SciTechBlog
November 10, 2008

Great big ozone hole this year - not as bad news as it sounds

Posted: 09:29 AM ET

The ozone hole over the Antarctic, which grows to its maximum annual size in September, peaked at the fifth-highest size ever since measurements began in 1979 this year, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.noaa-ozone

But experts say that the "fifth-largest" designation may not necessarily be bad news at all.  They're sticking to predictions that the ozone hole will repair itself over the rest of the 21st Century.  Colder-than-average temperatures and strong high level winds helped widen the hole this season.  Warmer weather as the Antarctic summer starts up helps close up the hole each year.

It's been nearly four decades since the first research drew links between man-made chemicals and destruction of ozone in the upper atmosphere.  Chlorofluorocarbons and freon - once widely used in air conditioners and spray cans respectively, were among the substances that broke down stratospheric ozone - the key to protecting us from harmful solar radiation.  Projections indicate that a thinning ozone layer could lead to increases in human skin cancer, eye cataracts, and other maladies.  Dutch scientist Paul Crutzen and Americans Mario Molina and Sherwood Rowland shared the 1995 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their discoveries.

Global concern over ozone damage led to what is widely regarded as a remarkably successful international treaty.  The Montreal Protocol was ratified in 1987 and took full effect nine years later, banning most uses of ozone-destroying chemicals.

Scientists have reported a substantial reduction in the levels of ozone-destroying chemicals reaching the stratosphere.  But CFC's, freon, bromides, and other ozone-eaters are particularly long-lasting, and may take much of the rest of this century to dissipate.  "The decline of these harmful substances to their pre-ozone hole levels ... will take decades," said NOAA chemist Stephen Montzka.

Translation:   Don't lose the sunscreen.   Ozone layers have thinned planet-wide, and during the late-winter weather in either hemisphere, ozone protection reaches its lowest levels near the poles.  Less ozone in the upper atmosphere means more exposure to the ultraviolet radiation that can cause skin cancer.

NOAA's Ozone measurements page can be found here

NASA offers daily updated graphics and animations on the size of the ozone hole here.

Peter Dykstra   Executive Producer   CNN Science, Tech & Weather

Filed under: environment • meteorology • NASA • science • Weather


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September 24, 2008

Southeast US still running dry

Posted: 09:25 AM ET

While we're watching the election, the hurricanes, Wall Street hitting an iceberg, and a worsening gasoline shortage here in the Southeast, this part of the country is still in crisis over another precious resource: Water.

A cove and docks on Georgia's Lake Lanier, 2003

A cove and docks on Georgia's Lake Lanier, 2003

Though it's been largely out of the news the Southeast drought continues. In fact, 35.1% of the southeastern region is in moderate drought or worse. Now to be fair, at this time last year that number was 76.7%. Plus, when talking extreme drought, only 6.9% of the region is classified as extreme, whereas that percentage was an incredible 41.7% last September.

So where is all the water if the acreage of drought is down? Many areas of the Southeast are now in what is called a hydrological drought. That is a technical term for Phase Two. In Phase One (agricultural drought), crops, grasses and other shallow rooted plants get stressed by the lack of available moisture for growth. Your grass turns brown, but the lakes are still relatively full. Now all droughts start as a deficiency of precipitation, but this Phase Two issue now affects rivers and reservoirs. Your grass is brown and your boat is aground. Some areas are in Phase Two-B….dead grass…empty lake and dry well.

Dry, weed-choked, and the docks are now dry-docks.  (Photos Wendy Green)

The same cove last month: Dry, weed-choked, and the docks are now dry-docks. (Photos Wendy Green)

And this is a multi-year drought…in Atlanta, last year brought a rainfall deficit of 18.2” and now 2008 is another 8.0” down compared to normal.

What is a little more telling is available drinking water for the cities in the area. The water supply for a major part of metro Atlanta is Lake Lanier. Currently, Lake Lanier is 16.4 feet below summer full pool. Last year it was 11.5 feet low at this time, yet the major media was all over it. Drought in 2008 seems to be “Old” news even though the reality of long term drought makes this year much more extreme.

I talked to Assistant Professor Georgina DeWeese, Ph.D. in Biogeography and Physical Geography at the University of West Georgia. She said, “People need to realize that water is a resource and not an unlimited one. Drought is going to be here a while. Get used to it and start saving water.”

So the grass is dead and you can’t launch your boat, but what about those that depend on the rain to make their livelihoods? Some farmers have lost two years of income and culled their herds….plant nurseries have filed for bankruptcy…lake front houses have no lake… but, what if Atlanta runs out of water? Can you say mass migration? How long do you think you could live without any water coming out of your tap? A week? A month? Maybe.

So not to be a fatalist…people must stop WASTING water. Can you believe in Cobb County, Georgia a person can’t power wash their house, but they CAN hire someone to do it. From the county’s website….”Pressure washing can only be performed by a licensed professional.” What? They are still using water!

Chad Myers CNN Meteorologist

Filed under: environment • meteorology • Weather


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September 6, 2008

Hanna/Ike, 11am Sunday Update

Posted: 12:22 PM ET
Here's the 11am Sunday update, based on the National Hurricane Center's forecast and info from CNN's meteorologists;
IKE:  Category Four, major storm, Max Sustained Winds 135 MPH, forward speed 13 mph.  Ike is tearing through the Turks and Caicos and extreme southern Bahamas, with some potentially catastrophic collateral damage to Haiti from heavy rain, floods, and mudslides.

Projected track of Hurricane Ike as of 11am ET Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Projected track of Hurricane Ike as of 11am ET Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

 
The storm is now expected to track the length of Cuba, including mountainous areas, that could really deflate the storm.  But after exiting Cuba, Ike will re-intensify, and is expected to recover to Cat Three strength.  All of the forecast models are within about fifty miles of each other for Ike's path across Cuba.
 
The lower Florida Keys could see some impact from the storm on Tuesday, but are pretty much out of danger from a direct hit.  The forecast models are a bit scattered on an ultimate US landfall, ranging from Galveston Bay/Houston to the west and Mobile Bay to the east.  Earliest possible landfall, if the storm takes the shortest path and stays east, would be Thursday.   Friday or Saturday is more likely, but as always, this is way too far out to make more than a guess for Ike's destination, arrival time, and intensity at landfall.

Hanna is offshore, likely to impact Nova Scotia and Newfoundland today, and tracking to cross the ocean and possibly cause a bit of grief in Scotland/Northern Europe later this week, but its US impacts are done.
 
Josephine is off the maps completely, now a mid-Atlantic disturbance posing no threat to land.

 

 

Peter Dykstra   Esecutive Producer, CNN Science, Tech, & Weather

Filed under: environment • Flooding • hurricanes • meteorology • Oceans • Severe weather • Weather


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September 4, 2008

Tropics brace for the Ike & Hanna show

Posted: 12:42 PM ET

Position of the three tropical systems as of 11am ET Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center

Position of the three tropical systems as of 11am ET Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center

The good news? Josephine is well out in the mid-Atlantic, and if its track holds, it will stay there.
The wobbly path of Tropical Storm Hanna continues, and as of 11am ET Thursday, the best guess of the National Hurricane Center is that the storm will strengthen to a Category One hurricane and make landfall, perhaps near Wilmington, North Carolina, at about midnight Friday. Hanna could spread its damage all the way up the US East Coast as it tracks toward the northeast.

Hurricane Ike could be a big one. It strengthened from a Category One to Category Four storm in less than half a day yesterday, and its current track could bring it into south Florida on Tuesday as a Cat Three. Ike's entry into the Gulf of Mexico is still a strong possibility.

One reason for the projected weakening of the storm is that Hanna could steal some of Ike's thunder (and winds, and rain), according to CNN Meteorologist Rob Marciano: Tropical systems stir up deeper, colder water, and some of the ruckus that Hanna has caused. As Ike passes over that cooler surface water, it could be weakened just a bit.

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science, Tech & Weather

Filed under: climate change • environment • hurricanes • meteorology • Oceans • Severe weather • Weather


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September 3, 2008

Watching the Arctic ice melt

Posted: 12:59 PM ET

September marks the time of year when polar ice cover is at its lowest. After last year's record low, Arctic researchers say we're in for another bad year – and what is perhaps an irreversible trend.

Polar ice cover as of yesterday. Source: Univ. of Illinois Polar Research Group

On Tuesday, scientists reported another Manhattan-Island-sized chunk broke off an Ice Shelf on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic.

a University of Illinois site allows you to bring the out-of-sight/out-of-mind Arctic to your desktop. If you want to track the day-by-day status of the Arctic ice cap, and compare it to past years, go here. The images, from the Illinois Polar Research Group, track Arctic ice coverage day by day back to 1979. See for yourself, and let us know what you think.

Also - more tomorrow on our parade of hurricanes across the Atlantic: Hanna looks to have uncertain potential for East Coast damage; Josephine hopefully will remain a mid-Atlantic storm and not reach land; but Ike could be a big one for the Gulf of Mexico.

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science, Tech & Weather

Filed under: climate change • environment • hurricanes • meteorology • Oceans • Severe weather • Weather


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August 31, 2008

Weather teams hit the road to capture Gustav's lessons

Posted: 11:14 PM ET

As most of us anxiously watch the path of Hurricane Gustav, satellite images show us the movement of this fierce storm. But satellites and radars are not the only tools that help forecasters predict where, when, and how strong storms will be.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists have placed dozens of these storm surge sensors in the path of Hurricane Gustav. Photo courtesy USGS

In the hours leading up to Gustav's landfall, several teams of scientists slogged through southern Louisiana, deploying weather instruments to get data during the storm. It is information that can both document what this storm is doing, and help forecasters better predict future tropical storms and hurricanes.

Two teams from the Texas Tech University hurricane research team spent Sunday placing two dozen sensors in the path of the storm.

"Basically the idea is to saturate the area with observation, trying to cover south central Louisiana with these probes," said Ian Giammanco, field coordinator for the research team.

The instruments are designed to help meteorologists determine what wind speeds caused what type of damage. Their sensors, seven foot instruments known as "stick-nets," function as complete mini weather stations.

"We hope in the future to be able to do this in real time," said Giammanco.

But for now that option is far too expensive.

The field research is funded by the National Science Foundation and Texas Tech University.

Another team of scientists, from the U. S. Geological Survey, (USGS) positioned about 90 storm surge sensors along the Gulf Coast.

"From those instruments we want to learn the time, the duration, and the velocity of the surge," said Brian McCallum, assistant director of the Georgia Water Science Center.

That information can help forecasters model different types of storms, to help predict their impact.

The USGS first placed these sensors in hurricanes Rita and Wilma in 2005.

Both the Texas Tech and USGS researchers are hunkering down a safe distance from the coast until the storm passes. They will recover their instruments a day or two after the danger has passed.

Marsha Walton, CNN Science and Technology Producer, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Filed under: Flooding • hurricanes • meteorology • Severe weather


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August 28, 2008

Katrina again?

Posted: 09:33 AM ET

NOAA's 7am Thursday update shows Gustav taking aim at Jamaica

NOAA's 7am Thursday update shows Gustav taking aim at Jamaica

Wednesday morning, a groan went up in the CNN newsroom as several of us viewed the latest forecast track for Tropical Storm Gustav - projected to strengthen, possibly to a Category Three hurricane. Nearly three years to the day after Katrina flooded New Orleans and leveled much of the Mississippi Coast, we were looking at the possibility of Hurricane Gustav doing the same thing.

Gustav has brought heavy rains and floods to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba. Late Wednesday, the storm took an abrupt left turn. Instead of skirting north of Jamaica, Gustav could now score a direct hit on Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

Next stop is the bathtub-warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico - 87 or 88 degrees Fahrenheit in some places. With precious little wind shear to knock the storm down, it's a recipe to cook up a major hurricane, possibly hitting the U.S. Gulf Coast by Tuesday.

If Gustav stays on its current track, it'll pass through the Gulf of Mexico offshore oil fields, offering a possible repeat of the damage and disruptions caused by Katrina, Hurricane Rita a month later, and by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Oil markets are already edgy, with a dollar-a-barrel jump on Wednesday blamed on the risk from this storm.

That's one thing. A repeat of Katrina's damage would be another. If this storm does indeed hit New Orleans and the Mississippi Coast, will it be a knockout blow for a struggling region? As of Thursday morning, the forecast track has shifted a bit to the west of New Orleans. Either way, it's time to say a prayer for the Gulf Coast, and for one of the most unique cities on earth.

There are two other tropical systems worth watching. A tropical depression, located about 400 miles east of Puerto Rico, could reach hurricane force and threaten the Bahamas next week. Another system could form in the mid-Atlantic over the next few days.

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science, Tech & Weather

Filed under: climate change • environment • Flooding • hurricanes • meteorology • Oceans • Severe weather • Weather


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August 5, 2008

Hurricane forecasters: Who gets it right?

Posted: 11:58 AM ET

Tropical Storm Edouard came ashore this morning, a less-than-impressive storm that hopefully won't cause much more than inconvenience to the Texas Gulf Coast.

Also this morning, William Gray and Phil Klotzbach, the Colorado State University hurricane forecasters, issued their updated prediction on how this year's Atlantic hurricane season will turn out, raising their earlier estimates to a total of 17 named storms.

Hurricane paths from the record-setting 2004 season.

ALL OVER THE MAP: Hurricane paths from the 2004 season.

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Both the Colorado State team and NOAA's Climate Prediction Center issue annual predictions, and update them throughout the season. Let's take a look at how good a job they've done over the years. The numbers we're using here are the predictions issued each spring before the season gets underway. The teams predict how many tropical storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes they expect:

In 2007, Dr. Gray predicted 17 named storms, NOAA called for 13 to 17. The actual number was 15. Gray said 9 of those storms would become hurricanes last year; NOAA said 7 to 10. We got 6.
Gray said there would be 5 major hurricanes of Category Three or higher; NOAA predicted 3 to 5. We got 2.

Both were fairly close with their 2007 forecasts. There were a few years - notably the monstrous 2005 season - when they weren't close at all. Here are the previous six years' predictions, and realities:

2006: Gray: 17 named storms; 9 hurricanes; 5 major hurricanes
NOAA: 13 to 16 named storms; 8 to 10 hurricanes; 4 to 6 major hurricanes
Real Life: 10 named storms; 5 hurricanes; 2 major hurricanes

2005: Gray: 13 named storms; 7 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes
NOAA: 12 to 15 named storms; 7 to 9 hurricanes; 3 to 5 major hurricanes
Real Life: 27 named storms; 15 hurricanes; 7 major hurricanes

2004: Gray: 14 named storms; 8 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes
NOAA: 12 to 15 named storms; 6 to 8 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes
Real Life: 15 named storms, 9 hurricanes, 6 major hurricanes

2003: Gray: 12 named storms; 8 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes
NOAA: 11 to 15 named storms; 6 to 9 hurricanes; 2-4 major hurricanes
Real Life: 16 named storms; 7 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes

2002: Gray: 12 named storms; 7 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes
NOAA: 9 to 13 named storms; 6 to 8 hurricanes; 2 to 3 major hurricanes
Real Life: 12 named storms; 4 hurricanes; 2 major hurricanes

2001: Gray: 10 named storms; 6 hurricanes; 2 major hurricanes
NOAA: 9 to 12 named storms; 6 to 8 hurricanes; 2 to 4 major hurricanes
Real Life: 15 named storms; 9 hurricanes; 4 major hurricanes

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science, Tech, & Weather

Filed under: hurricanes • meteorology • Severe weather • Weather


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July 23, 2008

Renting an office in the eye of a hurricane

Posted: 11:39 AM ET

We received this today from CNN producer Alex Walker, who's on the beach at South Padre Island as Hurricane Dolly comes ashore as a Category Two storm. Alex provides a little background on setting up a live shot from a storm while keeping the team safe (He's with meteorologist Reynolds Wolf, photographer Stuart Clark, field tech Jerry Appleman, and satellite truck operator Michael Humphrey).

I haven't seen a single person on or near the beach this morning. Yesterday, as we started feeling winds and rain from some of Dolly's outer bands, residents and tourists flocked to the shore here to look at the white caps and even do a little surfing. Today, the only people I've seen are media crews covering the story.

Reynolds Wolf (in red), live from the beach at South Padre Island. Photographer Stuart Clark is in yellow.

I rented a 2-story banquet hall/restaurant for our liveshots, so we have enough room to accommodate CNN, CNN NewsSource and Univision. NBC wanted this location, and it felt great to scoop the competition and secure a great spot. We have power, and a safe place to take cover. It's nice to be able to duck inside in between liveshots, as the winds are fierce now. The eye of the storm may pass right over us.

We are stuck on this island, to ride out the storm, as the causeway to the mainland is closed. I'm watching some unbelievable surf right now. Off the balcony is a narrow public beach access between the dunes. Last night, bulldozers piled additional sand – about 20 feet long and 5 feet high – to close the passageway. Water is piling up on the other side. I hope it works!

Alex Walker CNN Science & Technology Producer

Filed under: Flooding • hurricanes • meteorology • Severe weather


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July 11, 2008

The Woodstock of weather

Posted: 11:59 AM ET

Meteorologists around the world all have the same job…to forecast and explain the weather. But depending where you are, that can mean tracking tropical cyclones, predicting snowfall totals, reporting on the environment. Or if you are a meteorologist on CNN International, it can be all three in one day!

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to attend the 36th Annual American Meteorological Society’s Conference on Broadcast Meteorology in Denver, and I am very excited to share with you some of the highlights.NOAA\'s \"Science on a Sphere\" display

The conference was not only filled with lectures given by meteorologists around the world, but the best part, I thought was the field trips to the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Both of these research centers high on a mountain in Boulder, Colorado are researching weather to study climate, air chemistry, storms, the sun and its effect on Earth and the interactions of humans and the environment.

We had the chance to meet one on one with the top scientists in weather! Since my focus is Asia and Australia, I was very interested in the research being done for forecasting these regions. One of the things I learned is that NCAR works with their counterpart’s regularly in Shanghai and in Sydney, for example, to improve techniques in forecasting tropical cyclones and drought. Dr. Gregory Holland took the time to explain to me the topography of his homeland, Australia. The climate there is really fascinating: it’s possible to have drought and floods in close proximity. He described the winter in the Southeastern part of the country as wet and cold, similar to Great Britain at times.

At one point on the tour, a bunch of us went to a dark conference room and donned 3rd glasses (I am not kidding). We were literally wowed by 3-d animations of how wildfire grows and spreads. The animation showed the patterns and movement of fires and smoke plumes depending on atmospheric conditions.Wildfires have been in the news lately in California in the U.S. and in Greece.

The next stop on our field trip was literally down the mountain, to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Here we were treated to two amazing projects NOAA is conduction from Boulder.

The first is “Science on a Sphere”

Science On a Sphere (SOS) ® is a room sized global display system that uses computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a six foot diameter sphere, analogous to a giant animated globe. Researchers at NOAA developed Science On a Sphere® as an educational tool to help illustrate Earth System science to people of all ages. Animated images of atmospheric storms, climate change, and ocean temperature can be shown on the sphere which is used to explain what are sometimes complex environmental processes, in a way that is simultaneously intuitive and captivating. (NOAA)

For a meteorologist, its one think to look at a satellite image on a flat computer screen, but to see it all moving along overlaid on a huge globe of the Earth was especially cool!
Our guide was able to tilt the Earth model so we could see the North and South Poles clearly. We are also able to watch how warm water literally moves around the world. I was fascinated as warm water came into the Tropical Atlantic, for example, then “looped” into the Gulf of Mexico. That loop of warm deep water and the eddies that break off from it is one of the reasons we saw hurricanes like Katrina explode into Category Five intensity once they moved over this section of water in the Gulf of Mexico!

For all you space fans, our last stop will probably be your favorite to hear about. At NOAA in Boulder you will find the Space Weather Prediction Center.

Did you know that Polar Flights, international air travel that passes over the North and South Pole is dependent on Space Weather forecasting? I was fascinated by this and you will likely find me talking more about it soon on CNN Today Asia in my weather reports!

Some very cool images Space Weather Forecasters use come from Hawaii! From way a top the Mauna Loa Volcano.
The Mauna Loa Solar Observatory (MLSO) is located on the top of Hawaii's Mauna Loa Volcano.

Later back in Denver, we continued on in the coming days to talk about other topics: including Climate Change, Hurricanes, Tornadoes and communication tools to best display our reports, to you, our viewer.

I can tell you the technology that is coming is truly amazing and in the coming months, keep tuning into CNN International for the most interesting and cutting edge reports on the weather and environment!

It’s my pleasure and privilege to bring it to you weekdays CNN Today on CNN International and alongside my colleagues on Weather FX each month!

CNN Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider

Filed under: environment • hurricanes • meteorology • science • Severe weather • Tornadoes • Weather


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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