Dust flux, Vostok ice core

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Silver falls to a lower state

The recent pummeling in price undergone by the precious metals is tied largely to the strength of the US dollar. Said strength appears to have passed its peak. While gold has not suffered any significant technical damage, the same cannot be said for silver.


I have been reconstructing phase space portraits to try to understand the dynamics of complex climatic and financial systems. The phase space portrait summarizes the differential dynamics in a way that illustrates multistability in these systems; meaning that for a given set of inputs and boundary conditions, the system possesses more than one equilibrium. Which equilibrium comes into play depends on the entire history of the system--hence such systems are also described as having long memory (pdf).

When silver collapsed in price last year, it appeared that it was headed for a previously established equilibrium in the $17 range. Instead, it stopped short and began filling in a new area of stability (S3 in this post).

The last six weeks have not been kind (figure below is on a linear scale).


The phase space has slipped out of S3 and has moved into the S2 area of stability. Is this a brief excursion or a long-term event? The past history of the moves in silver have had real consequences if the phase space enters a previously defined area of stability, commonly remaining in the area of stability for about a year. This suggests silver will remain in this area for some time.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Gold is stronger than it appears.

Gold's recent plummet has been fuelled entirely by the rising US dollar, itself a result of the falling yen and euro. The US dollar is the least sick old man in the ward.


The above (weekly) diagram shows a sudden break-out of the USDX-gold system from the area (near $1300 and 80) where it had been confined for much of the past year. Despite the drop in gold price, the value of what non-US-based gold companies are receiving for their gold (gold price x USDX) has not declined all that impressively over the same timeframe.

The gold price has reached current levels three times over the past sixteen months. Last week's price corresponded to the highest USDX level in that time.


For a mining operation outside of the US, the number of dollars received per ounce of gold is back at the same level as in December, but the dollars being received are worth about 7% more (in terms of the local currency). Yet GDX is at the same level as it was in December.


Last year we started plotting the product of the gold price and the US dollar as an indicator for the economics of gold mining. Are we in an uptrend or a downtrend? Well, it depends on whether you look at the recent highs or recent lows. We look to be getting close to an important inflection point where we are going to see a large move.

A move down would most likely be a reversal of the recent gains in USDX, with a relatively small increase in the gold price. A move up could due to a continuation in the gains in USDX, with a decline in the rate of fall of gold.


If the move in USDX is exactly matched by gold, the trajectory of the system follows one of the blue hyperbolae ("isoquants"). A move along an isoquant (the present move occurs within the yellow ellipse) should be relatively neutral for most companies, but the recent move may offer some political advantages. With the gold price falling, cannot these companies show their empty pockets to local governments and ask for tax breaks/benefits for infrastructure? They shouldn't feel too ashamed, for if the trend were to reverse and gold were to rise to about $1400 with the USDX falling to near 70, wouldn't governments look to apply "windfall taxes" even though the economics of the mining operation would not have improved?

Most of the movement is along the blue hyperbolae. But the real money is made (or lost) in moves that cross the hyperbolae--as through early 2010, and much of 2011, and the first half of 2013. The set-up in the goldxUSDX is for a similar move.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Artisanal gold mining on the Loess Plateau (updated)

On the bullet train the other day, I caught a glimpse of an artisanal mining operation. I snapped several pictures of it as it flew past--not great pictures, as it is hard to capture something so close to the train when you are whipping by at 300 km/h.

I didn't know for sure that it was a gold mining operation, but there aren't too many other kinds of artisanal operations. However, this paper (pdf) confirms that artisanal gold mining is common in the Loess Plateau, at least near the border between Shaanxi and Henan provinces, which the route map confirms as the location of these photos.



The crew are just left of centre in this picture. They appear to be sucking up loess interbedded with gravels from the old river bed.


(Update: Now that I look more carefully, I think the concentrator has to be in that shack near the top of this photo. It makes more sense looking at its position relative to the tailings.)



"Tailings" pile (discarded fines from gravity recovery or just screening) of loess, which is composed of wind-borne silt-sized particles.


Gravel beds in the river channel--this river flows north, feeding the Yellow River. There are gold mines upstream on the river, according to the report in the above link. The equipment at the bottom is probably a concentrator, but the image isn't very clear.



Looks like there's been a lot of work down here too. All these photos overlap to an extent, but in some of them I am looking forward and in others I am looking back, so they are not easy to stitch together.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Happy Eid

At the Great Mosque in Xi'an, two days ago, on the first day of Eid-al-Adha . . .


The festival honours Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son at God's command. God then replaced Abraham's son with a lamb, which was slaughtered instead.


There is a lot to appreciate in these photos. Firstly, these sacrifices are not an everyday occurrence, but are to celebrate Eid. Normally the livestock are provided by wealthy parishioners, and the meat is traditionally divided up with one-third of it going to the needy.

While much of the preparation is being carried out by the older gentlemen, a few youngsters are involved as well, so that this necessary skill is passed down to newer generations. I appreciate this as I know nothing about skinning and cleaning a lamb.

Lastly, I find it a reminder of how far we in the West (okay, I am not there now, but am from there) have separated eating from killing.


Old women with fresh halal lamb chops.

The marketplace around the mosque was wall-to-wall people. The street food is amazing in both quality and variety.



Laughter as brilliant as the sun on snow.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Xi'an is flat, yes

Xi'an sits on the great loess plateau of China and is mostly pretty flat. I've seen loess before--mainly in Alaska, but that is nothing compared to the loess plateau here. Criss-crossing it by high-speed train in the past week has been a revelation.


Loess plain near Luo Yang

Loess has been a long-time interest of mine, as it is the "medium" which records the variations of the Himalayan monsoon strength, which I have used to look at the dynamics of Neogene climate variations.

While touring around Xi'an, one local told me that the area was so flat, every time you see a mound or hill, it always turns out to be somebody's tomb . . .


. . . like this one.

Like all cities in China, Xi'an is growing monstrously. The photo below can't capture the scale of the construction, but the area covered by this new apartment development must have covered a square mile, composed of dozens of towers.


What kind of mound will they leave in the future, I wonder?