to pick up groceries. OK, so how do you get them home? Horse? Somebody else drives? You just don't, because you eat out all the time?

            Bicycle (folder, so it comes in the store with me -- no need to lock up outside). Or at least, that was how I picked up groceries for my urban household before moving to a block away from a market; now, I just walk next door.

            Bigger picture, though: If you're looking at infrastructure investment and maintenance, high-density living (with mixed-use zoning

            • by stenvar (2789879)

              Bigger picture, though: If you're looking at infrastructure investment and maintenance, high-density living (with mixed-use zoning) is far more cost-effective on a per-person basis.

              You're still barking up the wrong tree. We aren't talking about rural living vs. megacities, we're talking about mid-size towns vs. megacities. Mid-size towns have most of the advantages of megacities without many of the problems. In fact, what is considered a mid-size town (20k-200k) today used to be considered a big city.

              People

              • by ultranova (717540)

                The high cost of living in NYC tells you that each New Yorker actually must have a huge environmental footprint, and that's not even taking into account the subsidies that flow into the city.

                Or it could simply be that lots of people compete for the same living space, driving up prices. Which has nothing to do with environmental footprint, but simple supply and demand.

                • by stenvar (2789879)

                  Or it could simply be that lots of people compete for the same living space, driving up prices. Which has nothing to do with environmental footprint, but simple supply and demand.

                  I'm not talking about real estate prices, I'm talking about cost of living.

                  Estimates that city living is efficient are based on just direct per person energy and resource consumption, but that neglects all the indirect costs, which are huge.

                  The actual amount of land needed to support NYC has been estimated to be as large as the ent

        • by stenvar (2789879)

          Moving out of cities is a pretty silly way of fixing (or just plain ignoring?) the problem cause you then stretch an already strained infastructure further out to support an ever increasing number of bedroom communities in the suburbs.

          Bedroom communities? Bedroom communities for what? A mid-size town is big enough to have all the big city conveniences and jobs without the problems. People moved into big cities because such close proximity was needed for manufacturing and administration in the 19th and 20th

          • by eksith (2776419)
            Er... I'm from Sri Lanka and have visited quite a few places around the world before and since coming to the U.S. Bedroom communities are what I pass on my way to work. They're the xxxvilles of nothing but cul de sacs with automated alarm systems, sprinklers and no one at home before 8PM. It's you that need to get out more.
            • by stenvar (2789879)

              What's wrong with you? I pointed out that mid-size towns had few of the problems of big cities, yet provide most of the benefits. And then you started this drivel about "raising chickens" and "bedroom communities".

              You claim to live in New York and take the train to work, yet you "pass suburbs" on your way to work? Which New York train exactly passes "through suburbs"?

              And on top of that, you still don't seem to realize that your train-taking, car-less urban New York lifestyle actually has a high environmenta

              • by eksith (2776419)

                I'm not posting exactly where I live on the internet, but my "train-taking" MTA Harlem line which passes through quite a few of those bedroom communities and then the subway (see above), which in my view is wasted land that could have been used to reduce the environmental footprint of having everything shipped over. That would have also brought the infastructure closer to the city. The raising chickens bit was obviously hyperbole and your calling me "ignorant of the rest of the world as the typical New York

                • by stenvar (2789879)

                  which in my view is wasted land that could have been used to reduce the environmental footprint of having everything shipped over

                  Population density along the entire MTA Harlem line is high by national standards. I'm sorry it doesn't meet with your approval and that other people don't choose to live the same kind of wasteful and self-righteous lifestyle you live.

                  You know nothing about me.

                  I know all I need to know, from your own words.

      • by Shoten (260439)

        Oh, please, stop the whining already. Big cities like DC have always been dumps. It's what happens when you put a lot of people into a small space. If you don't like it, move out; I did.

        There's no problem with infrastructure around here (a mid-size town). It's paid out of local taxes, it's reasonably up-to-date, and it has nothing to do with wars-on-anything or "corporate entities". Getting electricity, heat, water, and Internet to homes is neither rocket science nor particularly expensive.

        You might want to actually come to DC sometime soon. It's actually (depending on whose figures) the cleanest or second-cleanest city in the nation, and patently gorgeous. And I honestly don't know what's up with this whole article; the "exploding manhole" problem hasn't been a problem for a while now, at least several years. They got a handle on it quite some time ago...along with a lot of other things that started getting fixed once Marion Barry got taken off the playing field.

        And if you don't think tha

        • by stenvar (2789879)

          You might want to actually come to DC sometime soon. It's actually (depending on whose figures) the cleanest or second-cleanest city in the nation, and patently gorgeous

          I've been to DC many times. It's a crime-infested dump, albeit with some federal guilding in places because powerful politicians don't want to see it.

          And if you don't think that getting electricity to homes is a challenge, I invite you to actually learn something about transmission and distribution

          The point is: it's well understood technolog

        • by BitZtream (692029)

          You might want to actually come to DC sometime soon. It's actually (depending on whose figures) the cleanest or second-cleanest city in the nation

          You might want to get out of the city once in a while, it is by no means a gorgeous or clean city. Your perspective is skewed.

    • Cost is only part of the equation though, you also have to factor in the impact any new construction will have on existing traffic. Infrastructure often becomes a victim of it's own success, these bridges aren't decaying because nobody uses them, they are decaying because they are being used all the time. Closing a bridge, even temporarily, will cause a massive amount of havoc so even if you had the funds, there is a huge disincentive to upgrade the infrastructure(usually until it's too late).

      Unfortunat
      • by eksith (2776419)

        That's very true. This is like the broadband problem: All around the world you see people getting faster and faster access and even fiber, when they had no internet at all previously. Meanwhile a lot of us are chugging along on copper. It's all cause it's more expensive to rip out what's already here to put in anew and you can't stop everything just to do new installations.

        It's quite a conundrum.

        • by tmosley (996283)
          I don't think that is the problem. It's the continued existence of telecom monopolies that is the cause of our slow/non-existant progress, IMO. Of course, who granted those monopolies?
      • by Rich0 (548339)

        Unfortunately when it comes to physical infrastructure, redundancy is often just not possible.

        That is simply a matter of priorities.

        Moderately large bridges cost a few million dollars to build (we're talking about suspension bridges here - not the little ones that go over creeks). We probably could have replaced every suspension bridge in the US and built 5x as many more for much less than the cost of one of our recent wars, and this would have likely had a HUGE impact on the economy.

        Sure, when you build a bigger highway more people drive on it, but there is a REASON they drive on it, and a benefit

    • There's no immediate ROI for fixing these things that don't kill people in droves.

      Its more of a big city thing. For example the gas lines that blew up in Boston, the cast iron lines laid down nearly 100 years ago, similar lines were laid down in small and medium sized towns all over the north east as well. However in many of these small to medium sized municipalities such lines were replaced in the 1960s-80s, they were considered old and hazardous back then.

      Its not drones. Its bigger governments being less responsive to public concerns. In small and medium sized towns ignoring the gas

      • by eksith (2776419)
        I guess you're right. Plus the bigger the city, the bigger the bureaucracy. It's really sad that when so many lives are at stake, it's actually harder to get something like this fixed.
      • It's a math problem. All cities have risk management departments, whose job it is to calculate whether it makes more economic sense to pay their money to residents injured or killed by explosions, or to construction crews to repair the lines.
    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      a hopelessly inefficient workforce

      I was with you except for this part. If you look at labor productivity over, say, the last couple of decades, it turns out that Americans are the most productive workers in the world, producing more per hour than anyone else. In addition, Americans work on average longer hours than other industrialized nations do.

      The reason they're seen as "inefficient" is that they're paid significantly better than their counterparts in Third World countries. Another way of looking at it:
      Option A: Hire 1 American for $8 an

    • by khallow (566160)

      There's no immediate ROI for fixing these things that don't kill people in droves.

      Building a new bridge? That's sexy. That's something you can put on a political resume. Patch up an existing bridge? You're the guy that caused all those traffic jams last summer.

      • by eksith (2776419)
        I take the train. That sounds like a rubber tire problem to me. ;) As for politics, I wouldn't touch it with a 10 foot pole attached to a pole the length of the galaxy.
  • Every time I turn on a ring on my gas stove, it's bleeding gas for a few seconds whilst the electric ignition goes "tickticktickticktick" then "whoosh" as the ring lights but by that time enough gas has escaped to make a noticeable smell from the added marker gas, even if briefly. multiply this by the total number of gas powered flames all over the place, and the level of methane in the air is going to be way higher than natural background levels.

  • The leaking gas [......] enhances ozone production

    No such luck! The problem is that methane destroys ozone, it doesn't produce it.

    • by tmosley (996283)
      Ozone in lower atmosphere==bad. Smog, lung damage, etc.

      Ozone in thin layer in upper atmosphere==good. Less UV, less skin cancer, etc.

      Ozone from the lower atmosphere doesn't make it to the upper atmosphere, at least not to my knowledge. And it doesn't really matter, because the ozone layer has pretty well recovered.
      • by WillKemp (1338605)

        Ozone in lower atmosphere==bad. Smog, lung damage, etc.

        Methane doesn't produce ozone in the lower atmosphere either.

        Ozone from the lower atmosphere doesn't make it to the upper atmosphere [......]

        No, but methane does - which is what we're discussing.

  • Back in the day you had sewer gas destructor lamps. Seems those would work with leaked gas too. Plus, add some sensors and you can figure out where the gas is likely leaking, so you can do something about it.

    Even so, lax maintenance is nothing new. I recall reading about a certain bollard in Amsterdam that had sported a nice little flame for ages. Until someone realised it must be from a gas leak. Then it got fixed in a panic.

  • Some jokes just write themselves....
    • The trolls on this site often link to an exploded manhole, they've just been trying to warn us all this time!

  • by jd2112 (1535857) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @06:18AM (#43289935)
    I propose we give each member of Congress a cigarette lighter and send them into the sewers until all the gas leaks are round.
  • by nblender (741424) on Wednesday March 27, 2013 @06:49AM (#43290119)

    I watched a youtube video a while back from a leading researcher who outlined their methods of data collection and analysis. In the video he plotted atmospheric methane levels and showed how methane was steadily increasing until the collapse of the soviet union at which point levels fell dramatically. The explanation offered was that at that time, the gas pipelines to europe had become privately owned forcing accountants to discover that "gas in" was way less than "gas out" at the other end so there was a big campaign to fix the many pipeline leaks that were ignored during communist rule.

    I shudder to think how many other gas pipelines around the world are leaking...
     

    • Soviet Russia and modern-day China are always going to be the "invisible giants" of pollution and GHG emission. Nobody will ever know just how much they released or are releasing, other than "It's A LOT."

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