…and Thou Hast Returned

6 11 2009

Hey readers. Sorry for the absence, I’ve had a hectic life the last month but I’m back. Wow, it’s been since the beginning of the last week of September since I’ve posted anything. Well, I apologize for that. There has been so much in the news lately in regards to climate change and immediate impacts such as Mt. Kilaminjaro – there’s been a lot of news regarding the events taking place there. There are so many other stories that I’d never be able to post them all in this post so you can look forward in the coming days for plenty of fresh material – great material – to be posted. I eagerly await your feedback, comments and the like.

~Derrick (aka, Skywarn256)


Accumulated Rainfall – Tennessee Valley Flooding

22 09 2009

I’ve gathered some stats for your guys regarding the accumulated rainfall and flash flooding occuring all around the Tennessee Valley area including northwest GA. Be reminded that these are radar estimates and could be a little off but for the most part, it’s accurate. It is a storm total rainfall for rain which fell over the course of the last 7 days.

Accumulated Rainfall Rates

Examining Global Warming’s Best Friend, N2O

29 08 2009

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) are out of the way – a major success story in the fight against ozone depletion but a new menace is quickly becoming the top dog in the crowd of global warming fugitives. It took more than 20 years, but CFC’s are finally down and still sinking but nitrous oxide is hastily becoming our new arch-enemy. Nitrous oxide is now, according to a new report from NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (NSRL), the most destructive and abundant man-derived greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. Where CFC’s were in our minds and in the environment now lies Nitrous Oxide.

“The dramatic reduction in CFCs over the last 20 years is an environmental success story. But manmade nitrous oxide is now the elephant in the room among ozone-depleting substances,” said Ravishankara, lead author of the study and director of the ESRL Chemical Sciences Division in Boulder, CO.

The gas is quite common, even it’s natural occurrences, but never in this quantity. The gas is derived from the fertilization of agriculture, mainly, but can also be found in animal dung, dentists’ offices (“Laughing Gas”), sewage treatment, combustion engines, and the rearing of livestock.

CFC’s were abundant in use, especially in aerosol cans in the 70’s and 80’s but scientists soon found that it’s effects on the environment were to harmful to be allowed to continue. In an international agreement, the Montreal Protocol was established in 1987 to reduce the CFC input into the environment world-wide. The plan was a huge success, now 22 years later, as we can see the incredible reduction of it’s concentration in the atmosphere. Although this is true, even the scars left behind are still mending; in particular the gaping hole in the ozone layer situated above the South Pole. Will nitrous oxide be as dangerous to the environment as the CFC’s were? In short, yes.

Examination of Atmospheric Layers

If left unchecked, the concentration of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere would continue to climb exponentially. We still have time to correct the problem before it gets out of control but it would take control to do it. The main target would certainly have to be the control of agricultural fertilization – fertilizers highly concentrated in the chemical. Although it does help the soil to produce more abundant (and vivacious) plants, it destroys the ozone layer – thinning it more and more.

What happens when the atmosphere gets thinner? More radiation enters the earth’s lower atmosphere which in turn actually harms the plants (and us). Imagine the worst sunburn you ever had. Multiply it. No one really wants to deal with the effects of global warming. “I don’t believe in it”. I guess it really doesn’t matter if you believe or not. It’s a decision that you’d have to make. A) Live with the changes you have to make today and be a little less “wasteful” or B) Ignore the warnings and live in a hotter, more naturally violent world potentially full of disease and famine. It’s up to you really….

Information derived from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Image derived from ScienceDaily.com
All information retrieved Saturday, August 29th, 2009

Walk to 350 – Huntsville, AL

28 08 2009

Walk to 350

I am trying to organize a group to attend a walk in correlation with many around the world as we strive to reduce CO2 levels back down to 350. Thousands of people around the world are joining in the cause and I’m trying to help bring it home – bringing it here to Huntsville, AL. Consisting of a short walk around downtown and Big Spring Park and leading into food, drinks and entertainment as well as a visit to the museum of art, I want this to be a success! The tentative time is at 3pm on October 24th (the global ‘350’ day). I am looking for attendees or supporters – maybe a vendor or two or whatever you can help with. Email me if you’re interested in participating or helping!


Two Jupiters That Shouldn’t Be – Retrograded and Tidally Ignorant

27 08 2009

WASP – The “Wide Area Search (for) Planets” is collaboration between various UK universities. Among modern collaborations, it is fit that it has become one of the most successful. Recent findings in the WASP program shine light on anti-fundamental understanding on astrophysics, planetary tidal effects and more. I’ll cast a little light on two of the discoveries by the program in this blog post.

An artist's impression of a transisting exoplanet.
An artist’s impression of a transiting exoplanet. (Credit: NASA/Hubble)

The first is the discovery of WASP-17 – a superhot gas-giant orbiting a star approximately 1,000 light years away. It was just another discovery of an extrasolar gas-giant, one of several found by the program until it was discovered that the planet had a strange behavior – a very strange behavior. It was found that WASP-17 actually orbited its star in reverse; it orbited in the opposite direction it was ‘supposed’ to orbit. It is well known that early star formations and young galaxies are very violent places – planetary collisions, streaming hot waves of gas and radiation and a hungry and devouring star at its center. When stars form, their planets form spinning and orbiting the same direction as the star when it formed…or so we thought. The star (and galaxy) rotates one way while WASP-17 rotates the other. No one really knows why or how this happened – it’s the first retrograde-orbiting planet discovered, but there’s a good guess looming out there.

Artist's impression shows a gas-giant exoplanet transisting across the face of a star.
Artist’s impression shows a gas-giant exoplanet transiting across the face of its star. (Credit: ESA/C. Carreau)

As mentioned, young galaxies and stars are quite violent – it is thought that perhaps early in WASP-17’s life, it collided with another, larger planet orbiting the same star. This collision flung WASP-17 the other way, causing its retrograde orbit. Collisions of this kind are quite common in this type of scenario – it’s actually the way our moon was formed – a mars-sized planetary body collided with earth sending massive clouds of dust and debris into space which eventually synthesized into what we call the moon.
Another interesting discovery of the WASP project was their next discover, WASP-18. WASP-18 was discovered by luck and chance, only being about a one in a thousand chance of being discovered^. The situation with WASP-18 is it is a planet with a mass ten times that of Jupiter but circles it’s star in less than one earth day. One Earth Day. Not only is its orbit as fast as is described, but its distance from its star is only about three stellar radii. That’s close. No one can quite figure out why the planet hasn’t already spiraled inward to its devouring doom within its parent star. According to what we know about planetary tidal forces and the gravity of bodies the size of the planet and its star, the planet should have been destroyed over a million years ago but yet it’s still spinning, orbiting the star. The only explanation for the scenario is that a) the tidal dissipation for that particular solar system is a thousand times less than that of our solar system or b) Our understanding of physics and tidal forces are limited to the scope of our own solar system – that things ‘out there’ are much, much different.

Science and Technology Facilities Council (2009, August 28). Huge New Planet Orbits ‘Wrong’ Way Around Star; Tells Of Game Of Planetary Billiards. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 27, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2009/08/090827134159.htm
Nature (2009, August 27). Extrasolar Hot Jupiter: The Planet That ‘Shouldn’t Exist’. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 27, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2009/08/090827132901.htm

Summer 2009 Climate Report – Huntsville, AL

19 08 2009

This post is a personal research project that I am evaluating. Over the course of 2 months, I have recorded the high and low temperatures at the weather station at the Huntsville International Airport in Huntsville, AL. Along with the temperatures, I have also recorded the amount of rain which fell on which day – a visual aid in analyzing the temperature departures from normal (why was so and so day colder than the rest….look, it rained over an inch that day!).

Rainfall Amounts Per Day at Huntsville International Airport, Huntsville, AL - Summer 2009
Rainfall Amounts Per Day at the Huntsville International Airport in Huntsville, AL (Summer 2009)

The summer seems to be a typical one – temperatures only straying from normal by a margin of more than 10 degrees only twice during the recorded dates. One was a heat wave which swept through the valley during Mid-to-Late June whereas we had a cold spell (or cool spell) during Late July. Rainfall during this period wasn’t spread out over the course of the period but rather came in bursts which left many reports of flash flooding in the area.

Recorded and Average Temperatures at Huntsville International Airport, Huntsville, AL - Summer2009
Recorded and Average Temperatures at the Huntsville International Airport in Huntsville, AL (Summer 2009)

Hot Sea Running

17 08 2009

Guest Post from Dan Satterfield

A lot of tropical news this week. The 2009 hurricane season in the Atlantic has stirred to life quickly with two (Update Sunday: 3 !) tropical storms forming on Saturday. It’s not at all unusual to have little hurricane activity until August. The season runs from June 1st to November 30, but the prime season is from Aug, 1st to mid September. American forecasters have an old saying that there will almost always be a hurricane on the weather maps when Labour Day arrives.

From NOAA/NCDC. The bigger the dot the more the temperature was warmer or colder than normal.

These storms form in very warm ocean. The National Climate Data Center (NOAA) released the July global land and ocean temperatures on Saturday. Ocean temps were the warmest on record for July. The land and ocean temps were the 5th warmest on the instrumental record. This follows June 2009 which also came in as warmest.

Another interesting bit of tropical news this week is a new paper published in Nature on hurricanes of the past. One of the great debates in science right now is the question of whether climate change will bring more hurricanes or fewer. The debate has raged between two opposing groups. Kerry Emanuel of MIT has produced interesting evidence that we have seen an increase in hurricanes already due to the warming of the past 50 years.

Chris Landsea of NOAA has produced evidence that we are just detecting more tropical storms, and that there has not been an increase. I had a chance a couple of years ago to hear both of them present at the AMS meeting in San Antonio. I left with the firm conviction that the question remains open. Understand here, that this debate is not about climate change in general.Despite what you read on the Internet, science has moved on from that.

One thing that does seem very certain now is that hurricanes in the warmer world of late this century, will be wetter. Perhaps considerably wetter. The kind of catastrophic flooding we saw in Taiwan this past week, will likely be more common in the future.

Why you ask? Water vapour.

GOES Image of Tropical Storm Bill Early Sunday. from NASA MSFC
GOES Image of Tropical Storm Bill Early Sunday. from NASA MSFC

If the average temperature of the air over the oceans rises 1 degree F, the air can hold 4% more water. (This is one reason why more snow is likely in Antarctica as it warms, not less. A 3C rise in temp. by late this century would bring an increase of around 22% in the amount of water held in the atmosphere! (You won’t see that bit of science on these junk science sites)

Sea surface temperatures are a major factor in hurricane formation. If the sea surface temperature is below about 27C then hurricanes are not likely. Upper level wind shear and atmospheric water vapour are other important ingredients.

Other factors like wind shear in the upper atmosphere act to inhibit hurricanes. The El Nino that develops every 4-7 years in the Pacific, increases the wind shear over the Atlantic, and we usually see fewer storms. Will there be more wind shear in a warmer world? Possibly. Conditions could combine to produce about the same number of storms in the future. (Much wetter ones though)

Micheal Mann of Penn State University is the lead author of a fascinating paper in this weeks NATURE. His team used soil/silt cores in a series of locations to estimate past hurricanes. If a hurricane hits a coastline, the overwash of sea water will leave a deposit that can be identified in the cores. They used these sediment cores to estimate hurricane activity over the last 1500 years. In addition, they used a statistical model that factored in variables like sea surface temperature to estimate storms as well.

Reconstruction of landfalling Atlantic hurricanes. Nature 460, 880-883 (13 August 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08219;   Atlantic hurricanes and climate over the past 1,500 years  Michael E. Mann, Jonathan D. Woodruff2 et al
Reconstruction of landfalling Atlantic hurricanes. Nature 460, 880-883 (13 August 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08219; Atlantic hurricanes and climate over the past 1,500 years Michael E. Mann, Jonathan D. Woodruff2 et al

They found that during a period of rather warm Atlantic Ocean water around 1000 years ago, we saw as many hurricanes as we have over the past 15 years. This is a good confirmation that warmer seas, do give more hurricanes and perhaps more intense ones.

Chris Landsea of NOAA argues that the increase in storms over the past century is just an artifact of spotting them more easily with satellites and aircraft. One thing seems likely here, the hurricanes did increase in the past during a period of warmer oceans.

Whether or not a warmer world caused by human means, instead of natural ones, will do the same is still open for debate. The science, however, might just be beginning to tilt in favor of Mann and Emanuel.

Either way, with sea level now rising 3mm per year, and increasing, future hurricanes, will be wetter and cause more destruction. The current thinking is the IPCC will be adjusting their forecast of sea level rise up considerably in the next report.

This back and forth in the peer reviewed literature is how science advances. When we can answer the question of hurricanes in a warmer world, we will have gleamed another piece of fundamental knowledge of how are planet works.

I end with a book recommendation. Kerry Emanuel of MIT is one of the leading experts on hurricanes. He has written a fabulous book called Divine Wind. It combines poetry and science. It’s one of the best general audience  science books ever written.

Note this is a dual post- I wrote it as a guest post on Skywarn 256’s Weather Blog as well.