Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Enbridge Flanagan South Pipeline Project, Part 2

A while back, I promised more photos and video of the pipeline project that visited our area in the fall of 2013. The Enbridge Flanagan South Project included about 600 miles of 36-inch diameter pipe intended to carry about 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day. After realizing what the project involved, I watched carefully each day so that I might witness the process of laying the pipe in the ground. Even though I've worked for Caterpillar for over 20 years, I had never witnessed the pipelaying process, and since it was available for viewing only a few miles from our house, I jumped at the chance.

This first video shows three of the four Caterpillar pipelayers on the job, and a couple of support machines that performed interesting, and very specialized jobs. The first hydraulic excavator visible, sandwiched between a couple of pipelayers, seems to be primarily occupied with moving the wooden piles that support the sections of pipe before they are lowered into the trench. As the pipelayers lift the pipe, the supporting piles of skids become unnecessary and are moved closer to the trench so the following pipelayers can more easily work around them. At the end of the video you can see another machine designed to gather the wood used in the piles and organize it for future use. That machine is featured more prominently in the fifth video.

This second video shows all four pipelayers working a little further down that same line with the support machines accompanying them as before.

In this third video, the pipelayers have moved on to a new section of pipe, so one can see how they slide their slings under the free end of the pipe and slowly move it horizontally closer to the trench where it will ultimately rest following the fourth pipelayer. Notice the excavator "cut in line" to situate itself between the second and third pipelayer.

The fourth video features the first two pipelayers most prominently as they lift this section of pipe off the skid piles and gradually swing it toward the trench. The excavator behind the second pipelayer can be witnessed clearing the path for the last two pipelayers, which are successfully bringing the pipe to rest in the trench.

The fifth video picks up where the last one left off affording us a better view of the last two pipelayers and the utility machine that follows them. Even though it's not manufactured by Caterpillar (nor do we make anything like this machine), it intrigued me for the many actions it performed in carrying out the single task of picking up the wood skids and organizing them. The Pisony SkidPro picks the skids off the ground, arranges them in neat stacks, and wraps steel bands around the whole bundle. The machine can carry several bundles before they must be unloaded, and although I didn't witness it, the grapple is then used to lift the bundles from the SkidPro and load them on a truck for transport to the next section of pipeline.

Since the pipeline has been operational well over a year now, it's amazing to think literally millions of barrels of oil have traveled through this pipeline in our neighborhood. Most of the clues of the pipeline's presence have vanished, while the benefits of improved oil movement from Illinois to Oklahoma continue to be felt in the oil industry around the world.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Images from Europe: Gimmelwald, Switzerland

We've read the story "Heidi" frequently enough to think the Swiss Alps sound like the most delightful place in the world.  Since our European vacation brought us within a few hours of the Alps, we planned to spend a few days in the mountains experiencing for ourselves what we've only experienced vicariously before.

Our short stay was centered around Gimmelwald, a town of about a hundred people over 1400 feet above the Lauterbrunnen Valley.  That elevation is significant in that it's impractical (impossible?) to reach Gimmelwald by car. The aerial tramway from Stechelberg to Gimmelwald is the easiest way to get there, and the picture below shows the Stechelberg Station in the valley a few minutes before we reached Gimmelwald.
As you can tell, the weather was wonderful on our arrival day, and we were quite impressed by the cliffs, peaks, waterfalls, and even the cable car!

We stayed at the Hotel Mittaghorn which is small and spartan, but oozing with charm and fantastic views.  Our room on the second floor had a little balcony from which we could look out over the Lauterbrunnen Valley to the Jungfrau, Monch, and Eiger peaks to the east.  I've been in the Colorado Rockies plenty of times, but the view from the hotel was bigger than anything I'd ever seen before. The mountains across the valley were too big to be observed in one view, and felt like they were just at the end of your fingers while in another world at the same time!

This picture was taken during one of our afternoon hikes around the mountain. This is not exactly what I envision when I read "Heidi," but it's pretty close.

This area came recommended by a cousin who has vacationed here, and by Rick Steves who wrote this flattering description of the area, which only strengthened our desire to experience the area for ourselves.

This image is probably my favorite.  Karen and Lily are in the foreground descending from a vantage point three hundred feet above the village of Murren (in the middle distance). This shot partially illustrates what impressed me most about these mountains: they're big, and they're right in front of your face! The Rockies and Tetons are impressive in a "majestically off there in the distance" sort of way, but the Alps are right there leaning over your shoulder! I'd be remiss if I didn't draw your attention to the abundance of vegetation in the Alps. We like green, growing things, especially when we're on vacation. We aren't big fans of any desert, and placing a mountain in the middle of one does little to attract us to either feature.

Murren was a comfortable walk from our hotel, and attracts more tourists than Gimmelwald. Even so, we still found it to be a pleasant village with wonderful views, delicious food, and enough souvenirs to satisfy our need. From Murren one can ride the cable car several thousand feet higher to the Piz Gloria restaurant at the peak of the Schilthorn. We didn't make that trip as the lower elevations proved more than satisfactory in whetting our appetites for the Alps.

We've only seen a small part of Switzerland, but we love what we've seen.

Friday, April 15, 2016

First mowing of 2016

A mild winter and warmer than average March caused the grass to green up early in our yard, but since April has been considerably cooler than average, we were able to delay the first mowing until April 13.  As usual, the back yard was probably too long, while the front yard was barely long enough to reach the mower blades.  Historically, the date this year was on the early side of the median, although almost 3 weeks later than the earliest.  Which got me thinking, "I wonder what determines how fast the grass grows in the spring?"  I don't have good data for rainfall in our yard, but since I do have approximate temperature data, I thought growing degree days might be worth investigating. Growing degree days (GDD) are calculated by the number of degrees Fahrenheit the mean daily temperature exceeds 50°F.  So a day in which the mean temperature is 56°F would produce 6 GDD.

In this chart, the green bars represent the first mowing date for each year, while the red line marks the cumulative GDD up until the day I mowed.  Initially I thought the number of GDD might be constant across the data set, implying that the grass is ready to be cut once it has received the right amount of warm weather.  Since an earlier date would probably require more GDD than a later date, it seemed the date and GDD were probably inversely related, hence the degree day data are inverted on the chart.  Although the correlation isn't horrible, the inconsistency across the data set convinced me something was missing. Maybe rainfall data? Maybe something else?

Does the date data correlate better to Heating Degree Days (HDD)? HDD are similar to GDD except they represent the magnitude of the mean temperature below 65°F.  A warm spring would have fewer HDD and presumably an earlier first mowing, while a cold spring would accumulate more HDD before the first mowing, presumably resulting in a later first mow. As you can see, the correlation is pretty close. The HDD data is limited to the days between February 1 and the mowing day, although when the month of January was also included, the correlation looked very similar. The variation from month to month is still unexplained, for instance, why wasn't mowing required earlier in 2009, 2011, and 2016 as the HDD data would seem to suggest?

Those are questions for another day (or another blogger), and even though I think we can correlate HDD to the first mowing date, I'm at a loss to see a method to predict the first mowing date. I guess that gives me something else to ponder until next spring.