Monthly Archives: August 2016

Hawaii Hurricanes: Madeline and Lester? Or Neither?

Update (Noonish Friday):

Lester is going to skim along to the north of the Hawaiian Islands. This is an estimate of the probability of the distribution of 50mph winds:

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 11.58.54 AM

Surf’s up, it will be stormy, but the significant threat is moderate.

Update (Noonish Thursday):

Madeline sort of hit Hawaii, but it also did a funny little shrug as the medial to outer bands got close to the big island, and the rematerialized on the other side, keeping with the mysterious tradition (see below) of hurricanes magical avoiding the island state. But, the storm surge did in fact swamp a lot of places along the coast and it is a bit of a mess there.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Lester is still pointed roughly at the island, but likely to pass to the north, still affecting but not directly landing on Hawaii. But, these storm tracks can change, so stay tuned.

Original Post:

Hawaii is tiny. And huge. Look:

Islands-of-Hawaii-vs-US

Hawaii is larger in land area than Rhode Island, Delaware, or Connecticut, but smaller than all the other states. The big island is a bit larger in land area than all the other islands put together. Yes, the entirety of Hawaii covers a huge area of the Pacific. The longest linear dimension of the state of Hawaii is longer than the longest linear dimension of any US state, and of most countries. This is a property of many Pacific polities, including most Pacific island nations.

Yet, even though Hawaii, located in the Pacific tropics, should be a virtual catcher’s mitt for cyclones (hurricanes), the big island has hardly ever been hit directly by anything. Hawaii as a state is often affected by tropical storms, but usually in the form of surf (and Hawaii is where they invented surfing, so that is mostly a good thing). Is this simply because Hawaii is big (east-west wise) yet small (north-south wise) and thus is simply very lucky?

Or, is Hawaii located in an area that major tropical cyclones tend to go around, or at least, not through. Like this:

Tracks_of_Central_Pacific_Hurricanes_1949_to_1998

From Wikipedia:

Hawaii’s apparent immunity to most hurricanes

The islands of Hawaii, with Kauai as the notable exception, appear to be remarkably immune from direct hurricane hits. The USGS states that “more commonly, near-misses that generate large swell and moderately high winds causing varying degrees of damage are the hallmark of hurricanes passing close to the islands.”[31] This has also drawn media attention.[32][33] One notion is that Hawaii’s volcanic peaks slow down or divert storms.[34] A partial source of this idea may be the long list of hurricanes … that dissipated into tropical storms or depressions upon approaching the islands. Satellite images of Hurricane Flossie’s breakup when approaching Hawaii Island fueled this idea.[35] Another example may be Hurricane Felicia which dropped from Category 4 down to a tropical depression with residual winds predicted at only 35 miles per hour (56 km/h).[36]

Tropical Storm Flossie (not to be confused with Hurricane Flossie in 2007) provides still another example. On July 28, 2013, the storm appeared headed for a direct hit to the Big Island, home to Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Both mountains rise to elevations in excess of 13,000 feet above sea level, and as Flossie approached the island, its track shifted abruptly overnight and assumed a more northerly alignment, heading instead to the island of Maui on July 29.[37]

Wind data in particular supports the USGS assertion that hurricane damage has been low on all islands except for Kauai. Data collected by the Western Regional Climate Center show no hurricane-strength winds on any Hawaii Islands with the exception of Kauai.[38] Despite this data, FEMA classified all of Hawaii as being in a “Wind-Borne Debris Region”.[39][40][41]

Before Hurricane Iniki in 1992, a standard homeowner’s insurance policy with extended coverage provided hurricane coverage. Since Iniki, many insurance policies exclude hurricane and a separate hurricane policy is required to obtain hurricane coverage.

At present, Hawaii, in particular the big island, is threatened with a tropical cyclone, likely to be a full on hurricane. Will it hit? Will it magically turn away from the island state?

Hurricane Madeline is weakening but at the same time heading for the big island, and should start affecting the island over the next day or two. This chart from Weather Underground lays out the expected timing:

map_tropprjpath14_ltst_5nhpao_enus_650x366

But wait, there’s more. Hurricane Lester is also in the area and is heading for Hawaii as well. This would happen some time over the labor day weekend. Lester has less of a chance of being a full blown Hurricane when hitting Hawaii than Madeline, but it is way to early to be certain of much.

If two hurricanes hit Hawaii over the next several days, that would be rather amazing. If one hits Hawaii over the next several days that would notable. If both Hurricanes magically turn their course or dissipate before hitting Hawaii during the next several days, that will be data. Very interesting data!

There is no extraterrestrial signal from space

Sometimes I think there are not abundant intelligent life forms wafting about the universe. We would see things in our careful, highly accurate, detailed looking at a sampling of the universe. But, I suppose we’ve only been scanning with super amazing instruments for a few years, and only scanning a small fraction of the universe. But certainly, in a decade or two we’ll be able to say that radio-communicative or emitting intelligent life is either out there somewhere, or not likely to be. Absence of evidence will evolve into evidence for pessimism, at the very least.

Meanwhile we get these little quirks. And, the latest is a burst of radio-info that the experts on this all seem to be saying is not a thing, looks like lots of other things that are also not things, but one guy somewhere put out a press release so now everybody thinks it is a thing.

But it is not. Not a thing. Nothing.

Atlantic Storm Update: Prospects of Gaston, Hermine, Ian and Julia

Original Post:

The Atlantic storms are getting interesting.

Two different systems are poised to become named storms, but it is not clear which one will be awarded the name Hermine, and which one Ian. If the storm recently near Cuba develops as expected, it could become a weak hurricane before making landfall along Florida’s Gulf coast. This will not likely be a very impressive hurricane, but it will be big and wet, and the area is already experiencing too much water. Flooding will ensue.

A third system is moving off of Africa, with 40% chance of forming into a storm over the next several days. This system looks really promising for a hurricane.

Hurricane Gaston is still hanging out in the middle of nowhere, but it will likely menace the Azores.

Update (Wednesday AM):

Gaston is at present a Major Hurricane, and will continue heading east, weakening to a tropical storm before arriving in the Azores.

There are three other systems of interest. The Cuban storminess that has been on everyone’s mind for a while refuses to get organized into a namable storm. Another, in the Atlantic, is also developing slowly. Both disturbances are likely to become sufficiently organized and strong to become named tropical storms, and that is likely to happen before sunset today. Which one will get organized first to claim the name of Hermine? Which one will become Ian? Neither is likely to spin up to hurricane strength.

The more southerly of the two storms, in the area of Cuba, is likely to sweep across the base of the Florida Peninsula and cause a mess (but as a tropical storm, not a hurricane). the other is likely to stay out to sea, in the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, the disturbance off the African Coast (to the right of the map) retains a certain amount of ambiguity as dry air reduces its chances of formation. But, it will reveal its will over the next several days as it moves west. We will see.

It is possible that we could see four names storms churning away simultaneously in the Atlantic. That is probably not a record, but it could be. My impression is that this happens now and then. Do you know? There have been as many as 8 storms formed in a given month (but not necessarily extant at the same time) a few times. So, four at the same time may be highly unusual.

ADDED:

OK, I found this about simultaneous storms:

Four hurricanes have existed simultaneously twice: August 22, 1893 and September 25-27, 1998 with Georges, Ivan, Jeanne and Karl as hurricanes. In 1971 there were 5 tropical cyclones simultaneously, but only 2 were hurricanes. [source]

Note, that refers to hurricanes, not named storms. So it is not an answer to the question.

Update (Wed PM):

Hermine exists and is expected to strengthen over the next two days or so, but not to full hurricane strength, before hitting florida near the base of the peninsula. After that, it will come out the other side, and hug the coast until at least North Carolina. Then it will go off to sea.

The second disturbance in the Atlantic will turn into a named storm, perhaps within a day or two, and Gaston will still be a named storm, so there will be three named storms at the same time. Gaston will be on or near the Azores by the end of the day Friday. The fourth stormy event, off the coast of Africa, is looking less likely to turn into a named storm any time soon.

Coal Use by US Educational Institutions Down 64% since 2008

A lot of higher education institutions are old, and back in the day, things were different. Not only were most schools simultaneously on top of and on the bottom of great snow covered hills, but they were often surrounded by nearly medieval settlement, or at least, pre-industrial ones, that lacked things like central heat, electricity, and so on, even after these things became common and normal.

I remember the legacy of this reality at my Alma Mater, a small university in Cambridge, Mass. Most of the campus had its own heating system, which was built at a time when centrally distributed electricity and such were certainly in place but just as certainly not universal. There, a power plant, which I am going to guess formerly burned coal but later natural gas and oil, made electricity for the general grid, but in so doing also produced steam. The steam was then shipped (mostly) across the river and quite a ways down the road to the campus, where it was distributed to many buildings to provide heat. At several points were grates that gave access to the steam heating system, creating open air warmer micro environment, on which homeless folks would sleep. It was a big deal when the University administration decided to put spiky metal barriers over the vents to keep the homeless people from having a chance to survive a cold winter. There was an outcry. The vents were uncovered in a matter of days.

But I digress.

Today’s news, which comes to us from the Department of Energy, is that educational institutions are using way less coal than they used to. And that makes sense only in the context of the above described sort of thing; educational institutions, as large and demanding places where people both lived in work, with many buildings and a lot of contiguous spaces, were among those places that historically developed their own electricity generation systems, as well as heating systems. Some of those electricity generating systems also fed out to the local grid, so the odd situation developed where among a region’s power plants would be one or more owned and operated by a university or college, or an agent thereof. And, a certain number of these burned coal.

But now

Coal consumption by educational institutions such as colleges and universities in the United States fell from 2 million short tons in 2008 to 700,000 short tons in 2015. Consumption declined in each of the 57 institutions that used coal in 2008, with 20 of these institutions no longer using coal at all. Many of these institutions participate in the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, a program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Coal consumption has decreased as institutions switch from coal to natural gas or other fuels.

This coal consumption is less than a tenth of one percent of the total US coal consumption, so this may be little more than symbolic to some. But it isn’t. This is fossil fuel not being burned, and it means a lot.

The graph at the top of the post shows the trend.

This is not all good news. It is nice to reduce coal use, but a lot, most, of this coal has been replace with natural gas. However, in some cases, geothermal was used, and some renewable sources of energy have been deployed.

More here.

Women and Physics by Laura McCullough

Women and Physics by Laura McCulloch is a concise addition to the IOP Science Concise Physics series.

McCullough is an award winning Professor of Physics at UW Stout, and served for several years as the chair of that university’s Chemistry and Physics Department. Her research focuses on physics education, and gender and science. By both chance and design, I know a lot of people in this area, and I’m pretty sure IOP Science could not have had a better choice in authors for this important book.

How do you make a physicist? Well, you start with a child, and poke at it for 25 year or so until it become something, and maybe it will become a physicist. Meanwhile, the growing and developing individual passes through several stages. If the child is a male, those stages are called opportunities. If the child is a female, they are called filters.

McCullough writes,

When I walked into my physics graduate school on day one and there were twenty-four men and me, I knew that we had a problem. A problem begging for a solution, and because I am a scientist and what I do is solve problems, that moment was the beginning of what has been twenty years of research on gender issues in science for me. I don’t know all the answers, and I doubt the problem will be solved in my lifetime, but I know more than I knew then, and sharing that is part of the solution. Hence this book.

McCullough surveys and describes the filters, and the stages. She looks at how women are challenged at every stage. She describes what the field of Physics has done so far to remove gender biased barriers to women’s progress, and what needs to be done in the future.

I should probably mention that the sciences in general, the physical sciences in particular, and super-duper-especially physics (in its various forms) have a) not allowed women to progress fairly at any stage, ever, and b) still manage to have been shaped and influenced by the important work of a number of women. I’m sure you already knew that, but just in case, there it is.

This isn’t just about institutions. It is also about how individuals interact, about social and cultural stereotypes and biases, and individual decisions.

Here is how McCullough underscores the filtering process:

A little girl waits patiently at a science exhibit for another child to finish. Her brother butts in when he comes over to see it and she never gets her turn.

A young woman in high school physics is always relegated to be the record keeper and never gets a chance to play with the equipment.

A woman walks into her first day of physics graduate school and sees twenty four men and no other women.

A physics professor is called ‘Mrs’ by her students instead of ‘Dr’.

An assistant professor is placed on every departmental committee in order to
have female representation.

A woman makes a suggestion at her weekly research group meeting. Her idea is ignored. Three minutes later, a man makes the same suggestion and is applauded.

How many physicists are women? What does the process of filtering, which in some ways applies to all would-be physicists of any gender, do differently with women? How are these trends changing?

Two of McCullough’s core chapters are titled “What helps, what hurts: family and education” and “What helps, what hurts: family and career.”

These social and professional spaces are where the rubber meets the road. This is where, to use a physics metaphor for a social problem affecting physics, kinetic energy (desire and motivation) and friction (the status quo, power structures, the patriarchy) come into play.

Is there a “masculinist” and a “feminist” nature of science? This is the sort of question that can cause spit to come flying out of the heads of the most mild mannered seemingly non-sexist male scientists, especially in physics (many biological scientists know there are gendered features of science, at multiple levels). I suspect that in physics, this is mostly surficial gendering, which has profound impacts on women’s careers. In other sciences, human genders interact with other human genders, and non-human genders, in all sorts of ways. My own biological science with respect to humans had to be fully gender bound, as my field studies could only be done with male subjects. My female colleagues could only work with female subjects. I’m not sure if physicists have the same issues. I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky (maybe) that in the naming of quantum-level aspects of matter-energy, male-female gender was never employed (as opposed to color, orientation, strength, etc.) Imagine what cold have been…

But I digress. McCullough writes about this aspect of gendering in the physical sciences as well, as ingress to the topic of covert discrimination.

I regard this book as something of a manual for women in physics, and for men who may be, should be, mentors. It is for teachers of physical science (or, really, all science) in high schools and colleges. These are all people who a) already feel they know what is going on with gender discrimination, but b) often mistakingly ignore that this is a separate subfield of study and no, they don’t. Parents of kids (boys and girls) who are leaning into the sciences would benefit too, but they are probably not that likely to read an academic book like this. Note to self: Suggest to Laura that she write a version of this for the families.

Women and Physics is available now, go read it.

Who is responsible for most climate change?

By one accounting, 90 companies. Richard Heede …

…(pronounced “Heedie”) has compiled a massive database quantifying who has been responsible for taking carbon out of the ground and putting it into the atmosphere. Working alone, with uncertain funding, he spent years piecing together the annual production of every major fossil fuel company since the Industrial Revolution and converting it to carbon emissions.

[source]

See the graphic at the top of the post. There is an interactive version HERE, with much more detail.

Heede is one of the victim’s of Lamar Smith’s McCarthy-esque attack on climate scientists. (Smith is currently being opposed in his run for Congress by Tom Wakely, who is running in large part on a climate change ticket. I suggest you donate an amount of money that has the numerals “350” to Wakely. I did.)

The Mammals of Borneo

How do you judge a field guide?

Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo and Their Ecology: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and KalimantanSome field guides you leave on the shelf and rarely look at. Others you may put in the living room to spice up the coffee table, because they make great eye candy, but are otherwise not that useful. Others you take out, and at least have around in case you need them. Others you make sure you are never very far away from because you find yourself looking for them all the time.

rajah640hAnd, every once in a while, a field guide comes along that you want to take to bed with you.

I’m sure you know what I mean.

It is such a beddable field guide.

Sure, if you are going to Borneo, you may want to check this out because it covers that region. But really, when you are out and about in the wilds of Borneo, you’ll be with a guide. Most of the mammals you’ll ever see can be listed on an index card, with large hand writing, and the few others that might come along, you’ll only see for a fraction of a second, and your guide will be able to make up something good about them.

So, yeah, bring it, and it will serve you well, help you keep the guide honest, etc.

But then take it to bed with you, because Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo by Quenton Phillipps and Karen Phillipps is some serious reading.

There are 277 species of mammals covered for the region, including the fish-like mammals such as whales. Most of the hard work in this book is done with drawings, which are excellent, but there are also photos. The drawing-photo combination is quite rare among field guides.

Note the second half of the title: “And their ecology.” There is about 75 pages of text prior to the “field guide of mammals” part, which blend interestingly and smoothly into one of the key mammal groups, the fruit eating bats, while still talking about ecology. The last 75 pages or so are detailed expositions of key ecologically important areas, and other back matter. The middle 225 pages or so have the “field guide” but about 25% of that space is not just field guide, but rather, some other information about the mammals being covered.

Here is an example of why this is a great book. It is a field guide to mammals. And their ecology. Thus, an entry on a fruit:
fig640h

That’s not the last of the figs. Lots more on figs. Figs are keystone species in Borneo.

This is a book you can browse through, as your night time reading, enjoy immensely, learn a great deal from and never actually go to Borneo. But if you are going to go to Borneo, get the book. And spend a little quality time with it before your trip. Bring it along on the trip. Then, after the trip, use it to fill in the blanks.

Borneo, by the way, is pretty interesting.