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Posts Tagged ‘meteorology

“It takes just one big natural disaster to… remind us that, here on Earth, we’re still at the mercy of nature”*…

 

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An 72-meter ice core drilled in the Colle Gnifetti Glacier in the Swiss Alps entombs more than 2000 years of fallout from volcanoes, storms, and human pollution. NICOLE SPAULDING/CCI FROM C. P. LOVELUCK ET AL., ANTIQUITY 10.15184, 4, 2018

 

Ask medieval historian Michael McCormick what year was the worst to be alive, and he’s got an answer: “536.” Not 1349, when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe. Not 1918, when the flu killed 50 million to 100 million people, mostly young adults. But 536. In Europe, “It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year,” says McCormick, a historian and archaeologist who chairs the Harvard University Initiative for the Science of the Human Past.

A mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night—for 18 months. “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year,” wrote Byzantine historian Procopius. Temperatures in the summer of 536 fell 1.5°C to 2.5°C, initiating the coldest decade in the past 2300 years. Snow fell that summer in China; crops failed; people starved. The Irish chronicles record “a failure of bread from the years 536–539.” Then, in 541, bubonic plague struck the Roman port of Pelusium, in Egypt. What came to be called the Plague of Justinian spread rapidly, wiping out one-third to one-half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire and hastening its collapse, McCormick says.

Historians have long known that the middle of the sixth century was a dark hour in what used to be called the Dark Ages, but the source of the mysterious clouds has long been a puzzle. Now, an ultraprecise analysis of ice from a Swiss glacier by a team led by McCormick and glaciologist Paul Mayewski at the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono has fingered a culprit…

536 chart

Learn what it was that challenged civilizations: “Why 536 was ‘the worst year to be alive’.”

* Neil deGrasse Tyson

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As we ruminate on resilience, we might spare a thought for Tetsuya Theodore “Ted” Fujita; he died on this date in 1998.  A meteorologist, he became known as “Mr. Tornado” for his work in understanding those severe storms and his development of (what’s now known as)  the Fujita scale to measure tornado intensity.

Thetsuya_Theodore_Fijuta source

 

 

Written by LW

November 19, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Men argue. Nature acts.”*…

 

Scientists have converged on climate change predictions that a growing majority of Americans accept.  Still, it can be hard to understand– at a visceral level– what a warming globe might mean.  Here’s some help: a clever tool from Greg Schivley, a civil and environmental engineering PhD. student at Carnegie Mellon University (with help from Ben Noll; inspired by Sophie Lewis).  Enter some key birth dates to project how the climate will have changed from your grandma’s birth to when your kids retire.  The chart’s temperature changes are based on NASA’s historical and projected climate scenarios.

Climate change and life events

* Voltaire

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As we sweat it out, we might send temperate birthday greetings to Sir William Napier Shaw; he was born on this date in 1854.  A meteorologist and member of the Royal Society, he developed the tephigram, a diagram of temperature changes still commonly used in weather analysis and forecasting.

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Written by LW

March 4, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The endless repetition of an ordinary miracle”*…

 

Snowflakes under a microscope

In 1611 Johannes Kepler wrote a scientific essay entitled De Nive Sexangula; commonly translated as “On the Six-Cornered Snowflake.” It was the first investigation into the nature of snowflakes and what we’d now call crystallography. Since he was a gentleman and a scholar back when you could be such a thing without being ironic or a hipster, Kepler gave the essay as a New Year’s gift. As Kepler wrote on the title page:

To the honorable Counselor at the Court of his Imperial Majesty, Lord Matthaus Wacker von Wackenfels, a Decorated Knight and Patron of Writers and Philosophers, my Lord and Benefactor.

As the title suggests, Kepler’s main concern was the question of why snowflakes are almost always six-pointed…

Follow the train of thought from the stacking of spheres to the intricacies of tiling at “Snowflakes and Cannonball Stacks.”

* Orhan Pamuk, Snow

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As we pause to ponder patterns, we might recall that it was on this date in 1891, about 20 miles outside of Midland, Texas, that the first rainmaking experiment in the U.S. was conducted. Robert St. George Dyrenforth, a Washington patent attorney and retired Army officer, led a team that used “mortars, casks, barometers, electrical conductors, seven tons of cast-iron borings, six kegs of blasting powder, eight tons of sulfuric acid, one ton of potash, 500 pounds of manganese oxide, an apparatus for making oxygen and another for hydrogen, 10- and 20-foot-tall muslin balloons and supplies for building enormous kites” to create enormous explosions meant to help clouds form.  Their efforts– which were based more on Dyrenforth’s instinct than on anything resembling scientific evidence– were entirely unsuccessful.  Still, at a time of extreme drought, it’s likely that almost anything seemed worth trying.  (The full– and very entertaining– story, here.)

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Written by LW

August 18, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing”*…

 

If you’re planning to relocate but want to live somewhere with a near-exact temperature profile, where should you go?

That depends: Folks in San Francisco might choose San Luis Obispo 200 miles south, or Portugal’s Cabo Carvoeiro 5,600 miles east, as these locales have 99 percent similar monthly temperatures. Chicagoans could go to Ottawa or Dalian, China, whereas New Yorkers will feel at home in Dover, Maryland; Milford, Delaware; or Makhachkala, Russia.

That’s according to an engrossing map tool from Codeminders that compares places with equivalent climates…

More at “A Guide to Finding Cities With Nearly Identical Temperatures“– and try it for yourself here.

* “Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing. Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me quite nervous.”

– Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

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As we ponder the differential impacts of climate change, we might recall that it was on this date in 1900 that a massive storm spread record snows from Kansas to New York State. Snowfall totals ranged up to 17.5 inches at Springfield IL and 43 inches at Rochester NY, with up to 60 inches in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State.

Central Park, after the storm

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Written by LW

February 28, 2016 at 1:01 am

“A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on”*…

 

Why do archaeological fraudsters work so hard to deceive us?  Because bad science makes for good stories: “What Lies Beneath.”

And for run-downs of archaeological hoaxes both amusing and illuminating, visit here and here.

[image above sourced here]

* Terry Pratchett, The Truth

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As we dig, we might send exploratory birthday greetings to Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt; he was born on this date in 1769.  The younger brother of the Prussian minister, philosopher, and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt, Alexander was a geographer, naturalist, explorer, and champion of Romantic philosophy.  Among many other contributions to human knowledge, his quantitative work on botanical geography laid the foundation for the field of biogeography; his advocacy of long-term systematic geophysical measurement laid the foundation for modern geomagnetic and meteorological monitoring.

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Written by LW

September 14, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The score never interested me, only the game”*…

 

The story of the exotic Belgian import that is the most mystical, magical sport on Earth…  and of the Detroit lifer who became its King… and of an art heist:  “Believe in Featherbowling.”

* Mae West

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As we take our seats, we might recall that it was on this date in 1947 that Holt, Missouri set the world’s record for the fastest accumulation of rainfall: 12 inches (300 mm) of rainfall in 42 minutes.

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Written by LW

June 22, 2015 at 1:01 am

“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky”*…

 

 click here for zoomable version

In between Earth and space lies an ocean of air. That “great aerial ocean,” as biologist Alfred Russel Wallace (the other natural selection guy) called it, is an extremely thin envelope of gas and suspended particles that encompass our planet. To get perspective on just how thin, there’s this very rough equivalency: The atmosphere is to the Earth as an onion’s wafer thin outer skin is to an onion. But while it may be just a sliver, it’s critical to life on Earth.

Without our atmosphere, there wouldn’t be rain for our plants and vegetables to grow—and feed us. There’d be no greenhouse effect keeping the planet temperate enough to sustain life. There’d be no talking or music-playing because sound wouldn’t exist as we know it—without a medium like air, sound waves can’t travel and thus don’t create vibrations that hit our eardrums allowing us to hear. And there wouldn’t be the oxygen we need to breathe. Bottom line, without it, life on Earth would be nada…

More on the extraordinary envelope that surrounds our planet at World Science Festival’s “Rethink Science.”

* Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

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As we take stock of what we take for granted, we might send sunny birthday greetings to Alexander Buchan; he was born on this date in 1829.  A Scottish meteorologist, oceanographer and botanist, he is credited with establishing the weather map as the basis of weather forecasting (after tracing the path of a storm from North America, across the Atlantic, into northern Europe in 1868).

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Written by LW

April 11, 2015 at 1:01 am

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