Stories tagged On this day

Tell us about something that happened today in history, and make it relate to current science.

Sometime tonight the US Army Corps of Engineers will blow up a levee at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

All that rain that fell in April has both rivers swollen WAY past flood stage. (Water levels outside Cairo, Illinois, were at 61.4' this afternoon; "flood stage" begins at 40'.)

Major General Michael Walsh, head of the Mississippi River Commission,

"...ordered the intentional breach to alleviate pressure in the river system and to protect Cairo, even though it may lead to the flooding of 130,000 acres of mostly farmland in Missouri."

More later.

Twenty-five years ago today, during a routine electrical power test at the Chernobyl Atomic Power Station,

"an uncontrollable power surge occurred, sparking two explosions in the reactor and the ejection of deadly radioactive material into the air."

Dozens died from acute radiation syndrome (ARS) and hundreds have died over the last quarter century from chronic exposure to elevated radiations levels.

The Telegraph has a well-written brief summary and links to related articles for further reading. Of course, Boston.com has some powerful photographs as well.

Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday dear, Earth Day. Happy birthday to you!
Stop it!: You are making Earth blush.
Stop it!: You are making Earth blush.Courtesy NASA

Today Earth Day turns 41 years young. Earth day was born in Wisconsin to loving "father" Senator Gaylord Nelson on Wednesday, April 22, 1970. Twenty million Americans left school and work to welcome Earth Day into the world and to protest the country's lack of environmental policy.

As a result, in December of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established, and the 70s and 80s saw the birth of dozens of important environmental policies like the Clear Air and Water Acts.

If you want to learn more about Earth Day, check out the EPA's Earth Day page or this manuscript by Gaylord Nelson himself.

One (short!) year ago today, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded 42 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven families lost loved ones on that day, but the social, economic, and environmental damage had only begun.

Oil slick
Oil slickCourtesy U.S. Coast Gaurd

By April 22, 2010 the $560 million rig sunk, leaving oil spewing from the seabed into the Gulf of Mexico. On the 29th, the state of Louisiana declared a state of emergency due to the threat posed to natural resources, and U.S. President Barack Obama stated that BP was responsible for the cleanup.

Hopeful in those first days, remote underwater vehicles were sent to activate the blowout preventer, but the effort failed. In the following weeks that turned into months, controlled burns, booms, skimmers, and dispersants were used to cleanup oil as efforts to stop the oil flow were underway. The Justice Department launched a criminal and civil investigation, a moratorium on oil drilling was enacted and later rescinded, and the no-fishing zone grew to 37% of American Gulf waters. After 5 months, 8 days, and roughly 5 million barrels of spilled oil, a pressure test finally determined that a relief well had successfully stopped the oil flow. The spill was the world’s largest accidental release of oil into a marine environment.

The BBC wrote an article to commemorate the event and bring readers up to speed on the status of the Gulf today. National Geographic also has some neat zoomable maps.

Naturalist Charles Robert Darwin, one of the most influential scientists of the 19th century, died on April 19th in 1882. Read more about him here, and here, and here.

Yuri Gagarin in Sweden in 1964
Yuri Gagarin in Sweden in 1964Courtesy Public domain (via Wikipedia)
Fifty years ago today, 27 year-old Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human to be launched into space. On April 12, 1961, Gagarin and the Soviet Vostok-1 spaceship were sent skyward for a 108 minute ride above and around Earth. He made a single orbit around the planet before returning to earth where he received a hero's welcome and became an instant celebrity world-wide. The feat accelerated the so-called Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States. A mere eight years later, US astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Unfortunately, Gagarin didn't live to see that day, having died the year before in a crash while test-flying a Soviet MiG jet.

Gagarin bio on Wikipedia

Disaster junkies, prepare to be disappointed.

Hydrograph: 4/11/2011, 5pm
Hydrograph: 4/11/2011, 5pmCourtesy Advanced Hydrological Prediction Service

The National Weather Service says that the Mississippi River at downtown St. Paul has crested, again, at 18.71'. (Previous crest was on 3/30 at 19.1'.)

Forecasters say that the river will remain at this level for a few days before falling at the end of the week. And they caution that the model only includes precipitation anticipated in the next 24 hours. A lot of rain in the next few days could cause the river to rise. Again.

The river level here at downtown St. Paul has been going down since the crest on 3/30 at 19.1'. We're holding now at about 17.3', and the National Weather Service predicts that the trend will bottom out tonight at around 17.2' before the river starts rising again. We're expecting a second crest at about 19.5' on the evening of 4/10, but that prediction doesn't take into account any rain we might get later on this week. Stay tuned...

We've peaked

by Liza on Mar. 30th, 2011

The Mississippi River at downtown St. Paul crested this morning around 10:00 at 19.1 feet, making this year's flood the 8th highest flood of record. So far.

Buildings on Harriet Island: 2011 crest, March 30: 19.1 feet
Buildings on Harriet Island: 2011 crest, March 30: 19.1 feetCourtesy City of St. Paul

You see, we're not out of the woods yet. There's a good possibility that we may see a second crest, and the extent of that flooding will be determined by how quickly temperatures warm up (and stay warm) and whether or not we get any big rainstorms.

Stay tuned...

James Hutton: Founder of Modern Geology.
James Hutton: Founder of Modern Geology.Courtesy Public domain (via Wikipedia)
Today is the 314th anniversary of the death of Scottish physician, naturalist, and geologist James Hutton. Born in 1726, Hutton is considered the founder of modern geology and best remembered for his theory of the rock cycle, and of uniformitarianism. His concept of deep time was groundbreaking in its day and shattered the popular Bible-based notion that the Earth was a mere 6000 years old. Hutton died on this date in 1797.

James Hutton biography