Math on Scarcity of Resources

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ComicMath
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Math on Scarcity of Resources

Postby ComicMath » Wed Aug 03, 2011 3:29 pm UTC

I'm working on creating a comic where math loving aliens are discussing the fact that they are running out of resources on their planet. I'm looking for advanced equations, graphs and other charts from scarce resources on our planet to borrow for that purpose. I heard once that we've used up half the oil on our planet, but I wouldn't know where to go to find the math behind that statement.
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Re: Math on Scarcity of Resources

Postby gorcee » Wed Aug 03, 2011 4:50 pm UTC

ComicMath wrote:I'm working on creating a comic where math loving aliens are discussing the fact that they are running out of resources on their planet. I'm looking for advanced equations, graphs and other charts from scarce resources on our planet to borrow for that purpose. I heard once that we've used up half the oil on our planet, but I wouldn't know where to go to find the math behind that statement.


Google "Peak Oil". Or "Peak XXXX".

It will be difficult to find unobjectively good data on these matters, because they are economic and business issues as much as anything else. Peak oil, in particular, is fraught with conspiracy theories as well.

The main problem is that we really don't have good models for how these resources were created. We have some theories, and ideas, but they are rather unconstructive. So no one really know whether we hit peak oil or not... or if there is such a thing. Instead, all you can do is look at production numbers, but then you have to control for demand, political issues, economic issues, intentional mis-reporting, etc. and it becomes, to put it bluntly, a huge fucking mess. Tread carefully -- there be crazy out there.

But, Googling those terms will certainly get you many charts, and you can just pick one that best suits your plotline.

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Re: Math on Scarcity of Resources

Postby ComicMath » Wed Aug 03, 2011 5:45 pm UTC

Thanks! Sometimes its just knowing the right terms to google. The problem I am running into is that I am trying to right alien characters who are better at math than me. I am mere spec ed math teacher and tutor who is only comfortable teaching up to algebra 2: This forum looks like it will be a great resource for getting math on the alien's level. If someone wants to see their higher order math in the background of a comic, let me know. It would be cool to have a math consultant:) on the project.
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Re: Math on Scarcity of Resources

Postby ComicMath » Sat Aug 06, 2011 3:11 am UTC

Hey Gorcee thanks again for the lead on what to look up.

Its probably a cop-out to take my equations from Wikipedia rather than a technical journal, but I didn't want to have to pay for the full text of a journal article for this.

Anyway, here's the backstory: The aliens, who are a very logic and mathematical people, drill for water like we drill for oil, but of course they need the water to survive. They've reached peak water and are within 5 months of facing mass deaths due to lack of water.

Would the following equations make sense for that? This is going in my first page of my webcomic so I want to make sure I get it right.

Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubbert_curve
and Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logistic_distribution
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Re: Math on Scarcity of Resources

Postby WarDaft » Sat Aug 06, 2011 7:49 am UTC

It's very hard to imagine a species actually running out of water on their whole planet. Make sure you have a convincing reason! There are roughly a billion billion tonnes of water on Earth, for example.
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Re: Math on Scarcity of Resources

Postby ComicMath » Sat Aug 06, 2011 1:54 pm UTC

Most of this is more backstory than story, but I guess in my mind water is in limited supply in the universe. This is hardly scientific but i've only seen extraterrestrial planets with oceans on sci fi. I could change it to another substance like gold but then would need a reason why that substance is necessary to their survival
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Re: Math on Scarcity of Resources

Postby mfb » Sat Aug 06, 2011 3:47 pm UTC

Life which needs water will only evolve on planets which have water - and as oxygen and hydrogen are quite common in planetary systems and water is a really stable thing if it can exist on the planet at all, it is likely that they have a lot of water as well. Gold as well as many other elements could be required for some technology. Or take some other metal which can be crucial for their organisms. Note that this is just the situation for humans - I think there are more elements which could be interesting.

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Re: Math on Scarcity of Resources

Postby ComicMath » Sat Aug 06, 2011 3:55 pm UTC

I want to go with something that is easily recognizable for being neccisary for life. If I stuck with water than maybe they did not evolve on their current planet. What do you think about salt?
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Re: Math on Scarcity of Resources

Postby gorcee » Sun Aug 07, 2011 12:25 am UTC

WarDaft wrote:It's very hard to imagine a species actually running out of water on their whole planet. Make sure you have a convincing reason! There are roughly a billion billion tonnes of water on Earth, for example.


There is actually such a thing as non-renewable water, as well as peak water. We've already possibly hit peak water. What that means is that in the future, we will be increasingly relying on desalinization for our supply (not that water will be scarce!)

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Re: Math on Scarcity of Resources

Postby WarDaft » Sun Aug 07, 2011 12:57 am UTC

Well, we may have hit peak on drawing from fresh groundwater... but that's not really peak water, that's peak cheap water. As the price of water goes up, more options of obtaining it become practical. At a certain point, you can just build a nuclear power plant on the coast, and hook the turbines directly into a low pressure evaporative desalination plant rather than a generator (NB: I have no idea if that's actually an efficient desalinization method, but it sounds cool, so I'm going with it.) Sea salt pools in an enclosed environment would also provide fresh water, purely as a by-product of producing the sea salt.

A great diminishing resource might be (if their planet's biochemistry is even vaguely similar to ours) Phosphate. Peak oil means we eventually need to find a new way to store energy conveniently, and rising gas prices will naturally make other options gradually more competitive. Peak phosphate means eventually we all starve to death. Well, maybe that's a bit over dramatic, but it's very very serious, and could easily spell the death of modern civilization if not dealt with.
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Re: Math on Scarcity of Resources

Postby ComicMath » Sun Aug 07, 2011 1:58 am UTC

Phosphates are definitely an interesting possibility although they don't have the same ring to them as water or salt. My first major research project in middle school was on phosphorus actually.

In related news, the project is moving along, I'm getting more of the script written and I'm using a new rough sketch of my aliens as my avatar.

I wonder how soon and how severe issues will arise from us reaching these peaks.
Adam Levin
http://www.ComicMath.com is a directory of comics about math and the home of the upcoming webcomic "Zara vs the SAT."


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