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Proper preparation prevent poor performance.  You’ve got a first aid kit in your car, a little box of tornado supplies in the closet, canned goods in the pantry, a few thousand rubber bullets.  You don’t have that one? The London Metropolitan police service does. After the 2011 riots, the Met, as it’s called, upgraded its inventory of rubber bullets from 700 to 10,000.  If there’s an item that people need, you’d better believe somebody is holding a strategic reserve of it.

Welcome to part two of Butter in the Bank.  In the first installment, which was back in episode #20, though that was before I started putting episode numbers in the title field.  Last time we talked about Canadian maple syrup, Chinese pork, Indian cotton, European butter, and American raisins. Most of those stockpiles are intended to guard against price fluctuations.  Today will trend more toward survival necessities, but if you’ve ever done any kind of research, you know that start off thinking you’re going down one road and wind up goodness knows where. Let’s start with medicine, because if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.

We like to talk about how we would handle the zombie apocalypse, but we should probably focus on slightly more likely to happen, like a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or non-T-virus disease outbreak.  That’s where the Strategic National Stockpile comes in. Managed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), can provide lifesaving medicines, vaccines, antidotes for chemical and biological attacks, and more.  The Strategic National Stockpile is not a first responder, but if a state or national agency requests help, the Strategic National Stockpile can provide critical medical supplies. The Strategic National Stockpile spreads its inventory between warehouses scattered across the US, that way it can respond to an emergency within hours, no matter where it happens.  The locations of the warehouses and their exact contents are kept close to the vest.

If the threat isn’t well defined, like a cluster of unusual deaths, the Strategic National Stockpile  sends “push packages,” that contain a broad spectrum of medications and other medical supplies. CDC advisers take the supplies at the scene of the emergency and hand responsibility over to the local authorities.  Health care workers then distribute these supplies to those who need them. The medicine and supplies are provided free to the patients, which shouldn’t be surprising and refreshing, but is.

The Strategic National Stockpile program has responded to areas affected by the 9/11 attacks, dispensed Cipro for the anthrax attacks in late 2001, provided anti-viral drugs, as well as gloves and masks, during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009.  After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the CDC realized that they also needed to provide supplies for chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart conditions, and high blood pressure, to treat those patients in long-term disaster areas who would otherwise not be able to get their meds.  

This is where I’ll put a clever segue about rubber gloves and maybe a glove slap to start a duel.  Rubber stockpiles were once so important to Western nations, specifically on their ability to wage war that secret missions were planned to steal the stockpiles of their enemies.  Next to steel, rubber was the most important commodity in the war effort against Germany and Japan. When World War II began, Japan seized Burma, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies.  This cut the Allies off from 90% of the supply of natural rubber. The lack of rubber for vehicles, aircraft, clothing, gas masks, etc, could actually have cost the Allies the war. In the US, this sparked a prickly political battle between those who favored natural rubber and those who wanted synthetic rubber.  Some politicians worried that a synthetic rubber program could lead to dangerous policies of isolationism after the war. In The New York Times Magazine, one asked, “Will the rubber policies we adopt now lead to World War III later on?” Synthetic rubber of the time was also inferior to natural rubber. In June 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Rubber Reserve Company to stockpile rubber.  When it was created the Rubber Reserve Company had about 1 million lbs/454,000kg of rubber. That seems like a lot, but the military at that time was using about 600,000 lbs/272,000 kg a year, and if production increased, so would the need for rubber. Under the umbrella of the Rubber Reserve Company, several private corporations, including Firestone, Goodrich, and Goodyear, signed a patent and information sharing agreement to produce better synthetic rubber.  The Allies also launched Operation Mickleham in the early 1940s, which was supposed to smuggle rubber from Japanese-occupied areas, but it failed to secure even an ounce of rubber. It also didn’t make much of an impact on historians either, apparently, because I couldn’t find much on it. In 2012, the US decided to sell its rubber stockpile. As of 2015, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia are part of a consortium that produces about two-thirds of the world’s natural rubber.  They had tried to control prices, OPEC-style, but oversupply and sinking demand put the kibosh on that.

Livestream for the Cure

Do you remember how, after like the third time Futurama got cancelled, they did a quartet of movies, which went back and forth in quality like the Star Trek films.  The one, Into the Wild Green Yonder, featured a creature called the Encyclopod, who preserved the DNA of all endangered species. It’s not news that animal species are disappearing at an increasing rate, with a quarter of all known mammals and a tenth of all birds facing possible extinction within the next generation.  Global biodiversity is declining at an overwhelming speed. With each species that disappears, vast amounts of information about their biology, ecology and evolutionary history is irreplaceably lost. In 2004, three British organizations decided to join forces and combat the issue. The Natural History Museum, the Zoological Society of London, and Nottingham University joined forces, like highly-educated Planeteers, to create the Frozen Ark Project.  

To do this, they gathered and preserved DNA and living tissue samples from all the endangered species they could get their hands on (literally), so that future generations can study the genetic material far into the future.  No, not like Jurassic Park. I think it’s been established that that’s a bad idea. So far, the Frozen Ark has over 700 samples stored at the University of Nottingham in England and participating consortium members in the U.S., Germany, Australia,India, South Africa, Norway, and others.  DNA donations come from museums, university laboratories, and zoos. Their mission has four component: to coordinating global efforts in animal biobanking; to share expertise; to help to organisations and governments set up biobanks in their own countries; and to provide the physical and informatics infrastructure that will allow conservationists and researchers to search for, locate, and use this material wherever possible without having to resample from wild populations.

The Frozen Ark Project was founded in 2004 by Professor Bryan Clarke, a geneticist at the University of Nottingham, his wife Dr Ann Clarke, an immunologist with experience in reproductive biology, and their friend Dame Anne McLaren, a leading figure in developmental biology.  Starting in the 1960’s, Clarke carried out comprehensive studies on land snails of the genus Partula, which are endemic to the volcanic islands of French Polynesia. Almost all Partula species disappeared within just 15 years, because of a governmental biological control plan that went horribly wrong.  In the late ’60s, the giant African land snail, a mollusk the size of a puppy, was introduced to the islands as a delicacy, but soon turned into a serious agricultural pest, because, as seems to happen 100% of the time humans think they know better, the giant snail had no natural predators. To control the African land snails, the carnivorous Florida rosy wolfsnail was introduced in the ’70s, but it annihilated the native snails instead.  As a last resort, Clarke’s team managed to collect live specimens of the remaining 12 Partula species and bring them back to Britain. Tissue samples were frozen to preserve their DNA and an international captive breeding program was established. Currently, there are Partula species, including some that later became extinct in the wild, in a dozen zoos and a there few been a few promising reintroductions.

The extinction story of the Partula snails resonated with the Clarkes, who realised that systematic collection and preservation of tissue, DNA, and viable cells of endangered species should become standard practice, ultimately inspiring the birth of Frozen Ark.  The Frozen Ark Project operates as a federated model, building partnerships with organisations worldwide that share the same vision and goals. The Frozen Ark consortium has grown steadily since the project’s launch, with new national and international organisations joining every year.  There are now 27 partners, distributed across five continents. Biological samples like tissue or blood from animals in zoos and aquariums can be taken from live animals during routine veterinary work or from dead animals. Bonus fact: more of a nitpick, the post-mortem examination of an animal is a necropsy.  Autopsy means examining the self. The biobanks can provide a safe storage for many types of biological material, particularly the highly valuable germ cells (sperm and eggs).

Their work isn’t merely theoretical for some distant day in the future.  One success story of the Frozen Ark, which illustrates the benefits of combining cryobanked material, effective management, and a captive breeding program, is the alarmingly adorable black-footed ferret. The species was listed as “extinct in the wild” in 1996, but has since been reintroduced back to its habitat and is now gradually recovering.  More recently, researchers were able to improve the genetic diversity to the wild population by using 20-year-old cryopreserved sperm and artificial insemination.


After hydrogen, helium, the stuff that makes balloon fly and gives you a chipmunk voice, is the second most plentiful gas in the universe. So why does the US government have a federal stockpile of the stuff?  Short answer: war. Long anwer: the US created the Federal Helium Reserve in 1921 as a way to store helium for blimps, which were the next great weapon of war at the time. Though the blimps didn’t pan out as hoped, the helium stockpile not only remained, but grew.  The reserve, stored near Amarillo, Texas, was about 11 billion cubic feet as of 2013. It provides 42% of America’s helium and 35% of the world’s supply. That location makes sense when you learn that helium is not extracted from the atmosphere, but is a byproduct of natural gas production.

However, now it’s more about the government providing a critical product that private enterprise doesn’t want to sell as long as the market is controlled.Helium has unique qualities that put it in high demand. It’s an excellent coolant that stays liquid down to a temperature of absolute zero. Although it’s exceptionally light, helium doesn’t explode like hydrogen.  The largest commercial use of helium is as a coolant for superconducting magnets necessary to build magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. It also has properties that make it useful in arc welding, computer drives, fiber optic cables, aerospace telescopes, and scientific research. The Large Hadron Collider, needs about 130 tons of helium to operate.

Mot of those technologies were not what they are now back in the ‘90s, when the U.S. government decided to get rid of the reserve, passing the Helium Privatization Act of 1996 and gradually selling the helium stockpile off to private buyers.  But as helium was being used more and more, the prices were being kept artificially low, which led to massive waste. Worryingly, at current rates of usage, known global supplies of helium are estimated to be entirely depleted in 20 to 30 years. Even though it appears to be a common element, accounting for up to 24% of total universal mass, helium is actually rare on Earth in a *usable form.  The House of Representatives stepped in with the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 and voted to extend the life of the Federal Helium Reserve. These days, the U.S. is reducing its helium stores to 3 billion cubic feet. New mining endeavors are expected to create a helium surplus by 2018, so it sounds like we’re in good shape (for now).

The Story Behind podcast

The Protecting Ice Memory project aims to preserve the rich information contained in our planet’s swiftly disappearing ice.  To those that can read them, mountain glaciers are incredible repositories of data points on long-term changes in temperature, as well as concentrations of gases and pollutants.  But as they melt, their histories go with them, so researchers are taking enormous, cylindrical samples called ice cores from as many glaciers as possible. While tree rings and ocean sediment cores can help scientists create a detailed record of what the Earth’s climate was like in the past, showing, for example, if a summer was hot or dry, ice cores provide a direct link.  “As snow falls, it pulls stuff out of the atmosphere and it is subsequently buried, and so you can go back and see what was in the atmosphere at a specific time. That’s what makes them really valuable,” said Mark Twickler, the science director of the ice core facility.

Most ice cores come from Greenland and Antarctica, as these locations provide the longest records.  Scientists use either mechanical or thermal drills, which can drill up cores up to 20ft/6m long, and 5in/12cm thick.  The oldest ice core that has been unearthed has a record that extends back *800, 000 years, although scientists are on the hunt to go back even further.  A group of researchers from University of Washington and University of Maine have recently submitted a proposal to drill in a spot in Antarctica that might produce a record back to 1 million years.  After drilling, researchers must transport these ice cores by ship thousands of miles to the ICF without them melting. This is done by moving them in a freezer inside another freezer and a refrigeration specialist to accompany the ice cores, just in case.  Luckily, according to Twickler, it’s been 20 years since a core was lost.

Sealed in steel tubes and stacked in a vast room, the cylinder of ice have come a long way.  Each of them has been carefully drilled and carved, delicately treated in freezing rooms, and shipped in thousand-dollar refrigeration units.  Their first stop is the National Science Foundation’s Ice Core Facility outside of Denver. There they will be kept as solidly frozen as they were in their glacier.  Why do they have to be so careful with giant ice cubes? These ice cores are like safe deposit boxes of invaluable scientific data. They are the only resources on the planet that, at one point in time, had direct contact with the atmosphere hundreds and even thousands of years ago *and preserved traces of it.  By learning more about these atmospheric changes in the past, scientists can better project what the Earth’s climate may look like in an increasingly warming future.

The ICF stores over 17,000 meters of ice cores from Greenland, Antarctica and parts of North America in a large freezer meticulously kept at negative 32° Fahrenheit/-35C°.  Bonus fact: The Celsius and Fahrenheit scales only line up at -40deg°. The freezer is housed in a large, nondescript building located in the Denver Federal Center compound.  It can be accessed only after donning heavy coveralls, snow boots, gloves and a warm hat. In the freezer, pens can’t write, batteries fade, and computers have to be housed in special warm boxes.

Attached to the archive freezer is an exam room, set to -10°F, where, groups of up to 20 scientists dissect the ice cores using precise tools.  Samples then whiz to universities far and wide, where their chemistry, gases, nitrogen, sulfur isotopes and other properties, are analyzed. Tiny pieces of pollution trapped in the ice can tell of a volcanic eruption or radioactive fallout.  The ratio of oxygen-16 to oxygen-18 can tell the temperature of the Earth when an ice layer formed, as well as the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It was with ice cores that scientists observe the link between carbon dioxide levels and the global temperature in the last million years.

Needless to say, time is of the essence to preserve these samples.  As temperatures rise, they have begun their retreat, melting back slowly over the years. Even before these glaciers are lost, they have started melting at the top surface layers — and as the water trickles down through the glacier, it can destroy the chemical composition of the deeper layers, distorting the signals in the ice.

And that’s where we run out of idea, at least for today.  There was one item I spent more than an hour researching, only to have to take it back out, and that’s the strategic steam locomotive reserve.  Supposedly, during the Cold War, countries like Russia, the UK, and even Sweden and Finland, kept steam trains in working condition in case the electrical infrastructure or oil supply lines were ever disrupted after an attack.  The “evidence” for this seems to be train graveyards, just places where vehicles go when they’re obsolete. The fact that ever picture has more rust than the floor pan of my old Chevy pickup leads me to believe that no major world power is planning to use them again.  Thanks….