from the world's big
The complacent majority needs to step up and call for action on climate change.
- Climate change is often framed as a debate that has split society down the middle and that requires more evidence before we can act. In reality, 97 percent of scientists agree that it is real and only 3 percent are skeptical. A sticking point for some is the estimated timeline, but as Columbia University professor Philip Kitcher points out, a 4-5 Celsius temperature increase that makes the planet uninhabitable is a disaster no matter when it happens.
- In this video, 9 experts (including professors, astronomers, authors, and historians) explain what climate change looks like, how humans have already and are continuing to contribute to it, how and why it has become politicized, and what needs to happen moving forward for real progress to be made.
- David Wallace-Wells, journalist and New America Foundation National Fellow, says that the main goal of climate action is not to win over the skeptical minority, but to "make those people who are concerned but still fundamentally complacent about the issue to be really engaged in a way that they prioritize climate change in their politics and their voting and make sure that our leaders think of climate change as a first-order political priority."
It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.
- Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
- Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
- Where's an El Niño when you need one?
Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.
NOAA expects a busy season
According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.
Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.
What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.
This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.
Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:
- The ocean there is warmer than usual.
- There's reduced vertical wind shear.
- Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
- There have been strong West African monsoons this year.
Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:
ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.
First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.
Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.
Image source: NOAA
Batten down the hatches early
If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.
Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."
Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.
Fires pose a major health risk to people living near irradiated sites.
- Firefighters in Ukraine battled forest fires this weekend near the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
- The fires were started by a 27-year-old man who wanted to burn grass "for fun," police said.
- Forest fires can kick up radioactive material into the air, where wind can carry it outside of the exclusion zone.
Why fires are especially dangerous in irradiated sites<p>Forest fires are a major health risk for those living near the exclusion zone. That's because some of the soil, plants, and trees in the zone are radioactively contaminated, and fires can kick up radioactive particles into the air, where wind could carry them outside of the exclusion zone. </p><p>A 1996 study published in <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00489697" target="_blank">Science of The Total Environment</a> described the health risks:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If the elements were radioactive isotopes, such [cesium, iodine, and chlorine], fires could cause an increased radiological dose to people through inhalation, exposure to ash, or ingestion of plants because of increased uptake of ash leachate."</p>
On April 05, 2020, NOAA-NASA's Suomi NPP satellite captured this image of the human caused wildfire that broke out near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.<p>Forest fires are especially dangerous when they occur in areas like the Red Forest, a 4-square-mile pine forest surrounding the nuclear power plant. Shortly after the meltdown, the trees turned reddish brown and died, hence the name. The Red Forest has suffered forest fires as <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/prime-minister-says-don-t-worry-but-scientists-concerned-about-chernobyl-wildfires/29276072.html" target="_blank">recently as 2018</a>, and today it remains one of the most radioactively contaminated places in the world.</p><p>Some scientists have been warning that rising temperatures and drier conditions may increase the risk of forest fires in areas like this.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This dead organic matter on the surface of the soil is highly radioactive," Chernobyl research Dr. Timothy Mousseau <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/chernobyl-ring-of-fire-signs-point-to-rising-risk/27693798.html" target="_blank">told Radio Free Europe</a>. "When it dries out, it becomes a big fire hazard and this fuel load is what generates catastrophic forest fires."</p>
MIT engineers devise a decision map to identify the best mission type to deflect an incoming asteroid.
On April 13, 2029, an icy chunk of space rock, wider than the Eiffel Tower is tall, will streak by Earth at 30 kilometers per second, grazing the planet's sphere of geostationary satellites.
Minnesota earned its 'blue mark' in the 1975 Morris earthquake, which had its epicenter in the western part of the state.
- Californians, want to run away from the Big One? Head for Minnesota.
- As this map shows, the Gopher State is the least likely to be hit by earthquakes.
- Choose your new home wisely, though: even Minnesota has one earthquake-sensitive spot.
Not if, but when<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjc3NTAwOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1Mjk4ODI3MX0.5T33e183P6FCkKaF2OeYN87pJSgKMnbuFmjS68p3TJQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="9893f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2dee8c6a6ec7c73c705d45b067c3113e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="The Long Beach earthquake hit on 10 March 1933 with an estimated magnitude of 6.25 on the Richter scale." />
The Long Beach earthquake hit on 10 March 1933 with an estimated magnitude of 6.25 on the Richter scale.
Image: Nathan Callahan, CC BY 2.0<p>It's not if, but when: Californians live with the certainty that someday, <a href="https://the-big-one.scpr.org/stories/" target="_blank">the Big One will hit</a>. </p><p>The Big One is an earthquake with a magnitude of at least 7.8 on the Richter scale. Because of the plate tectonics at work under California, big quakes like that hit the area every 45 to 230 years. </p><p>The last one was more than 160 years ago. That's why paleoseismologist Kerry Sieh says the next one is likely to happen "within the lifetime of children in primary school today."</p><p>Here's how the United States Geological Survey (USGS) rates the hazard of a major earthquake in California in the next 30 years: </p><ul><li>60% chance of a 6.7-magnitude quake.</li><li>46% chance of a 7.0-magnitude quake.</li><li>31% chance of a 7.5-magnitude quake.</li></ul>It should be noted that the Richter scale is logarithmic in nature, meaning that a one-point increase in magnitude (e.g. from 6.7 to 7.7) represents a tenfold increase in amplitude. So, the Big One will be considerably stronger than the highest-magnitude quake considered by the USGS. When it hits, the Big One is likely to kill hundreds, hurt thousands and displace many more. It will cause widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure and start hundreds of fires. How do you put as much distance as possible between yourself and that apocalyptic prospect? Start with this earthquake hazard map.
Hazard everywhere<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjc3NTAxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTEzMzk1Nn0.ObHDJkYWtqif-bPnp0kqLqc30qZRiuDewFxCUdhCG1o/img.jpg?width=980" id="c0031" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d46c7b8f9cf4db06eba76166982b9271" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="The earthquake hazard map of the United States." />
The earthquake hazard map of the United States.
Image: USGS, public domain<p>The Pacific coast is purple: the highest hazard. The entire west is shaded in colors denoting declining hazard. Only relatively small parts of the country are covered by the zone of lowest hazard:</p><ul><li>central and southern Texas;</li><li>most of Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and North Dakota;</li><li>sizable chunks of Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, and South Dakota;</li><li>and tiny bits of Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, and Georgia. </li></ul><p>One state seems hazard-free, but that's only until you notice the blue spot in Minnesota's western bulge. </p><p>So, what do these colors actually denote? Earthquake hazard maps show the potential shaking hazard from future earthquakes. <br></p><p>The USGS defines earthquake hazard as the probability of ground motion over 50 years. That probability is determined by a region's geology and earthquake history. </p><p>The location of fault lines alone is not enough to determine quake hazard: a large earthquake can produce tremors at a relatively large distance from the actual fault line. </p><p>The colors on this earthquake hazard map correspond to <a href="http://www.isatsb.com/Seismic-Design-Category.php" target="_blank">Seismic Design Categories</a> (SDCs), which reflect the likelihood of seismic activity leading to ground motion of various intensities. <br></p>
Seismic resistance<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjc3NTAxOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTk4MjU5N30.52qb_X6Mu7xus-lfXgBWxAr8Ib8ogRfnjJ8H_lohMsM/img.jpg?width=980" id="5f182" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="45ec9a1e5c056a2f8e5949aba7b15355" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Damage caused by the 6.0-magnitude Napa County earthquake of 24 August 2014" />
Damage caused by the 6.0-magnitude Napa County earthquake of 24 August 2014.
Image: Matthew Keys, CC BY-SA 4.0<p>These SDCs are used to determine the level of seismic resistance required in building design and building codes. </p><ul><li>SDC level A (grey): Very small probability of experiencing damaging earthquake effects. </li><li>SDC level B (blue): Moderate-intensity shaking possible. Such shaking will be felt by all. Many will be frightened. Some furniture will be moved and some plaster will fall. Overall damage will be slight. </li><li>SDC level C (green): Strong shaking possible. Damage will be negligible in well-designed and well-constructed buildings; considerable in poorly-built structures.</li><li>SDC levels D0 (yellow), D1 (orange) and D2 (red): Very strong shaking possible. Damage will be slight in specially designed structures; considerable in ordinary substantial buildings, with partial collapse; and great in poorly built structures.</li><li>SDC level E (purple): This is near major active faults capable of producing the most intense shaking. Even in specially designed structures, the damage will be considerable. The shaking is intense enough to completely destroy buildings.</li></ul>
The Morris quake<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjc3NTAzMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzODIyNTczN30.OYlo64hJTvr6DF6aIeDdRtVIRmLRLl6n33B-a6hsKoc/img.png?width=980" id="bf33a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="77ca44f7b8150aa88574327c2f920029" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Morris quake, Stevens county, Minnesota" />
Minnesota earned its blue spot in 1975.
Image: USGS, public domain<p>This earthquake hazard map is not a snapshot of the past, but an evolving prediction of the future. The map is adapted as geological knowledge increases. But it is also partly based on past events – or more precisely the likelihood of their recurrence. </p><p>Minnesota earned its blue spot from the 1975 Morris earthquake. With its epicenter in Stevens County, it struck at around 10 am on July 9th of that year and had a magnitude of 4.6. It was the first seismic event recorded in the state since the Staples quake of 1917, and it was felt as far afield as the eastern Dakotas and northern Iowa. <br></p><p>Near the epicenter, plaster cracked and pictures fell off walls. In the town of Morris, two homes suffered damage to their foundations. Not quite California-sized, but for lack of comparison, probably Big Enough for the locals. </p>