Stories tagged natural disaster

While much of the Pacific Rim area was on a tsunami alert this weekend in the wake of the earthquake in Chile, the harbor of Long Beach experienced something much different on Saturday. The harbor had a huge tidal drop occur in just a matter of minutes, grounding many sailboats and yachts and closing the harbor to large sea vessels for a while. Here's a complete video report:

The other amazing thing, nothing anywhere near this drastic happened in any other California harbors the same day.

8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile
8.8 magnitude earthquake in ChileCourtesy Wikimedia Commons
A massive earthquake occurred early this morning (1:34 EST) off the west coast of Chile some 70 miles NNE of the city of Concepcion. The powerful 8.8 magnitude tremor released about 500 times the energy generated by the recent 7.0 earthquake in Haiti. At least 78 people are reported killed, a number which will no doubt rise as information trickles in. Tsunami warnings have been raised across the entire Pacific Basin, including in Hawaii, Australia, and Japan.

Earthquakes are frequent in this area of Chile because it sets on a subduction zone where the Nazca Plate is pushing beneath the South American Plate. The region is also the location of the most powerful earthquake ever recorded on Earth, a 9.5 tremor that struck in 1960.

USGS earthquake center
Richter magnitude scale
More on the May 22, 1960 Earthquake
Plate tectonics

It's been a very snowy winter so it should come as no surprise that the flood risks in Minnesota are going to be high as well. There's a 60-percent chance that the Mississippi River will be creeping up close to our backdoor here at the museum in the latest forecast announced today. Start packing the sandbags right now in Moorhead and Fargo. There's a 98-percent chance that the Red River will flood this spring.

Check out the Science Buzz 2010 flood feature now.


Another young scientist: Desperately trying to get his research noticed. But it may already be too late.
Another young scientist: Desperately trying to get his research noticed. But it may already be too late.Courtesy Rrrrred
Hey, Buzzketeers. I’m going to be straight with you up front (I always am):

I haven’t actually seen “The Day After Tomorrow,” even though it will feature prominently in this post. I did see the preview, however, and I know the title, so I’m confident that I can sum the film up pretty accurately.

The is how The Day After Tomorrow goes, more or less:

The kid from Spiderman, Peter Parker, is a young scientist trying to make a name for himself in the big city. He has a crippling fear of wolves. Trying to be a famous scientist, however, is a lot like trying to be a Hollywood celebrity: there are a million other kids out there just like you, except that some of them are better looking with bigger muscles, or more feminine ankles, so you have to be willing to act a little crazy, or go on camera naked.

Peter Parker, fortunately, opts for the “act a little crazy” route. He soaks up a couple red bull-vodkas and starts researching. After 7 panicked days and 6 insane nights, Peter says, “Check it out! The Day After Tomorrow, the poop is really going to hit the fan!” But the scientific community was all, “Whatever, Parker. Take that shirt off, and let’s get you on camera.” They were so preoccupied with the thought of Peter’s scientist muscles that they failed to realize that he was right! Like two sick bears squatting on an airboat, the poop was really about to hit the fan.

Sure enough, Peter Parker’s discovery proved to be accurate. The planet’s ocean currents went all haywire, and a couple days later things got really cold and stupid. Peter Parker, despite being shirtless at this point, was more prepared for the situation than everyone else, and he grabbed a sled and went to rescue a friend of his, possibly a beautiful woman or man, who was trapped in an elevator behind some very impressive icicles. Along the way, Peter had to avoid the many wolves that immediately moved into the frozen cities in search of delicious, un-canned human food, but once he rescued his beautiful friend the wolves could no longer be dodged. After a 45-minute-long wolf-fighting scene, Peter emerged bloody and victorious. He had truly conquered this world of the day after tomorrow!

It’s a little silly isn’t it? I mean, everyone knows that ocean currents are vital for spreading heat across the planet, and moderating higher latitude climates. Duh. Surface water is warmed in the tropics, and is pushed into currents by regular wind patterns and the rotation of the Earth. As it reaches colder seas, the water releases heat and moisture into the atmosphere. Colder and saltier now (because the salt in water doesn’t evaporate), the water is denser, and it sinks down to join deeper currents, where it will flow thousands of miles around the planet, before eventually returning to the tropics to be warmed again. Tada. And, of course, shortly after the end of the last ice age, a huge, cold, freshwater glacial lake burst its shores and spilled into the north Atlantic, halting this water cycle and disrupting the Gulf Stream current to plunge the Earth into another thousand years of coldness. But that sort of thing couldn’t happen the day after tomorrow, could it? Noooo. We all know that. It would take years for such a tremendous change in climate to occur. What a silly movie.

Or… maybe not. A new study from the University of Saskatchewan suggests that the story of Peter and the Wolves may not be as far fetched as we all thought. Based on lake core samples, the research seems to indicate that the drastic cooling, at least in Europe, could have occurred over a period as short as just a few weeks, not over the space of years, as was previously accepted.

Lake cores are samples of the deep mud and sediment at the bottoms of lakes, and they’re surprisingly useful for telling what happened above a lake a long time ago. Think about it—if things got really windy, for example, lots of dust and dirt would be blown onto the lake, and it would eventually settle down to the bottom, forming a unique layer. Or if all the plants nearby died suddenly, you’d probably see less pollen in the layer deposited at that time. Scientists can even look at the isotopes of the atoms in lake core layers to learn about what was happening at the time—carbon isotopes can show how much stuff was alive in the lake, and oxygen isotopes can indicate local temperature and rainfall. Examining cores from a very old lake in Ireland, the researchers discovered that the transition to the Younger Dryas period (the sudden return to ice age-like conditions) happened very suddenly, perhaps in as short a time as a month. Peter Parker was right! Peter Parker was right!

As I understand it, though, this rapid and severe change hinges on the North Atlantic Current (the Gulf Stream) being totally shut down very quickly. Cold fresh water released by melting icecaps could very likely affect weather patterns, but something on this scale would require a fairly catastrophic event—some scientists suggest that the Younger Dryas could have been triggered by some sort of extra-terrestrial impact, although the theory is heavily debated.

Still, if some hot young scientist approaches you with some hot young ideas, don’t immediately insist that he take his shirt off—he might be saying something worthwhile

A powerful earthquake (magnitude 7.9) hit near the Pacific island of Samoa this afternoon. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre has issued a warning for the Samoa Islands, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, and other Pacific islands as far away as Hawaii.

A huge dust storm this week inundated Sydney, Australia with a thick blanket of red dust, disrupting air and automobile travel, and shutting down construction projects across the city. Residents there are wary to venture outside to work as there is also widespread concern about respiratory illness from the eerie, sun-blotting red dust that still lingers in the air. Authorities estimate it will cost the country tens of millions of dollars in lost production.

Much of Australia has been suffering a severe drought, especially in the New South Wales region (NSW) where the capital city of Sydney is located. Another concern is the loss of topsoil. As it moved in from the south, the storm stripped millions of tons of topsoil from farmlands in the region. Watch this video to get a good idea of what’s up down under.

...any Bad Religion fans out there? Oh nevermind. The daily feed from NASA's MODIS Aqua satellite has some cool images of the Los Angeles wildfire. It's shocking to see how close it is to the city. You can follow the images as the fire progresses on the MODIS website for the LA area. Double click to zoom in below:

Coastal watches/warnings and 5-Day track forecast cone for Hurricane Bill
Coastal watches/warnings and 5-Day track forecast cone for Hurricane BillCourtesy NOAA
The names for the 2009 hurricanes were announced a few days ago by the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The NHC has a list of names they draw from, that reuses names every six years or so, but if a storm is particularly bad a name will be retired. There are no "Q" or "U" names and they go alphabetically so when they get to Danny you'll know that's the fourth of the season. The names for 2009 are:

Ana, Bill, Claudette, Danny, Erika, Fred, Grace, Henri, Ida, Joaquin, Kate, Larry, Mindy, Nicholas, Odette, Pete, Rose, Sam, Teresa, Victor and Wanda.

(Interesting the names "Pete" and "Rose" are in succession.)

So far this year we're up to Claudette. Ana is old news already with the National Hurricane Center announcing yesterday that the storm had weakened so much they were no longer tracking it. Claudette is also weakening, but it had the distinction of being the first tropical system to reach land yet this season. Third in line is Bill, who has already become a category 3 hurricane. Follow Bill’s progress here.

Retired hurricane names.


Tree crushes fence in South Minneapolis: Southwest corner of Portland Ave. S. and East 43rd Street.
Tree crushes fence in South Minneapolis: Southwest corner of Portland Ave. S. and East 43rd Street.Courtesy Mark Ryan
An oddball surprise storm caught the city of Minneapolis and other parts of the Twin Cities metro area completely off guard yesterday. Clean-up crews were at work less than an hour after the storm: Looking down Portland Avenue toward downtown Minneapolis.
Clean-up crews were at work less than an hour after the storm: Looking down Portland Avenue toward downtown Minneapolis.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The National Weather Center was ambushed as well, and no warning of the tempest was issued. Wind-strewn trash bins litter Minneapolis alley.
Wind-strewn trash bins litter Minneapolis alley.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Nothing's been officially confirmed but Minneapolis residents reported sighting cloud rotation, tornadoes, and hearing the roar of wind as a storm swept through downtown and South Minneapolis. Storm-damaged house and trees in South Minneapolis: Northwest corner of Portland Avenue South and East 43rd Street in Minneapolis.
Storm-damaged house and trees in South Minneapolis: Northwest corner of Portland Avenue South and East 43rd Street in Minneapolis.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Hundreds of the city's trees were knocked down by the storm. I was at the Science Museum for a meeting when the warning sirens sounded so on the way home I drove into the affected area to see for myself. Crushed car in South Minneapolis
Crushed car in South MinneapolisCourtesy Mark Ryan
I just happened to have a pocket camera with me (I just bought it over the weekend) so I took some photos of the damage in one small area of South Minneapolis near the intersection of Portland Avenue South and East 43rd Street (I used to live near the neighborhood). Because the storm came on without any warning and much of it under the cover of heavy downpour, the weather service's usual storm spotters weren't in place to report on conditions or damage. Investigators are on site today to determine if the culprit was a small tornado (or tornadoes) or straight line winds. The last tornado to go through Minneapolis was back on June 14, 1981. I remember that one well.Another unfortunate victim of the freak Minneapolis storm
Another unfortunate victim of the freak Minneapolis stormCourtesy Mark Ryan

Minneapolis Star Tribune story
Associated Press story
More about tornadoes on Weather Wiz Kids


A felled tree in Central Park
A felled tree in Central ParkCourtesy zoolien
I don’t live in New York, and have only been there a couple of times. But the last time I was there I was able to spend a few minutes in wonderful Central Park, so this article caught my eye.

According to officials at the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Central Park Conservancy (who manage the park), over 100 trees were toppled in what they called the most severe destruction the park has seen in at least 30 years.

Check out these flickr images of the damage. Do you live in New York and/or have you seen the damage? Tell us about it by commenting below!