Monday, August 31, 2015

New study reveals the possibility of hurricanes ‘unlike anything you’ve seen in history’

[Washington Post] Last week, the nation focused its attention on the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the most destructive hurricane in U.S. history. As bad as the storm was, though, it wasn’t the worst storm that could have possibly hit New Orleans.
That’s true of many, many other places, too. And now, in a new study in Nature Climate Change, Princeton’s Ning Lin and MIT’s Kerry Emanuel demonstrate that when it comes to three global cities in particular — Tampa, Fla., Cairns, Australia, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates — there could come a storm that is much worse than anything in recent memory (or in any memory).
Granted, these theoretical storms are also highly unlikely to occur — in some cases, they are 1-in-10,000-year events, or even rarer. The researchers refer to these possible storms as “gray swans,” riffing on the concept of a “black swan” event, an unpredictable  catastrophe, or highly impactful event. A “gray swan,” by contrast, can indeed be predicted, even if it is extremely rare.
The purpose of the study is “to raise awareness of what a very low probability, very high impact hurricane event might look like,” said Emanuel. The gray swan storms were generated by a computer model that “coupled” together, in the researchers’ parlance, a very high-resolution hurricane model with a global climate model. That allowed the researchers to populate the simulated world with oodles of different storms.
“When you do hundreds and hundreds of thousands of events, you’re going to see hurricanes that are unlike anything you’ve seen in history,” said Emanuel, a key theoretician behind the equations determining the “maximum potential intensity” of a hurricane in a given climate. Indeed, he has published in the past that a theoretical “hypercane” with winds approaching 500 miles per hour is possible in scenarios where an asteroid hits the Earth and radically heats up ocean waters, far beyond their normal temperature.
So what did the researchers see? Let’s take Tampa Bay, first. It hasn’t been hit by a major hurricane since 1921 — but that storm drove a 3- to 3.5-meter (10- to 11-foot) storm surge and caused dramatic damage. Earlier, in 1848, another storm produced a 4.6-meter surge (about 15 feet).
Why is Tampa Bay so vulnerable? Check out any good map that shows the water depth (the bathymetry) around the Florida peninsula. It’s deep off the east coast. But there’s an extraordinarily broad continental shelf off the west coast. And although the city of Tampa, proper, sits at the head of Tampa Bay, relatively far from the mouth and well removed from the barrier islands that get battered by the waves from the Gulf of Mexico, that’s a more vulnerable spot than you’d think.
“One can get much larger surges where the offshore waters are shallow, as is true along the west, but not the east coast of Florida. Also, surges can amplify by being funneled into bays,” Emanuel said Monday in an e-mail.
The new method allows the researchers to show that a worse storm than these historical examples is possible, especially with sea level rise and global warming. They simulated 2,100 possible Tampa Bay hurricanes in the current climate, and then 3,100 each for three time periods (2006 through 2036, 2037 through 2067, and 2068 through 2098) in an unchecked global warming scenario. In the current climate, the study found that a 5.9-meter (19-foot) storm surge is possible, in a strong Category 3 hurricane following a similar track to Tampa’s classic 1921 and 1848 storms. Moreover, in a late 21st century climate with global warming run amok, the worst-case scenario generated by the model included a very different storm track, moving north along Florida’s Gulf Coast and then swerving inland at Tampa, that generated an 11.1-meter (nearly 37-foot) surge. Read More

NASA Image Shows 3 Hurricanes Approaching Toward Pacific As Big Island of Hawaii Braces For High Winds

[IBI Times] Three Category 4 hurricanes are approaching the Pacific Ocean, according to a new image captured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite. All the three hurricanes -- named Hurricane Kilo, Hurricane Ignacio and Hurricane Jimena -- are approaching the ocean at the same time.
The image of the three hurricanes marching toward the Pacific was recently released by NASA. Although the image appears to be serene, its clarity depicts the massive amount of threat that the situation poses to Japan, Hawaii, Taiwan and the Philippines. According to the U.S. Weather Channel, this is the first time in the history that three hurricanes are approaching at the same time have been captured by a satellite.
While Hurricane Ignacio is expected to hit the north of Hawaii in the first week of September, the island has started to take the preparedness steps to brave the high winds. The approach of the hurricane is likely to bring high rainfall and a six-meter rise in the level of the ocean surrounding the state.
Hurricane Jimena is expected to pass through a little far from Hawaii during the mid of the first week of September. However, experts are not sure about the path of the hurricane and say that it might actually deviate from what is being forecast. On the other hand, Hurricane Kilo will also remain one of the major hurricanes during the week; however, it is safely located in the open water.
The appearance of the three hurricanes together has been linked to the El Nino effect. According to The Australian Bureau of Meteorology, a one-degree higher temperature than the average has been recorded in the eastern half of the northern Pacific ocean and also the Indian ocean. In the coming weeks, the temperature is expected to increase even higher than the peak anomaly temperature observed during 2002 and 2009 El Nino.

Friday, August 28, 2015

NASA, USGS celebrate 25 years of studying earth changes

[ArgusLeader]Officials with the U.S. Geological Survey’s EROS Data Center celebrated a 25-year partnership with NASA on Thursday that has turned space science into insight and answers for drought, earthquakes, wild fires and more.
It was Aug. 28, 1990, that the two federal agencies decided to establish what officially is called the Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center at the EROS site northeast of Sioux Falls.
That’s a mouthful for the work being done at the center, where 55 to 60 scientists, engineers and analysts take land data from NASA satellites and ingest it, archive it, process it and distribute it in various products to 130,000 users globally.
As flags for USGS and NASA were ceremoniously raised Thursday — just as they were 25 years ago at the start of this partnership — city, state and federal officials gathered to acknowledge how that work has impacted the understanding of changes on the land and how to potentially avert future disasters.
Michael Connor, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Interior, touched on those impacts, from satellite imagery that tracks how land surfaces are affected by drought in California, wild fires in the West or rising water levels along the coasts.
“The challenges and the stresses that exist on the earth and its natural resources are simply growing in complexity, compounded by our use of those natural resources and continuing to have the increasing population,” Connor said. “And of course climate change is an overlay that complicates all of these issues.”
Acting USGS Director Suzette Kimball said South Dakota is “certainly an appropriate location” for one of NASA’s 12 Distributed Active Archive Centers and the only one housed in a USGS facility. Data-set products produced at the center not only provide valuable information to the National Earthquake Information Center, but to other government and private sectors as well — everything from managing potential fuels for wild fires to predicting crop yields.
“Having these kinds of data available is not only a benefit to USGS, but to the nation and the communities that live in the realm of risk, areas where there are earthquake and volcano events,” Kimball said. Read More

Zombie Factories Stalk the Sputtering Chinese Economy

[New York Times] Miao Leijie loses money on each ton of cement his company produces. But stopping production is not an option.
When the plant opened in 2011 to supply the real estate and infrastructure industries in the northern Chinese city of Changzhi, the company raised most of the initial money from banks. Now, Mr. Miao, the factory’s general director, needs to keep churning out cement simply so the company can pay the interest on its loans.
It will be tough for the business, Lucheng Zhuoyue Cement Plant, to get out of the hole. Customers and investments are drying up, and the company is borrowing even more money to stay afloat.
“If we ceased production, the losses would be crushing,” Mr. Miao said, as he chain-smoked in the company’s quiet, spartan office. “We are working for the bank.”
Changzhi and its environs are littered with half-dead cement factories and silent, mothballed plants, an eerie backdrop to the struggling Chinese economy.
Like many industrial cities across China, Changzhi, which expanded aggressively during the country’s long investment boom, has too many factories and too little demand. That excess capacity, many economists indicate, will have to be eliminated for the Chinese economy to return to healthy growth.
But rather than shut down, Lucheng Zhuoyue and other Changzhi companies are limping along in a kind of march of the undead.
To protect jobs and plants, the government and its state-owned banks sometimes keep money-losing businesses on life support by rolling over or restructuring loans, providing fresh credit or offering other aid. While this may seem like an odd business tactic, it is part of a broader strategy to help maintain social stability, a major goal of China’s leadership. Authorities in China’s provinces and cities also back struggling factories just because they are deemed important to the local economy.
Similar strategies have been tried before, with little success. In Japan, such businesses, known as “zombie companies,” are blamed for contributing to that country’s two decades of economic stagnation.
As China allows its own “zombies” to stalk the economy, the situation is clouding the country’s outlook, making it difficult to predict where growth is headed. If the leadership doesn’t address the underlying problem, the economic weakness could be prolonged.
Concerns have already been rising that China’s slowdown is worsening and its problems are becoming harder to overcome. Such fears helped ignite a dramatic sell-off on stock markets around the world. Shares on the Shanghai stock exchange have tumbled by more than third since the June high.
“Global investors have now come to realize that China’s travails are beginning to affect everyone,” said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economic research at HSBC in Hong Kong. Read More