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Hawaii Hurricanes: Madeline and Lester? Or Neither? [Greg Laden's Blog]

Source: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2016/08/31/hawaii-hurricanes-madeline-and-lester-or-neither/

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 [Greg Laden's Blog]

Source: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2016/08/30/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.

Coal Use by US Educational Institutions Down 64% since 2008 [Greg Laden's Blog]

Source: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2016/08/30/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.

Battle of the Storms [Greg Laden's Blog]

Source: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2016/08/30/battle-of-the-storms/

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.