Label: Science News

May 11, 2010

Tornado season can be a scary time for kids who live in affected areas. The last 24 hours have been deadly in Oklahoma, and thousands of people in Kansa and Oklahoma are still without power.

I wrote an extensive post recently about tornadoes, which you can still access online. And,  since giving kids a sense of what they can do to stay safe helps them to feel less frightened, I’d like to reiterate the key things for kids to know if they live in the southern plains, or in a place where tornadoes might strike.

** Pay attention to early warning sirens and alerts on radio and television, so that you can take shelter before a tornado strikes.

** Cars and mobile homes are NOT safe during a tornado. Go to the basement of a solidly built house.

** If you are in an apartment or home without a basement, getting into a bathtub and covering yourself with a couch cushion protects you on all sides.

** If you are out walking or biking, life flat in a ditch if there is no rain. If there is rain, there may be a danger of flash flooding, so stay out of the ditch, get away from trees and power lines, crouch down and make yourself as small as possible - be a "human basketball"!

Reassure children that they don’t have to worry too much in advance about tornadoes, but finding out when they are coming and knowing what to do is certain to help them if one strikes.   

 (Editor’s Note): For kids who want more information about storms, Seymour has also written a Level 2 SeeMore Reader called SUPER STORMS, which is also available in Spanish, titled TORMENTOS INCREíBLES.

 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Earth Science Books, Weather, Tornadoes   •  Permalink (link to this article)

May 7, 2010

The oil spill in the Gulf off the coast of Louisiana threatens one of America’s treasured environments as well as the livelihood of many families in the region. The area has a huge abundance of living things, both above and below the surface waters of the Gulf. The bays and wetlands are nurseries for fish and birds. This photograph, taken by Alex Brandon of the Associated Press, shows volunteers caring for one of the tens of thousands of birds who nest on Breton Island National Refuge in this season. The oil is reaching there now.

Sea turtles in the Gulf are migrating or nesting on the shores in the pathway of the oil slick. Many Gulf families depend upon fishing or shelling for their livelihoods.

The NY Times has been publishing a map daily, with each day’s outline reflecting the most current estimate by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the extent of the oil slick on that day. Here is where we are today:

For those who are interested in following this more closely, NOAA publishes daily forecasts of how the currents are moving the oil (including the potential of carrying it out of the Gulf  and into the Atlantic Ocean) at www.deepwaterhorizon.noaa.gov.

This huge oil spill is an ecological and economic disaster and the effects will be felt not just in the Gulf region but all over the country.

               

 

 

 

   

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Conservation, Oil Spills   •  Permalink (link to this article)

April 29, 2010

The news from the Gulf of Mexico this morning is not good. British Petroleum (BP), the owner of the ruptured oil line, is finally confirming what NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)  and the Coast Guard have been saying for several days now. This spill is MUCH larger than previously reported - 5 times as large - and is currently spilling 5,000 barrels per day into the Gulf.

         

There is great urgency around attempts to contain the spill and/or disperse the oil before it reaches land, where it would have a major impact on wildlife, marine life, sensitive habitats and shorelines in four states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida).

I’ve been reading everything I can about whether or not the proposed burning of oil is an environmentally sound strategy. From what I’ve found, it sounds like it is our best option.

 

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

 

 

Here is what biologist Andrew C. Revkin, who teaches environmental science at Pace University and writes the DOT EARTH environmental blog for the New York Times, is reporting today:

One of the biggest such tests was undertaken off Newfoundland in 1993. Called the Newfoundland Offshore Burn Experiment, the joint Canadian and American project concluded that combustion consumed most of the more problematic compounds and the levels of harmful compounds in smoke were below danger thresholds outside 150 yards of so of the fire zone. The water beneath the burn area showed no detectable levels of harmful compounds.

I photographed an offshore oil rig when I took a boat trip in the Santa Barbara (California) channel last month.

             

 These are massive structures, and there is as much below the water as there is above - the water here was nearly 200 feet deep, and the rig is anchored to the ocean floor. As the captain of our boat noted, from ocean floor to the top of the rig is as tall as a skyscraper.

Do we really need to construct more of these oil rigs along our coasts? What is the risk-reward ratio of offshore drilling? As an environmentalist, I’m terribly afraid that the possible damage to wildlife and our coastlines are not worth the risk of building more oil rigs that produce only a tiny fraction of the oil our nation uses. If most of us changed the incandescent light bulbs in our homes to more energy-efficient light bulb source, we would not only be making up for the oil that off-shore rigs produce but saving our own money in the bargain.

    

 

 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(5) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Oceans, Conservation, Oil Spills   •  Permalink (link to this article)

April 29, 2010

The Boston Globe continues to post a huge number of pictures of the Icelandic volcano. Click here to have a look. What gorgeous sights.

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Volcanoes, Earth Science Books, Eyjafjallajokull   •  Permalink (link to this article)

April 23, 2010

Did you see the images on television last night of snowplows removing hail (not snow – HAIL!) from the highways in Colorado? And if you click here you’ll see video of a tornado that touched down in Texas last night.

There are strong thunderstorms predicted throughout this weekend in the Eastern two-thirds of the US, and Tornado Watches are in effect for communities that regularly experience these violent storms.

Why is all this happening at once? Well, it’s April, and that generally marks the beginning of the tornado season in the U.S.

A tornado’s funnel looks like a huge elephant’s trunk hanging down from a cloud. The funnel acts like a giant vacuum cleaner…whenever the “hose” touches the ground, it sucks things up into the air.

 Usually, tornadoes are local storms. A typical tornado is only 400 to 500 feet wide, has winds of less than 112 miles per hour, and last only a few minutes. But sometimes, monster tornadoes a mile wide with winds up to 500 miles per hour are born in very large thunderstorms – also called supercells – and they can cause tremendous destruction. Tornadoes have moved houses down a whole block, bounced 20-ton tractor-trailers up and down on the highway, even picked up a pond full of frogs and rained them down on a nearby town!

Photo Credit:  Howard Bluestein, Photo Researchers, Inc.
 

If you live near an area that is prone to tornadoes at this time of year, the most important things to remember are:

·      Pay attention to early warning sirens and alerts on radio and television, so that you can take shelter before a tornado strikes.

·      Cars and mobile homes are NOT safe during a tornado. Go to the basement of a solidly built house.

·      If you are in an apartment or home without a basement, getting into a bathtub and covering yourself with a couch cushion protects you on all sides.

·      If you are out walking or biking, life flat in a ditch if there is no rain. If there is rain, there may be a danger of flash flooding, so stay out of the ditch, get away from trees and power lines, crouch down and make yourself as small as possible - be a "human basketball"!

You don’t have to worry too much in advance about tornadoes, but finding out when they are coming and knowing what to do is certain to help you if one strikes.     

 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Earth Science Books, Weather, Tornadoes   •  Permalink (link to this article)

April 19, 2010

Our Planet Earth is putting on quite a show in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day! For those interested in seeing photographs, the Boston Globe.com ran a feature this weekend with twenty striking images of the volcano, including shots of people on cross country skis taking photographs at the edge of the hot lava. Talk about a study in contrasts!

 The volcano continues to erupt in Iceland,  and air travel is still disrupted in northern Europe and Great Britain. If you look at this satellite image, you can see why:

 

           

Photo: AP Photo/NEODAAS/University of Dundee

   

The land mass at the top/left of the photo is Iceland. The two land masses at the bottom/center of the photo are Ireland and Britain. You can see why no planes are flying out of England - the country is enveloped in volcanic ash.

This volcano has not been studied extensively, so scientists do not know how long the eruptions might continue. From what has been observed so far, there will not be a significant impact on Europe’s weather. It takes a very big volcanic event to impact weather across a continent, or across the globe. When Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Phillippines on June 15,  1991, scientists   estimated that 20-million tons of sulfur dioxide and ash particles   blasted more than 12 miles high into the atmosphere. The eruption caused widespread destruction and loss of human life. And, the gases and solids injected into the stratosphere enveloped our globe for three weeks.That volcano caused an average 10% drop in temperatures,  affecting the world’s weather that year.

The eruption of   the Tambora volcano in 1815 (in what is now Indonesia) was one of the biggest weather influencers ever, triggering the famous Year   without a Summer in 1816. 

Scientists do not agree on whether even a huge volcanic eruption (much bigger than the one we’re experiencing this week) could ever have a long-term impact on climate.

Remember, weather is different from climate. When you talk about weather, you are talking about       what is happening in the atmosphere that day in a particular location. Weather tells...

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Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Volcanoes, Climate Change, Earth Science Books, Weather   •  Permalink (link to this article)

April 15, 2010

In Iceland today, hundreds of people have been evacuated as floodwaters rise from the eruption of the volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier. This is the second time it has erupted in less than a month. As water gushed down the mountainside, rivers had risen up to 10 feet by Wednesday night.

The volcano’s smoke and ash poses a threat to aircraft because it can affect visibility,  and microscopic debris can get sucked into airplane engines and can cause them to shut down. Airports are closed across Western Europe,  including London’s Heathrow, where up to 180,000 people fly in a typical day.

 
             
Photo: Ingolfur Juliusson / Reuters
Smoke billows from a volcano in Eyjafjallajokull April 14, 2010
 

Iceland is a volcanic island, so this type of event is not unexpected. I included some spectacular photographs of explosions of Icelandic volcanoes in my Collins/Smithsonian book, VOLCANOES.

In 1963,  an area of the Atlantic Ocean near Iceland began to boil and churn. An undersea volcano was exploding and a new island was being formed. The island was named Surtsey, after the ancient Norse god of fire.

             Simon, Seymour. VOLCANOES. New York: Collins/Smithsonian, 1988.  Page 15
Photo: Solarfilma