October 17, 2013 11:12 am
Following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy nearly a year ago, the town of Mantoloking, New Jersey, never got its landlines back. Verizon Communications never bothered to repair telephone lines destroyed in the storm, the New York Times reports, citing the cost of installation as the main deterrent.
But this isn’t going to be an isolated case, the Times explains. What happened to Mantoloking will likely happen everywhere soon enough:
The traditional landline is not expected to last the decade in a country where nearly 40 percent of households use only wireless phones. Even now, less than 10 percent of households have only a landline phone, according to government data that counts cable-based phone service in that category.
Residents of Mantoloking, however, are crying, “Too soon!” Petitions are underway to get the traditional copper landlines back up over concerns that the wireless Voice Link replacement that Verizon proposes will fail in the event of a storm or power outage. Plus, Verizon has admitted that emergency calls might not always go through even during normal conditions if the network is overtaxed, the Times writes.
While the battle between old and new continues in Mantoloking, nearby Fire Island recently faced a similar transition. In that case, the Times writes, residents won, with Verizon conceding to connect their homes to a fiber-optic FiOS service via wires.
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October 11, 2013 10:40 am
Hurricane Phailin is set to be the strongest storm to ever come roaring out of the Indian Ocean. Phailin (pie-leen)—Thai for sapphire—is a massive storm in both strength and size. The U.S. typhoon forecasting centre is predicting Phailin to hit as a Category 5 hurricane with winds peaking at more than 195 miles per hour. Phailin is nearly 1550 miles across, says meteorologist Eric Holthaus. For reference, tropical storm Sandy was 700 miles across. “Some forecasters likened its size and intensity to that of hurricane Katrina, which devastated the U.S. Gulf coast and New Orleans in 2005,” says Reuters.
The storm is huge. But it gets worse. According to Louisiana State University climatologist Hal Needham, Phailin is going to hit an area known for its notoriously bad storm surge.
The Bay of Bengal has been the home of the most catastrophic storm surge disasters on the planet. This basin, which is relatively small by global comparison, has experienced 15 of the 21 tropical cyclones that have killed at least 5,000 people. Storm surge is the main reason for these high fatality totals. In an 11-year period from 1960-1970, this basin observed seven storm surge events that exceeded the height of Hurricane Katrina’s surge in 2005. Storm surges generated from tropical cyclones have killed as many as 300,000 people in 1737 and again in 1970.
Phailin, being potentially the biggest storm ever seen in the Bay of Bengal, will be bad.
“The storm’s growth, both in size and in strength, is expected to continue until landfall,” says Eric Holthaus for Quartz.
Should the storm maintain its current strength—or strengthen even further—India could be facing a true catastrophe. A worst case scenario would have Phailin tracking slightly eastward of its current forecasted track, toward Kolkata and the Ganges Delta of Bangladesh, which is home to tens of millions of people living just a few meters above sea level.
So far 260,000 people have evacuated, with more expected to follow as the storm comes closer to making landfall on Saturday afternoon.
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October 1, 2013 11:19 am
In 1257 A.D., a massive volcano erupted, spreading ash all over the world. The explosion was so big that scientists can see its chemical signal as far away as the Arctic and Antarctic. Medieval manuscripts from the time describe a sudden change of weather, failed harvests and confusion. But scientists had no idea where the eruption happened.
Now, one group thinks they’ve solved the mystery. A recent paper in the journal PNAS suggests that the offending volcano was probably Samalas volcano on Lombok Island in Indonesia. Jonathon Amos at the BBC reports:
The team has tied sulphur and dust traces in the polar ice to a swathe of data gathered in the Lombok region itself, including radiocarbon dates, the type and spread of ejected rock and ash, tree-rings, and even local chronicles that recall the fall of the Lombok Kingdom sometime in the 13th Century.
Not much remains of the mountain today—just a crater lake—but the researchers suggest that the volcano was big and fierce. It could have belched out as much as 10 cubic miles of ash, as high as 25 miles into the sky. According to National Geographic, the eruption was eight times bigger than the Krakatau eruption that you might have heard about, and twice as large as the 1815 Tamobra eruption.
The researchers themselves write:
Based on ice core archives of sulfate and tephra deposition, one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the historic period and of the past 7,000 y occurred in A.D. 1257. However the source of this “mystery eruption” remained unknown. Drawing on a robust body of new evidence from radiocarbon dates, tephra geochemistry, stratigraphic data, a medieval chronicle, this study argues that the source of this eruption is Samalas volcano, part of the Mount Rinjani Volcanic Complex on Lombok Island, Indonesia. These results solve a conundrum that has puzzled glaciologists, volcanologists, and climatologists for more than three decades. In addition, the identification of this volcano gives rise to the existence of a forgotten Pompeii in the Far East.
But unlike Pompeii, this volcano left behind no preserved cities or bodies. Just a mystery that might finally be solved.
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September 27, 2013 11:44 am
This morning in Sweden representatives from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change presented a summary of the current state of scientific knowledge about climate change, a brief version of part of the IPCC’s upcoming full report. Most of the attention is being paid—and rightly so—to the things we know we know for sure: the temperature is rising, the sea level is, too. And we and our carbon emissions are largely to blame.
The IPCC report speaks a language of certainties and uncertainties—what do we think we know? how certain are we about it? The headline news from this new IPCC report is that we’re overwhelmingly certain that people are causing climate change. But what are we less confident about? The short answer is: we’re less sure about what’s happening in places where there’s less data— whether because historically there’s been less funding for science there, as in places outside the northern hemisphere, or less human presence, as in Antarctica.
This doesn’t undermine the IPCC’s claims: these sources of uncertainty were all taken into consideration when the IPCC said that we’re the dominant driver of climate change. Rather, they’re a reminder that though the science of climate change is settled, it isn’t complete. There’s a lot more work for scientists to do, and many open questions—some of them quite large. Answering these questions will do a great deal to help us answer the really important question: what’s next?
So here, gleaned from the IPCC’s briefing, are some of the things we’re still trying to work out:
What’s up with clouds?
We’ve touched on this one before, but it’s just as true as ever: we don’t really know what’s going on with clouds. We know that they’re important in determining the “climate sensitivity,” the measure of how much warming you’d expect for a given increase in greenhouse gases. And they’re also obviously relevant to figuring out how the weather will be affected. But, as the IPCC says, trying to make clouds in a computer model is tricky.
The southern hemisphere
The bulk of long-term scientific research has been focused on the northern hemisphere, and those gaps in the observation grid mean that we know less about how things work down under.
We’re not quite as sure how all the extra energy in the Earth’s atmosphere, trapped by greenhouse gases, is warming the air in the Southern Hemisphere. This isn’t to say it isn’t warming. The question is about how much warming we’re seeing at different altitudes.
We’re also not quite sure how the rain has, or will, change. We know that over the northern hemisphere rainfall has been going up, but we’re not so sure what’s going on over the ocean or in the southern hemisphere.
Changes in Antarctic ice
The vast Antarctic glaciers are a focus of a lot of research, but we’re not really sure how they work. Scientists are trying to figure that out, because all of that ice could mean a lot of sea level rise. National Geographic says that if Antarctica and all the other ice melted we’d get something like 216 feet of sea level rise. (This is never going to happen, but it’s not fun to think about.)
We also don’t know as much as we’d like about the gigantic floating sheets of ice that ring Antarctica. Scientists are having trouble understanding why they sometimes seem to be growing, and there’s a lot of uncertainty in our predictions of what will happen to them as the world continues to warm.
Arctic permafrost bomb
The Arctic reaches of Canada and Siberia and Scandinavia and other polar regions are full of permafrost—land that’s frozen year round. As the world gets warmer, it makes sense that this permafrost will start to thaw (and it has been). What people are really worried about is that, trapped within this frozen soil, there is whole lot of carbon in the form of decaying plant material known as peat.
Peat likes to catch on fire. Peat also releases carbon dioxide and methane as it breaks down. So, there’s a big worry that if we keep thawing out the frozen peat, that there will be a big surge in greenhouse gases. But that’s exactly what it is—a worry. We’re not really sure how much extra greenhouse gases will be released from all this frozen land. A lot of it depends on how much we can limit global warming.
The power of the sun
Some people like to claim that changes in the amount of energy coming from the Sun are what’s actually causing climate change, and that greenhouse gas emissions aren’t to blame. If it’s all the Sun’s fault, then we’re off the hook. Those people are wrong.
That being said, of course changes in the amount of energy coming from the Sun affect the climate. How this happens, though, is the question. Scientists think that there may be a connection between the 11-year solar cycle and medium-term changes in the climate, changes that happen from decade to decade. This matters because these decade-to-decade changes can stack on top of the long-term changes caused by anthropogenic climate change.
The fate of the AMOC
There’s a gigantic circulation system running all throughout the world’s oceans, linking them together, transporting nutrients and salt and heat between the Pacific and the Atlantic and the Indian and the others. The Atlantic Ocean branch of this system is called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation—meridional because it flows “along the meridian,” and overturning because, from north to south, it flows along the bottom of the ocean, and from south to north, it flows along the top. This circulation system is very important for keeping everything moving, and its behavior affects everything from the temperature in Europe to the strength of the monsoon in China.
Scientists are worried that if climate change melts enough of the ice in Greenland and the rest of the Arctic that this circulation pattern could slow down, or even stop entirely. The IPCC says it’s “very unlikely” that the AMOC will stop in the next 100 years, but, after that, they’re not so sure.
What’s the takeaway here? We’re already locked in to a certain amount of climate change, thanks to the greenhouse gases we’ve already let into the air. We know that the world is going to change, but in some cases we’re not quite so sure what exactly is going to happen. We know a lot about climate change—we know that it’s happening and that it’s our fault—but that doesn’t mean scientists can take a break. There’s still a lot of work to be done to understand how the planet’s going to react to these changes we’ve wrought.
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September 24, 2013 3:02 pm
Earlier this morning a massive magnitude 7.7 earthquake hit Pakistan, a shallow earthquake that tore down nearby towns killing at least 30 people and trapping many more in the rubble. But while the earthquake was a force of destruction, taking lives, homes, and communities, it also gave something back. The earthquake, says Reuters, birthed an island.
Television channels showed images of a stretch of rocky terrain rising above the sea level, with a crowd of bewildered people gathering on the shore to witness the rare phenomenon.
Local police official Moazzam Jah told Geo TV the island – which reportedly has an altitude of 20 to 40 feet and width around 100 feet – emerged about half a mile away from the edge of the coastline.
It’s not entirely clear what caused the new island to jut out of the sea. Earthquakes are definitely capable of causing dramatic shifts in the terrain: in 2010 a magnitude 8.8 earthquake caused parts of Chile to move “at least 10 feet to the west.” On the other hand, geoscientists on Twitter have raised the possibility that the new island may have been produced by what’s known as a “mud volcano.” Back in 2010, says NASA, a mud volcano caused a different island to temporarily rise from the Arabian Sea. If that’s the case, Pakistan’s new island may not be around for long:
[M]ud volcanoes have risen off the coast of Pakistan in the past and disappeared again within a few months, washed away by the waves and currents in the Arabian Sea. It is quite likely that this new volcano will meet the same fate.
The earthquake was centered at a strange triple junction in the Earth’s surface, says the USGS. In Pakistan, near the site of today’s earthquake, the Arabian tectonic plate is pushing its way beneath the Eurasian plate while the Indian plate rams into both of them from the south:
The USGS says that the last time a deadly earthquake hit near the epicenter of today’s quake was in July, 1990, a disaster that killed 6 people.
*This story was updated to clarify that the cause of the new island is still up in the air.
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