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Solar geoengineering ideas could weaken storms in both hemispheres, scientists find.
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.
A volcano in California is a hot spot for conspiracy theorists.
- Unusual UFO-shaped formations were observed in the skies over Mount Shasta.
- These were actually lenticular clouds that often look like lenses or flying saucers.
- This volcano peak in California has long been the subject of conspiracy theories.
Global warming has shown that permafrost is not so permanent after all.
Residents of the small Alaskan town Kongiganak can no longer bury their dead. Their cemetery has become a marshy swamp, sucking graves into the once frozen ground.
Melting permafrost creates a vicious circle of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.
Image: UNEP<p>But the abrupt melting of the permafrost layer in some places, caused by warmer polar temperatures, could mean <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0526-0" target="_blank">far more carbon is released</a> than previously estimated, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience.</p><p>Less than one-fifth of the permafrost zone is likely to see this abrupt thawing, but its impact on the surrounding landscape means up to half of permafrost carbon could be affected.</p><p>Existing <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0526-0" target="_blank">climate change models</a> are based on gradual thawing of the permafrost layer caused by seasonal temperature fluctuations and fail to take into account the impact of more rapid thawing. This means we need to put in place measures to counteract human-induced emissions more quickly than we thought.</p>
Not so indestructible after all.
- Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are microscopic creatures best known for their ability to withstand a variety of extreme conditions, such as high heat, extreme cold, high pressure, and even the vacuum of space.
- However, new research shows that the famously durable creatures aren't so robust against the long-term heat of climate change.
- The findings underscore how fundamentally humans have affected life at every level.
What are tardigrades?<p>For the unfamiliar, tardigrades — commonly referred to as water bears — are 0.5 mm-long (0.02 inches) creatures with four pairs of legs who have garnered internet fame for their extreme durability and their half-cute, half-terrifying appearance. They are extremophiles, capable of withstanding incredible heat, cold, and pressure. For instance, they can survive for a few minutes at 151°C (304°F) and a <a href="https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-94-007-1896-8_12" target="_blank">few days</a> at -200°C (-328°F), they can withstand the vacuum of space and greater pressures than those found in the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/27576" target="_blank">Marianas Trench</a>, they can survive dehydration <a href="https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev.physiol.60.1.73" target="_blank">for decades</a>, and they can handle <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09553000600972956?journalCode=irab20" target="_blank">1,000 times more radiation</a> than what would prove fatal to other animals.</p><p>In part, this incredible durability comes from their ability to enter into a state known as cryptobiosis. In this state, their metabolism decreases to 0.01 percent of normal levels, and they form a protein in their cells in place of water that protects their DNA in <a href="https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/scientists-finally-figure-out-why-the-water-bear-is-nearly-unstoppable" target="_self">a glassy coating</a>.</p><p>For these reasons, scientists believe that tardigrades may be capable of spreading life to different planets. If an asteroid were to strike Earth, shooting chunks of land out into space with a few <a href="https://bigthink.com/brandon-weber/17-things-about-water-bears-that-explain-how-life-can-spread-to-other-planets" target="_self">hitchhiking tardigrades</a>, the plucky creatures would hunker down, enter cryptobiosis, and endure the highly irradiated vacuum of space while they waited for their ride to crash into a planet suitable for life.</p>
An Achilles' heel<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjUxMDU5OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzI1NjYyMX0.SmnUgk9sdbNcPyVF0lcbn0UC7PoDpy1MyxG3N8gryxE/img.jpg?width=980" id="6d409" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e9be0845800597e597bd0b71cc0426ae" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Tardigrades" />
A) An image of a tardigrade in its active state, and B) an image in its cryptobiotic state. During desiccation, an active state tardigrade contracts its body longitudinally and withdraw its legs to enter cryptobiosis.
Neves et al., 2020<p>Unfortunately, however, tardigrades do seem to have a fatal weakness. "We had found their Achilles' heel," researcher Ricardo Neves told <em><a href="https://www.newsweek.com/tardigrade-achilles-heel-global-warming-1482114" target="_blank">Newsweek</a></em>. "Tardigrades are definitely not the almost indestructible organism as advertised in so many popular science websites."</p><p>As it turns out, tardigrades are unable to survive sustained high temperatures. Even though they can endure a few minutes at 151°C, long-term exposure to far less than that blistering temperature killed half of the water bears in the researchers' sample. </p><p>Specifically, these scientists collected tardigrades from roof gutters in Denmark, the country where the study was conducted, and exposed them to temperatures of 37.1°C (98°F) for 24 hours. Half of the sample perished, a worrying result considering that the highest temperature recorded in Denmark is 36.4°C. Since global temperatures are rising, more and more tardigrade populations could be put at risk.</p><p>The researchers also tested out whether a more gradual heating process would improve survivability — after all, the environment doesn't just suddenly jump from mild to boiling. Unfortunately, improvements were marginal in this case — half of the tardigrade sample had died once temperatures reached 37.6°C.</p><p>What about their famous ability to enter cryptobiosis? When the tardigrades were first dried out to coax them into entering this state, they fared a bit better. In this case, half of the sample was able to survive 24 hours at 63.1°C (145.6°F). It's important to note, too, that this study examined the tardigrade species <em>Ramazzottius varieornatus, </em>which is known to be one of the hardier varieties of water bear.</p><p>"Before our study," said Neves, "tardigrades were regarded as the only organism on Earth to survive a cataclysmic event, but now we know this is not true. [While tardigrades are] among the most resilient organisms inhabiting our planet, it is now clear that they are vulnerable to high temperatures. Therefore, it seems that even tardigrades will have a hard time handling rising temperatures due to global warming."</p>