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