Stories tagged natural disasters

Strange earthquake video

by Anonymous on Mar. 18th, 2011

This video is definitely strange. It was taken in Tokyo Central Park on the afternoon the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck in northern Japan. What it shows has been described by some as liquefaction. I'm not sure that's what's going here but whatever it is, I think most people would find it very unsettling. That doesn't seem to be the case with people in the park.

Be sure to watch it past the first minute (and the constantly barking dog) as that is when it gets the most interesting.

Check out this amazing map. It shows the number of foreshocks, the big quake, and aftershocks, as well their location, date/time, depth, and magnitude. Stick with it: it starts off slowly, but it gets pretty horrifyingly spectacular.

The remaining 50 emergency workers were pulled from the Fukushima Daiichi plant tonight for an hour or so due to a spike in radiation levels. (They're back in, now. For more on just how much radioactivity nuclear operators can be exposed to, read this NYTimes article.) The disaster is now rated a 6 on the 7-point scale. Three Mile Island was a 5; Chernobyl was a 7. 200,000 people within a 12 mile radius of the power plant have been evacuated. Another 140,000 people within a 20 mile radius of the area have been told to stay inside, and a 19 mile no-fly zone has been imposed over the plant. The only good news tonight seems to be that the winds are blowing out to sea, helping to disperse the radiation away from populated areas.

This MSNBC update also includes a good infographic about how much radiation people are generally exposed to.

The Washington Post has a good interactive feature that sums up the crisis.

The NYTimes Green Blog is taking reader questions about the nuclear disaster, and will be posting answers tomorrow.

More in the morning...

NOAA tsunami model
NOAA tsunami modelCourtesy NOAA
Some interesting scientific angles on the recent Japanese earthquake and subsequent human disasters:

Japan Does Not Face Another Chernobyl

Japan earthquake shortened days on Earth

Fukushima Nuclear Accident – a simple and accurate explanation. This post is long, but does a great job of explaining exactly how a modern nuclear reactor works, and how engineers plan for natural disasters.

NOAA models help predict the tsunami path after earthquake

Feb
07
2011

Mt. St. Helens erupts in 1980: Yellowstone's supervolcano has erupted with one thousand times the power of the blast pictured here.
Mt. St. Helens erupts in 1980: Yellowstone's supervolcano has erupted with one thousand times the power of the blast pictured here.Courtesy USGS/Cascades Volcano Observatory
The gigantic volcano seething under Yellowstone National Park could be ready to erupt with the force of a thousand Mt. St. Helenses! Large parts of the U.S. could be buried under ash and toxic gas!

Or, y'know, not.

This story has popped up in a couple of places recently, including National Geographic's website and, more sensationally, the UK's Daily Mail. Shifts in the floor of Yellowstone's caldera indicate that magma may be pooling below the surface, a phenomenon that might be the very earliest stages of an eruption. Then again, it's difficult to predict volcanic eruptions with much accuracy because there's no good way to take measurements of phenomena happening so far below the earth's surface.

Incidentally, the contrast in tone between the two stories makes them an interesting case study in science reporting: The Daily Mail plays up the possible risk and horrific consequences of an eruption, while National Geographic is much more matter-of-fact about the remoteness of that possibility. Which do you think makes better reading?

Rain and rivers

by Liza on Sep. 30th, 2010

Alright, it's absolutely beautiful outside today. So what's up with this predicted flooding?

Remember all that rain the week of September 20th? (We got 2-4" here in the Twin Cities, but areas to the southwest of us got as much as 10".)

Rainfall map
Rainfall mapCourtesy National Weather Service

It all had to go somewhere, and that somewhere was the Minnesota River. Why does that affect us here in St. Paul? Take a look at another map:

St. Paul and the rivers
St. Paul and the riversCourtesy NASA (Landsat)

Remember: rivers don't necessarily flow south. The reddish line is the Minnesota River. The blue is the Mississippi. And that little blip just north of where the two rivers come together is downtown St. Paul. (The yellow elipse is the area of highest rainfall.)

All that rain is flowing right past us. And it should be impressive. The river's at 15.4' this morning (moderate flood stage), and predicted to crest at 18' (major flood stage) on Saturday morning. But the recent spate of lovely weather means that the flooding should pass quickly--today's prediction has the water level back under 17" by Monday morning.

St. Paul police have closed all the river roads and parks, and are discouraging people from walking down by the river. But you can get a stellar view of everything from outside the Museum on Kellogg Plaza, or inside the museum from the Mississippi River Gallery on level 5.

It's been a crazy couple of days of rain.

Rainfall map
Rainfall mapCourtesy National Weather Service

Forecasters say it's mostly over, although we can expect some rainfall through Saturday. But rain upstream swells the rivers downstream, and flood watches and warnings are in effect for much of Minnesota. Here in downtown St. Paul, the river is expected to rise about ten feet over the next week.

"1128 am CDT Fri Sep 24 2010

The Flood Warning continues for the Mississippi River at St Paul.

  • At 10:15 am Friday the stage was 6.8 feet.
  • Moderate flooding is forecast.
  • Flood stage is 14.0 feet.
  • Forecast... rise above flood stage by early Wednesday morning and continue to rise to near 16.4 feet by early Friday morning.
  • Impact... at 18.0 feet... Warner Road may become impassable due to high water.
  • Impact... at 17.5 feet... Harriet Island begins to become submerged.
  • Impact... at 17.0 feet... secondary flood walls are deployed at St Paul Airport.
  • Impact... at 14.0 feet... portions of the Lilydale park area begin to experience flooding.
  • Flood history... this crest compares to a previous crest of 18.4 feet on Mar 24 2010."

Still with me? Then check out Buzz coverage of the March 2010 flood along the Mississippi.

A major earthquake (magnitude 7.0) has struck near Christchurch, the second-largest city in New Zealand. Early reports describe extensive damage, but few injuries.

Wonder what magnitude really means?

Sep
03
2010

WHY?: Clouds are hard to model, so let's show them who's boss.
WHY?: Clouds are hard to model, so let's show them who's boss.Courtesy Paige Shoemaker

Next time you look at the clouds, shake your fist and yell at those jerks for making our lives difficult. You might look crazy, but somebody needs to tell those fools.

While it's relatively easy to model temperature changes over the last century thanks to detailed records, clouds are more tricky to understand because we don't have a similar history of cloud observations, and also because they are ornery. So in order to understand how clouds work, scientists are building a body of evidence to model cloud behavior and help show how clouds will impact our weather as well as our climate in the future. I believe they also plan to show those clouds who is the boss of them.

Hurricane help!
Like a child running loose in a toy store, hurricanes have always been difficult to predict because they can unexpectedly change direction. This confounds plans for evacuation, leading some people to leave areas that are never hit, leading others to stay put and potentially face nasty weather because they don't trust the meteorologist, and leading meteorologists to keep Advil in business. But since the 90s, our ability to predict where hurricanes will make landfall has become twice as accurate. This new prescience is due to the development and use of more accurate models of how clouds work, which is in turn due to better understanding of cloud dynamics and faster computers. How about that, punk clouds?

Intensity, however, remains elusive to model. (Shh, don't let them know we have a weakness!)

Go home, son: If wily Earl thought he could outsmart the meteorologists, then he's in for a schoolin'.
Go home, son: If wily Earl thought he could outsmart the meteorologists, then he's in for a schoolin'.Courtesy NASA

"While we pride ourselves that the track forecast is getting better and better, we remain humbled by the uncertainties of the science we don't yet understand," Schott said. "This is not an algebra question where there's only one right answer."

-Timothy Schott, tropical cyclone program leader for the National Weather Service in Silver Spring, Md.

Hurricane Earl
Despite being a "forecasting nightmare," Earl ended up hitting about where it was predicted to go. This means that the right people have been evacuated to avoid injury and fatality. That's right, stick your tail between your legs, Earl.

Connecting to climate
Short-term events such as hurricanes and other storms are difficult to predict, but climate change is a whole other world of uncertainty--again, thanks to those uncouth clouds. Climate scientists are developing new tools, such as satellite technologies that show how much light different cloud types reflect and models that demonstrate localized cloud processes. These approaches look specifically at certain groups of clouds and their patterns of change to add detail to older, larger models that look at climate over larger scales.

Booyah!: Climate computer nerds prevail.
Booyah!: Climate computer nerds prevail.Courtesy Nic McPhee

The problem with the older models is that they have a low resolution that doesn't accurately represent clouds because the clouds are smaller than they can show. Think of it like Google maps--at the beginning, you're looking at the entire planet, or a whole continent--this is similar to older, low-res climate models. The new models are like zooming in on a city--you can see bus stops, restaurants, and highways. But you have to zoom out to see how these small pieces relate to the larger surroundings. In a similar way, the new high-res models are helping to inform older models--this type of work is called multiscale modeling.

Researchers at the Center for Multiscale Modeling of Atmospheric Processes (CMMAP) are developing this exact type of model. You can read about their advances here. This work is important because it brings insight into questions about whether clouds will reflect or trap more sunlight, which can have a big impact on the rate of global warming. It also helps us understand whether geoengineering projects that alter clouds will really have the intended effect. Plus it's just one more way we can pwn clouds.