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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Can massive methane blowout craters create runaway global warming?

Scientists are concerned about this, and a recent study of hundreds of massive craters and mounds (some mounds half a mile wide) heightens their concern, as this article explains:


But the bigger potential threat to climate change is not small methane blow-outs in the Barents Sea; it’s massive blow-outs that could happen in areas currently covered by ice.

If ice sheets keep retreating in places like Greenland and Antarctica, it could leave more land bare and release long pent-up reservoirs of methane.

This study adds to existing uncertainty about the behavior of methane trapped near the poles.

Methane is worrying because it can have an accelerating effect: As ice and permafrost melt, they release more methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, which makes the Earth warmer, so more ice melts, and more methane is released and so on.


Methane is the big elephant in the room of possible irreparable harm to earth from global warming.

In our novel Obelisk Seven, our hero is concerned about the threat of methane.

Obelisk Seven is about global warming, ancient Egyptian obelisks, and mysterious signals from seven obelisks, including the lovely one in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. Our elevator speech for our thriller puts it this way:

When Nick Kangles, the wealthy host of a global warming TV show, and Kate Stanton, the top notch microbiologist, try to solve the mystery of seven obelisks that are sending out signals, they uncover the countdown of a threat to our civilization.
 After a chance encounter in Rome, Nick and Kate detect signals from seven obelisks in Rome, Paris,  London, New York and Egypt. They set out on an increasingly dangerous hunt to find the link between these obelisks and a new microbe that threatens the world’s oil supply, and discover that someone is willing to kill to keep the link secret.

Obelisk Seven is available in print from Amazon, and as an ebook from Kindle; check my Amazon author site for details: https://www.amazon.com/author/glennashton

How did we decide to write our thriller? 

Because of Dan Brown and an airport in Rome!

Our quest started with a wait of a few hours in the Da Vinci airport in Rome for our return flight from our European holiday. We had started in London, ducking through the Chunnel by high speed train to Paris, and then on the TGV down through Venice to Rome.

As we waited for the boarding call, Loraine spotted a softcover copy of Dan Brown's novel in the bookstore, and she joked about the many times that our tour guides in Rome and Paris had quoted The Da Vinci Code while pointing out scenes of interest. It was as if the guides had co-opted Brown's book as part of their tour material ...

So we bought his book and read it.

When we finished it, we talked about how Brown wove interesting facts – the where, the who, the what - into his thriller.

Suddenly we both had the same thought: why not use some of our wonderful memories of the cities we had just visited in a thriller of our own?

And so Obelisk Seven was conceived. Two and half years after the conception of that idea, after a lot of research and hard work and tons of sheer fun, our novel was finally born.

We started batting ideas back and forth, a bit like Brown and his wife do. We dissected Brown's novel, examining the characters and the places and the plotline and we did a bit of research into how he wrote his books.

We liked the way he slipped little bits of information into the novel, and loved thinking back on the places we had seen which he included in it.

Then it struck us: we had noticed something very interesting in London, Paris and especially in Rome. It seemed that everywhere you walked in Rome you came across huge granite blocks of stone erected in ancient Egypt many centuries ago.

Later we learned that the obelisk pope, Sixtus V, had deliberately restored many of the obelisks in Rome in places where they could be beacons to the many pilgrims coming to the city. As in: Go down this street, turn left at such-and-such an obelisk, then right at the next one, until you come to ...

Could we use these ancient obelisks in a thriller?

Easily said, but how?


One afternoon, we remembered, we had been sitting under the awning of a cafe in the square in front of huge Pantheon, when a bridal couple entered the ancient monument, along with dozens of wedding guests.

A sudden rainstorm had swept through the square, driving Romans to seek shelter in the Pantheon.

Then it stopped, the sun came out again, and the driver of the horse and carriage dried off the seats that the wedding couple would use.

I noticed crows gathering on the sloping roof of the Pantheon, and the steam coming from the obelisk facing the temple.

That gave us the idea: what if some mysterious sound came from the obelisk? Could this be the beginning of a hunt to find out what or who was making the sounds?

The rain, the wedding couple, the horse and carriage, the crows, and the obelisk all found their way into Obelisk Seven.

So one of our three themes appeared.

But it was not enough.

Why would someone want to read about obelisks making a sound (we called these obelisks Singers in the novel). We needed something more to hook readers, to make the book more interesting, more topical.

Back to Dan Brown.

In his Witness Statement Dan Brown says that all his books weave together fact and fiction. But he does more. He says:

My hope in writing this novel was that the story would serve as a catalyst and a springboard for people to discuss the important topics of faith, religion, and history.

And he courted controversy with his theme that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and started a bloodline that has survived until our time. This caused a huge fuss in some quarters because it contradicted the general belief and faith of Christianity.

We decided that we needed a lively controversy to help us make a thriller out of a handful of singing obelisks. 

Our fish and chips wrapper

Global warming became our controversy wrapper – the newspaper holding our fish & chips of singing obelisks together.

And then we needed to add a pinch of salt to our meal, and we came up with the idea to link the singing obelisks with global warming through an advance in microbiology, in the form of a new microbe that started eating the carbon in deposits of oil and coal and tar sands.


Our Three Themes

And we had our three themes – mysterious obelisks that sang, a controversy over whether global warming is a threat to our civilization, and a carbon-munching Bug.


The reader problem

How on earth could we help our readers grasp the major issues in climate change, without boring them to tears?

We decided to give the hero, Nick Kangles (a wealthy man who was dedicated to spreading the concept of trading in greenhouse gases as an effective way to let the market help reduce emissions) another role to play – that of the co-host of an international television program, WorldHeat, which dealt with global warming.

This gave us the plot device to dole out bits of information on climate change, while also giving us a vehicle to add tension through the problems Nick faces when one of his co-hosts – an evironmental activist – is suspected of trying to kill Nick.

The Meeting of Hero and Heroine

How and where would we make our hero and heroine meet?

Our glass of wine under a Roman trattoria's canvas awning in the square of the Pantheon gave us the answer.

Nick and Kate would meet there, where Audrey Hepburn had drunk champagne with Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday.

Nick is a wealthy man, who made his money with an early hedge fund before he retired and decided to help countries set up their own greenhouse gas emissions trading schemes, like the one which was designed by Professor Graciela Chichilnisky as an essential part of the Kyoto Accord.

When he explains to Kate how emissions trading allows companies that pollute the atmosphere to buy 'indulgences' for sins by buying pollution credits on the emissions trading market, Kate labels him a sin trader, much to Gliffy's delight.


The Egyptologist

The obelisks which send out mysterious signals are nicknamed Singers by our heroes.

The need for a source of information on these wonderful ancient Egyptian pillars of pink granite lead us to the creation of Jay Todesco.


Jay, a friend of Nick's, goes by the name Gliffy, which a former girl friend gave him because of his love for the hieroglyphics which were interpreted by the brilliant young French scholar, Champollion. 

We found that the character Gliffy took on a life of his own, leading Nick and Kate on the hunt for those who had made the Singers send out their mysterious signals.

Gliffy's actions in investigating the obelisk in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican – the seventh obelisk they investigate, hence the name of Obelisk Seven for our novel - lead to his death.

PS:

Obelisk Seven was written by Glenn Ashton and Loraine Lundquist, who married on a rainy beach, with their two daughters and son attending.

Glenn proposed to Loraine with a red rose on the Great Wall of China.

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