February 14 News: 100-Year Floods May Happen Every 3 to 20 Years, Say MIT and Princeton Researchers

Other stories below: Ocean Warming might hit microbe’s carbon storage capacity; Why Don’t Americans Elect Scientists?

With climate change, today’s ‘100-year floods’ may happen every three to 20 years: research

Last August, Hurricane Irene spun through the Caribbean and parts of the eastern United States, leaving widespread wreckage in its wake. The Category 3 storm whipped up water levels, generating storm surges that swept over seawalls and flooded seaside and inland communities. Many hurricane analysts suggested, based on the wide extent of flooding, that Irene was a “100-year event”: a storm that only comes around once in a century.

However, researchers from MIT and Princeton University have found that with climate change, such storms could make landfall far more frequently, causing powerful, devastating storm surges every three to 20 years. The group simulated tens of thousands of storms under different climate conditions, finding that today’s “500-year floods” could, with climate change, occur once every 25 to 240 years. The researchers published their results in the current issue of Nature Climate Change.

MIT postdoc Ning Lin, lead author of the study, says knowing the frequency of storm surges may help urban and coastal planners design seawalls and other protective structures.

Ocean warming might hit Microbes’ Carbon Storage Capacity

Climate change is warming the oceans and preventing water layers from mixing, which could upset the carbon storage capacity of microbes and plankton.

As the ocean surface warms, evidence shows that it will become more “stratified”, or confined to layers that mix less than they did in the past.

This should reduce overall ocean productivity, but so little is known about the effect on ocean microbes that the implication for carbon sequestration and global warming is less clear, said Stephen Giovannoni, professor of microbiology, Oregon State University, who led the study.

“A large portion of the carbon emitted from human activities ends up in the oceans, which with both their mass of water and biological processes act as a huge buffer against climate change. These are extremely important issues,” said Giovannoni, the journal Science reports.

Senate GOP tries to restore Keystone pipeline

Senate Republicans introduced an amendment Monday to a federal transportation bill that would speed the construction and operation of a controversial oil pipeline between Canada and the United States.

The move sparked a backlash from environmentalists, who generated hundreds of thousands of e-mails against the amendment within hours.

It remains unclear how quickly the Senate will vote on the amendment, which has the backing of 44 Republicans and one Democrat. Senate Democratic leaders oppose it and the chamber is embroiled in a separate fight over President Obama’s contraception coverage policy.

Why Don’t Americans Elect Scientists?

I’ve visited Singapore a few times in recent years and been impressed with its wealth and modernity. I was also quite aware of its world-leading programs in mathematics education and naturally noted that one of the candidates for president was Tony Tan, who has a Ph.D. in applied mathematics. Tan won the very close election and joined the government of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who also has a degree in mathematics.

China has even more scientists in key positions in the government. President Hu Jintao was trained as a hydraulic engineer and Premier Wen Jiabao as a geomechanical engineer. In fact, eight out of the nine top government officials in China have scientific backgrounds. There is a scattering of scientist-politicians in high government positions in other countries as well. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has a doctorate in physical chemistry, and, going back a bit, Margaret Thatcher earned a degree in chemistry.

One needn’t endorse the politics of these people or countries to feel that given the complexities of an ever more technologically sophisticated world, the United States could benefit from the participation and example of more scientists in government. This is obviously no panacea — Herbert Hoover was an engineer, after all — but more people with scientific backgrounds would be a welcome counterweight to the vast majority of legislators and other officials in this country who are lawyers.

Shark attack deaths double as tourism, global warming bring migration changes

Sharks killed twice as many swimmers and surfers last year than in 2010, with the increase due largely to a growth in tourism and changing shark patterns due to global warming.

There were 12 deaths in 46 shark attacks in 2011, a mortality rate of more than 25 per cent compared to an average of under seven per cent in the last 10 years, according to statistics from the University of Florida.

Countries that recorded shark attack deaths included Australia with three fatal out of 11 attacks; South Africa, two fatal out of five; the French island of Reunion, two deaths in four attacks; and Seychelles with two attacks both ending in death.

Other countries with non-fatal shark attacks included Indonesia (three), Mexico (three), Russia (three) and Brazil (two).

Three locations not normally associated with high numbers of shark attacks – Reunion, Seychelles and New Caledonia – registered a total of seven attacks with five fatal outcomes, according to George Burgess, an ichthyologist from the University of Florida.

Answering for Taking a Driller’s Cash

The recent disclosure of the Sierra Club’s secret acceptance of $26 million in donations from people associated with a natural gas company has revived an uncomfortable debate among environmental groups about corporate donations and transparency.

The gifts from the company, Chesapeake Energy, have drawn criticism from some environmentalists. “Sleeping with the enemy” was a comment much forwarded on Twitter posts about the undisclosed arrangement.

“Runners shouldn’t smoke, priests shouldn’t touch the kids, and environmentalists should never take money from polluters,” John Passacantando, a former director of Greenpeace who is now an environmental consultant, said in an interview.

U.S. Carbon Emission Rules Could Ultimately ‘Send The Message That Coal Is Dead’

The Obama administration is expected soon to unveil long-delayed rules limiting carbon emissions from new coal-fired power stations, possibly helping to slam the door shut well into the future on building plants that run on the fuel.

The Environmental Protection Agency has dragged its feet on proposing the new standards on carbon emissions that would hit new coal plants or facilities undergoing expansion.

The short-term impact of the rules, the first to limit U.S. carbon emissions from new power stations, is expected to be symbolic — the rules will not tackle existing plants, which would have been far more disruptive to the industry.

But in the long run it could set the stage for rules that take on such cuts.

“The proposed rule is certainly expected to send the message that coal is dead,” said Christine Tezak, an energy policy analyst at wealth management company Robert W. Baird & Co.

Will Hurricanes Topple U.S. Wind Turbines?

As plans for wind farms rising out of the ocean along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts inch closer to fruition, a new study from Carnegie Mellon University suggests that hurricanes could destroy a significant number of turbines in some of these areas, even coming close to wiping them out.

Although turbines are designed to both harness and withstand the forces of wind, they can be severely damaged by too much of it. In the United States, Europe and Asia, turbines have caught fire, blades have shredded and towers have crumpled when hit by stormy gales.

The authors of the study, published on Monday in the National Academy of Sciences magazine PNAS, set out to quantify the likelihood that a hurricane could topple towers in American waters where projects are under consideration or development.

They looked what might happen to 50-turbine farms off the coasts of four states: North Carolina, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Texas. Feeding historical data about hurricane occurrence and intensity into a probabilistic model, they simulated potential damage to the turbine towers over several 20-year periods and then took an average.

29 Responses to February 14 News: 100-Year Floods May Happen Every 3 to 20 Years, Say MIT and Princeton Researchers

  1. Greenpa says:

    #1 reasons Americans don’t elect scientists to government- at the moment, it’s understood that to run for election you must be a card-carrying Christian, with years of verifiable church going you can show photos of. That would cut the number of qualifying scientists down around 5%; a very small pool.

  2. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    JFK, addressing a gathering of Nobel laureates: “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

    I think a pretty strong case can be made for Jefferson’s atheism. That would make him our first (and only) atheist president, and the only one in the last 212 years. Unless, of course, some have, of necessity, feigned Christendom – Lincoln, perhaps.

  3. Paul Magnus says:

    “Shark attack deaths double as tourism, global warming bring migration changes”

    we see similar effects in other predator groups such as bear attacks. There seems to be an almost direct link with extreme temps years….

  4. Paul Magnus says:

    slooow down….

    Climate Portals
    Vintage ketch sets sail to launch slow cargo movement
    New Dawn Traders project intended to find way of bringing goods back from South America under sail

  5. Doug Bostrom says:

    What a synthesis: Possibility of more frequent and severe flooding needs more research, Americans don’t elect scientists, GOP House wants to defund climate research. A dismal box of puzzle pieces.

    Joe, an article by you connecting the dots between important climate research topics zeroed out by the GOP and the later likely result of public policy failures would be a fine thing.

    Possibility of more flooding related to climate needs full characterization—>GOP makes climate research impossible—>public gobsmacked by flooding.

    It does not have to happen that way.

  6. Susanna K. says:

    Americans don’t elect scientists because not that many scientists run for office. Scientists like logic and facts, making them nearly the opposite of politicians.

    Also, I read a comment on that story from a right-wing blog which used some bizarre reasoning to explain that all scientists are conspiring liars. I still don’t get it, but if too many people think this way, it’s no wonder we’re languishing in the dim ages while the rest of the world moves on.

  7. Kota says:

    I’ve read here some thing like $1 spent today will save $5 spent later, or something close to that effect. But this one day of news pretty much tells us that the $1 spent today is all we have. There aren’t enough $’s or time to fix tomorrow. You can’t ‘buy’ new microbes to fill the oceans, you can’t ‘buy’ fewer storms so they don’t knock down your windmills, you can’t ‘buy’ your way out of a disaster that has already happened. Fires will burn your solar panels along with your roof. Floods will ruin your lithium ion batteries … and on and on.

    So how do the US weathy spend those dollars the planet needs right now? Killing for profit – buying the media and politicians to shut up until a couple of years from now no amount of money will matter.

  8. prokaryotes says:

    Fracking study sends alert about leakage of potent greenhouse gas
    A new study finds that fracking is releasing methane, a greenhouse gas, from a Colorado field at a higher rate than estimates suggested. Researchers must determine if the field is an anomaly or part of a bigger problem.


  9. prokaryotes says:

    70% of Americans oppose federal subsidies for fossil fuels. 68% Dems; 80% Indies; 67% Rs.

  10. prokaryotes says:

    Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency
    Agriculture sector embraces a Clean Energy Future

    Agricultural emissions will be excluded under a carbon price mechanism, but farmers also have the opportunity to earn extra income by sequestering carbon or reducing emissions like nitrous oxide and methane.

    The $2 million Biochar Capacity Building Program, which supports research into how biochar and integrated biochar systems can be used in Australia to mitigate emissions, has received 29 applications,” Mr Dreyfus said.
    The research proposals are undergoing assessment and will be ranked by merit.
    More information on these programs is available at

  11. prokaryotes says:

    Governments have responded to warming in the Arctic with a resource race. Governments with Arctic territories plan to drastically expand oil and gas exploitation, utilize new shipping routes, and increase mining. The industrialization of the Arctic, according to Duarte, may only accelerate impacts on the fragile region and push tipping points.
    “[Arctic tipping points] represents a test of our capacity as scientists, and as societies to respond to abrupt climate change,” Duarte said. “We need to stop debating the existence of tipping points in the Arctic and start managing the reality of dangerous climate change. We argue that tipping points do not have to be points of no return. Several tipping points, such as the loss of summer sea ice, may be reversible in principle—although hard in practice. However, should these changes involve extinction of key species—such as polar bears, walruses, ice-dependent seals and more than 1,000 species of ice algae—the changes could represent a point of no return.”

  12. Solar Jim says:

    Paul, As a member of the National Maritime Historical Society (USA) I thank you for referencing the story of trading by sail from the fledgling group of intrepid sailors in England.

    Please note this spring will be the 200 year anniversary of the War of 1812 with parade of tall sailing ships along the east coast.

    Humanity has been sailing for thousands of years. Fossil burning not so much, mostly during one century so far, sadly leading to unsustainable contamination and despoliation.

  13. prokaryotes says:

    Precious ‘fire-ice’ fuel may lie under Scottish coast

    Some experts claim the energy buried in the frozen methane could be enough to supply all of Scotland’s power needs for the next three centuries.

    Why does the image of a wind bag comes to my mind?

  14. prokaryotes says:

    We’re excited to host a #Climate Science Discussion w/Dr. @MichaelEMann @CalEndow in #DTLA this afternoon!!/climateresolve/status/169524867002142721

  15. prokaryotes says:

    New Breeding Program Aimed At Keeping Moderate Republicans From Going Extinct,27371/

  16. prokaryotes says:

    Insights of German Supply during French Peak Demand!

  17. NASA GISS released the global temperature data for last month. Globally, January 2012 was the coolest since 2008, ranking as the 19th warmest since records began in 1880.

    The global temperature anomaly map shows that North America, Europe and the Arctic regions were much warmer than average. Alaska, Antarctica, and Eurasia were much cooler than average.

  18. catman306 says:

    Any climate scientist care to comment on this Time Magazine article?

    Going Green
    Europe’s Deep Freeze: Why Climate Change Is Not (Entirely) to Blame
    By Bryan Walsh Tuesday, Feb. 14, 201,8599,2106773,00.html?xid=gonewsedit

  19. EDpeak says:

    “CS: Do you think we have a problem when the rhetoric in elections, for example during the Gore-Lieberman campaign in the last presidential election, seems to be so much dwelling on God and religion?

    “Chomsky: Those people are about as religious as I am. But if you want to run for public office where, say, 40% of the population believes that the world was created 6000 years ago, then you have to put on an act of being religious. But if you bother to look, I suspect that Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton are approximately as religious as I am.”

    But you have to make a show of it, to get elected. Indeed, even those 40%, if you looked closely, how many truly believe it, versus think they have to say/think/believe it? Don’t get me wrong, the percent who are fanatic or the larger percent who are religious, literalists, etc, may well be depressingly high, the actual numbers.

    But I suspect the reported, professed, self-claimed number, are even higher than the actual numbers. It’s hard to stick out your neck and be/say you believe differently.

    Politics being an almost wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America and the short term profits imperative and the need for milllions to run, is a bigger problem. But the fanatic religiousness (and “might makes right” fantatic worship of violence etc) are not far behind. “God” have mercy on our country, and the Earth..

  20. David B. Benson says:

    Not only was Hoover an engineer, so was Eisenhower as all West Pointers graduate with an engineering degree. Carter is an engineer and Harrison Schmidt has some form of STEM degree.

    I know of no mathematicians in politics in the USA and in any case people trained in STEM areas certainly tend to avoid running for office. Well, there are some MDs.

  21. Don Lindsay says:

    The wording about 100-year events is rather sloppy. Too many people have the impression that the next 100 year event won’t happen for another 100 years, and they really need to be disabused of this idea. So it’s valuable to use wording that is about chance, and not about years.

    It’s also sloppy to call a mathematician or an engineer a “scientist”. Maybe I’m sensitive about that because the Creationists have a lot of “scientists” whose degrees are in engineering or math.